Living the dream

A few days ago I realised that apparently I am “living the dream”, based on the rate with which the facebook ads urging people to get in touch for opportunities to work from home are increasing in frequency.  “Become self-employed!”, they urge, “Work from home, guaranteed results, be able to stay at home with your children!” and people seem to be genuinely desperate enough to respond, despite the fact that it never says quite what the “opportunity” involves, and anything that requires just a computer and phone, and no qualifications or experience in anything, is unlikely to be as easy and well-paid as the posts would suggest.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This made me think about how I got myself to the position where I was living the life that so many seem to be chasing.  OK, I’m not super rich, or famous, or anything too exciting.  I’m just a normal person, living quite a normal sort of life, but I am self-employed and work from home and I’ve been making a go of it for over 8 years now.  I’m 36 years old, I have a little boy of 3, and a husband with mild Aspergers’ Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder) and health issues from diabetes.  I have made a living and a lifestyle of working at home and providing for my family.  It isn’t particularly glamorous but I’ve proved it’s achievable, and I’d like to tell you a bit about what I’ve learnt on the way.

In my experience, implementing a successful work-from-home situation takes a bit more than a laptop, phone and the desire not to leave the house.  I always wanted to work from home, and I can say first-hand that it took a lot more than that.  An awful lot more.  If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

Having said that, it is now easier than it has ever been for people to be able to work independently from home, with the recent leaps of technology bringing superfast broadband into our homes and HD web conferencing facilities at minimal cost, and the increasing shift to the online platform for all our activities from education to grocery shopping to entertainment and social interaction.  There is now an opportunity for everyone to use those tools to enable them to work flexibly and have the work-from-home lifestyle – well nearly everyone, some people just don’t have the drive or self-motivation to do it – but for everyone else, it’s just a case of finding the right area and the right specific income-generating activity for you.

So how can you get started?

There are two initial hurdles to overcome in heading down the work-from-home path – firstly finding the right niche for you, and secondly being sure that you and the people around you understand the difference between working from home and not working at all.

Finding the right niche is absolutely essential in order to have any success.  There are so many people out there chasing their dream of flexible home based working, financial independence, and all the imagined benefits that come with it, that there are certainly no fortunes to be made from signing up to someone else’s pyramid scheme, or harassing people with cold calls for a beauty product/diet/insurance product/home improvement service/whatever for 20p per lead generated.  Those things are designed purely to make money for the people running them, and they rely upon people’s willingness to try anything for a chance of the lifestyle they want.

If you want the work-from-home lifestyle, you have to find your own way to get it.  Perhaps you’re a superb cake maker, or you can crochet anything in minutes, or you are an extremely fast audio typist or really like ironing.  All of these things are crowded markets generally, you need something that sets you apart, a speciality, something specific that you do better, faster and cheaper than anyone else.  And then you do it within the comfort of your own home, so you need a space where you can do it, where you and your work can be left alone if required.  It needs to be something you really like because it’s going to be there with you all the time.  You can’t go home from work and leave it behind, because you live there.  You succeed or fail based on your ability to maintain your dedication, your standards, your ability to adapt to meet the needs of your client base, and your passion for what you do.  It’s all down to you.  Choose wisely.

Working from home means you can do what you like, when you like, right?

Not exactly.  Do I get to spend my days under the same roof as my little boy?  Yes.  Do I spend the majority of the day with him?  No.  Do I have more flexibility to make appointments and arrangements for non-work activities?  Yes.  Do those things take priority over work?  No.  Work comes first.  Always.  It never leaves you.  With a “proper job”, you get to take your annual leave and forget about work, knowing you get paid holiday and your job will just carry on when you get back.  You can walk out of the building and what happens there becomes someone else’s responsibility.  Not with this life.

The work-at-home lifestyle is just that, it’s a lifestyle, you have to commit to it fully, it’s like another member of the family that you live with day in, day out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You have to love it, give it your attention every day, and make sure it is looked after properly.  It’s the ultimate co-dependent relationship – it relies entirely upon you for its survival, and you rely on it for your income.

A lot of people have asked me how I maintain the discipline of getting on with work and not just wandering off and doing something else around the house.  There are two answers to this question – firstly, you get used to it, and secondly, if you’re home based then you don’t get the money just for turning up, you have to actually produce some work or show some evidence of activity in order to get paid, so if you don’t do it, you don’t pay the bills.  It’s amazing the motivation that comes from the threat of ending up with no source of income.

Self-employed or unemployed?

I have had significant difficulties with friends and family treating me as though I am unemployed rather than self-employed, taking the view that I must be sitting on the sofa eating sandwiches all day rather than working, and assuming that it is OK to take up time that I need for work on trivialities or social activities.  Obviously, if it’s something important, the flexibility of working at home allows you to deal with the issue and then get back to work and make time up later, but more often than not the time in which you should be working is taken up due to thoughtlessness on the part of others and the assumption that as you’re at home you can’t be doing anything important.  People will just expect you to be available for them whenever they have time for you, because they go out to “proper work”, which is much more important you know, and your work isn’t real anyway because you’re only doing a bit at home, so they have a nasty habit of turning up whenever they like and staying as long as they like, which keeps you away from the primary task of earning some money.

So… to make it work you need something you’re good at, that you love, and that you can actually do within the confines of your home.  You need the support of family and friends, and the dedication and flexibility to do what needs to be done to make it work.  You need have the ability to balance work and home without clear boundaries between the two, or you risk sacrificing the one thing that motivates most people to want to work at home – family life.


Next time…  the path to enlightenment – how I found my niche…