Since I began freelancing, almost six years ago I’ve gotten mixed reactions from people. Some thought I was “so lucky” (ahem!), others couldn’t imagine the drudgery of being home 24×7 or being deprived of coffee breaks and gossip. Some thought it meant always being reachable while some smirked believing that work-from-home was a pseudonym for not working at all!
Freelance vs. work from home
Like many others, I began working from home soon after my pregnancy and it’s been a roller coaster ride. Trust me when I say that freelancing is different from a regular work from home job, which includes being a full-time employee of an organization who either chooses and or has the option to work from home.
In both instances, you’re actually working! You’re hired based on your skill set and ability to do the job. You must be accessible, meet and interact with clients or team members, report and provide updates on work status, and meet delivery deadlines. You will get pulled up or penalized for any discrepancy or non-compliance. Your performance will be assessed, and critical or constructive feedback provided. Depending on the consistency of your performance you have the potential to ask for a raise or increase your quote when approaching a newer client.
However, there are differences.
- Financially, you’re on your own. Insurance and medical benefits are your responsibility as is paying taxes and maintaining all documentation. Unless you have a few committed clients, there’s no regular monthly salary. You’re always on the lookout for newer clients and projects.
- You have to understand and be aware of legalities when signing a contract with a client. It’s good practice to have the contract legally vetted before signing so you know your liabilities, especially if it’s a big client.
- You have to continuously market yourself and your work to build reputation. You’re as good as your last piece of work. So unless you’re constantly pushing to deliver quality work, you can be easily replaced.
- You have to build your own support system. This includes creating a workplace, maintaining it to suit your needs, manage technical and communication requirements, stationery, and travel.
To be a successful freelancer, you will always have to take the initiative because your livelihood depends on it, literally!
As mothers, why do we find it difficult to rebuild our career freelancing?
The obvious answer is because you have to juggle work commitments and build credibility while looking after the baby, home and family. You have to be there for the husband, parents, in-laws and children, schoolwork, exams, PTMs, activity classes, tuitions, managing the maids and listening to their sob stories. Simultaneously, you have to network, meet clients, and complete work, ensure timely payments and promote yourself.
Yes, there is the luxury of less or no travel; being available to children on demand and the flexibility to manage home commitments. It is a huge relief. You can also take breaks whenever you want to, meet friends, have long lunches, take holidays, read and go shopping.
The struggle begins when you realize you have to,
- Create clear demarcation between work hours and home responsibilities.
- Adjust, adapt and constantly find ways to make it all happen seamlessly.
- Earn way less than what you did in your corporate career.
- Look out for work at regular intervals instead of waiting for a project to complete before finding another.
- Battle mindset. When working full time, working late is expected. The family understands and accepts that you have long days. Yet they find it difficult to accept the same now. After all, isn’t the entire point of working from home that you’re always available!
- Change your outlook. You can no longer live a dual life – one at the office and the other at home. There’s no escaping the home pressures, the unpleasantness, the turmoil, and the unhappiness. Yes, you needn’t keep up pretences but the reality of your own omnipresence will hit you smack in the face and irk you.
- Work alone and by yourself. This inevitably leads to a feeling of loneliness. You have to find ways to motivate yourself, and believe that you’re doing a great job. It’s not like you won’t get the accolades or praise or money for all the effort that you’ve put in. But when you know that you’re not under constant scrutiny, it’s challenging to maintain the same level of commitment.
- Be successful both as a mother and a work from home professional. You work out ways to manage the work so there’s the least disturbance to the family or your role as a mother, wife, and daughter-in-law.
- Simultaneously you realize that out of sight is out of mind. So as a professional you underestimate the time required to deliver a project and overestimate your skillset. The struggle to ensure that your clients or contractors believe that you’re the best they’ve got invariably makes you raise your standards way above expectations. It pushes you to work overtime because a failed delivery is a potential risk.
- Maintain a fine balance, as tipping over to any one side will mean ruffled feathers. And you’re taken for granted. Initially, you will deny the pressure forcing yourself to think positively. You’ll say, “Your life is easy. You’re doing what you wanted. Your children need you so remember that your priorities lay elsewhere!”
So what can you do to become successful working from home?
- Be you! Accept who you are and be realistic about your abilities and strengths. Be honest about how much time you can realistically invest in work and rebuilding your career.
- Redefine what career and success mean to you. Does success mean being employed or having a steady flow of work? Is it the flexibility to work at your own pace? Or is it earning a certain figure? Don’t get swayed by other people’s expectations. Create clarity for yourself. Be open that there’s always the option to change your mind later on but for now this is how it’s going to work for you.
- Work from home is work. It doesn’t allow freedom to be lackadaisical. You will get paid only if you deliver. Hustle consistently to build credibility. If you’re unable to deliver at a mutually agreed time, need a break or going on a holiday, inform your clients in advance. Proactively, create a portfolio of work for them so they don’t feel your absence. Most clients prefer to work with multiple freelancers because they’re apprehensive about being left in the lurch at short or no notice!
- It’s important for family and children to know why you’re working from home and that you need their help to achieve it. Most often when they don’t know or understand your work, cannot explain it to others, then they begin questioning your commitment.
- If you’re brutally honest and realistic then explaining yourself to family and potential employers become easier. It helps if you believe that you’re adding value and bringing in the money, no matter the amount.
- Build a support system including house help, maid, driver, pet walker (if needed) and rope in parents and in-laws when required. Delegate responsibilities, which don’t need your involvement but are necessary. They might not be done the way you want them but at least they get done.
- Build an online support system. Use apps to make life easy. Buy grocery, vegetables, cold storage, clothing, gifts, books, stationery, or extracurricular activity requirements for children online.
- If you have houseguests, be flexible but don’t stop working. Instead, go to a coffee shop or the park and work. If you respect your work then people in return will respect it too.
- Be happy! It’s okay to feel stressed and worked up when things don’t go your way or when you mess up. You can choose to feel guilty and spend time feeling miserable or you can find an alternative way out of the mess.
- Have friends or family around with whom you can talk, share, laugh and joke. Reach out whenever you feel frustrated. And yes, go have that drink if you need to!
- Manage expectations, especially your own. Every time you feel you’re overwhelmed with guilt at missing a family commitment or angry because the client failed to understand your position at home, take a break! Don’t react immediately instead walk away. Learn to forgive yourself.
Working from home is what you make it. It requires a newer you in more ways than one. You can be as successful as you want to be.