Working from home is growing in popularity - a switch from the corporate lifestyle of times gone by, and people needing to find ways to create that elusive work/life balance.
If you've never worked from home before, and you're wondering how to make it work, it's sensible to think through the worries and the positives - and important to create a working environment that works for you in your home.
I have been working from home - either full time or as a suppliment to other employment - since I was a student, which means I have fifteen years of experience with the freelance life - and in that time I've learned what works for me, what absolutely doesn't, and what advice I offer to others who ask if it might be the right choice for them.
Writing it all out became a lot longer than I anticipated - so I will be sharing my best freelance advice in a series of blog posts in the coming days - beginning with this:
You know yourself better than anyone - and if you are thinking about working from home because it gives you more freedom, fewer distractions, and opportunities to build your own brand outside of the politics of corporate life, that's great - but if you want the chance to lie in, wear pyjamas all day, and soak in some trashy daytime TV while you get paid for the pleasure, you are probably not in the right mindset!
Before you commit to working from home, you have to be realistic about what your motivations are, and whether you're going to be able to switch off from the distractions of 'being home' and properly dedicate your time to working when you need to, without the pressure of a boss in the next office who might catch you browsing Facebook...are you self-disciplined enough to stick to a schedule, meet deadlines and get your head into work mode without anyone watching?
If not, if you respond better to a formal working environment, or know that you're likely to slide into bad habits, perhaps it's not the path for you. Try speaking with your current employer and setting up a system where you trial working from home part time, and see how it works for you before you throw yourself into freelancing full time? It's not for everyone - and you have to do what works for you.
Here are some of the ways I made freelance life work for me.
Carve out a space
Initially, I gave myself a proper office - a desk, a swanky office chair, a filing cabinet and whiteboard on the wall, and I set it up to look very like all the professional offices I had worked in. But as time passed, I found that I would "just quickly do that email" at the dining table, and the office became a bit of a dumping ground - my desk went from functional to 'file that later' with papers and notes piled haphazardly, and I spent more and more time working from the table downstairs - where the light was better, I was more comfortable, closer to the kettle, and I could open the patio doors and get fresh air.
I kept trying to make myself work in the 'office' - but it really wasn't where I worked; when I moved house, I didn't even find somewhere with a room I could have as an office - I have a large cupboard space where my files live, and I work at the dining table, with a bookcase beside me where I stash my notebooks and the files I'm actively using that week. And because it's the family dining table, I can't leave my paperwork strewn all over it (or at least not all of it...) so I have to file things and tidy up at the end of every working day, which helps me to stay more organised.
It's vitally important that you have a place where you feel 'work' - but it doesn't have to be a formal office; I have been guilty of curling up on an armchair or sofa with my laptop, but my osteopath will confirm that this is a bad decision - you need somewhere comfortable, but which is also practical and won't crumple your spine - and the more natural light (and kettle access) you have, the better. I also spend quite a lot of nicer days working on the garden table - because it's one of the wonderful perks of being self employed!
Do your boring admin
As I said above, working at the dining table means I have to file things away more regularly than I would choose to (ugh, I HATE filing) and it's so easy to throw receipts to one side and think "I'll sort that out tomorrow..." and then you find that there's been six months of tomorrows and you can't find an important piece of paper, or remember what that receipt is for, or recall quite who you invoiced and whether you need to follow up...
I am a creative person, and find my flow in copywriting very easily - but my flow when it comes to doing my accounts or filing takes more conscious effort. In my 'home office' I lost all kinds of important things, insisted I'd remember things to come back to later and didn't, and made a big mess of my filing cabinet. My current set up means it's easier to just set half an hour aside each day to properly organise my paperwork and file things where they ought to be.
It's all well and good being 'a creative' - but you absolutely have to commit to the admin if you run your own business. You have to do those accounts (and put money aside for that tax bill!) you have to keep the receipts, you have to file the invoices, you have to keep on top of it all - and if you really don't think you can, outsource it - get yourself a VA, hire an accountant, and let the grown ups take over - but don't make the mistake I did when I first set up and think "I'll worry about it later" - because you're making a huge problem for yourself!
That takes us nicely to my next point:
Manage your time - and be strict with yourself
I put time aside at the end of each working day to put things where they should be, and have a proper system for my invoices, receipts and recording my working hours (something I didn't do for a long time, and regret not committing to earlier!) and I find that it's made my working time much more productive if I set a schedule - if I say I have three hours for researching and writing an article, then stick to that timing, and if I have a map of my working week with blocks laid out for what each client needs and when I'm committed to delivering that specific piece of work, I achieve far more than if I just drift from piece to piece as it comes in.
I begin each day with a to-do list, read through any new emails which might change the plans, then schedule my time - including set times for breaks and meals - and then I don't end up daydreaming for a few hours and having to work past midnight to catch up.
It is so easy to find yourself wasting time or drifting about - and without a boss telling you what to do it can take a while to adjust to setting your own deadlines and schedule - but it's so important that you have times which you commit to working.
The 9-5 life might not have been your bag - and maybe you're one of those (insane) people who wake at dawn and find that the early hours are the most productive - if so, wake early, work for a few hours, then enjoy afternoons of freedom. Maybe you're more of a night own (hey buddy!) and you can take your mornings slowly, and get your deadlines met in the evenings. The magic of freelance life is that you work when it works for you - but be sure that you really do, and that you are strict with yourself about sticking to the commitments you've made...because:
You. Are. Not. At. Home.
It takes me time to 'train' people - my partner, my kids, neighbours and friends who want to meet for coffee. I work from home, so yes, technically I'm home - as in, I'm in the house - but I'm also at work. So no, I can't meet for coffee, I have clients waiting for copy. I can't run a few errands - that's hours of my working day. I can't dog-sit for you or watch your toddler for a couple of free hours of childcare - because I'm at work.
I also can't clean the oven, do eight loads of laundry, or just run the hoover around - because I. Am. At. Work.
When you start working from home the freedom is incredible - and you do get a bit giddy with the ability to set your own schedule - and if you've got a deadline the beast of procrastination rears his ugly head, and it's so easy to think "I'll just quickly..." and do a full spring clean, or to think you'll just pop to the post office and find yourself in TKMaxx trying on ball gowns for events you've not even been invited to (cough) but then you realise that you're meeting friends for coffee, walking a neighbour's dog and inviting a stranger with a clipboard inside to take part in a survey and you've got no work done all day at all - and not getting work done = not getting paid, which is kind of important!
Of course it's more flexible than corporate life - that's one of the reasons we do it - but make sure that everyone around you understands that you are still working, this isn't a sweet little hobby, and your working time needs to be as respected as anyone else's - and if that means working in a back room and not answering the door or house phone, then that's what you do!
Come back tomorrow for more
There's enough information there to be going along with - but I will be sharing more tips, more examples from my own journey into freelancing, and more stories of when I got it spectacularly wrong - so sign up to follow the blog's updates on that handy pop up each page has, or fill in the
contact form and I'll add you to the list - and let me pop into your inbox with the next instalment.