For some businesses—usually the ones with physical offices or retail stores—setting business hours is a no-brainer. Closing at night gives you and your team time to rest, recharge, and deal with life’s other demands before the next day begins.
But for many virtual small businesses (web design firms like us, online shops, freelancers, and other “solopreneurs”), forgetting about business hours is frequently the norm. Many virtual business owners even use that as a selling point: “We’re entirely virtual, so we can be available all the time!”
What those business owners don’t realise is that this attitude can quickly lead to too much work, not enough sleep, and many more stress-induced headaches. That’s why even a totally virtual small business can benefit from clearly defined office hours.
The extra mile
Even if you never meant to, it’s all too easy to become a business or service provider that is constantly available. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; being available to your clients—for a late night phone call, or to solve a quick problem—shows you’re committed and willing to go the extra mile for your customers.
The problem arises when going the extra mile becomes an expected part of the routine. Suddenly, helping a client with a quick bug turns into pulling an all-nighter to get a new site live. You’ll get “urgent” emails on a Sunday morning listing minor issues with a product that “need” to be fixed “immediately”. Before you know it, moving mountains to satisfy customers will become de rigueur, jeopardising your sleep and your sanity.
It’s not that your customers are taking advantage of you—at least not intentionally. Unfortunately, unless you have enough revenue to hire a crack team of customer service specialists, your overly-generous availability can quickly lead to too much work and not enough personal time: the recipe for burnout.
Ultimately, you need to set boundaries, and that’s where business hours come in. You may not be able to physically post the hours on your door and lock up the shop at the end of the day, but making sure your customers know that you won’t be reachable during certain hours can go a long way.
Setting boundaries gives you the freedom to enjoy time outside of work, without worrying about fixing random bugs or getting a site ready to deploy. It will give you time to decompress, destress, and enjoy the company of your family and friends. Further, it will let you start thinking about your business’ bigger picture, without being bogged down by a growing to-do list. If your goal is to build a lasting institution, having time to think about long-term strategy is essential.
So don’t answer that email. Don’t pick up that phone. Try going an entire weekend with all alerts and notifications disabled. Most importantly, make sure your clients understand the reason why. It’s not that you don’t want to help—you most definitely do. But you can do a better job when you’re consistently recharged, refreshed, and on your best game.
That’s something no one can argue with.