#027: Work/Life Balance: How to Set Healthy Boundaries You Can Actually Keep

It’s easy to talk about achieving a healthy work/life balance. But it’s much harder to put it into practice.

And that’s true no matter where you are in your freelance journey.

In this week’s episode, freelance writer Rachel Foster explains why she’s decided to set clear boundaries in her business. She talks about her daily routine, her experience outsourcing some of her tasks, and the expectations she’s learned to set with clients.

Rachel is a Toronto-based freelancer who helps B2B marketers improve their response rates, clearly communicate complex messages and generate high-quality leads. She shares her insights on B2B marketing in her articles for the Content Marketing Institute, Business 2 Community and her Fresh Marketing Blog.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us what you do for a living and what types of clients you serve

Rachel is a freelance B2B copywriter based in Toronto. She works with mid-size to large B2B technology companies, writing copy for websites, case studies, white papers, press releases, etc. She’s been freelancing for about four years.

Give us a glimpse into a typical workweek

Rachel typically works 9:00-5:00 Monday through Friday. She does a short yoga workout each morning before starting work. It helps with clarity and energy.

In the late afternoon she may do another workout. If she does, she’ll typically work a little later—until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m.

She usually works with about three clients during any particular week.

She tries to keep to a 40-hour workweek. For a while she was working weekends and getting frustrated with it. Now she strives to take weekends off. Her business manager helped her straighten out her schedule during the week.

She found that the trick to not working weekends was to spend less time on personal tasks during business hours. Now, if she can’t get her personal chores completed within one hour during business hours, then it has to wait until the weekend (e.g. groceries, working out).

What boundaries have you set in your business?

Rachel has a dedicated office space in her home—with a door that closes. Last year, she had to work out of her living room and found it very difficult with so many distractions. And during her off hours, she’d end up staring at the piles of uncompleted work.

Since she’s moved into her office, she’s working much more efficiently.

She always makes time to exercise. No excuses. She likes to exercise in the afternoons at around 3:00 when her energy starts to decline. After exercising, her writing flows more easily. She figures that she gains time by taking the time to exercise because she’s so much more efficient afterwards.

Tell us about your workout

In morning, Rachel does a 30-minute yoga workout. She often follows instructional videos posted on myyogaonline.com. Because she works from home, she considers this her “commuting” time.

A couple times each week, she’ll also do a strength workout in the afternoon. On days where she doesn’t do an afternoon workout, she’ll take a Pilates class or go swing dancing with her husband in the evening.

She and her husband are very active. She structures her work time so that it doesn’t cut into her evening activities.

What happens when you have to make a deadline but doing so will cut into personal time?

If there’s a pressing deadline, then she’ll meet it. She leaves a couple of evenings open every week just in case she has to work.

Sometimes she’ll skip a workout, but she recognizes how important exercise is to how she feels—so she makes it a priority.

When you’ve gone through a period where work has taken over your leisure time, do you ever look back to see how you could have done things better?

A few months ago, Rachel was working too many weekends. She sat with her business manager to see what changes she could make.

Most of the changes came down to focusing on what she’s best at and then outsourcing everything else. For example, she’s good at writing, but she doesn’t enjoy proofreading. Proofreading takes a lot of time, so she outsources for it.

Rachel has an online business manager. The business manager does all the things Rachel doesn’t like to do. The manager has a large team that can handle almost anything.

Right now, the business manager and her team are handling all of Rachel’s phone calls and scheduling her appointments. Initially, Rachel wasn’t sure how helpful that would be because she doesn’t get many phone calls. But now that she’s outsourced it, she realizes how much time she was spending handling phone calls and setting up meetings and interviews.

What other tasks could people outsource?

Rachel’s business manager’s team also updates her website, and uploads and schedules posts. The team also sets up Rachel’s email newsletters and provides tech support.

Rachel’s business manager is very good at strategy, so they’ll brainstorm business ideas. The manager keeps Rachel focused on her business and the big picture.

The business manager also qualifies Rachel’s leads. The manager is better at “talking up” Rachel than Rachel is. In fact, the manager recently landed a contract for Rachel where she was competing against other writers—some with lower prices and more expertise in the client’s area.

Did you have a difficult time finding a business manager who was so well rounded?

Rachel had worked with an online business manager before, but it didn’t work as well. Rachel found her current manager through a networking service. The site posts your requirements and then potential applicants respond.

How much does this kind of service cost?

Pricing ranges from $40-50 an hour. But if you want someone to do strictly administrative work, you couldprobably pay less. Rachel’s business manager has three skill sets:

  • Administrative
  • Operation
  • Business and marketing strategy

The service is a big expense, but it’s well worth it. It frees up Rachel’s time and even helps her land clients.

How many hours a month do you use her business services?

Rachel uses her for about 10 hours a month for administrative tasks.

Ed: You probably won’t need this kind of service if you’re just starting out. But if you’re trying to get to the six-figure level, he strongly recommends checking it out.

Did you have to train your business manager on your qualifying process?

Rachel had already developed a process with a list of questions. She gave the list to her business manager who quickly understood it and put it to use.

The name of her company is eLiaise.

Do you look for clients that are easier to work with?

Rachel tries to stay in her niche. When she goes out of her niche, things go badly. If you’re just launching your business, you might have to take what you can—but try not to. Even when Rachel was just starting her business, she turned down work.

Ed: If you’re just starting out, you may have to be flexible. But the more you earn and the more clients you have, the pickier you should be.

How do you set expectations early in the client relationship?

Rachel has a contract she uses for all her projects. It states the project scope, services and deadlines. Most of her clients don’t care if she’s not available at 1:00 in the morning. They just need the work done on time.

Ed: That’s why Ed loves B2B. You’re not constantly in fire-drill mode. With his clients, he’ll start planting seeds about expectations early in the relationship. Some writers give clients a list of rules at the outset, which is a bit harsh. You haven’t developed a relationship yet. But as you develop a relationship, start to solidify expectations.

Rachel sometimes worries that she’ll miss something important when she’s on vacation. She gives her clients lots of notice so they can plan to get things done either before she leaves or when she gets back. Also, Rachel gets her business manager to take her calls and schedule her appointments while she’s gone. Thanks to her business manager, she even landed a client while on vacation!

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you started out?

Don’t waste your time going to bad networking events. Rachel used to go to a weekly event where she had to wake at 5:45 a.m. She never got any business from it. You’ll get lots of invitations from well meaning friends and colleagues, but think about who’s going to be there. Sometimes it’s better to sleep in.

Stay focused on your niche. You’ll enjoy it more, the projects will go more smoothly and the clients will be easier to work with. When you stay in your niche, you’re building your experience in your core area.

When you don’t stay in your niche, clients will be more difficult and projects will take longer. Works is more likely to cut into your personal time.

Did you clearly define your niche when you started out? Or did you evolve into it?

Rachel evolved into it. She knew she wanted to go into B2B tech. At first her work was split between B2B tech and non-profits. But as her B2B business grew, she gradually took on fewer non-profit clients.

Ed: Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. Often have to get out there and see how things work before we know which niche we want to be in.

Where can folks learn more about you?

Rachel’s site (http://copywritertoronto.com) has a blog and content marketing tips. She also offers a free e-course on writing white papers.

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Till next time,