When you work from home the perception from friends, family, and even clients is that you have more free time, more flexibility, or may even have less work. Let’s think about this for a moment.
Life as an Employee
Imagine this scenario: You arrive at work at 8:00 A.M, and the day is so busy, so full of activity, that you don’t eat lunch. At 6:00 P.M., you get home. You’re exhausted. Your significant other walks in the door and asks, “Did you go to the bank today?”
“No,” you reply. “I didn’t have time.”
The significant other doesn’t understand why you didn’t have time. Maybe you’re a manager or a vice president, or you have some other position that’s perceived as high-power, where you call the shots. Or maybe you have a lenient manager who encourages you to take your lunch break, and your significant other knows that. But you had a day full of client meetings. You worked on projects the rest of the day – projects where the deadlines can’t be missed because the company might lose clients. Even after you try to explain why you didn’t have time, even though it only takes 15 minutes to drive to the bank, your significant other still insists, “You could have done some of that tomorrow so you’d have time to go to the bank.”
Is that expectation realistic? Probably not. Yes, it may be a quick errand, but if you have a busy day, everyone knows that your employer expects you to get your job done. That run to the bank, or to the store, is going to wait. And in truth, most husbands or wives understand completely and don’t expect you to do something if your employer needs you at work.
Life as a Business Owner
Now imagine this scenario: You’re self-employed and working from home. You start working at 8:00 A.M., just after dropping kids off at school. Again, you forget to eat lunch because you’re busy. But when your significant other gets home, he or she asks, “Did you clean the house today?”
“No,” you reply. “I didn’t have time.”
Then follows a long discussion about why you didn’t have time to clean the house, a job that takes hours, and you end up being the bad guy, or lazy because you didn’t get it done. Why are these two scenarios any different? The run to the bank would take 15 minutes, but because you’re employed by someone else, it’s okay that you didn’t have time. Yet, just because you work from home, you’re expected to have time to clean the house during the day? How is that fair?
I’ve talked with many freelancers or business owners who have experienced the second scenario often. As self-employed people with the flexibility of working from home, we’re expected to be caretakers for our children, keep a clean house, and have dinner on the table when our employed spouses get off work for the day. And if we don’t, we are required to explain why everything isn’t done.
A Freelancer’s Typical Day
Let me take you through a typical day for a freelancer:
7:00 A.M.: Get children ready for school.
7:30 A.M: Take children to school.
8:00 A.M: Check email, social media messages, etc. Check the schedule for any deadlines to meet today.
8:30 A.M: Work on projects that need to be completed immediately.
12:30 P.M.: Dial into a video conference.
1:30 P.M.: Type up notes from the conference. Calculate the estimate of new project and create a project proposal. Send to the client.
2:30 P.M.: Search freelancing site for possible projects. Calculate and send bids to potential clients.
3:00 P.M.: Pick kids up from school. Get them settled with a snack.
3:30 P.M.: Continue searching for and sending bids to potential clients.
4:30 P.M.: Help children with homework. Start dinner. Eat dinner. Clean the kitchen. Get kids in baths. Get kids to bed. This time includes everything with children and family.
9:00 P.M.: Finish calculating and sending bids to potential clients. Answer client/potential client questions about proposals.
11:00 P.M.: Order office supplies. Invoice clients for completed projects.
12:00 A.M.: Finish working and go to bed.
Along with all this, the typical freelancer is constantly checking email, answering phone calls, etc.
Perception: You Have Free Time
Nowhere in all that was cleaning the house or mowing the lawn. Did you see lunch in there? No. Honestly, most days, I forget to eat until the kids get home. But I have been asked on a Saturday morning that I go out to mow the lawn, “Why didn’t you do that during the week?” And I was supposed to have done it. I was told that the fact that I didn’t have a commute should give me a couple more hours in the day, that I should have the flexibility to change my schedule so I can clean the house, or so someone else can go to work when they (not I) have a sick child. I have a friend who is questioned every day about whether the house was cleaned or dinner started. I’ve listened to stories where a freelancer’s friend asked him to run errands during the week because she didn’t want to take a couple of hours off work to do them.
Why? “You’re home all day.”
To some people, being self-employed means that you’re totally in control. Being a freelancer is seen as a luxury, one that means that you can do anything you want and still get paid.
Reality: There is No Free Time
But the truth is that freelancers are not totally in control. Freelancers don’t just sit around watching T.V. and taking naps all day, though that would be nice. On paper, we’re the “boss” of our businesses, but the clients are our real bosses. They don’t pay us for sick days or vacation time. They only pay us for the work we actually do. If a client wants a project completed today, then we have to get it finished today. If we don’t have time to work because of all the expected chores, then guess what – we’re just housewives or househusbands. We don’t earn any money that way. So we work all day, and then we work some more at night. We work weekends. We may need to take a break to help kids with homework. We may have to take a client call after the kids go to bed. We may have to go buy groceries before noon or work on a project on a Saturday afternoon.
Our jobs are no less important than those who work a regular (or, as some people call it, “real”) job. Several freelancers or business owners I know actually make more money than their spouses, but they’re called on to take care of everything at home…because they’re there.
Here, I won’t even talk about the fact that our income may not be regular. A home-based business might earn $500 one month, but $10,000 the next month. We don’t get a set paycheck every week. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t work as much. In most cases, we actually work longer hours to keep our businesses going. But we do enjoy our work. We love taking care of some things around the house. We strive to balance work and household, and that’s why we keep our schedules flexible. The problem only comes in when there’s an expectation that we have hours and hours of free time every day. We don’t.
Striving for Work-Life Balance
When you’re a freelancer, it’s important to keep that work-life balance. You can’t run an errand for every friend who asks. You can’t clean the house every Wednesday morning just because your spouse doesn’t understand that you have work to do. Explain it to them. Set your work hours as much as possible, and don’t deviate from them unless there’s an emergency. There will always be some people who don’t get it. That’s okay. The best you can do is explain what your day looks like. Sometimes, it’s worth it to have a significant other shadow you for a day. Maybe if they see everything you do, they’ll understand a little better.
Above all, though, don’t let people take advantage of your work location. Yes, it’s great to be at home, but it’s also tempting to take care of those things around the house that need to be done, especially if someone’s criticizing you when you don’t. Those things need to be done, but you don’t have to compromise your business to do them. It will take determination and willpower. You will disappoint some people. In some cases, you might have to deal with someone who’s downright mad because they will never understand.
But in the end, it’s all worth it. Just remember that your job is important, too. It’s just as important as that salaried position you could be working at an office. It’s no less stressful than working retail. It’s yours, and you’re doing it because you love it. There will always be things you need to take care of around the house, and they do need to be done, whether you do them yourself or have a spouse to help. But freelancing or running a small business IS your job, and you need to put in the time and effort to make it succeed.