So, You Want to Be a Freelancer and Work from Home?

May 2, 2005

I've been a freelance one-thing-or-another for over ten years now, and whenever someone finds out I work from home, they give me an envious look--"That must be wonderful." Well, yes and no. And not in the way they mean. It's wonderful to not have to fight traffic, clock in, justify my comings-and-goings to anyone, or have a boss hanging over my shoulder.

But many of the advantages people believe we home workers experience are myths, and freelancers face a whole host of problems that office workers can't even imagine.

For instance, I don't go to work in my pajamas. Oh, sure, once in a while I'll sit down to "just check my email quickly," then look up six hours later to blink at the clock and realize it's time to pick up the kids from school and I'm still in my bathrobe. But most mornings I shower and dress just like everyone else, even if I do wear shorts and a T-shirt. It's hard to feel professional in fuzzy slippers and a nightgown.

Some people are envious of freelancers because, they say, we don't have to face the drudgery of 9 to 5. This one makes me really widen my eyes. Yes, it is true--freelancers don't work 9 to 5. We work 5:30 to 8 a.m., get the kids off to school, work 9:08 to 11:37, pay the lawn service guys, work 11:42 to 1:30, nuke something to eat while working in front of the computer, work 1:36 to 3:30 or so, pick up the kids, work 4:15 to 5:38, make dinner, wash dishes, bathe kids, work 7:45 to 8:36, read bedtime stories, work 9:23 to 1:13 a.m.

Another myth is that freelancers can take all the vacation time they want, when they want. This one makes me laugh...almost. Vacation time? You're joking, right? Freelancers don't vacation. Ever. We're all haunted by that dry spell we're sure is lurking just around the corner, waiting to suck our savings dry. And even if we're not, how exactly are we supposed to get away from work?

Because part of the problem is that there's not much division between a freelancer's home and work lives. When your office is just off the family room, it's too easy to slip in and check email or maybe download that program while you put a load of laundry in, but that's absolutely it... The next thing you know, you're at your desk, fiddling with a design. Unlike most people, we don't have to worry about leaving our work at the office. No, our problem is figuring out how to leave the office. So, you think, why not work a bit on that logo? Yes, it's 3 in the morning, but you're wide awake anyway...

Even if we do schedule a vacation or plan a day off--and force ourselves to leave the laptop at home--we're so used to working 'round the clock that we find ourselves scribbling ideas on napkins and old candy bar wrappers while the kids ride the carousel or our spouse gets the popcorn.

Working from home has other disadvantages. Like a limited social life. Chats around the water cooler? Coffee breaks with co-workers? Never heard of it. We also get to answer a gazillion calls from people who want to clean our carpets or sell us new water heaters. And if there's a school field trip or a class party, everyone expects you to show up because, after all, you work at home and are much freer than office-working parents.

As for bosses-- P-lease. I work for the toughest boss I've ever had. She's obsessive about details, critical of mistakes, paranoid about finances, demanding of perfection, dissatisfied with less than 110% effort and more concerned about the client than her employees.

So why do I work from home as a freelancer if it's so tough? Because it is. I like that my work and my personal life are so intertwined I can't tell one from the other. I like being so passionate about something that I actually want to work on it at 3 a.m. Yes, I am obsessive, demanding, critical, driven, solitary, and a tad paranoid, even in my pajamas. But I am freely and consciously indulging my neuroses, so don't get in my way.


Hi Kathy, I'm a freelancer too and I feel exactly like you! (only difference: I don't have kids).
Great article ;)