I have worked from home full-time since about the middle of 2013. During that time, I've completed thousands of jobs for many clients.
For many, working from home may sound like a dream. And although it does have many benefits, it's not always as easy and fun as you might think. In many ways, it can be more difficult than working a traditional job.
Don't get me wrong—being your own boss and managing a freelancing career can be very rewarding. But, there are several things about the experience you should know before diving in.
1. Beware of Distractions
While some people can handle diversions at home very well, many of us can easily get distracted. Things like television, computer games, and even your family members can sidetrack your efforts while trying to make a living.
Then, you might have days where you'll find yourself oddly motivated to do housecleaning rather than work.
When you work from home, there are a plethora of things that can easily grab your attention. Just keep in mind that every diversion is potentially preventing you from being successful.
2. You Need to Be Highly Motivated
In most cases, when you're working from home, there is no real accountability other than to yourself. There is no boss watching over your shoulder. This means you need to have a higher degree of motivation than other 9-to-5 workers.
For a lot of people, it's the lack of accountability that poses the biggest problem. It's much easier to talk yourself out of work for the day. Meanwhile, the bills start piling up and you lose out on the day's potential for income.
If you want to truly be successful as a home-based freelancer, you need to find ways that motivate yourself each day. For me, it's all about setting goals and making a game out of meeting them.
3. Income Can Fluctuate Wildly
When you see experts write about how much they make working from home, take it with a grain of salt. No one can guarantee you'll make X amount of money each day in any freelance career.
In reality, the income you make can fluctuate greatly based on available work, type of contracts, outgoing expenses, and yes . . . personal motivation.
Everyone will have a unique experience when it comes to freelancing. Some will develop amazing strategies and have a constant flow of income, while others will struggle for every nickel and dime.
4. Plan for Tax Time
If you're working from home, especially in the United States, you cannot forget about tax season. Unlike a traditional job where the company automatically withholds money, you need to save for taxes yourself.
What if you had an amazing year of freelancing and made a lot of money, but then come April 15th, the workflow decreased? You're still on the hook for last year's taxes but don't make enough now to pay them.
Personally, I try to set aside at least 10% of everything I make. This usually gives me enough to pay taxes while generating interest so I have a cushion after tax season.
5. Plan for Your Retirement
Have you thought about what you're going to do for retirement? It's never too early to plan for a comfortable living when you're ready to be done working the freelance career.
Again, a lot of retirement plans governed by companies will pull this money out for you. When working for yourself, it's your responsibility.
I tend to put money into stocks that pay regular dividends over the long-term. In fact, stocks often have a better long-term interest than most savings accounts. However, stocks can be risky, especially if you're playing with your retirement money.
Stocks might not be for you, but it's important to squirrel something away if you want to retire and have a livable income every month.
6. Plan for Vacation Time
Ready to take a vacation with pay? As an at-home freelancer, it's a bit more complicated than just requesting paid time off from your boss.
Not only do you have to cover your expenses for the vacation, but you also need to make sure that you can pay yourself for the time you're not working. Sometimes, this means you need to save double what it would normally cost to take a vacation.
Many people who are working from home do not have a way to maintain income if they're not actually working. Of course, this also depends on client contracts. If you're lucky, you can sign a nice retainer, which means you're paid no matter what.
But not everyone can swing this kind of a contract.
7. Prepare for Your Own Sick Leave
Unlike a traditional job, most people working from home don't get paid sick leave. Which means you have to power through if you have the flu or take the day off.
As a freelance writer, I had to take many days off in the past when I was sick. This is because illness can be problematic when trying to write content for clients.
I had far more revision requests and made more mistakes while trying to write with a 103°F temperature.
It's better to financially plan for sickness much like you would for a vacation. Because if you're sick, there's a good chance you're not going to work. And if you're not working, you're not making money.
And if you do work while being sick and make a major mistake, you could lose clients or sales.
8. Effort Dictates Success
The biggest contributor to whether you're successful or not as a home-based freelancer is effort. If you don't put in the work, you're not going to make a living.
Too many people believe that working from home is all sunshine and rainbows. But without effort, it can become quite a cloudy day rather quick.
In many ways, working for yourself is far more stressful and requires an incredible degree of self-sufficiency. And I've seen a lot of people go back to traditional 9-to-5 jobs because it is more difficult to succeed as a freelancer.
5 Expert Tips for Working at Home
You've probably heard the saying, "If I only knew then what I know now." In reality, hindsight is always 20/20. This means it's easy to look back and see situations with clarity.
And working from home is no different.
Here are a few things I wish I knew when I started freelancing. I would have saved a lot of time and money.
- Open a savings account: Vacations, sick time, and retirement are only a few things you need to save for. Can you easily replace things at home you use for working if they break?
- Diversify your income: It's always a good idea to diversify your income as a freelancer from home. Don't rely on just one method of generating income. Try to get a few things going that provide residual pay.
- Create a distraction-free routine: Making sure you're free from diversions is going to be difficult. But, it's a necessity to create a routine for yourself that keeps you the most productive.
- Set daily goals for yourself: I am a big fan of gamification. And for me, it's all about setting daily goals that make the experience of working from home more fun. But, be realistic with your goals and don't set yourself up for failure by making them too difficult.
- View yourself as a professional: The moment you accept payment for work you've done, you are a professional. Keep that in mind and act the part. The more professional you appear, the more likely you'll succeed when talking with clients or managing workflow.
This is just the tip of a very large iceberg. But once you start getting into working from home, you can begin developing your own tips for success.
The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that success is not guaranteed. You have to work hard for it and persevere.
It's All on You...
Working from home requires a great deal of responsibility. It's not always the pajama party some people want you to believe. From saving for when you're sick to making sure you have a constant flow of income, there's a lot involved.
However, the rewards are great if you can manage your time and keep yourself motivated.
Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on November 07, 2019:
Well said! Most people make it seem working from home is easier than it really is.
You have to take a lot into consideration before making that move and one of the most important things you should (like you rightly pointed out) consider is the fact you will have an unstable income.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on October 29, 2019:
Thank you. And I can relate. In many ways, being a freelancer is far more difficult than if you were to go out and get a traditional job. But as long as you love what you do, that's all that really matters in the end.
Thank you for sharing. :)
Danielle Matthews from Vietnam on October 26, 2019:
Great article - I really wish I had been aware of these things before becoming a freelancer myself.
I love what I do, but it sometimes feels like I work harder than most people I know. Especially when it comes to all the unpaid paperwork I have to deal with - tax records and the like.
I've got the added issue of being a full-time nomad, so it can be tricky to keep to a routine when the people around you are on holiday and when you get to a new destination and just want to explore.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on September 26, 2019:
You are welcome. The one that affected me the most over the years was planning for being sick. When I picked up West Nile, I couldn't write for a week. It really hit me hard as I had no money coming in. It's always best to prepare financially as a freelancer. You never know when some mosquito will ruin your plans.
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on September 25, 2019:
These are all great tips! Thanks for sharing.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on September 13, 2019:
You are welcome. ;) And this is just from my experience as a writer. Freelancers of all kinds have different issues to face. But most are similar in some way.
For instance, Uber and Lyft drivers need to save for car maintenance as writers need a computer.
Jeff Zod from Nairobi on September 13, 2019:
Thanks, Michael for highlighting the plight of freelancers.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on September 12, 2019:
I couldn't agree more. People need to take a hard look at what's involved before going all-in as a freelancer working from home.
Jeff Zod from Nairobi on September 12, 2019:
Thank you so much for this insightful article. As a freelance professional, I usually work from home. I have worked from home for several years now and I agree with your observations.
People think that working from home is easier than working from the office.
A freelancer should manage their time well in order to become successful.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on September 11, 2019:
And I've seen a lot of people fail. It's not always as easy as some "experts" want others to believe. I am more of a realist. :)
Catherine Berry from Belgrade on September 11, 2019:
That's amazing! So much perseverance and motivation must be needed. Not everyone can work from home.
Michael Brockbank (author) from Colorado on September 11, 2019:
Thank you. I try my best to help when I can. And I went through quite a few issues when I started. Luckily, I never gave up and kept coming up with new strategies to keep myself afloat.
Sometimes, you have to adapt rather quickly before sinking into despair when things aren't working right. It's how you handle those situations that is the most important.
Catherine Berry from Belgrade on September 11, 2019:
My head was nodding and I was saying, "Oh!..." throughout this whole article.
"Too many people believe that working from home is all sunshine and rainbows. But without effort, it can become quite a cloudy day rather quick." ~ What a great analogy!
I really appreciate this article. It really is chock-full of everything that I wish I had known before trying to work from home.