I began my work-from-home (WFH) journey on December 17, 2009. That day is vivid in my memory. I had just lost my job and had no idea what the future held. I packed up my desk, left the fancy office building I had come to love in downtown Chicago and made my way to the El station. I sat on the northbound train feeling nothing but dread and defeat.
“Here I am, 26 years old and unemployed. Now what?”
I walked home from the train station and collapsed into Dave’s arms. He was the one who suggested it first. “You’ve always wanted to work for yourself,” he said. “Now is your chance to give it a try.”
Year One of WFH was tough. Launching a business is no small task, and I was slowly losing my mind and quickly losing my money. I earned a mere $11,000 in the first 12 months and I was miserable. It wasn’t until Year Two that I made some drastic changes that opened up a world of opportunity and increased my annual income to $56,400. Year Two was significant for a few reasons:
- I earned $1,650 more than my last full-time job
- I made $11,000 in a single month…the exact amount I had made in a WHOLE YEAR twelve months prior
- I built relationships with amazing clients all over the U.S., many of whom I still work with today
- I was only working 20-25 hours per week
- I found the work/life balance I desperately craved
Hindsight is a valuable tool and I’m still learning and striving to do better. Take a look at the mistakes I made during my first year as a WFH writer and the steps I took to fix them.
- I wanted to do everything (and did nothing instead). December 17 was a day filled with excitement and hope, and December 18 was The Day I Went Completely Cray-Cray. I was overwhelmed with ideas and to-do lists. I didn’t know where to start or where to focus. I spent the next few months throwing my hat into every ring that would have me, and my time and income suffered as a result. I had no strategy. I had no focus. I had no idea what I was doing. I wish someone wiser would have scooped me up and given me some initial guidance. For example, nearly every WFH employee or freelancer needs:
- A website and portfolio. Resumes aren’t enough to land a job in today’s world. You need a digital presence to put your name and skills on the map.
- A well-defined career path. My current specialties are personal finance, business writing (e.g., corporate websites) and technical documentation (e.g., software manuals). 99% of my client base falls into one of these categories, which is helpful when deciding where to devote my time.
- An office. It’s no secret that I enjoy working from the sofa at times, but creating a home office is important for those days when you need to sit up straight and tune out the noise. Our tiny Chicago dining room converted into the coziest workspace in the world. There wasn’t much privacy but it was my office and it gave me the motivation to work harder. My current office has an actual door and so many perks. The reveal is coming soon!
- My schedule was crazy. The stress of launching a business was bad for my sleep patterns. I was working until 3 a.m., waking up at 11 and repeating the whole blasted process over and over again. Establishing a WFH routine is hard. While I don’t advocate wearing pants (more on that here), it’s important to wake up, take a shower, and do the same thing every morning. Sticking to a schedule is key, or else you’ll waste the day eating Ruffles and watching Fixer Upper…which would be bad… (but it sounds so good).
- I looked for work in all the wrong places. I was one step away from wearing a “Will Write for Food” sandwich board. I was willing to do anything to get published, and I scoured all the wrong places for lucrative opportunities. Here are a few things you need to know about typical job leads:
- They lie. I spent countless hours pouring over websites that promised good job leads only to find dead ends.
- They promote. Newsflash: Bloggers are paid to promote products and services. While the reputable writers only recommend sites they believe in (*raises hand*), others are not so discerning. Finding the right leads take time and energy, but they do exist. Review my preliminary list and stay tuned for many more tried-and-true resources
- My hourly rate was debatable. Insecurity led me to negotiate my hourly rate way more than necessary. $20 an hour? Sounds good. $10 an hour and a Snack Pack? Hooray, I love pudding. A fluctuating rate meant an unreliable income. I’ll talk about how to set rates in the near future, but the moral here is this: Your time has value, and it’s up to you to set a firm price.
- I was embarrassed. Confidence is a process for me. I’m not the sort of person who can jump into a new situation without testing the water first. Losing my full-time job was devastating and quite honestly, working from home was embarrassing for a long time. My mind was a constant buzz of worry and self-doubt:
Am I too soft for the “real world?”
Are my skills sub-par?
Will I ever be successful?
Allow me to save you a lot of time and heartache. Stop with the negative thoughts right now. Just stop. Don’t make me come over there! Working from home takes a certain demeanor and optimistic outlook. You won’t find success by holding yourself back at every turn. Choosing a non-traditional career path is scary, but it takes guts, and you are already stronger than you realize. You decided to go another way. You’re doing something different. You rock, my friend. And here’s another secret: everyone doubts themselves no matter their job title. Fake it till you make it as they say. Confidence comes with time.