Here’s a question from Facebook about how to be “out of the office” when you work from home:
I do all of my personal and business through my cell. I really don’t want to get a cell just for work, but it drives me crazy when my clients text me.
I prefer email or phone call WITH a voicemail, but it seems that they prefer to text me. Why?
I had a bride text me 2 days after having my baby (knowing that I just had a baby) to check-in on her gallery and when I did not respond (I HAD JUST HAD A BABY), she proceeded to text my husband/business partner saying that I never got back to her, etc.
I had sent an email out to all of my clients, posted on my Facebook page, and put on my contact page that I would be out of the office until at least this coming Monday so that I could focus on my family.
I am aware that in owning a business I kind of don’t have a choice other than to not be able to enjoy a few days off for privacy, but I would love to know if there is some better way of going about it. Do I get a landline and be done with it? How do you handle being “out of the office” when there’s no office?
— Ashley, Mom Photographer, Ohio, United States
The short answer: No, don’t get a landline. You can handle being “out of the office” without a physical office by overhauling your business boundaries.
Establishing Smart and Firm Boundaries
As a mother, we biologically change to accommodate our children’s needs above our own. Our body literally restructures its physical boundaries to give our best resources to our baby. If your business is your baby, too, — something you’ve conceived, nurtured, and grown — you should likewise restructure boundaries to give your best resources toward its survival.
Being “out of the office” requires boundaries, but when boundaries feel challenging to set and maintain, we often avoid setting them at all.
This is a fear-based response: We’re scared that we’ll lose the sale because clients aren’t getting what they want, when they want it. We’re scared current clients will give us a bad review that will repel prospective clients. We feel obligated to listen all the time.
The people who complain about the boundaries you’ve set are the ones who benefitted from you not having any in the first place.
Setting the Written Boundaries In-Advance
Life happens. You might not be able to predict when grandpa is going to pass away, but you do get ~40 weeks notice that a baby is going to be born. For the times both predictable and unpredictable, you can have a predictable response mode that can be implemented in-advance.
Use Email as Your First Line of Defense
Broadcast Newsletter to Your Mailing List
Keep a basic newsletter that describes your out-of-office terms on-draft for you or your team to send out when needed. Include alternative contacts for emergencies, suggest some resource locations, point back to any contract agreements, and offer a *possible* time of return if you really feel its necessary.
Add Office Hours to Your Signature
If you keep a regular schedule, note that in your email signature. You’re informing clients with every exchange they have with you in-advance of when they might need those hours.
Most email providers allow a drafted auto-message to be scheduled ahead. Some even allow for multiple auto-messages to be saved, so you can draft options as you’d need them.
For example, you might have an extended “I’m away for the next 4 weeks” message, or an “I’m away for an unexpected emergency”. Like with your e-newsletter, include alternative contacts for emergencies, suggest resource locations, point back to contract agreements, and offer a possible time of return if you feel its really necessary.
Leverage Social Media Scheduling
Keep a drafted Facebook message, Instagram post, etc. in a Trello board, so that you or a helper can copy the text over or hit “publish” with ease.
Change Your Voicemail Message
Hit record and read this done-for-you script:
Hi! You’ve reached Ashley. At the time of this voicemail recording, I’m literally having a baby. My health, and my baby’s health, requires a quiet recovery time. Thank you, in-advance, to my clients, for understanding that all messages received here will be deleted.
If you have questions that cannot be answered by referring back to your contract, please send an email to [email name] and the auto-responder there will let you know when to expect a reply.
You should be able to step away from your business for 2 full weeks and return to a fully functioning business.
When life happens, as it does, you need to be able to acknowledge that “work” isn’t a priority + not feel guilty for not being 100% available to clients or that you’re taking food out of your family’s mouth.
You need to have your Minimum Viable Business available. Ask yourself: What’s the minimum amount of work I can be doing to make some profit?
Consider what you can automate — email replies, new customer inquiries, sales funnels.
Consider what you can outsource — editing, graphic design, website maintenance, copywriting, photography, social media posts, financial recording, and administrative organizing, etc.
Then, edit your service contract to outline when people can expect a response from you outside of an emergency situation.
Your contract should include your cell phone texting boundaries — whether that’s “only on the day-of-event” or “Mondays only”. Personally, I would ask for everything to be written in an email upfront because email reaches me just as fast as texts on a smartphone without the notification interruption. With new clients, start communicating that right from the first meeting when you discuss how they can work with you.
Once you’ve reworked your system, schedule a test-run. Give yourself a 2-week vacation to let the kinks work themselves out + identify what’s not working still.
Have a Return to Action Plan
Assuming you did the best you could to setup those 2 weeks for a hiatus, go back into your business pretending its not your business.
Pretend you’re a consultant. Go “back to work” with a birds-eye view, being as emotionally-detached as possible (which is much harder to do with pregnancy and new mom hormones flooding through you by the way), and assess:
This is what worked.
This is what didn’t.
This is where I should’ve focused more.
This is where I should’ve focused less.
This is what I totally overlooked altogether.
This is an area where I could make more money by doing it this way.
This is an area where I could make less work by doing it this way.
Only make notes. Over time, as you plan to take more time off or want to extend your maternity leave, you then outsource what you can of that to-do list + only focus on the things you must focus on before taking time off again.
Rinse and Repeat
The more you practice this cycle, the more time off you can spend on your business to focus in other areas of your life that matter just as much or more.
You may have become a photographer because you love the client-photographer interaction, you love being able to bring a vision to life, to make people feel confident and beautiful, to capture a one-time event so that it can be an enjoyed-again-and-again memory, to express yourself creatively, to feel like you’re escaping to a new world, to actually maybe travel to a new world, etc.
But motherhood may change your desire for those things someday.
By repeating this practice and editing your boundaries often, you can adjust to the parts of your business you might be gravitating more towards without compromising the mechanical parts that still guarantee that paycheck.
For Ashley, that might mean delivering that vision + confidence to her client through highly-focused editing when someone else captures the raw moment because she’s feeling like she’d rather be home on weekends than traveling to weddings right now.
This could mean Ashley chooses to not spend time fielding new clients, but instead making phone calls after they’ve been culled through by an assistant who screens the incoming emails for her first + picks what would be a good fit as a first line of decision-making (like who has the budget and flexibility and available dates for her), etc.
Once you have these systems in place, they’ll get refined over time + you’ll love the process of doing so, because you’ll have the proof of how much more freedom you have every time you make an edit.
Feeling stuck or pressed for time?
Out of all of the questions I field as a life and business consultant for mom entrepreneurs, this one is in the top 5. You’re not alone! If you would like a tailored system for being “out-of-office” for your specific situation, send me a message to learn how we could work together or leave them here in the comments below. Happy to help!