You may not think there’s any difference between simply working from home and having a freelance career, but having now done both, I can say there are fewer similarities than I expected.
Firstly, I want to dispel the belief that working out of the home, regardless of what you do, means you approach work in a super-casual way, like in your pajamas. (While some people might do this, I never have.) Working from home is a more casual situation, but one doesn’t necessarily check out from professionalism completely. Also, I found that getting up each morning and getting ready as if I’m going to leave the house, helps me focus on my work, instead of being distracted thinking about when I’m going to squeeze in a shower before I actually have to leave the house.
Working from home
For me, working from home was a full-time job. I had to essentially be at my computer during regular working hours, from 9-5, quick to respond to email and ready to attend any number of virtual meetings and conference calls. Work was done primarily during business hours. The expectation was there from my colleagues that I would be available to them first, even though I might have children in the house or other things going on outside of work in the same space I was working in. My home was my office with a private kitchen and my own bathroom. Flexibility only came if I had my phone with me to regularly check email or jump on calls from wherever I might be (like the preschool carpool line.)
I was lucky to have bosses throughout my working from home career who understood the few obligations I had each day that would take me away from my desk, like picking up my kids from school. I had a sitter in the afternoons so I could work while the kids were in the house, and I never scheduled activities for them before 5. I had to run errands after the workday was done. The only personal task that I did while working was laundry, which mostly does itself.
Work was my priority, but at times it created frustrating situations, especially when my home life crowded in on my professional life. A child would pop their head in during a video call, wave at everyone, then expect me to get up and get them a snack. I’d have to mute a call to shush the pounding of feet or the raised voices of kids having fun in the background. I’d constantly say, “five more minutes,” when asked to do something that would take me away from my desk.
In all honestly, working from home, as a mom, spread me pretty thin between two facets of my life I take great pride in succeeding in. I love being a mom, but I want to be focused and attentive. I love contributing in a professional environment, using my marketing and business skills to drive projects and meet goals, but I can only do my best work when I can concentrate long enough to complete a thought. It was tough, but making it work was a priority for me…until my position was terminated.
Becoming a freelancer
Loosing my job gave me an out from the work-life balance struggle I was facing, but having spent 10 years working from home, it also gave me the confidence to launch a career as a freelance writer. I already knew working from home was possible, and I’d already developed the processes that worked best for me to be an effective worker at home. I am only six months in to my freelance career, but am thankful that my networking has paid off enough to continually bring me projects. I’ve learned a lot already about the differences between working from home and being a freelancer at home though.
Time. This is a broad difference between the two types of at-home careers. Working from home gave me set hours, but as a freelancer, I work when I can and when I need to in order to get projects completed on time. This means some days I only work in the hours I set aside when my kids are in school. Other days I work the morning shift and again once the kids go to bed. Sometimes I work on weekends. Sometimes I squeeze in small blocks of work in the afternoons when I’m not shuttling the kids to activities or playdates.
Even with the variable of time, I am now in control of exactly when I work, and am able to shape my day so that the pockets of time I set aside to get work done are most convenient for me. I don’t have to choose between family and personal to-do’s and work — I create a schedule each day that allows time for everything.
It has been quite a stress release to have this control, and I honestly feel like I’m no longer stretched too thin, sacrificing one area to work on the other. I also no longer feel guilt if I have to say ‘no’ to something, or if I just need to schedule in time to take a little break.
The only aspect of being a freelancer which relates to time that proven challenging for me is taking time off. There are no vacation days for a freelancer, and I find myself working on trips if something pops up last minute I can’t say no to, working on weekends, and struggling with putting away messages up on my email. I want to be accessible to my freelance contacts so they keep coming back to work with me. I’ve had conversations with potential clients where they’ve complained about freelance relationships that haven’t worked out because the freelancer isn’t around enough, and I never want to give that impression out. As a dedicated worker, with a commitment to high-quality content, being available is a high priority for me, and I’m still working through how to approach time off in an appropriate way.
Control. A great thing about being a freelancer is the control you can have over your work. You get to decide what projects you take on and what you don’t. Working from home, in a single role, you can easily get bogged down with too much work based on corporate deadlines and unrealistic expectations, but as a freelancer, if you’re too busy to take on a certain project with a tight timeframe, you can say ‘no.’ Being able to control your workload is a huge bonus to working as a freelancer for me, even though I rarely say no to anything since I’m really enjoying all my assignments.
Variety. Perhaps the most rewarding difference for me as a freelancer is the variety of work I accept. Working at home, I worked in one specific area all the time. I loved what I was doing, but the more acclimated I got to my industry, the less challenging it was for me to complete my work…and I like a challenge. As a freelancer writer, I contribute content to a variety of industries now, keeping me on my toes, allowing me to spend time learning, and giving me more opportunity to challenge myself. Currently, I write content related to higher education, real-estate, libraries, medication, and professional services. I’m learning so much, and more than once the things I’ve learned through writing about them has benefited me outside the specific project I’m working on. It has made my conversations with friends more engaging and gives me new topics to feel passionate about. The variety in my career now has reignited my passion for marketing and writing, and opened doors I’d never have thought of going through in my previous career.
Making the switch from working at home to freelancing out of my home has been an amazing career change with an abundance of personal and professional benefits. While it was a bigger adjustment than I expected, I’m confident it was the right change for me and came along at the perfect time in my career.