Chris Bibey of ChrisBlogging.com recently had an interesting post that I'd like to expand upon: Can Freelance Writers Work 7 Days a Week?
I doubt anyone would say you "can't" work seven days per week as a freelance writer - the real question (and one that Chris addresses regarding burnout potential) is "should you?"
My view is this: No. Most people should not try to work seven days per week when taking on freelance writing jobs.
I feel almost hypocritical saying that, because I used to do it myself. But it's from that experience that I'll tell you it can be a huge mistake. This is what my life used to look like:
- Wake up. Workout. Shower. Get dressed.
- Eat breakfast while checking email, forum PMs, forum post responses, my blog comments, etc.
- Start working for my PR clients - anything from writing press releases to ghostwriting feature articles to being on the phone with members of the media.
- Eat lunch while going through email and such again, returning calls, returning any emails I didn't return earlier - at least as far as I could work through them (it could take a few days to get back to people during the busiest times). Spend some time networking (forum posting, commenting on others' blogs, emails and calls to colleagues, etc.).
- More PR work if I hadn't finished up, and then worrying about my own blogs and sites.
- I'd stop for an hour or two in the evening. That's when I'd run errands and such most of the time.
- Dinner and freelance writing work.
- Hit the sack (usually very late).
Given, I was doing more than just freelance writing for clients, but believe me - you don't want to live like that. It's not worth it. And that's a very general sense of what my days were like, seven days per week.
I learned the hard way that not only is it OK for the self-employed to take time off, but that it's necessary. I try very hard now to quit most of my work by 5pm on weekdays, and to stay away from client work on the weekends. I'm not doing the best job of it - I spend that time now working on my own sites, e-books, books, etc., but at least it's more personal, so I have a different kind of satisfaction from what I'm doing.
Here's the way I look at it - you need to plan this stuff out from the start:
- You need to decide before you start freelancing how many hours per week you want to (and can realistically) work each week. Do not overestimate. If you do, you'll burn out and start to hate what you do in time - and loving our job is one of the biggest perks in freelance writing!
- You then need to set your freelance writing rates properly based on those hours (and understanding that your total working hours are NOT equivalent to your billable hours - in other words, saying you want to work 40 hours per week and charge $50 per hour does NOT mean you'll earn$2000 per week!). Figure out your billable hours (in the beginning, it should only be around half if you're properly marketing yourself and dealing with administrative duties).
- Set up your work schedule in a way where your billable hours fall in your most productive periods - or as close as possible. This allows you to maximize your billable time - if you do that, you may not feel like you need to increase overall hours, because you'll get more done in less time.
If you choose to work a certain number of hours, choose your freelance writing rates, and you can't earn enough to get by even with that time filled, then you screwed something up in your planning. The solution isn't to cram more clients in at those current rates by working another 10 - 20 hours per week, or another day during the week. The solution is to go back to square one, and re-evaluate your billable hours and fees. It means you're either not charging enough (maybe you forgot to factor in expenses), or that you're not marketing yourself effectively to the best markets.
I'm not saying you should never increase your working hours. But adding billable hours is generally the wrong approach. Instead, spend those extra hours marketing yourself to a high-paying client base to start earning more for the same amount of time (that marketing time is an investment in higher future earnings, and doesn't have to remain as a schedule increase forever, whereas more billable hours don't invest anything into your overall career).
I know it can be tempting to work when you should be enjoying time off. It's something I still struggle with. I'd just hate to see other writers follow in those footsteps when they don't have to - it's all about proper planning, and getting control over your schedule in the beginning. Once you allow yourself to become a workaholic, it's a very difficult habit to break.
So what do other writers here think? Should you work 7 days a week? Should you work more than 8 hours a day? Is it appropriate to try to cram in more clients, thinking about the short-term rather than the long-term planning? Is it OK to make that a regular habit?