The Working Year as a Sole Trader
However, I have learnt the hard way, that actually working for yourself brings with it a high level necessity to take care of yourself. There is no sick pay, there is no-one automatically to cover if you have to miss a class, and the importance of being 100% for your clients means you can’t simply go through the motions of teaching if you aren’t particularly feeling the motivation or energy.
So what this should tell you is how important it is to pace yourself.
When I first started to teach in the community I worked as a freelance teacher for Adult Education Providers and they only put classes on for 30 weeks a year, which ran along side the school terms, 3 terms each of 10 weeks. I used to think that this was crazy, because if I ran the classes myself I could teach lots more weeks and therefore get paid for more weeks.
However, how many more weeks could I teach and still maintain a high level of quality and enthusiasm and my health to teach. Pilates classes tend to be both physical and emotional, which take a certain level of energy and personal investment to maintain a high quality product.
There are also other considerations, I was a single Mum with a son, and I needed to be available and take his needs into consideration as well as my own desire to earn more money, but also I needed the money for my living as I didn’t have a second salary coming into my household.
So when I started to organise more of my own classes, and stop being a freelance teacher, teaching for others, I decided to teach for 40 weeks a year. I could do that easily, I had that covered … so I thought!
I was a sole trader, self employed, so what happened when I was ill? What would I do if a member of my family was ill and needed me? What happened when a venue suddenly wasn’t available because they had taken a bigger, better booking. What happened during the bad weather when I had taken payment for a block booking of classes, and then the snow fell and I couldn’t get to class. What would I do - try to put replacement classes on, try to find cover and pay another teacher, refund clients, but still have to pay for the room because there wasn’t enough cancellation notice given. Plus, with 40 weeks in a year … where would I put the replacement classes and still be able to have a holiday? Then the reality of 40 weeks hits, yes it sounds great when you are just talking about how much more you can earn, but actually, what about your energy levels, your health, making sure you put on the number of classes promised and taken money for.
It wasn’t until I was ill and had to take a month off that I truly realised the need to reduce the number of weeks offered over a 12 month period. So now we offer 36 weeks of classes, yes it is only 4 weeks less than 40, but those 4 weeks mean that if teachers are ill and we cannot get cover we have a few weeks to play with over the year to add replacement sessions. This ensures that what we have promised to our clients we can easily fulfil. It is also an investment in my own and my teams health and wellbeing to ensure they take time out to recharge fully and are able to always be at their best when they are teaching. I have had some criticism about only offering 36 weeks of classes, but I am coming from a position of knowing the effects of over-working and over-promising not just on my own wellbeing, but also on my family.
It’s also about managing the expectations of clients, whatever we offer, we have to be able to fulfil, and we don't want to feel like we are letting people down.
It isn’t just about the money, and we can look at our insurance policies to ensure that we have some kind of support for long term illness, which can offer some reassurances for extreme situations, but not all insurance companies offer this to sole traders/self employed. But I will say again, it isn’t just about the money, not when your job is about providing a service, it is much more than this. It is about being the best you can be, having the energy, enthusiasm and motivation to provide the best possible version of yourself you can for your paying clients.
So think on my friends, when the pound signs are flashing before your eyes, consider the whole picture, and the fact that you probably came into this industry because you wanted to play a part in improving others lives, but also in providing a better life for yourself and your nearest and dearest. This should be at the heart of your planning and programming of your business, it’s never just about the money.
Written by: Jane M Thomas of Jane Thomas Pilates, as featured on the BBC.
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