Well, my DSL connection is a bit iffy today. I keep losing my work (yes, I know I shouldnâ€™t compose online). I am going to have to type a much shorter version of this than I had originally written. Thatâ€™s probably a good thing.
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of what turned out to be a major lifestyle change for me. Five years ago, on April 1st to be exact, I left my corporate job as a technical writer to start my own writing business. In doing so I joined what has become a growing trend in the United States–the Work-at-Home-Mom (WAHM).
It’s difficult to find statistics tracking the actual number of individuals who work from the home, but judging from the hundreds of websites and blogs dedicated to the homeworker there must be thousands of us. I actually went to the U.S. Census Bureau to find more information on this topic and discovered that approximately 4.2 million Americans worked at home in the year 2000. Considering that this data is now seven years old, I’m sure the number of homeworkers is much larger now.
Anyway, I’m sharing my journey to self-employment with the hope that others can learn from it. I did some things wrong, and some things right. Even though this is a difficult post to write I hope that by reading the WAHM posts this week you can avoid some of the wrong things that I did and learn from some of the right things.
Here’s My Story:
In 2002 I had a wonderful corporate position as a senior technical writer. I had writers who worked on projects under me. I had bonuses. I had 401k matching. I had three weeks of paid vacation. I had insurance. I had paid sick days. I had perks coming out of my ears.
What craziness could have possibly led me to voluntarily leave such dream job? Two things: my two kids.
To Good To Be True
You see, the â€œdream jobâ€ came with a nightmare workload. Just to keep up with my projects I often had to work 11 or 12-hour days. My commute was one hour each way, so that meant I was gone from home between 12 and 14 hours a day. That just didnâ€™t leave me too much time with my kids. The time we did get was usually so late in the day that they were exhausted and crankyâ€”so much for quality time!
Yes, there were a couple of wake up calls. Like, for example, the time my preschool daughter drew a picture of our family and I wasnâ€™t in it. (In my place was Grandma, who lives 900 miles away and only visits once a year.) But by and large I was convinced that todayâ€™s family needed two full-time incomes just to get by.
The Rubber Meets the Road
It wasnâ€™t until one of my children was diagnosed with a learning disability that I realized I had to slow down. We tried many things, but the only way to make sure that the child learned what was needed was for me to work directly with them.
Even though I had wanted to work from home almost from the time my babies were born I was so convinced that it wasnâ€™t possible that I did very little preparation. Instead, I sold my 401k and that money was enough to see us through while I learned to market myself and we learned to tighten our belts. (We were fortunate. I do not recommend this approach. Selling a 401k early results in a huge tax penalty.)
(By the way, we did learn to tighten our belts as a family. Tomorrow I will list some of the things that we have decided to do without in those early days.)
My First Break
It took several months of false starts and dead ends before I got my first client from a bidding site. Fortunately, the client was a good one. Shortly after that I received a referral from a colleague who had previously started a freelance business. Her lead also turned out to be a good one. Because I worked hard and made sure my assignments were as perfect as I could make them and always turned in on time, I received additional
A Business and More…
Because I wanted more time with the children I was determined to remain part-time. Staying part-time became even more important when, after only a year of owning my own business, I became the guardian of my elderly father with Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Now, I was working nearly full-time againâ€”juggling caring for my father with incoming writing jobs. Still, somehow, I managed to stay on target and to be there when the kids needed me. Best of all, instead of being an hourâ€™s drive away from the family, I was only a room away.
I was proud when, after several years of working for myself, I went to lunch with a friend who also worked part-time in a retail job. Somehow, the topic of earnings came up. (I think that we had both just done our taxes.) My friend was shocked to find out that I had earned more working at home on my computer than she had earned working part-time at her retail job. I still remember her making me repeat the amount that Iâ€™d earned over and over.
This has been another year of transition for me. In January, I lost my father. He fought valiantly against Alzheimerâ€™s disease, but in the end Alzheimerâ€™s related swallowing difficulties led to the pneumonia that ultimately took his life. I still go about my days feeling like thereâ€™s something else that I need to doâ€”of course, itâ€™s the things that I used to do for him. With college looming closer and closer for my oldest (although itâ€™s still a few years away), I plan on gradually increasing my workload this year.
Whatâ€™s ahead? As I continue to work for my existing clients, I have begun gradually build an â€œonlineâ€ writing presence for myself. This blog is only part of that effort. As my confidence has grown, fueled by my business successes, I have begun to branch out into more creative and â€œfunâ€ endeavors. Yes, I know that if I put in more hours I could make more money, but thereâ€™s a tradeoff for me. I want to be there for the people that I love. To do that, I set a goal for a maximum number of hours that I am willing to work. That means that I sometimes have to turn projects down (or not apply for opportunities that I see), and Iâ€™ve learned that it really is okay to say â€œno.â€
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved.