(Not) Working from Home

It's pretty common that when I meet someone new, or get stuck talking longer than usual to someone I've been avoiding for many years, one of the first questions I get is: 

DUDE: "So, what do you do?"

(internal dialogue)
I do a lot of things. But I only get paid for a handful of them. I assume this is about making benjis.  

(external dialogue)
ME:  "I'm a freelance graphic designer."

DUDE: "Oh, so you work for yourself?"

ME: "No, I work for a bunch of people."

DUDE: "Ah, cool - so do you, like, work from home?"

ME: "Yup."

Eyes light up and I can only imagine, this scene pops into their head.

homerworking.gif

I get it. I used to have the same mental picture when I heard someone say they freelanced from home. In my experience, some of these common misconceptions are echos of the truth and others just projections of a very unreal work fantasy. Let us dispel some these once and for all. 


MYTH:

You work whenever you want!

TRUTH:

Flexibility is one of the greatest benefits of freelance, it is true! I workout when most people are already at their desks. I can run errands or have a long friend-lunch in the middle of the day, or take a break to play fetch or weed in my own yard (all barring client conflicts). But I also work many more nights, weekends and early mornings per the needs of my clients. There are no 'off duty' hours. No paid vacation days. No federal holidays. CHRISTMAS DOESN'T EXIST GUYS! The horror.

So more accurately put - you have to manage yourself, juggle multiple clients, timelines, distractions and personal obligations and that takes serious self discipline. Its hard to say no to more work when your computer is RIGHT THERE. Why watch Youtube clips when you could knock out a few hours of client work after dinner? Inversely, its also hard to say no to non-work activities during a particularly lovely Wednesday afternoon. The work/home boundaries are extremely blurry.

If you're like me, you don't want to waste time making elaborate and drawn out meals (like a turkey sandwich or some sort of multi-ingredient salad) so you subsist largely on foods that are fast and are desk-safe - boiled eggs, coffee, dill pickles & maybe some stale tortilla chips or uncooked oatmeal - just whatever the cornucopia that is your tiny pantry provides. The freelance diet. I highly (don't) recommend it.

 

A freelancer must have the discipline to set goals, boundaries and timelines for yourself to keep your work-life balance sorta healthy. Everyone is different, some may have a hard time getting themselves to work enough - others may gravitate to working too much, knowing yourself and being honest about your weaknesses/strengths is integral to being successful as a freelancer. 

A merman. 

A merman. 


 

MYTH:

You work in your pajamas!

TRUTH:

Actually, yes, yes I do. But if I have important conference calls - I feel more professional in a pair of pants & my teeth brushed, so I go the distance for those instances. Plus, my morning commute from bed to desk is about 30 seconds - so you're welcome!

Ready for my video conference!

Ready for my video conference!


 

MYTH:

You get to do really cool creative work all the time. 

TRUTH:

Okay, half true. I have done super rad work as a freelancer! Creative, conceptual and really fun portfolio building work with all kinds of clients. BUT, here's the flip side. I also do my own time-keeping, invoicing, bill collecting (barf), office cleaning, make my own coffee, fix my own equipment, pay for internet and software and recruit and pitch all my own work. Freelancing means you have to budget a portion of your daily time to do all the other integral jobs other people would be doing for you in-house. You're IT, accounting, sales, director, manager, HR, secretary & designer.

For me, this is the hardest part of freelancing and if not managed well - can be a major stressor and hurdle for those considering entering the arena. It means a lot of book keeping & left-brain work. Truth is, I have no idea what I'm doing and have learned most by trial and error, google and by networking with other freelancers. Finding good time keeping, invoicing and expense management software is a good first step. Probably making friends with a good tax-consultant is smart too. 

You are a freelance machine. A one-man band powered by brains and brawn. 

You are a freelance machine. A one-man band powered by brains and brawn. 



MYTH: 

You can charge outrageous prices and dink around on the clock, cuz who's watching?

TRUTH:

First off, the implication that someone will not work without being watched is insulting, so don't imply it. The truth is, building a quality client base as freelancer is hard, and a good designer will work to establish a relationship with their clients built on timely, quality, honest work. If you're considering freelance for this reason, perform an immediate U-turn. Aside from being unethical, its not sustainable - clients pay for results, not your warm body in a seat - so you'll need to deliver as promised. An independent designer usually takes on more risk than their business clients when they enter a project - assuming payment and ongoing work - so the exchange of trust is a must for keeping that a good working partnership. Just don't. 

To the second assumption, that freelancers are expensive. Some can be, because they're work is so high-demand their rates help create filter their clientelle and protect their time. Good chance they're worth it. For most freelancers, their rates are likely equivalent or less than what you're paying for in-house talent. Just google "real cost of freelancer vs in-house" and look at the cost comparisons. A freelancer is going to charge you when they're working. Period.

Image credit: https://www.toptal.com/freelance/don-t-be-fooled-the-real-cost-of-employees-and-consultants

Image credit: https://www.toptal.com/freelance/don-t-be-fooled-the-real-cost-of-employees-and-consultants

https://www.toptal.com/freelance/don-t-be-fooled-the-real-cost-of-employees-and-consultants

An in-house office employee is going to spend as much as 2 hours a day calling, texting, coffee break-ing and social-media-ing on the clock. Then of course the cost of recruiting, equipment, IRA, taxes, insurance, training etc, but you can easily double what you'd pay for an in-house position to have a decent consultant/freelancer. In addition, if you're seeking a freelancer, odds are you aren't looking for someone to work full-time all year - so you're essentially going to have access to top quality work without the costs and time that comes with hiring someone in-house. Freelancers give you the flexibility and cost-savings many growing or over-tasked companies need to get quality work done without the risk and cost of in-house hiring. I rest my case. 


MYTH:

You are your own boss!

TRUTH:

I have as much as a dozen clients and prospective clients reaching out to me on a weekly basis. They're my bosses. If they need something delivered by 2 o'clock, I deliver. If they need me to come in for an in-face meeting on a Saturday, I'm there. Quick update to a print file while I'm at the gym? Let me find a telephone booth and I can swoop in! Okay, I'm not superwoman, but I am essentially on call whenever someone yelps. Its superhero-y. And think about it, Superman/Woman is all powerful or whatever, but their work schedule is still dictated by the needs of others. With great power comes great... okay I'll stop. 

I also have two furry office mates that strictly dictate when we take lunch and potty breaks and steal all my snacks - so I have somewhere around a dozen bosses and 2 managers. But guess what, I couldn't pick better bosses. :)

My extremely demanding managers. 

My extremely demanding managers. 

There are probably many more of these I could do, but that's all this lady has time for today. My managers say its lunch time.  ;)

 

Emily Bunnell