7 Habits of the Highly Effective Self-Employed

Dedicating yourself to self-employment can be a challenge. There’s no boss or manager peering over your shoulder, and there’s nothing to stop you from making your own schedule. But you do still have a boss. In fact, you hopefully have many — your clients. If you are new to the self-employment world, or even a seasoned veteran, you might struggle with productivity, even if you’re working long hours. Self-employment is nothing like working in an office (or, at least, it shouldn’t be). If you don’t count yourself among the ranks of the super-efficient, there might be a few habits you need to pick up from the highly effective self-employed.

They Don’t Work 9-5

While it’s true that you should have some set hours when you’re available to your clients, especially if you run a service-based small business, don’t be afraid to structure your work day around what makes you the most comfortable. Too many newly self-employed can’t let go of the office schedule. One blogger goes as far as to suggest that the 8-hour work day is a relic of the past, and will eventually be abandoned. And it makes a lot of sense. Really honestly ask yourself – when was the last time you actually concentrated on something for eight hours?

One of my first Internet jobs was working as a contractor for a wireless Internet providers company, and I immediately set out to work a fairly steady 9-5 workload. But over time, I naturally started breaking up the day into two- to three-hour chunks. I just couldn’t concentrate on a task for much longer. Don’t let time be an indicator of success – let productivity fill that role.

They Build Long-Lasting Relationships

Steve Pavlina addresses this point well in his post 10 Stupid Mistakes Made by the Newly Self-Employed. While it might be tempting to treat every email with a sterile attitude, even going as far as to begin it with something like “Dear Sir or Madam,” clients are generally not impressed. Individuals want to build relationships with other individuals – human beings like them. If you act like a faceless corporation, you will be treated in kind.

Long lasting relationships start with a personal contact, and continue with a friendship. As Pavlina puts it, formality “puts up walls.” While you don’t want to be unprofessional (there’s a big difference), just be straightforward and friendly when contacting clients.

They Know How to Delegate/When to Outsource

The highly effective self-employed understand that they probably aren’t the best at everything, and aren’t afraid to delegate certain tasks to a staff, or even outsource certain parts of a business. For example, you might not be the best writer, but you’re a fantastic marketer. You might decide to outsource writing to a trusted content writer, while you focus on the marketing end. Not only does some outsourcing save you an enormous amount of time, but it also allows you to focus on more important tasks in your small business – like building your brand and relationships with clients.

They Know the Difference Between Being Productive and Being Busy

In one the first management positions I ever had, I was involved in a marketing start-up handling client orders and managing a team of writers and link builders. After my boss, the owner of the company, remarked that I was working too many hours (which initially confused me), he asked me to start a daily log. In this log, I honestly tracked everything I did for a week, complete with the amount of minutes spent on each task. All joking aside about how much time I spent creating the log each day (do I log that as well?), it revealed some very crucial things about my time management skills:

  • I spent too much time on the phone with employees.
  • I was working inefficiently – spending too much time handling projects on my own rather than giving work to writers.
  • When comparing days with frequent small breaks to days with larger time off for a full lunch, I spent significantly more time working on days with more small breaks.

If you find that you are always busy, but not getting enough work done, try creating a similar log to see where your efforts are really being spent.

They Aren’t Afraid to Take Risks

Even deciding to jump into the uncertain dark waters of self-employment is a risk. But you have to be able to listen to your gut, and take the risks necessary to succeed after making that jump. After all, there are at least ten successful businesspeople that originally failed in their attempts (there are many, many more) according to Steve Scott, an Internet lifestyle blogger.

We’re not talking about “sell-the-farm” risks – but the much more subtle ones. For example, if you decide to pay for a directory listing to your website, or sign up for a training seminar, you’re risking that money in the hopes of a good ROI. If you’re too afraid to shell out the $19.95 for that listing, ask yourself if you really view that expense as valuable. If you do, you might need to start looking at how your business will operate in the future. It might seem cliche, but you do indeed need to spend money to make money.

They Know How to Plan Effectively

Planning can be tricky. Once again using my own experience working with start-ups, I had a previous boss that spent most of the day planning tasks – creating spreadsheets, rubrics, and protocols for us all to use. It didn’t seem to matter that they often didn’t work in practice, he simply felt like that was his most effective contribution.

Good entrepreneurs lead from the front, fight in the trenches. You should dedicate some portion of your day to planning ahead. However, if it’s a choice of completing work for a client yourself, or planning for someone else to do it, you’re better off getting the work done yourself and evaluating the effectiveness of your staff later.

They Know How to Separate Work and Life

Very few people can truly function as “workaholics.” The goal is to love what you do, and do it well. But there really is more to life than work. Make sure that you’re not getting too carried away in your work, and make time for family and friends as well. I do like to keep busy and enjoy some shows on television, so I usually balance work and pleasure by doing a bit of work during commercial breaks. Never be afraid to take a few days off to celebrate a productive and successful week.

Along the same lines, make sure your family and friends understand that, while you’re working, you are not available. If you work from home, ask your family to respect your work time, and pretend like you’re not even there during work hours.

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Search Engine Veteran - Enterprise SEO & Small Business Entrepreneurs. Advisor to startups for pre-launch optimization SEO Audits & consulting.