Transitioning to a work-at-home career

Back in May, when my husband finished graduate school, we made the decision to move closer to our families. I quit my full-time job as an internet marketing specialist and copywriter at a web design company, we packed up our 2-bedroom apartment, and headed to Indiana.

Since I was already about 8 weeks pregnant at the time, we decided that my husband would be the primary earner and I would seek money-making opportunities from home. My field is well suited to freelance and contracting work, and staying home will make things easier when the baby comes.

Four months later (really? FOUR months?!), I’m just now starting to get into the swing of things. As you can imagine, working from home is significantly different from working in an office for someone else. Here are the main pros and cons I’ve encountered so far.

It’s a lot more convenient.

The ability to set my own schedule has been invaluable as I’ve faced a rough pregnancy. Some days I don’t feel well enough to work until after noon. This would be a serious problem if I was employed by someone else, and it would involve calling in, using sick time, and perhaps being reprimanded or fired if it became a regular occurrence.

Now I simply adjust my work schedule to meet my needs. If I don’t start working until noon, then I most likely won’t finish for the day until 8 or 9 p.m. If I have errands to run in the middle of the day, no problem; I take care of them when it’s convenient for me. When I have a doctor’s appointment, I take a couple hours off. And let’s be honest, sometimes pregnant ladies just need a mid-day nap.

It’s also more responsibility.

When you work for someone else and the workload is low, you still get paid. You may spend a day or two organizing files or working on other projects until work funnels in, but your paycheck will come. That’s not the case when you work for yourself. I’m now the sole member of my sales staff, and if I don’t find work, I don’t get paid. I’m no good at sales, so this has been a challenge for me.

The other big issue? Health insurance. Ugh. Right now, I qualify for good coverage at a surprisingly reasonable premium through COBRA. That will run out in October 2011. My husband’s current job doesn’t offer health insurance, so if he doesn’t find full-time work with benefits before then, I may join the legions of uninsured workers in this country.

Also: taxes are no fun when you’re self-employed.

It’s tough to stay motivated.

Some days when I’m feeling particularly crappy, it can be really tough to get out of bed and get to work. With no one to answer to but myself, it’s a little too easy to procrastinate. I sometimes end up days away from my deadline, sweating bullets to get the project finished and wishing I’d just stuck to my work schedule to get it done.

I don’t miss office politics.

My least favorite part about working in an office was the gossip, clashing personalities, and office politics. I love that I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I also don’t have to pick up the slack for other people’s laziness, fix problems created by co-workers, or do my job according to someone else’s protocol. I love having the freedom to do my job the way I see fit, only answering to myself and my clients.

But I do miss office camaraderie.

I miss the occasional lunch out on a nice day, the holiday parties, and commiserating about difficult clients with my teammates. With my husband gone six hours a day, it can get pretty quiet and lonely around the apartment.

The pay isn’t so hot (yet).

When I started my last full-time job, there was definitely room for growth in my salary. But I had full benefits, including paid holidays, health insurance, and vacation time. Since I started on the low end of the pay spectrum, my employer was generous with raises. By the time I left, I was pretty happy with my salary.

Now that I’m just starting out in my freelance career, I find myself taking jobs at a lower rate than I’d like because the competition is stiff and I’m relatively inexperienced as a consultant. I’m also still working out the kinks when it comes to estimating the time each project will take. Sometimes, my hourly wage is pretty sad — especially since I receive zero benefits. But there’s potential for growth, and working from home offers me lots of other perks, so I’m hoping it’ll turn around.

Despite the challenges, I love being self-employed.

Overall, I’m really happy with my decision to work from home. I honestly can’t imagine handling a full-time job once the baby comes, and knowing that I don’t have to deal with daycare and other working mom issues is a huge relief for me right now.

However, I should caution you, if you’re planning to make this move yourself: save, save, save. If we didn’t have a healthy savings account, the last four months wouldn’t have been possible. My husband just started his job (we still haven’t received his first paycheck), and since I’m just starting out, my income is sporadic. There’s no way we could have survived the summer without our emergency fund.

Since my income is so sporadic, we’re not including it in our regular budget. Everything I make will go toward replenishing our emergency fund. I recommend living off your spouse’s income for a while when you begin your freelance career, otherwise you could end up in financial trouble if your workload dies down or your clients are slow to pay you.

Photo by Damon Duncan

5 thoughts on “Transitioning to a work-at-home career

  1. Brittany

    Oh man. Working fm home is the best – and the worst! I worked from home half the time in Beijing, and I was sooo terrible at it. I would always put everything off because I’d be like, Whatever, I have all day! I don’t have to do it right now! And then I’d end up accomplishing nothing and having to stay up late at night. It’s definitely a challenge.
    I think one thing that can help to motivate you is to set up a dedicated area in your home, whether that be an office room or just a desk in the living room, and try to make it the place only for working. I used to always try to do my editing while lying in bed… hahaha, and that never worked out so well, not a position conducive for thinking and working, just good for napping a lot :)

    But i’m glad it’s worked out you’ve been able to work from home during this time! Good luck with your new projects!

    1. Karen

      Ha! Unfortunately, working from the couch isn’t really conducive to productivity either. There’s no room in our apartment for a desk anymore, so I’ve tried working from the kitchen table, but those chairs hurt my back (and my bum). So I’m just trying to buckle down and MAKE myself work. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. Stacey

    Hi there! That is great that you can start your work-from-home stuff before baby comes! I am currently working a 9-to-5 that doesn’t lend well (at all!) to working from home. My husband and I area planning on starting a family very soon, and I am trying to brainstorm how I can work from home. I have no idea which direction to go in. Do you have any ideas for how to seek out a job that I can do from home? I’d like to develop my plan well in advance of even getting pregnant! ;)

  3. Karen

    Stacey – The best advice I can give you is start saving as much money as you possible can starting RIGHT NOW while you’re working. You will need a good emergency fund and some extra savings on top of that to help you through the transition.

    Money Saving Mom has done a pretty useful series on how to start a new career as a “work at home mom.” You can find her posts here:

    You may have to piece together an income from several different sources, but with hard work and dedication it can be done!

    Of course, my favorite way to “increase” your income is to DECREASE your spending. Start cutting as much as you possibly can from your budget, and see if you can cut your spending so that you can live on your husband’s income alone. Once you do that, you’ll be able to quit your job to be a stay-at-home mom, and anything you make on the side will be extra. Good luck!

  4. Pingback: 2010 in review

Comments are closed.