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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

Setting Your Work Hours and Sticking to Them

One of the greatest perks of designing from home is being able to adjust your work hours. We all know that being creative isn’t something you can just turn on with a punch clock. Inspiration can sometimes be fleeting. It can hit you at the strangest times and if you’re anything like me, you can’t just put it off. When an idea hits me I need my mouse and keyboard to get it down as soon as I can. If that’s not possible, a pencil and paper will often do until I can get to my computer.
Most graphic and web designers who are designing from home will attest to working all hours of the day, any day of the week. Unlike corporate designers, when you work from home you have ability to work early mornings or late evenings and weekends, but you also have the freedom to just get up and walk away when you find yourself in a creative slump. If you had a late night the day before, you can choose to sleep in. You can also work around chores. If the weather forecast is calling for evening rain you can mow your lawn in the afternoon and design in the evening. When the family is asleep and you’re not tired you can choose to put in a couple of hours before going to bed. The freedom is endless.

Unfortunately the distinction of working from home does have some obstacles. Especially when it comes to interacting with clients. Designers working in corporate studios have the benefit of fixed hours. Clients know they work 9 to 5 and will correspond with them during those hours, or at least know not to expect replies outside those hours. When you make the move to designing from home, clients often forget those rules and think you’ve become available to them any time or day they need you.

Designing from home, Punch Clock CreativityEmails are easy to ignore but once you’re designing from home you’ll notice your phone will start ringing at all hours of the day. To prevent this abuse of your time, you need to establish your working hours, and firmly relay this information to your clients. It doesn’t matter what time of day you choose to work, or what day of the week, you still need to have fixed hours between which clients can reach you. If you don’t they will take advantage of you. I have a strict policy in my business that I don’t answer my phone or respond to emails before 9 am, after 5 pm, or on weekends and I make sure each of my clients know it.

If you live alone you may not think this is such a big deal. But down the road you may find yourself living with a loved one and perhaps with children. At that point you definitely won’t want clients disturbing your family time. To prevent this, you need to set the boundaries from the start and tell your clients when they can contact you.

Establishing Your “Working Hours”

Your clients need to know that just because you’re designing from home doesn’t mean you are available to them all hours of the day 7 days a week. You need to establish your work hours and you need to adhere to them yourself. If you don’t want your clients to contact you outside your established working hours you need to follow your own rules by not contacting them.

  • Never email your clients outside your work hours.
  • Never call your clients outside your work hours.
  • Never tell your clients you will be working on their project outside your work hours.
  • Never update live websites outside your work hours.

In essence, never let you clients know that you do in fact work outside your work hours. Seriously, It’s none of their business. If you need to send them an email, compose it, but send it the following morning. If you need to speak to them, leave yourself a note or reminder to do so the following day. If you’re working on a live website hold off publishing the changes until during your work hours.

If you contact your client outside your specified hours it sends them an invitation to do the same.

The Dreaded After Hours Phone Call

Now, if you think telling your clients what hours you work is the solution and end all, you’re wrong. Even when your clients respect your “work hours” they’ll still try to reach you. Emails received after hours are easy to put off until the following day. But chances are you will still have clients calling you after hours. I often receive work related calls in the evening. My clients are not being mean, or disrespecting my work hours. They’re calling to leave me a voice message and are not expecting me to pick up the phone. This can still cause a distraction in the household. Especially if you have young children who like to answer the phone. So how do you avoid accidentally answering your phone when your client calls? Here are a few ideas.

Hopefully, when you made the leap to designing from home you thought to get a new phone number specifically for your business. If you don’t have a designated business number I highly recommend you get one as soon as possible. Here are some options for you that will also help with after hour calls.

Run your business using your mobile phone.

This isn’t an ideal method but many designers make it work. Unless you have two cell phones and use one for business and one for your personal life, you will need call display to determine when and incoming call is from a client. This method works well in family settings since normally you would be the only person answering the phone. There are however a couple of downsides to using your cellular phone for business. Cellular numbers are usually not published in your local phone directory. Although these days this may not be as big a drawback as in past years. Also, You can’t ignore the calls as they come in since you have to check your phone to see who is calling. Blocked or unknown caller IDs are an issue since you don’t know if it’s a client or not on the other end. If you want to use your mobile phone for you business I suggest you have a regular land line and forward your calls when you are out.

Have a second phone line installed for your business.

This is the most tried and true method of separating your home business from family. Have a second phone installed in your office that you can either turn off or ignore after work hours. It’s easy to instruct your family, even young children, not to answer this phone. A second phone line is also useful if you are still using a fax machine. The benefit of having a second phone line is your business can be listed and searched for in your local phone directory. Phone directories may be dying out, but as long as phone companies are publishing them, they are still considered a valuable marketing tool. The drawback to having a second phone line is cost. It can get expensive, sometimes doubling your current home phone bill.

Use a service such as Ident-A-Call (your phone company may call it another name).

Many phone providers offer an inexpensive service that allows a second phone number over your existing line. This is the method I use. For a very nominal fee, Ident-A-Call gives me a second phone number without the expense of having a second phone line. Each phone number rings throughout the house but has its own distinctive ring making it very easy to tell when someone is calling the home or business line. Family members can easily tell the difference and ignore business calls. If you have voice mail service through your phone provider, Ident-A-Call gives you a second mailbox. Both mailboxes are reachable by calling either the home or business number. The caller has the choice of pressing 1 to leave a message for the family or pressing 2 to leave a message for the business. Since each mailbox has its own passcode to retrieve messages, there is little chance of young fingers accidentally deleting them. The Drawback to Ident-A-Call is your second number will not be listed in any phone directories published by the phone company.

Use an app or online phone service such as Skype or Google Voice.

There are many free or inexpensive apps and online services where you can get a phone number for your business. Although the price makes these services tempting, I would tend to avoid them for various reasons. Chances of getting a local number are very slim so your local clients would be calling you long distance. More importantly, you have no control over these service and should they close down, or you decide to change services you would be in trouble. If you need to switch services you probably wont be able to keep your phone number which is a burden and expense you should avoid. This last reason alone strikes it off my book.

Move forward with your clients’ blessings

Designing from home is great. I spent 18 years as a graphic designer in a corporate environment “working for the man” and the last 8 years as a graphic and web designer on my own. I can tell you without doubt that I will never go back to corporate life. I love the freedom I get being able to sit down and design at any time of day or night. I also love that I can walk away when I’m not feeling creative. And I love that I’ve set boundaries that my clients respect.

There are a lot of challenges involved with designing from home that I will talk about in future articles, but setting your working hours and teaching your clients to respect them shouldn’t be one of them.

Best of luck with your home based business. Stay Creative!

I would love to hear how you handle client interactions while designing from home. Leave me a comment below.