The first thing people hear when I tell them that I run my own business, is a comment glorifying the privilege of “working from home”. It usually sounds something like this:
- “Oh my God you are so lucky, I would give anything to work from home.”
- “Working from home is easier than having to go into an office every day.”
- “It must be awesome to have no boss!”
- “Do you ever work in your pajama’s?”
I won’t lie. Number three happens sometimes but only if I am sick, not going anywhere that day (meetings on Skype, appointments or errands) or if I am running behind on my laundry (which doesn’t happen often).
The truth is that running my own business is the most challenging (and personally rewarding) thing I have ever done in my life. But the misconceptions people (and sometimes clients) have about working from home are interesting from a cultural and professional stand point.
I actually ran into a fellow who is teaching ‘Giganomics’ to seniors and Baby Boomers who are looking to segue into owning small, service based or consulting businesses in retirement.
Few people are actually going to retire the way our grandparents did; it’s not a possibility for most, but he made me feel really good about myself, because he stated that his research showed less than 10% of the population are actually capable of being self-employed successfully (full time).
And then… I felt kind of cool. Not better than anyone else, just… a little cool.
The Giganomic Shift
After owning two houses in my first marriage, I was disappointed to realize (after my divorce) that owning a house in Southern Ontario was probably never going to happen for me again. The average house price in the outskirts of Toronto is well over $400,000 now, and within Toronto (or the 416) you are looking at $700k to the millions for even the smallest, oldest kind of row house. That is the price of living in the coolest city in the world (yep, still biased and miss my city).
It occurred to me that a single woman with a salary of less than $50,000 and some debt had zero chance of owning her own house. Unless I moved way, way, way, waaaay far out of the city into the scary places of Ontario where lumberjack shirts and mullets are still “the shit”. With that in mind, I was nudged by a mentor into consulting and found I had very transferable skills that businesses were willing to pay for. Previous iterations of my “small business plan” involved holistic dog treats and chihuahua fashion importing, but in one way or another I have always been paid for my writing in periodic “gigs” like resumes, assistance with editing or essays, tutoring children and other reading/writing activities.
I was looking for something to sell to build a business. It didn’t occur to me until I was mentored by a very amazing business woman, that I already had the goods within me, ready to market. I just had to figure out a few things like a) how to market my skills b) what additional skills I would need to learn (software) c) finding customers and d) pricing myself fairly (you know, in a way that allows me to pay my bills).
Giganomics is a global movement that I am sure started in countries like India and China who contain some of the most prolific consultants and project assistants in the world. They were doing it for years before we even had a name for it. They knew where the money was for projects like SEO, web design, lead generation and other services and they dominate the market with affordable, high quality technical services. I know because when it comes to content writing in a North American or British tongue, they give the business to native content writers like myself.
When you think regionally (as a traditional employee might) you are limited to the opportunities that present themselves within a reasonable driving range. If you have read my previous blog, you might remember my epic five hour (not kidding) daily commute from Bloor St. in Toronto to Highway 89 in Alliston. I am still not sure how I managed it for 3.5 years… but I sang a lot in traffic. My fuel cost for maintaining my job in Toronto was $700 to $900 per month alone. And no, I am not stupid. I was doing it for a noble reason at the time (one I kick myself for now as the strain of it impacted my health dramatically).
I will never, ever, ever commute again. I solved the problem by becoming a small business owner and full time consultant. I work from home, for clients around the world.
One Woman Many Hats
As far as the concept that “working from home” is easy, it’s not. As a small business owner I am responsible for everything. The other day in fact I wrote out my own job description as an exercise to understand the stress I sometimes feel, and to put it in perspective.
Lori Reese (Self-Employed Marketing and Brand Manager)
- Responsible for new business acquisition, lead generation and procurement of clients and contracts.
- Responsible for invoicing, accounts payable, expense reconciliation, accounts receivable, collections and contract administration.
- Responsible for content writing production.
- Responsible for social post writing, editing and scheduling production.
- Responsible for graphic production.
- Responsible for brand consultation.
- Responsible for social media response, moderation and community management.
- Responsible for activity metrics reporting monthly.
- Responsible for creative branding, promotional ideas and campaign design.
- Responsible for project management, conducting meetings, collaboration sessions and a million messages in Basecamp daily.
- Responsible for software updates, evaluating new software and equipment repair and maintenance.
- Responsible for production scheduling.
- Responsible for being creative … (which is more challenging than you think when you are a little tired).
- Responsible for friendly, cheerful, informed and service oriented value added care of all clients and business relationships.
- Responsible for continuing education, finding and attending webinars and reading about changes to technology, methods and new trends.
Believe it or not, I can’t do all this in my jammies. It’s kind of a focus thing. Make-up doesn’t always happen if I am not going out however, and I have been known to have a conference call with a dog (or two) in my lap. My dogs think the strange voices on Skype are interesting.
The Cash Flow and Detriments
For all my hard work, there are definitely stresses. For instance, if you have been accustomed to salary pay your whole life (and universal health benefits … Oh Canada I miss you sometimes!) being a self-employed individual is the opposite of comfortable. My health benefits (for the non-fancy kind) are going to run me $300 per month, because I have diabetes. What that $300 per month basically gives me is a $25 discount off my doctor visits (as long as I go to a doctor they tell me to), no discount off my medications but a promise that… if I got something terrible, like a heart attack or life threatening disease, the most I would be out of pocket annually would be $6,500.00 US. (Hey can we talk about this USA health care system? Yuck… ).
In addition to the lack of group benefit entitlement, every once and awhile (very rarely now) I get a client that goes south on a contract. This really happens less than once per year. Imagine that you found out your paycheck was going to be less $1,400 at the beginning of the month. Would you be stoked? Neither was I. But rather than arguing the point and dragging his name (more importantly my name) through the mud, I let a large and a very small client go, without any discord.
Most of my clients stay with me for years on a monthly contract, and they are a joy to serve and collaborate with. In fact, I think I’m very blessed to have the core clients I do have and the relationship we enjoy. I am truly grateful for those mutually beneficial relationships because it makes working full time subcontract possible. If I had flaky, unscrupulous clients (I’m very picky now about who I sign on) my financial and personal life would be a chaos.
Part of growing as a small business professional is becoming strategic about client selection. It costs you time and money when you make the wrong choices, and I’ll listen more closely to my gut instinct next time. I’m getting better at saying “no”.
Let’s talk about balance, environment and affordable living.
Where we live in Sherman, Texas the job market is predominantly poor. Clerical jobs are about $12.50 per hour, and the Texas minimum wage is $8.25 per hour. There are great medical and technical jobs in our little city, and we have a large college crowd at Austin College. I am growing fond of Sherman (particularly the downtown merchant area) but when I get head hunted by local personnel agencies for jobs that pay about $13 per hour, I am reminded why I prefer self-employment. I make much more than that at home.
Not only do I save on my time and energy without a commute, and enjoy a comfortable work environment (and the ability to decompress with my pets and manage stress levels better), I can design a schedule that works for my life. Mass deadlines will always have me running like a monkey from time to time and in peak season, but when the kids have their first field trip at school on December 15th, I will be able to be there. That means something to me. Diego is dying, and I am home to supervise and care for him. That means something to me. In between writing and projects, I take standing breaks and little spurts of housework (laundry, vacuuming, sweeping) that add up to free time together on the weekends… THAT means something to both of us. We aren’t playing catch up every weekend.
I can go to the grocery store when it is empty (I hate crowds). It’s the smallest things that add up to a better quality of life for me. And that quality of life is worth the economic uncertainty that any contract professional faces. The risks (and stresses) are well worth the rewards.
Advice for Professionals
I didn’t quit my day job and jump irresponsibly into my business full time. I began working as a consultant for two clients in 2009 and built a portfolio of work. I actively learned, read and taught myself the additional software skills (and sought mentors in the field) to hone my abilities. My first writing contract paid me $25 and I used Paypal to buy myself a pizza. By March of 2012, my business was generating a solid part-time income, and by January of 2013 with the support of my husband, I took the leap (almost drown due to a flaky client backing out of a large contract) and built upwards through a lot of bumps and road blocks.
Scale up. If you have a skill like writing, video editing, graphic design, voice acting or administrative skills, check out Upwork for project posts. If you are employed as a full time administrative or clerical professional, there are jobs there too that can create a robust part-time employment from home, and help you reach your financial goals faster.
Who knows… if you like it (as I did) you may find yourself working full time, enjoying that balance that you hear people talking about on t.v., and the challenge and pride that comes with being self-employed. It isn’t easy, but I have yet to meet one self-employed professional who regrets it. Almost all of them feel grateful, inspired, fully challenged and alive. Tired maybe (but that goes with the territory).
… now back to editing my three ebooks. One of my eight bosses is waiting for them. 😉