The never-ending fight for flexibility

This month’s blog features a repost from Amanda, a valued member of the TAA team.

Flexibility in business is never a given

Did you start your business out of desperation for greater flexibility and to finally strike the ultimate work/life balance? Perhaps you’ve heard all the gushing stories about the incredible flexibility of being your own boss.

It’s easy to see the allure of being your own boss when you sit in an office every day working for ‘the man’ and feeling anything but flexible. Being able to choose your own hours, pick your own (ideal) clients, and work at a warm and cheerful local café would have seemed like a dream come true.

So you took the plunge, quit your job, and started your business.

But the reality of no longer working for ‘the man’ quickly hit you – hard.

The first reality hit was realising that, as with most new small businesses, there’s no such thing as an ideal client. No longer having that regular wage to rely on meant a client who would pay became your only criterion.

The next realisation was that most clients expect you to be available not only 9-5 Monday to Friday but also outside of business hours. And then it dawned on you. What happens when you’re unwell or need time off work? Who helps you, then? Suddenly, working 9-5 in an office for ‘the man’ doesn’t look too bad.

So what happens next? Do you quit the business you started and go back to having a regular job? It’s a guaranteed wage with some flexibility and other team members to back you up when you can’t work. But the ‘flexibility’ you get is only what your boss gives you, and so you have little (if any) control over it.

Or do you keep struggling to run your own business – a business you’re becoming less and less passionate about because it makes you feel like an indentured servant?

What about fighting for your flexibility?

You can have flexibility when working for yourself. But it might not look how you thought it would. And whoever said it would be a given? Because it’s certainly not a given, even when working for ourselves. We need to work for it and, in some cases, fight for it. We need to make flexibility part of our business culture and infuse it into everything we do – from the boundaries we set to the language we use.

This will obviously be different for everyone, and so having a prescriptive approach won’t help. Every business is unique, as are its owner’s needs, passions, desires and dreams. And so what ‘flexibility’ looks like to each one of them will vary enormously.

Here are three things to remember to help keep flexibility at the forefront of your business.

Language matters

No more apologies. How can we call it ‘flexibility’ if we’re constantly apologising for it? When our emails are filled with “Sorry for the late response”, “Sorry for not replying sooner”, and every other reason for being sorry, we’re implying that our need for flexibility somehow diminishes our professionalism.

And that simply isn’t true.

Being upfront with your stakeholders about what you’ll tolerate sets the standard for what they can expect right from the start. So start saying “Thank you” instead.

Using phrases such as “Thank you for your patience” and “Thank you for your understanding” confidently expressing our needs without apologising. By setting this standard from the start, you show how you expect your clients to treat you.


With business boundaries, it’s all about doors and walls. And like those in your home, doors can open and shut, but walls are solid.

We often say that boundaries are effective only when they’re rigid. We’re expected to have ‘rules’ we can never break. But disregarding the nuance of a given situation doesn’t help us create a flexible work/life balance.

For example, how is refusing to answer your phone after 5 pm helpful if you know that call could lead to a lucrative contract?

Creating flexible boundaries can help overcome this. Part of claiming our flexibility is deciding what we consider a non-negotiable (a wall) and what we’d be willing to compromise on (a door).

And these decisions aren’t black and white. They develop over time. So embrace the shades of grey, and always be curious and mindful about how your boundaries affect your work/life balance.

Embrace sacrifice

Flexibility comes at a cost. And we need to acknowledge and embrace the sacrifice, knowing flexibility is rarely cheap or easy.

In our effort to escape the short-term feeling of discomfort, we often end up sacrificing the long-term gain of working flexibility. For some, leaving an email unread during the weekend or letting the phone go to voicemail feels excruciating. But if we learn to tolerate this discomfort, we free ourselves up to our long-term goal of achieving flexibility while working and growing our businesses.

The work/life balance scale doesn’t stay balanced for long. But that’s not the goal. Instead, we need to understand how each sacrifice affects our sense of flexibility on either side of the scale.

Work/life balance?

These tips won’t give you complete flexibility. But that’s precisely the point. Many new business owners are shocked to discover that flexibility is an ongoing process and never a given.

And acknowledging that fact is a significant first step.

Then comes the realisation that it might feel different to what you expected because the way flexibility works for you will be as unique as your needs.

Consider this a reminder to stay curious about how your business decisions can affect your private life. The key is to be gentle with yourself. Don’t underestimate the shock of transitioning from being employed to being self-employed. Flexibility is a long-term fight that demands daily attention, so be kind to yourself as you navigate it.

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