“You’re so lucky,” people often say to me. “You can work from wherever.” I know what they mean. And it’s true. For the most part. My marketing, writing and design business is based from my dedicated office at home. And when I want, I can also work from other places: coffee shops, libraries, co-working spaces, hotels and at my in-laws’ home in Norway. Other perks of being the boss of myself: not dressing up for the workplace, setting my own hours and taking lengthy vacations. Yes, working independently is wonderful.
But it isn’t for everyone.
I’ll tell you the pros first.
I love not having to dress up for work.
This maybe disappointing but I don’t work in my pajamas or just a towel. I have a friend who does, but that’s another story. Since I don’t have an office and colleagues to report to, my daily “uniform” is pretty simple: jeans, t-shirt/blouse, jacket. And sometimes shoes, too.
My day starts with getting my daughter ready, taking her to school or camp, and returning to my office where I answer emails, calls and review my to-do list which I always put together the night before. Unless I have a client meeting – in person or on Skype – it’s casual Friday everyday for me.
I love running errands during non-peak hours.
Shopping and other errands in relatively empty stores is such a treat! Everything goes more quickly, and questions get answered more easily when there are less customers fighting for the same space, products or help. I can get groceries and other shopping done quickly without the stress of huge crowds. And the drive there and back is usually pretty painless, too.
I can set my own hours. And get stuff done.
Because I’m the primary caregiver for my daughter, I pretty much work during her school hours. So I have to get everything done between the start and end of her day, which is on the short side. That said, I tend to get a lot done. Between checking things off on my to-do list and knowing exactly when I have to leave the house to pick her up from school forces me to focus on what I need to get done, what I know I can complete and what can then be put on the to-do list for the next day.
Have laptop, will go.
I’m seldom without my laptop. When meeting clients in person, I can whip it out and discuss our projects, and if necessary I can connect it to a projector and show slides on a larger screen. Similarly, I can work when traveling. I don’t like the idea of working during a vacation, but I also have peace of mind when I check email and my clients’ sites while I’m away. Free wi-fi is everywhere now and makes it easy to stay in touch with everyone while on the road.
The Cons. Yes, there are a few of those.
My hours are short.
Trust me, if I could have long hours, I would. I love what I do. LOVE it. I love writing and I love designing. And I love all of the work that goes into doing that and doing it well. But it requires long chunks of time. And because of my parental responsibilities, I often have to stop what I’m doing, put my pen down, turn off the computer and go.
What has worked for me is my beloved Bullet Journal, the Pomodoro Technique, and having a realistic number of clients at a time. Taking on too much work and not being organized is a disaster for any independent contractor. I’d love to work with more people but it’s just not realistic right now.
Clients can be demanding.
I can honestly say I love all of my clients. Seriously, I do. I’ve managed to get these clients because I have defined who I want to work with, I’ve found them, and together we’ve collaborated well. Over time they have become friends and we’ve grown together.
But some of them still contact me at weird hours or on the weekends when I’m really not that free. (Kids take up time, folks!) And they want something – a new page, a change to some text, to swap out a picture – and they want it right away. Like their business depends on it.
What has helped me: Unless it’s a really urgent situation, like a malware injection or a serious technical glitch, I try not to work on the weekends or late in the evenings. Still, clients will text or call and want immediate attention.
To reduce the unwanted calls or texts, I’m pretty open with all clients at the beginning of a new relationship. I let them know that I’m not really eager to work in the evenings or on weekends and ask them to respect that. Some of them forget that request, but most are pretty considerate.
I work online. Which means crappy internet connections are a real problem.
I really can’t say more on this topic. I have a super-fast ethernet connection in my home office. I upload and download quickly. When I’m out of my office, I often find myself in the awful position of being speed-challenged. I hate it. My clients hate it. I end up spending more time agonizing over the lack of internet speed and a good connection than getting stuff done.
What I do before an in-person meeting or traveling is check the wi-fi and other services available beforehand. I belong to a co-working space that has branches through the LA area, so I usually ask clients to meet me there. If we need a meeting room with a projector, I can arrange for that, and know that I’ll get a good internet connection, free coffee and a good place to meet. When I’m traveling, I do the same whether it’s a hotel or my mom’s condo in Washington, DC. Knowing what resources I’ll have ahead of time allows me to focus on what I need, and also, allows me to be productive.
People are my biggest problem. They disrupt and interrupt.
It doesn’t matter if I put a huge sign on my door or around my neck that says, “Please do not interrupt.” People interrupt. Most people don’t understand what working independently or remotely means; they can’t fathom it. They always say they have just one question. But they never do. They have at least three and usually more. And if my daughter is around? Forget it. She’s my beautiful, sweet little girl. But that’s exactly what she is: a little girl. She needs attention.
What has worked for me is telling people, in the gentlest way possible, and ahead of time, that I have to get some work done, block off a few hours and ask that I can be left alone during that time. It usually works. Usually.
People are my biggest problem, Part 2. They assume I’m free to help them out. Or meet whenever.
“Oh, you work from home. That means you’ve got all this free time, don’t you?” If I had a dime for each time someone has said that to me…The truth is, I don’t have any more free time than someone who commutes to an office. Yet there seems to be this perception that because I run my own business, I’m as free as a bird. No, I am not. I am not free to pick up your kids and bring them home when I pick mine up. I am not free to drop off and pick up your dry cleaning. I am not free to meet at Starbucks and drink a Venti Flat White and talk for two hours. If I could tell you about some of the insane things that people have asked me to do for them because they believe I have time that they don’t…
What has helped me deal with this perception is to tell people the following: “Yes, I work from home, and my hours are probably a bit more flexible than most. So if you need help, and I can help, then I will. But please call first, and please give me as much advance notice as possible as I often meet with clients and have deadlines. Just like you.”
I wear at least 17 hats.
It’s nice being my own boss. But I’m also the receptionist, bookkeeper, head of human resources, pr manager, assistant, custodian, cook, barista, and…the list goes on. And there are plenty of days when I wish I could spend all of my time working on the creative side of thins. But it’s just not possible. And it’s not realistic either. Money has to be made, new clients need to be acquired, bills need to be paid, invoices need to be sent out, social media has to be updated, networking has to be done and so on.
What has worked for me over the years is assigning one day a week to just admin work. This past school year that day for me was Thursdays. I’d pick up my daughter from school, take a break at the park across the street and then drive her to her dance lesson. While at ballet school, I’d whip out my laptop and crank out invoices, schedule client meetings, write my newsletter and take care of any other non-creative work.
If you’re going to run your own business, you have to have regular time to tend to the un-fun duties so that you can do the truly fun duties.
Working from home and remotely is nice. The freedom is priceless. I love wearing what I want, setting my own hours and setting the agenda for each day. I love the casualness of my days. And while it’s not possible to have a perfect life-work balance, I love the fact that I can do work I love and have time to take care of my daughter and family. At the time that I’m writing this, my daughter is eight and a half years old, and she’s growing up so fast. I feel like I’m going to blink and we’ll be attending her high school graduation, and I don’t want to miss important moments and events that will never be repeated.
Yet, with that freedom comes some discomfort. When you’re responsible for all aspects of your business, it’s important to set aside time for the tasks and responsibilities that you have and to be consistent. I’ve mentioned before that using a Bullet Journal has been a huge game-changer for me. Just knowing what I need to do each day, getting things done and knowing when I have to stop has helped me be productive and enjoy my work even more.
So if you’re thinking of striking out on your own, just be realistic. Working on your own means spending long periods of time on your own, so if you’re someone who likes being around other people, working remotely and on your own may not be for you. And if you’re not good at getting things done on your own – you need a team and maybe even a supervisor – then I wouldn’t recommend doing it either.
Like anything that’s worth doing, it takes work. Work that, if you believe in what you’re doing, is worth it.
About the author
I'm a writer and a web designer. I create one-of-a-kind websites for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. I help my clients expand their audiences, get more customers and make mo' money. Get my FREE PDF checklist, "10 Elements Your Website Needs to be Highly Effective" when you subscribe to my monthly newsletter for industry news, writing and design tips and special offers.