Your business: how many hours do you need to work?

If you’re running a business, the number of hours you need to work depends on many things. Are you still establishing your business? Or is your business well established already and you’re just keeping it running? Do you delegate or outsource a lot of the work, or do you do most of the tasks yourself? Are you committed to other things (e.g. family) as well as your work and do you balance that – or can you afford to throw yourself entirely into your work? If you are a  Mum of a young  child – how to fit your work hours into your week?

Paid work hours – working ‘in’ your business

‘Paid work hours’ are the hours of work for which you are actually charging a client, as distinct from the many other hours of work necessary (e.g. administration, marketing) when you’re a freelancer or owner/operator of a small business.

If you have been running a business for a few years you will probably have worked out how many paid work hours (client services) you need to do yourself, to keep your business earning a profit. If you outsource some of your services this will affect the ratio of the ‘paid work hours’ and ‘unpaid work hours’ you need to do.

But if you are new to managing a business, you probably haven’t worked this out yet. You are probably just busy trying to keep costs down and work as hard as you can in your business to make it work.

My own rule of thumb is that for each hour of your own ‘paid work’ that you are charging a client for, you will generally be doing about 30 minutes of unpaid work (admin work, marketing, professional development etc.) So bear this in mind when working out your hourly rates.

Example: Donna is a freelance scribe/consultant. She does not outsource any work. She knows how many paid hours she needs to do hands-on every week to make a profit. She has scheduled more than those ‘required’ number of paid work hours into her working week because 1) she is able to handle that workload, and 2) it is always a good idea to earn extra when you can, so that you are able to make ends meet when business slows down or unforeseen expenses arise.

Unpaid work hours – working ‘on’ your business

‘Unpaid work hours’ means the unpaid hours of work you need to do when running a business: marketing, online promotions and networking, administration (quotes, invoices, managing jobs), book-keeping and financial management.

If you also hire contractors to do some tasks or projects, the ratio of unpaid work hours to paid work hours will increase because you will be busier hiring contractors, managing jobs and drawing in clients (i.e. working ‘on’ your business), than actually doing those jobs yourself (i.e. working ‘in’ your business).

Do you know how many unpaid work hours (i.e. administering and marketing your business) you need to do each week? If not, try documenting how much time you spend doing all the different tasks required to manage your business, in a week. You may be surprised at the large number of hours you spend on those unpaid tasks.

Example: Michael is an editor. He counted up the hours he was spending doing administration work and was surprised how much time he was spending doing tasks for which he wasn’t being paid. He thought about it. He then 1) reviewed and streamlined his office procedures so he required fewer unpaid work hours doing administration tasks each week, and 2) increased his rates so his overall charges per week covered the unpaid administration time he would now be spending during a typical week – plus a profit, of course.

Deciding how many work hours you should do each week

Add the weekly unpaid work hours you need to do to keep your business running smoothly (that you don’t charge clients for) to your minimum earnings you need to earn from your paid work hours, to see the total hours of work you need to do each week, and to be clear about what you are really earning per hour of work, on average.

Now you can clearly see how many hours of work you need to do, at the rates you currently charge, to earn a set amount.

If you want to earn more than is possible at your current hourly rate, you have a few options:

  • You could increase your rates for the service you officer, although this may not be possible because what people are prepared to pay will depend on the current market value of what you are offering. Do a bit of research to work out what other people are charging for the same service. (For example, I was under-charging for my copy editing services until I did some research and realised I should be charging more.)
  • You could differentiate your service, or move your service into a niche area, which would enable you (as long as there is a market for it) to charge more than for your more generic service. (For example, I charge higher rates for structural or developmental editing of memoirs, than for (say) copy editing, because I’m really experienced in that task and genre, and have real expertise in that area, people are willing to pay for it.)

Example: for the first six years of running her scribing/editing business, Sally’s goal was to simply work as many hours and earn as much as possible. She was committed to making her business successful and worked very, very long hours for the first few years. Then, she had a child and her priorities changed:  she no longer wanted to work such long hours. Over time, she worked out how many  hours she needed to work each week, or month, to earn enough for the business to stay profitable, and then (more or less) stuck to those hours.

What if business slows: what to do with your ‘down time’?

One of the most important things I have learned from operating my online scribing and editing business over many years is this:

When business slows down and there isn’t enough work coming in, don’t stop working. Make sure you spend the same time working in your business, albeit a lot of your work hours will be unpaid, actively promoting your business – or completing other unpaid work that will benefit or grow your business.

Sure, you won’t earn much short term, but if you make sure you’re marketing your business in a way that gets results, and/or working on your business in such a way that it will operate more smoothly in future, then those unpaid work hours will indirectly result in earnings, longer term.

So if business is slow at times, don’t despair. If you continue to spend all of your usual work hours actually working (whether paid or otherwise), then through your unpaid business activities you should end up winning new clients, new jobs and, ultimately, achieving your income goals long term.

Example: I do exactly what I have described above and it works. I spend an average of about one work day a week on marketing alone. (For me, this includes writing blogs and participating in social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.) I make sure I spend at least a few hours a month on formal professional development because it’s good for me and good for my business. If you keep on working your usual hours even when the work has dropped off a little, and make sure you are charging the rates you need to charge to make a profit, you’ll achieve success. 

Specifically for Mums: how to fit in your work hours?

How best to schedule the number of work hours you need to work, into your week?

Nowadays, for me, it’s easier because my child is in high school so I can work nine to five  pretty easily. I also often work on weekends as well, and occasionally in the evenings, but mostly my life it pretty balanced.

However, when I had a young child, life was so chaotic and busy that I had to schedule specific work hours into each day and week, otherwise I would not have been able to earn a living.

If you are in the difficult situation of freelancing or running a business while raising a little child, I suggest the following.

  • They all say mothers should ‘sleep when baby sleeps’. But everyone who has worked from home while caring for an infant knows that when baby sleeps, mummy has to take advantage of that window, and work.
  • Work out a schedule that you can comfortably fit into your lifestyle and commitments. You can work days, evenings and/or weekends. But don’t try to cram an unsustainable number of work hours into your week. If you do, it will only end in tears.
  • But remember your work schedule is not set in stone. A sick child, or an unexpected visit from a friend who takes your child out for a play date all day, can and should change your work schedule for that day.
  • Expect the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll need to work extra hours to meet a deadline, or a family issue will arise that necessitates taking time out. When those things happen, don’t stress. Just do what needs to be done and once the event has passed, try to make up for the work hours you have lost.


Image: Pixabay Creative Commons licence.

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