What I’ve Learned from Two Years of Working at Home

This August was my second anniversary of working from home. I left my job as an Information Specialist in a biotechnology company’s corporate library in 2014 after the birth of my daughter and began working at Zirtual as a virtual assistant. After six months there, I left to start my own marketing company. Now I mostly work as a marketing specialist, but I also do some virtual assistant work and contract work with my former biotechnology employer.

I’ve learned a lot while working from home. Some days are great and others are not, but I could say the same thing about a traditional job. Here are the most important things I’ve learned from working from home for the past two years.

  • Organization is king

In my previous job, I was used to having systems in place. We had a metric board where we kept track of weekly projects and a daily stand-up meeting to discuss outstanding work. I took those skills to my own business and set up schedules and an organization system.

I track all of my projects in Wunderlist and Asana. Most of my clients are in Wunderlist. When someone assigns me a task, I add it to their list with the agreed upon deadline. Personal work, like this blog and The Sturm Agency website, is in Asana. I like both platforms for different reasons. Wunderlist is perfect for client’s work because it’s simple and easy to use. However, I also love Asana’s interface and prefer to keep my personal work organized there.

I timeblock my Google calendar. My calendar is blocked off during my working hours (6-9 am, 12-2 pm, 7-9 pm, and some time on the weekends). Each day I check my client’s requests and work on them for roughly one hour per day except for a client who has a time-based agreement with me. Timeblocking allows me to check in with each client Monday through Friday. Having things set up this way ensures that I never neglect a client for a few days and come back to missed projects or admin tasks. Sometimes the client won’t have anything for me to to do so I’ll move on to the next person. I started this system when I was working full time at Zirtual and managing 8-10 clients. I don’t have that many clients anymore, but the system still works.

I write a daily to-do list in my notebook each day. Every morning I go into Wunderlist and Asana, check which tasks I need to get done that day, and write a to-do list in a paper notebook. I like doing this because crossing things off a list gives me a sense of satisfaction that clicking a button doesn’t. I only write down the five or six most important tasks for the day. I can’t get more than that done on a given day and seeing a 20+ item list stresses me out.

I check what I accomplished and what’s outstanding each evening. Before I go to bed, I check what needs to be done the next day and review the list of things I accomplished that day. Before doing this, I was having a hard time falling asleep because I was running through my to-do list over and over in my mind. Reading a list of my daily achievements makes me feel like I accomplished something even on my worst days. This five-minute routine has helped me fall asleep more quickly.

I track all of my time in 17hats and Toggl. For clients that I invoice, I use 17hats. For everyone else, I track in Toggl. I even track the time I spend writing this blog. It helps because I have a visual guide that I can review at the end of the week.

  • Take a day off

During my first year freelancing, I worked seven days a week. I still have not taken a proper vacation where I stop client work for a week.

That said, I need to have one day off per week that does not involve doing work for anyone else. That doesn’t mean I don’t work on my personal projects, set up my social media feeds or write blogs, it just means that I don’t work on anyone else’s stuff. Every night, it’s my goal to stop computer work an hour before I go to bed so I can read books and relax.

Typically, I don’t work on Saturdays at all. We spend time together as a family during the day. In the evening, my husband and I rent a movie or watch one of our shows.

  • Your word is gold

Some people have a negative perception of freelancers or those who work from home. They think that remote workers are spending their days watching TV and napping. There’s even a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercial which mentions “working from home fakers.” Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are some freelancers who are flaky and unreachable. I’ve had to work with some web designers who took 3-4 emails about the same topic before they’d respond. I recently had another marketing specialist completely blow me off after hiring me to do some work.

I do what I say I’m going to do. I work hard to make sure that I meet all deadlines and deliver what I’ve promised. One of the biggest keys to doing that is setting realistic deadlines. I try not to let other people set deadlines for me.

I’m completely open about working at home with my daughter, but I want clients to forget that I’m also taking care of a child. I strive to be so responsive and consistent that it seems like freelancing is the only thing I’m doing.

  • Choose the right clients

One of the best things about being a freelancer is that I can choose my own clients. I try to find people that I believe I can help. I find people whose business sounds interesting to me or whose mission and vision I agree with. I like to work in areas where I already have some knowledge.

I like working with other small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.

That’s also why working with nonprofits is so important to me. I want to spread their message and make sure the community is aware of the good things they are doing. We need more positivity in our lives especially where I live in Rockford, Illinois which was ranked the 3rd most miserable place to live in the United States.

My ideal client is someone who is organized and realistic. I need someone who has a clear vision for what they want me to do. I also appreciate people who are quick to say thank you and slow to criticize.

  • Stay grateful

I have blessings on blessings; there is no hint of sarcasm when I say that. I think some of my success has to do with the fact that I am so grateful to be able to do this. I don’t personally know anyone else doing something like this. I know a few people with their own businesses, but they are brick and mortar operations or businesses selling actual goods (photos, invites, etc.) I live in a small town and the idea of “working on the internet” is not commonplace.

Many days I’m amazed that I’ve come this far and am so appreciative of my clients. I have the attitude of I get to do this instead of I have to do this.

2-years-working-from-home

The Five Best Places I’ve Found Freelancing Jobs

Finding freelancing jobs can be tough. You have to watch out for spammy Craigslist postings and sites that want you to pay to see available work. You may think you need to spend money before you can make money. You don’t need to do that! There are many reputable sites where you can find freelancing jobs at no cost to you.

Throughout my freelancing career, I’ve had great luck finding jobs from these five resources:

1) Upwork (formerly oDesk and Elance)

Upwork touts themselves as “the premier platform for top companies to hire and work with the world’s most talented independent professionals.” They have over 10M registered coders, writers, marketers, designers, developers and other freelancers using their platform. The best thing about Upwork is that it’s extremely easy to use; fill out your profile and you can start pitching for jobs immediately. The downside is that there is a lot of competition. Most jobs have 20+ applicants and some will underbid to get the job. Pitching for a job requires Connects, usually 1-5 per job. With a free account, you will get 60 connects per month, but if that’s not enough, you can upgrade to 70 for $10 per month.

Upwork is where I connected with my first paying freelancing job. It was a blog writing gig that eventually included social media management duties for a Twitter account. I made about $200 from this platform. I occasionally check for jobs, but as I’ve gained experience and raised my rates, I’ve found that the average price per job is too low. However, this is a great place for a new freelancer to start building their portfolio. Keep in mind, you may need to sacrifice pay for experience at first.

Cost: Free to use, but Upwork takes a 10% fee

2) CloudPeeps

CloudPeeps is made up of “world’s top marketing, content, social media and community pros.” CloudPeeps is more exclusive with only ~1000 freelancers working in the platform. This means the jobs are easier to secure, but the competition is stiff. There are many well-known internet marketers, community managers, and PR pros working on the platform. CloudPeeps is more than a job posting site, it’s also a community of creative professionals who assist and support each other.

CloudPeeps was my launchpad into freelancing. I joined the community in October 2014 and soon had three clients under my belt. In 2015, I was named one of the top 10 most successful Peeps of the year. I have made around $20,000 from jobs on the platform in the past 18 months.

Cost: Free to use, but CloudPeeps takes a 15% fee for a CP-hosted job, and a 5% fee to manage your own clients using the platform

3) Indeed

Indeed is the Google for job postings. I’ve set up two searches that are automatically sent to my email each day. One search is for “remote, freelance, writing, blogging, marketing, and social media” and the other is for any job in my local area.

I have a local search in place because it gives me an idea of companies that are growing and looking to hire in my area. These companies may need the marketing services that I offer. If I come across these postings, I occasionally send out a cold email introducing myself as a local marketing professional and detailing my services.

I’ve secured one local client from Indeed searches and applied for several remote part-time positions. I’ve made around $5,000 from jobs found on Indeed.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

4) LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most popular business networking site and the best place to have your online resume. Keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date can be a great way to get jobs. I’ve been approached several times by local businesses asking if I’d like to collaborate. I credit that to the fact that my profile is complete and up-to-date. Make sure you note that you’re a freelancer and what your skills are. As you build your portfolio, be sure to add links to your best work in the experience section.

I’ve made about $400 on jobs that originated from connections on LinkedIn.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

5) Social Media (Twitter and Facebook)

Having a regularly updated social media presence is so important for any business. People will search social media, especially if you are touting yourself as a marketer, to see if you ‘walk the talk’. My personal social sharing formula is 75% other people’s content, 25% my own. You don’t want your social feeds to be too self-promotional; that can be off-putting. Share things that resonate with you – did you love the message of someone’s article, do think other people should read it? Position yourself as a lifelong learner by commenting on current issues and news stories in your area of expertise. Remember to tag writers and publications when you share their content. It can be helpful to use hashtags to draw attention to your post, but more than two per post is excessive.

I haven’t made any money through social media yet, but I have been offered opportunities (guest blog posts and connections to people in my field), that may lead to jobs in the future.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Special Mention

Problogger

Problogger is a board for blog writing jobs. I’ve pitched, but never been hired through this platform. I frequently check the site and there are always high-paying jobs listed. This is a place that you should check out if you’re looking to build your writing portfolio.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Other resources for finding freelancing jobs

There are many more resources to find freelancing jobs that I have not tried yet. I’ve compiled some helpful articles with more extensive lists below:

15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs via Entrepreneur
25 Top Sites for Finding the Freelancing Job You Want via Skillcrush
71 Great Website to Find Freelance Jobs via Freshbooks