Heather Sanders

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September 2011



Working as a Freelancer

Written by , Posted in Everything Else, Freelance


Those of us who work from home have to consider things that never come up in an office away from home, e.g. “What time should I set my alarm?”, “How did this peanut butter get on my mousepad?”, or “Can I get away with dressing nicely only from the waist up for my Skype video conference?”

Setting realistic guidelines and boundaries for my work environment is an important part of what I do as a Freelancer. I am fortunate enough to be my own boss, but it doesn’t mean I can give myself an “out” when it comes to personal discipline–not if I want to continue making a living this way, which I undoubtedly do.

While flexibility is an absolute necessity, I discovered that setting a few personal guidelines is the only way to maintain the level of efficient productivity needed to keep my clients satisfied and by default, pay the bills and grow my business.

Working Hours for the Freelancer

I have worked online for more than a decade now. When I began I juggled a 4 year old and a newborn – working hours were sporadic and as you can imagine, inefficient. Due to regular interruptions I found I worked longer and harder with minimal results. It was a hard season of my life as a work-at-home mom; 2 1/2 years later the introduction of my 3rd child stretched me even further.

It didn’t take long to learn my workhorse hours were between 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM — sometimes even 2:00 AM. Was I tired? Yes. I regularly functioned on 4 hours of sleep. Was there a trade-off? Yes. I didn’t go out much at night with my husband or friends, usually fell into bed hours after my husband was asleep, and certainly felt isolated from the world outside of my home. Still, I knew these were relatively short-term sacrifices and bottom line, it was a schedule I could manage as I pursued my dream of being a freelancer. I was fully aware there was a heavy cost to that dream.

My baby is now eight years old, and my older two kids are 11 and 14; times have changed, and along with the time, so have my working hours. The nights I spend burning the midnight oil are fewer and farther between–usually limited to impending deadlines. And while I figured by this time my kids would be in school, giving me a full 8 hours of work every day, we jacked-up that plan with our decision to homeschool. My work days get a kick-off between 8:00 and 9:00 AM and then start again at 1:30 PM, when my kids are doing their independent work, temporarily wrapping-up somewhere around dinner time. Often I’m at it again between 8:00 and 10:00 PM, or 11:00 PM, or yes, even midnight. It isn’t ideal, but it works.

What I came to realize years ago was that it didn’t really matter when I worked, but HOW I worked. There are times I need to be available for phone calls, Skype conferences, and other daytime correspondences…and the kids and I put things on hold so I can be available. Most of the time my client doesn’t care when I’m working, just THAT I’m working; bringing their shared vision into a web or blog design that fulfills their aesthetic and gives them an online presence they can own.

Working Environment for the Freelancer

There is no singular description of “working environment” for the Freelancer.

While at times I long for an office, a room with a door to buffer the noises of a busy household, this isn’t the “season” for it. The irony with the office dream is that when my desire for an office becomes feasible, the reasoning behind my need for one will have moved-out, and on, with their lives. In other words, at that point I could work in the epicenter of our home without interruption and in absolute silence.

I can hardly imagine it.

And when I do? It feels…lonely.

Therefore, I embrace my schoolroom office. At any given moment, my work environment is composed of the medley of one to three energetic children who simply cannot withhold their escalating banter and myriad of interruptions.

After a decade of practice, I have learned what I can accomplish in the accompaniment of others and what must be tended to in the quieter evening hours, or as is the case right now, with noise-canceling headphones in place.

Though there are many of us with growing families making the work-at-home switch, it is admittedly a difficult balance. Finding points of productivity in an environment that is not typically conducive to efficiency is an exercise in discipline, patience and self-denial. The only thing that seemingly makes it possible is a steadfast conviction to the client and a deep desire for the freelancing lifestyle.

I will be the first to admit that much is sacrificed at the altar of freelancing, e.g. fixed working hours, paid vacation, guaranteed income, retirement benefits, and time with friends and family.

The Value of Freelancing

To better explain the value I ascribe to freelancing, I’ll lead-off with a story from a page in my life. When I was in sixth grade, my parents bought a significant sized home with copious amounts of salmon colored carpet. My Mother and I split the task of keeping the carpet vacuumed; she vacuumed downstairs, and I vacuumed upstairs, and we switched-out the task of vacuuming the staircase every other time.

My Mother had a mantra, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right!” As a 12 year old, I often hurried through my chores so I could get back to the very busy job of being a preteen. After all, there were friends to see, notes to write, boys to like, and in general, compellingly meaningless things to accomplish without the burden of work looming over my head. One afternoon, with a less than upright attitude, I failed to move aside and vacuum beneath the living room furniture, making a quick-and-dirty job of my chore. If my memory serves me correctly, that wasn’t the first time I short-changed an assigned task; however, it was the first time my Mother decided to apply consequences. She let me finish and then, with a certain firmness, displayed the correct way to vacuum and let me do the entire upstairs again.

Even now I smile as I write this because my own children have heard the mantra, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right!” over and over again. And true to my Mother’s example, I have reinforced the life lesson with required repeated performances of jobs completed in an undeniably less-than-worthy manner.

This lesson, by its very nature, continues to be a driving force behind most of what I do as a Freelancer.

Other than the client, there is no boss breathing down my neck. There is no checklist of daily accomplishments and no quarterly evaluations on my productivity. That said, the value of any Freelancer is no value at all if quality and efficiency do not reign supreme in his/her work. And? If I create a less than acceptable product, I undervalue my work from its very foundation and cannot expect to earn my client’s continued respect, returned business or referrals.

I have to move obstacles aside.

I have to be willing to work longer and harder, if not smarter.

I have to focus on the whole of the “chore” – things seen and unseen – because in the end it still rings true “Anything worth doing is worth doing right!”

Heather Sanders


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