Workin’ 9-5, what a way to make a livin’! We just love a blast of Dolly here at Dinghy HQ. Partly because, well, she’s awesome. And partly because it reminds us of one of the best things about freelancing – the freedom to break out of the rat race of “office hours” and to set your own schedule.
Many people are attracted to freelancing by the promise of more flexible working hours. A standard 9-5 day isn’t a good fit for lots of people. Perhaps you’re a night owl who does your best work when everyone else has gone to bed. Perhaps you’re trying not to miss out on precious time with family, or you have caring responsibilities for elderly or disabled relatives. Perhaps you’ve got a hobby or passion to devote time to, or a partner who does shift work.
Dinghy’s here to help you meet those freelance goals – how can you make flexible hours a reality? Like many aspects of self-employed life, it does involve a bit of thinking ahead, boundary-setting and managing client expectations. In this guide, we’ll give you some steps to help spring your new schedule into action and break free of the 9-5.
Decide on your new freelancer schedule
Your first job is to work out when it is you want to work. This could be determined by external factors, such as the availability of childcare or your spouse’s job. Or it could be a matter of preference: you’d prefer to get up early and work from 6am so that you can keep afternoons free for hiking up hills or painting portraits.
You might need to work a variable schedule, not the same set hours each week – and that’s okay too – as long as you’re upfront with clients about when they will be able to get hold of you.
There will, of course, be some projects where the client wants you to be available for certain commitments. However, you should be wary of any contract that tries to tie you into set working hours – that could be an indicator that your work is not genuine self-employment under IR35 rules (which might apply if you undertake your freelance work through a limited company).
Let existing clients know when you are available
Once you’ve decided on your freelancing schedule, the next step is to inform your existing clients. This is particularly important if there are big changes that will affect the way you usually work with them: for example, if the day you submit finished projects will change, or if you’ll need to reschedule a regular meeting slot you have with them. Popping it in an email should be fine. Some freelancers offer an indication of their availability and working hours on their website, or you could consider having it outlined in your contract or agreed in project briefs. Invite clients to discuss the changes with you if there’s anything that concerns them. There’s usually a compromise to be found if necessary. You’ll also be able to reassure them that the quality of your work won’t change – just the time at which you’ll be doing it!
Add it to the footer of your emails
The working world has become much more open to flexible working recently, both thanks to campaigning and to the adaptations we all made during the COVID lockdowns. However, there is a certain type of client that will still have that 9-5 mindset and will wonder why you’re not getting back to them if they email at 11am on a Thursday when you’re in the middle of your toddler’s swimming lesson. If you work a flexible or unusual schedule, it’s a good idea to add it to the footer of your emails. That way people know when they can expect a reply, or when there’s likely to be a delay in getting back to them. It also takes a bit of pressure off clients and collaborators – if you email them at 10pm and your signature reassures them that you don’t expect a reply until they are back in work themselves!
Make smart use of out-of-office auto-replies
If you work part-time hours and are off work for part of the week, you could put an out-of-office responder on during these times. This is again about managing expectations, letting your clients know when they can expect a response.
Some freelancers might choose to have a sneaky quick look at their emails on these days anyway and reply to anything that’s especially urgent, knowing that the rest of the replies can wait til next week. Alternatively, you could ask clients to contact you on your mobile for anything urgent. But that’s a personal choice – using an auto-reply is a really smart way to manage correspondence in the way that works for you and your schedule, while still keeping your clients happy and informed.
Get insurance that’s flexible
Whatever freelancer hours you work, make sure your business is protected with proper insurance. Dinghy offers professional indemnity, public liability, and business equipment insurance tailored to freelancers. Because we recognise that freelance work is flexible and fluid, we let you turn cover on and off with just a click when you’re not working. It’s perfect for freelancers who work part-time or flexibly because you only pay for the cover you need. You can get quotes straight to your inbox 24/7, so just head to our website whenever suits you.