By Tapiwanashe Manhombo
When I was about 17 and still battling high school traumas, I often visualised what kind of workplace I’d love to end up in. The thought of working in a traditional office with that one window facing the parking lot made me physically shudder. Also, formal clothing stifled my laid back confidence, and whenever I had to wear a pencil skirt and blazer I felt my true self retreat deep into the rabbit hole of doubt and awkwardness that just, well, cramped my style.
And so my ideal workplace was somewhere outdoors, wearing jeans and a tank top, sitting on the lawn with my laptop and a notepad and a steady internet connection. At 17, I had no clue what kind of job would allow that, and it seemed the adults around me didn’t know either.
Fast-forward to a few years later, and I am a freelance copywriter who works pretty much anywhere she wants, as long as I have my laptop and a fast internet connection. For the most part, I get to choose my schedule and how much work I do. This allows me a sense of freedom that a regular nine to-five job could never give me (believe me, I’ve worked a 9-to-5).
Needless to say, I’m very happy with this arrangement. But I’d be lying if I said this was easy and anyone could do it. There are some real challenges that come with working from home, and if they aren’t managed well, they can destroy the dream even before it has taken full shape.
So if you’re thinking of quitting your full-time job and going full-on with your work-from-home side gig, just pause for a second and find out what challenges lie ahead. Hopefully, in sharing my experience, I can equip you to better handle the freedom that freelancing brings.
1. Slow traction
The problem when you’re starting out as a freelancer is that clients are not guaranteed. Even if you have signed up on freelancing websites like Upwork or Fiverr, there is no telling when you will land your first client. Some people go for days, others stretch out for months without landing a single job. This slow traction can quickly become frustrating, especially if you have a strong work ethic.
I have been very fortunate in my freelancing journey because I got recommendations and even jobs handed to me by industry professionals. However, there were months when things weren’t moving quite the way I needed them to, and what kept me going was creating my own content and honing my craft. When potential clients asked to see examples of my work, this is the content I would send them.
Tip: When the months are slow, work on improving your skills and creating some kind of portfolio to showcase as soon as a lead expresses interest.
2. Irregular income
This is perhaps the biggest challenge that comes with the world of freelancing. Unlike a regular job that pays you a set amount of money every month, you can’t fully determine how much money you’ll make every month while working from home. Sometimes I’d plan things out and anticipate big projects, only for a client to pull the plug or place that project on hold because something more pressing – albeit smaller in scale – came up.
Because most freelancing jobs are paid by the hour, I’d end up with very few hours logged, which meant very little money for all my efforts. To be completely honest here, I haven’t quite cracked the code on this one except to just watch how I spend my money and not get swayed by the lifestyle my peers with traditional jobs lead.
Tip: Watch how you spend your money. Come up with a rough budget for your basic needs only, and then do whatever you can to make sure those are covered.
3. Time management
Sure, this is a problem that applies to everyone, regardless of their career choices. However, in my opinion, it’s vastly amplified for freelancers. I am fully in charge of my schedule, which means I have to gauge how long each task takes me and then see how much I can fit in a day without burning out. As a habitual procrastinator, this level of organisation has been very difficult to master.
Sometimes I underestimate the time it will take me to complete a task and I occupy my time with other, less important projects. Then when I finally get around to working on the said task, I get stressed by just how time-consuming it is. The frustration obviously slows me down, and I have to literally push through, sometimes gritting my teeth until my jaw hurts (true story). I’m glad to say I’m slowly falling into a system that seems to be working.
Tip: Whatever you do, don’t procrastinate. Create a schedule and stick to it’ll pay off once you start picking up more clients.
4. Blurring the lines of living and working areas
The beauty of working from home is you can literally work from any part of the house. The challenge with that is, you can literally work from any part of the house. There are times, especially in winter, when I shower early in the morning and go straight back in the blankets because it’s warmer and more comfortable to work from my bed. Unfortunately, this creates a weird mix-up of the work areas and the living areas in the house, which is not good, according to the multiple studies conducted on the matter. As a result, I have trouble sleeping when I need to sleep, and working when I need to work. Not to self-therapize (yes, that’s a word), but I think this is because my brain gets confused about which areas are for work and which ones are for rest. Having designated areas for these two parts of my life makes everything feel a bit more in control.
Tip: Wherever possible, separate your work area from your living areas. That way, your brain understands that when you’re in a certain part of the house, it has to concentrate and work, and when you’re in the other part of the house, it can relax
Problem number 1 led me here. Because things were so slow and the income so irregular, I started picking up more and more clients to compensate. I did this so much that I suddenly had too much on my plate, and there were not enough hours in the day for me to complete everything I needed to complete. As a result, the quality of my work suffered gravely.
My head would ache from all the stress, and my jaw would hurt because I’d be clenching it so hard even without noticing it. I became sleep-deprived and I hardly ate anything. My life revolved around work, and since I worked from home, there was no place for me to escape to in order to rest my brain for some time. In the end, something had to give, and I had to forego some major projects to protect my sanity.
Tip: Pace yourself; don’t take on more than you can handle. Also, leave the house and go somewhere – anywhere – at least once a week just so you can take a break.
That’s it! I’ll speak candidly here and say I’m still learning these tips and tricks myself. I drop the ball more times than I can admit without shaming myself. But the important thing is that I’m aware of the issues that freelancing has exposed me to and I make a conscious effort to address each one.
I hope this article has helped shave off some of the false images of how glamorous freelancing can be. It’s great, I wouldn’t trade it for a 9-to-5, but it’s hard and challenging and will test you at every level of your humanity. Now you know, so go ahead. Be great!