Two years ago, I switched from my corporate job to the freelance world in order to refocus my priorities and spend more time with my 7-year-old daughter. This was a good decision, yet as someone used to donning business suits and working "regular" hours as a marketing specialist for nearly 12 years, it was quite a switch. Not only did I stop carrying my coffee in a stylish to-go container (I opt for the same green ceramic mug most days), I also had to figure out how to be self-motivated and engaged every single day since I no longer contributed to someone else’s bottom line: I was the creator of my own.
I admit it took me roughly six months to completely acclimate to my new work-from-home environment, and the work was slow at first as I plodded along within the freelance marketplace. The irony is that before this move and career switch, I was already the wearer of multiple hats: mom, wife, writer, bill payer, chauffeur, cook, etc., but now I had to sometimes wear two or three of these hats at once, all while trying to meet deadlines and market myself to new places.
Fortunately, I am a helluva multitasker and while sometimes it is daunting being the boss of this freelance enterprise which happens to share my name, my only employee is me so I’m fairly motivated to keep this going. That said, there are several things I’ve learned since becoming my own boss. Here are five of them:
One thing I remind myself of constantly is that procrastination thrives on distraction. I work best with a to-do list and create one every single day. Not only do I write down my work tasks so I meet deadlines, but I also list the household tasks—and my daughter’s after-school activities—for the day so that I know what needs to be accomplished. Without it, I feel unfocused. Before I started creating a daily list, I would often get sucked into scrolling through Facebook updates or celebrity gossip without realizing how much of my morning had been wasted. In addition to my daily list, I also keep a long-term-goal list that doubles as my idea list for future pitches or publications to target. That way, when I’ve completed what needs to be done (some days are more jammed than others), I can turn to my long-term list to brainstorm next steps or research other ideas.
It doesn’t matter when you do it, but schedule a break into your day. Not only does it give you time away from the computer, but it will also give you time to think—without the interruption of email or distraction of social media. No one can be "on" 100% of the time. I think it’s easier to lose track of time when you work for yourself and no longer have walks to the staff lounge for coffee or coworker pop-ins to break up your day. My typical workday is based around our animals and my daughter’s school day. After she and my husband leave for work/school, I walk our dog around 7:15 a.m. Then, I work until 11 a.m. or so before heading outside to feed and water our chickens and ducks and collect the day’s eggs. My daughter is out of school at 2:45 p.m. and I try to wrap up my day before pickup.
Many times, while on deadline or because I have a call scheduled, I’ll be back to work after her bedtime, but I try to keep a regular schedule for my sanity—and to limit procrastination. Occasionally, when I feel completely unfocused or dried out of ideas, I will make a point of shutting off my computer, making a cup of tea, and doing something completely for me, whether it’s reading a book, watching a show online, or taking a walk. It’s important to not beat yourself up if you can’t focus. Even the hardest workers do better with down time.
Even though I no longer sit through boardroom meetings or need to check in with coworkers, I still have a team that I rely on. My primary team includes my husband and daughter, who both act as my general sounding board throughout the day as well as my cheerleaders. You would be surprised how carefully you reread something when your 7-year-old points out that what you wrote didn’t make any sense. Additionally, depending on the day, I have other teammates even though I am essentially a solo operation: friends and family whom I trust to review a piece before I turn it into an editor, fellow writers that act as commiserators, and editors whom I check in with like I would a manager. While I am in charge of my work—and my paycheck—there are still many who contribute to my day.
Without a network, I don’t have work. It's up to me to build it, market to it, and expand on it. Creating a network of editors, experts, and fellow writers is critical to my job and I don’t have anyone else building it but me. While I had a few contacts in the freelance world before I decided to join it, a few contacts won’t get you very far. And if you’re your own boss, it’s up to you to build a network yourself. You have to give it plenty of attention by marketing to it daily and expanding upon it frequently. I find myself using both Twitter and LinkedIn as ways to keep connections going and I use them daily. Not only will this give you a steady stream of work, but it will also create ways to meet others who may be doing neat things. This means that you need to be savvy with social media and learn how to crack email addresses when necessary.
Aim high first. Never lower your standards because someone told you "no thanks." I tend to ask myself the same question multiple times per day: What do I have to lose? Fear of rejection in this line of work will not help you succeed. If you’re interested in a certain company, a specific project, or, in my case, either a specific article or publication, knowing that you won’t get every single one is part of the process. That doesn’t mean you should aim low. In my case, when I was first getting started writing as a second career, all I had was an idea for an article that I was incredibly passionate about and some background interviews and research. I was rejected so many times before deciding that starting at the top, rather than the bottom, was the only way to go. I ended up getting my article published in National Geographic because I decided, what do I have to lose?
Working from home—and juggling that work-life balance—is never easy. In fact, having these two worlds merge makes it harder at times. Knowing that I’m able to work for myself while achieving personal fulfillment and success is worth it—not to mention the satisfaction of knowing that all of the victories are my own.