Just Say No

Image via Flickr user mslavick.

One of the benefits of working at home is making your own schedule and working uninterrupted by colleagues stopping by, loud conversations down the hall, pointless meetings and just office life in general.

It’s nice to sit down at your desk and hear the tweeting of the birds outside and just the click of your own mouse. To keep this peaceful work environment in tact, work-at-home freelancers need to learn to set up boundaries and just say no.

I am not talking about saying no to drugs, although that’s helpful, too! I am talking about saying no to people in your life who ask you for favors assuming that you are home all day anyway.

It is a freelancer’s privilege to not be tied down to a desk all day on a strict eight-hour regiment. This does not mean you need to become the neighborhood dog walker, baby sitter, mail getter, dry cleaning picker upper or what have you.

If you work at home as a freelancer it is important to set up work boundaries and learn how to say no to friends, neighbors and family members who ask you to do favors for them during the workday.

Here are some tips for establishing boundaries and saying no to nagging favor-seekers:

1. Be communicative about what you do
If your neighbor sees you out on the porch in sweatpants every day sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, they may assume you are unemployed or that you have a trust fund! It’s important to let others know that you have a full-time job that consists of being your own HR, billing and marketing departments as well as completing projects for clients. If you bill yourself as a professional and sell what you do, you will earn more respect from people, and they’ll be less likely to assume you can help with their errands.

2. If it’s not a work call or e-mail don’t answer it right away
This one happens to me a lot. I am in the middle of writing a blog post and my cell phone rings. It’s the neighbor. If I was working in a cubicle in an office and my neighbor, my friend or even my mother called, would I answer my cellphone? Probably not. Same goes for freelancers. Just let it go to voicemail and answer the call at the end of the day. Or when you see the person or next speak with them say, “Sorry I missed your call I was on the phone with a client.” This way people know that you are not available 24/7 and it will hopefully decrease the phone calls and requests during the workday.

3. Say no affirmatively and politely
If you are on a deadline, then 20 minutes to walk a friend’s dog, let the cable guy in or pick up dry cleaning can seem like an eternity. If you can’t do what’s being asked of you, or you find it the least bit inconvenient, just say no. Say it once, affirmatively and don’t waver. This establishes a good precedent and makes it much easier to say no in the future, or to say yes if the person eventually desperately needs help.

4. Ask to be paid or barter for another favor
As a last resort, if someone is repeatedly asking you for help with something, or if it’s a recurring task or favor, ask to be compensated with money or barter. Favors become a lot more tolerable if the recipient kicks you a few dollars a week, bakes you homemade cookies, or gives you a ride to the airport when you need one.  Asking to be compensated will drive home the point that your time is valuable and you take yourself seriously (even if you get to wear sweatpants every day!).

4 Responses to Just Say No

  1. Britt January 25, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Found this related post on Web Design Ledger on Top 8 Dreaded Favors Asked of Web Designers: http://webdesignledger.com/tips/top-8-dreaded-favors-asked-of-web-designers

  2. Brian January 28, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Great advice Britt – so many people assume that when you work at home you can do what you wish at your leisure. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – we often end up working more hours and have less leisure time than the 9-5ers. Still, the ability to take a vacation day, albeit unpaid, at will is a nice perk. So long as the deadlines are met!

  3. Adam Gottlieb February 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Hi Britt,

    Great post… As a home-based small business owner myself I think #1 and #3 are really key tips to follow- you have to communicate clearly to people that between such and such hours you are “at work” and you can’t be disturbed. I would also add, that your message (and behaviour) has to be consistent for people to really get the clue. Gte ready to repeat yourself several times ;)

    Adam Gottlieb

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