Working from Home: What I’ve Learned in 8 Months as a Professional Blogger

The internet is the new El Dorado, a mythical land of gold and plenty. Some savvy marketers have convinced their followers that it's easy to make money online. It's not. Just like anything else, it takes work. To be successful, it takes a lot of work.

I've been working from home as a full-time blogger for eight months now. I love what I do. I love to write. It's tremendously fulfilling to be make a living by doing what I love, and, at the same time, to be helping others. But it's by no means easy.

I know some people are able to quit their day jobs to work from home and experience nothing but bliss. Some of these lucky folks are bloggers. I'm happy for them, but for me, the transition hasn't been perfect. On the whole, I'm glad — very glad — to have made this leap, but working from home is not without its challenges.

Here are some things I've learned about working from home over the past eight months:

    • Working from home saves me money. I never realized how much money I let slip through my fingers every day while I worked at the box factory. Transportation costs alone were nearly $14/day, when you figure the true cost of car ownership. $14 a day! And that doesn't include the incidental spending I made because I was stopping at bookstores and supermarkets all the time.
    • It's difficult to budget with a variable income. Like many people who work from home, my income fluctuates wildly. One week I'll make more money than I ever thought possible; the next, I'll be worried I might have to find a real job. Though my income tends to stay above what I earned at the box factory, it's unpredictable. This is why frugality is so important to me right now. I keep my spending as low as possible so that I'm not caught off guard during lean times. When I do earn extra money, I sock it away in high-yield savings accounts and index funds.

Stock market graph or a blogger's income?

 

  • I control my own destiny. When you work from home, when you own your own business, you're in control. There are certainly drawbacks to this (all of the risk is on you), but there are advantages, too. If you want to take your work in a certain direction, you can. If I want to write a book, I can write a book. This freedom is liberating. My income and fulfillment are really only limited by the amount of time and effort I'm willing to devote to each aspect of my business.
  • There's no way to fake it. If I don't do the work, the work doesn't get done. When I was sloughing during the month of August, spending my time playing World of Warcraft instead of reading and writing about money, the blog suffered. It was obvious that my heart wasn't in it. In a one-man operation, there's nobody else to pick up the slack. Work must come first and play second.
  • Balance is essential. When you work from home, it's easy to let your job take over your life. I never thought I'd become a workaholic, but it's happened. I'm learning that I need to set boundaries, to make time for the other things that make life fulfilling. One way I've done this is to actually schedule certain activities (exercise at 7:30am, read for an hour at 1pm, take a nap at 3pm, etc.). It's because of this lack of balance that I've recently made a subtle adjustment to the GRS schedule. Instead of striving for two posts a day and then beating myself up when I fail, I'm aiming for one post every day, and when I have time, I'll add a second.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good. When Get Rich Slowly was just a hobby, it was easy for me to let go of an article. Now, however, I'm reluctant to let go of any piece unless it's perfect. This is crazy. One of my personal finance mottos is “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. By this I mean that too many people fail to act because they're looking for perfect solutions when they'd be better served simply seeking good solutions and acting now. I've begun to realize the same is true with my blog. It's important to do the work, but I shouldn't do more than needs to be done.
  • Social interaction takes effort. Sometimes our co-workers drive us nuts. But for a social fellow like me, the absence of other employees is worse than having a Dwight Schrute in the office. Kris says that I get grumpy when I don't have enough social contact. She's right. Interacting with people online isn't the same as actual human contact. Even just a little social activity can make a huge difference to my mood. This is one reason I've begun making an effort to have lunch with friends and colleagues.

When people learn that I work from home as a blogger — as a professional blogger — they're intrigued. “That must be awesome,” they always say. (This is followed quickly by, “How do you make money?”, which is a subject for a future article.) My work is awesome, though it's not without challenges. Still, I don't think I could ever go back to the box factory…


Update
Via comments and e-mail, I'm receiving many questions about the process of becoming a professional blogger. I don't have time to answer them in detail, but I can give a brief summary. First, if you haven't already read the post where I announced my decision to blog full-time, check out Quitting the day job: Finding the guts to pursue your dreams”, which will give you some background.

Now some quick answers:

  • When you work for somebody else, there's an external authority that compels you to get things done. When you work for yourself, you are that authority. I've created self-imposed deadlines to help prompt me to work. I want a new post up by 5am Pacific every morning, for example. But, as I said above, too much of that throws your life out of balance.
  • One trick I learned from Lauren (my “wellness coach”) is to actually schedule things you might not otherwise schedule. If exercise is important to you, then schedule exercise every day, etc. I've recently scheduled an hour for reading, and this has helped my mental health a lot, I think.
  • I had been blogging for seven years before I quit to go full-time (though only two of those years were here at GRS). I made sure that I was earning “replacement income” for my previous job at the box factory first. In fact, I'd been earning that for six months before I made the decision (and for nearly a year before I actually made the leap). I also looked to be sure that my income was on a generally upward trend.
  • Running out of ideas is not a problem. GRS readers provide a constant flow of questions and suggestions. Beyond that, everyday life often provides some of the best stories. (I only wish I could share more of what I encounter day-to-day!) Plus, I have a box stacked full of story ideas that were hurriedly scribbled on notebook paper or the back of envelopes. Some days I just randomly pick one and write about it!
  • I do worry about the future, but then I'm a worrier by nature. I mitigate some of my fears by simply continuing to write about topics I find interesting (and that I think my readers will find interesting). Also, I continue to explore other outlets for my writing. A book may or may not lucrative (probably “may not”), but it's a chance to obtain additional exposure, which in turn might lead to other opportunities. Whatever happens, I do not regret this experience. If I do return to a traditional job, I'll have an entirely new perspective on it.
  • There are lots of little details for the self-employed to consider. I'm fortunate that I don't have to worry about health insurance. Because Kris still works outside the home, I'm carried on her plan. I realize that this is a luxury that not everyone has, and I'm grateful for it. Meanwhile, I am absolutely responsible for withholding my own taxes. As I've mentioned before, I have a great accountant (who is also a close friend), and he keeps close tabs on my situation to be sure I'm fulfilling my responsibilities.

If I receive more questions, I'll append answers to the list above.

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Pat with SPI
Pat with SPI
11 years ago

Hi J.D. This is a great post. I recently got laid off, and I’m taking it as a blessing in disguse and using it as an opportunity to start my own company while working from home. I actually just filed my LLC papers the other day. I’m so happy about everything. I was wondering about the daily-life of someone who works at home. So far, I wake up at 12pm and I go to bed at 5am. How do you stay “on schedule” like we did while we were working for someone else? Also, I know what you mean about… Read more »

Erin
Erin
11 years ago

Re frequency of posting… Your posts are terrific, and plentiful! Most of the blogs I read don’t make it to one/day, or they post 5 days/week and take weekends off. So you already exceed my expectations, just by posting once a day — anything more is an extra treat!

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

Mr Chiot’s has been working from home for 6 years years now (I have been working from home for 9 years). We love it and wouldn’t change it for anything. We have developed a schedule that works for us. We wake up when we do (usually around 8:30 and go to bed around midnight). We make coffee and have a leisurely breakfast (we read books). Then we get to work. We usually break for lunch around 1:30 and read for an hour or so, then back to work. Around 4 we have afternoon coffee and read for a while again.… Read more »

HowToMakeMyBlog.com
HowToMakeMyBlog.com
11 years ago

Great article! We mostly get to hear the happy stories without any downsides. So it is really refreshing to read more details about the “downsides” of being a full-time pro-blogger as well.

Thanks for the great article and all the best for your blog in the future!

Marko
http://www.howtomakemyblog.com

Alan I.
Alan I.
11 years ago

Thank you for sharing this personal information. I’ve had many of the questions that you’ve answered. Your comment, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” really rings home for me. As a perfectionist and a control freak, I’ve been trying to settle for good and timeliness in my personal and professional work too. Thank you for being vulnerable to admit the same affliction.

Marc
Marc
11 years ago

Another great post – just tells it like it is and highlights some of the more difficult elements of working online. Although my business is not blogging, it can definitely be extremely time-consuming and I agree that it’s important to strive for some sort of balance. I think I’ll try your scheduling ideas so I can batch task and free up more time to socialise and relax.

Lucas Krech
Lucas Krech
11 years ago

“It’s difficult to budget with a variable income.” One trick I have found useful is to be very rigorous about treating myself as an employee. I keep a stock of cash on hand in an account designated for my business and deposit money there regularly. From that account I then “pay” myself a monthly salary. The supply of cash helps to balance out the lean months and supplement when business income is not enough. When there is more, that fund gets replenished. This differs from my emergency fund which is used for disaster scenarios. The only difference between this system… Read more »

Manshu
Manshu
11 years ago

This is a great post and I am sure will serve as inspiration to a lot of people. All the best for all.

Deborah Johnson
Deborah Johnson
11 years ago

J.D.,

Thanks for such an insightful post. I’m just starting a blog and freelance writing business. Do you have any advice or suggestions for those of us starting out, or who want to make the leap?

Cath Lawson
Cath Lawson
11 years ago

JD This is a really useful post. Many other professional bloggers made it sound so easy. How did you go about the transformation.

Did you start working part-time first, or did you quit totally to work on your blog? How long were you blogging before you went full time?

Angel Cuala
Angel Cuala
11 years ago

It’s been a month since I became pro, but I can already feel what you mentioned above. But what I am very much happy about is I see my children growing every day, and with more bonding moments.

And yes, it saves a lot of money especially for the food. My former work has a free shuttle bus though.

Shadox
Shadox
11 years ago

One of the biggest challenges I had when running my one man consulting business (about 5 years ago) – was the solitary nature of success and failure – I found that I needed colleagues to share the ups and downs with.

Much like you, I also figured out that if I didn’t do something myself it didn’t get done. That’s pretty sobering and gratifying at the same time.

A. Dawn
A. Dawn
11 years ago

It’s not easy to make money from blog, but it’s doable. As Steve Pavlina mentioned in his post,”Can most people do it? No, they can’t. I hope it doesn’t shock you to see a personal development web site use the dreaded C-word. But I happen to agree with those who say that 99% of people who try to generate serious income from their blogs will fail.” Here is a post I wrote about this in the past; here is the link: Can Anyone Make A Living Blogging? http://adawnjournal.com/2008/05/30/what-is-a-dot-com-lifestyle/ Hope readers will find it helpful.
Cheers,
A Dawn Journal
http://www.adawnjournal.com

Alex
Alex
11 years ago

Excellent post…success doesn’t come without some sacrifice. We are all human and we have basic needs. There are certain times of the day and week that we are going to be more productive, more creative, and there’s sometimes we just need to sit back, analyze and reestablish appropriate balance into our lives.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson
11 years ago

I’m very intrigued by your blog. I blog myself, but find myself wondering what your writing about every morning. I think that it is amazing that you find a way to get things out there on a daily basis. I find it hard to come up with 2 or 3 good articles a week, let alone once a day. I think that you are doing a magnificent job. I’m glad that you have found a comfortable way of getting quality work done.

Caleb
http://www.mefinanciallyfree.blogspot.com

Cathy
Cathy
11 years ago

Great post, J.D. My job lets me telecommute from home 2 days a week. I’m having trouble with the distractions around the house killing my productivity. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m almost wondering if I should just go to the coffee shop down the street instead of working at the house.

Curt
Curt
11 years ago

It’s good to see that you are making it. You are an inspiration for many of us.

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

I love this post! I am currently in limbo right now myself: working from home AND working working a full-time day job. Its very exhausting. Just working from home only sounds like bliss actually. I’m glad you listed some of the joys in challenges in doing this because not everyone is realistic or willing to share as much as you have.

BG
BG
11 years ago

Interesting – I lately went the other way round and, after 9 years of self-employment as techwriter, took a 4-day-per-week job in an interesting company very close to me. While I like working in my home office, I found that I miss the colleagues and the new inspirations you get from talking to more people and being more integrated in a company (than you usually are as freelancer). I also found that during full-time-projects I felt actually more energetic, plus I wanted a more steady income again (the ups and downs really wore me out over time). No telling what… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

I just want to say, “Thanks!” Your work does make a difference. I am learning things here that I wouldn’t have taken the time to study otherwise. In many ways, you and bloggers like you, are providing long distance learning courses. I personally appreciate the pace since I have been overwhelmed by financial books and courses in the past.

Jesse W.
Jesse W.
11 years ago

Awesome post, one of the best I have read in a long time. I always wondered what it would be like to stay at home and work. My biggest fear is the social interaction thing much like yourself. I do not know if I could do without it.

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

I could possibly work for myself in my current career, but I’d still be expected to go to an office every day. My best friend tried working from home for almost a year, she absolutely hated it. She asked to be transferred back into an office position! She needed the social interaction and failed miserably at goal setting and self motivating. I’m amazed anyone makes a living from blogging, I started one and it’s tons of work. Anyway, keep up the good work.

PizzaForADream
PizzaForADream
11 years ago

Great post! I work full-time, deliver pizza 3 nights a week, am in the process of building a traditional business part-time, and am beginning to blog. Have worked from home for 5 or 6 years and love it! It definitely requires discipline and focus, but for me I prefer the time with my family lots more than with my co-workers.

Adrienne
Adrienne
11 years ago

I’ve worked from home for the past 4 years now. I recommend using the phone frequently to stay connected. It’s more personal than email and easier to do on a regular basis than meeting in person.

UrbanSpeaker.com
UrbanSpeaker.com
11 years ago

I’m not sure if I want to blog full time, but those are some excellent lessons you have learned JD! I have started writing a blog at http://www.urbanspeaker.com and even though it is only a few weeks old, it sure is consuming! I wouldn’t recommend blogging if you have tons of other things to do. At least for the start up time; getting articles started and getting your blog publicized is really stressful and can be difficult. But if you think you can do it, definitely give it a go! It is fun, and you get to put your learning… Read more »

Pete
Pete
11 years ago

I was wondering about, too…. How did/do you deal with some of the little things you have to deal with on your own when you’re not working for someone else? Specifically, I’m wondering about health insurance (are you on a spouse’s or something?) and things like making sure your taxes are all set – I’ve heard things like consulting you have to remember to set aside enough to pay all of the taxes your employer would normally have to do. Is that where working with an accountant comes in? I’m thinking more and more lately about what I could do… Read more »

Sherry
Sherry
11 years ago

I have been working from home for most of the past 5 years. The first 2 years, I was self employed, but because I had clients, I needed to be available during normal working hours – that is normal working hours on the east coast, central and west coast! So I had pretty long days. I am currently working from home again, but as a W2 employee, in the same line of work. Right now, my clients are in central, mountain and pacific time zone. What I do is schedule my work so that there are 2 days a week… Read more »

Kris
Kris
11 years ago

Thanks for another great article. I find your honest, insightful writing really resonates with me.

I am a stay-at-home mom but for the last year I have also been working p/t from home. As you (and many commenters) have noted, it is quite socially isolating. I am still working on the best way to deal with this, but some days I’m jealous of my husband’s social connection in office.

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

when my husband had variable income (for quite a few years), it was more seasonal but still subject to substantial fluctuation even week to week. ideally, we would live on a certain amount and stash away extra for the lean times. during the busy season, we’d have more than twice what we needed so we’d stash away for the dead season when the weekly paychecks were 2-digit numbers. or, we’d pay those bills ahead of time. those who didn’t learn to save hit real trouble. i think by setting money aside you are doing exactly what you should be. i… Read more »

Kim the Blogging Bard
Kim the Blogging Bard
11 years ago

I agree that working from home can be difficult. I was working on my dissertation (finished recently) and had no out of the house work. I faced similar difficulties; There was the scheduling, being accountable to oneself, and the isolation. Sure, I saved money but I also went stir crazy not going beyond my front step for 6 days at a time (during the tough times of writing deadlines). I wasn’t earning any money during that time so my husband’s income had to hold us over (hence more budgeting). I am now looking for work, although with the economy being… Read more »

jtimberman
jtimberman
11 years ago

JD, RE: Social interaction. Four months ago I took a position where I can work from home full time for a small company. The work is what I love, and two of the senior partners in the company are long time friends (12 and 20 years respectively), but I find the lack of regular social interaction with peers and colleagues frustrating. I’m fortunate in that I see my wife and children a lot more, but its from my desk in the office, rather than with personal interaction. Couple this with the fact that most of my friends in the area… Read more »

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

I love hearing the background of what it takes to quit your job and rely solely on blogging for your income. Do you ever wonder if blogging full time can carry you through the rest of your working/non-working days? Personally, I think it can–especially a site like this–but I’m curious if that bit of doubt has ever entered your mind.

GE Miller
GE Miller
11 years ago

JD,

I’d love to be in your position someday. I think a lot of us hear would love to see what your sources of income are for this blog and your earnings growth over time. Totally up to you to share, of course, but many of us wish we could be in the same position.

Momma
Momma
11 years ago

I agree that working out of the home is wonderful! I get to be at home with my son, and that is simply priceless! (I do library & information consulting from the home, and also do freelance writing.) While it does save money not commuting, I do think there are other expenses working from home that people do not think about, that can add up. For example, we use the dishwasher, stove/oven, heater/a.c., lights, and computer much more now that I am at home. We even go through more water, and of course, more toilet paper! This may sound silly,… Read more »

Keith
Keith
11 years ago

J.D.,

This is the kind of posting that brings me back over and over. I appreciate your candor about the realities of being a successful blogger. Like other advertising, the inundation of “make millions with AdSense” nonsense can cloud the truth of how much actual work goes into being truly successful in this business. Thanks for your thoughts.

Devin @ CoolProducts
Devin @ CoolProducts
11 years ago

“When you work for somebody else, there’s an external authority that compels you to get things done. When you work for yourself, you are that authority. I’ve created self-imposed deadlines to help prompt me to work. I want a new post up by 5am Pacific every morning, for example. But, as I said above, too much of that throws your life out of balance.”

Intrinsic motivation. This is when you’re motivated by your work simply because you enjoy doing it.

External motivations such as pay, job security, fear of your boss, etc are Extrinsic motivation.

Brandon @ Car Insurance Guidebook
Brandon @ Car Insurance Guidebook
11 years ago

Congratulations, J.D. on making it as a professional blogger. Many try, you succeed. Keep researching and writing and we’ll keep reading.

Here’s to another 8 months!

Russell Heimlich
Russell Heimlich
11 years ago

Online web designer magazine A List apart recently ran a two part series on some of the pit falls of working from home. While this is not about being your own boss per say, it does offer some tips.

http://alistapart.com/articles/walkingthelinewhenyouworkfromhome

http://alistapart.com/articles/workingfromhomereadersrespond

Robert A. Henru
Robert A. Henru
11 years ago

The perfect is indeed the enemy of the good. And one thing I learn is to see that.. perfection is not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing to remove.

Putting a purpose on each article and posting it while sticking to that purpose is what I found useful.

Robert

Jen M.
Jen M.
11 years ago

You all that are doing it–working from home, for yourselves–sucessfully are an inspiration to those of us who want to move that direction. I’m taking my business in small steps. I sent in my LLC paperwork yesterday, and I work on my business on a part-time basis when away from my full-time job. The most I am hoping for in the next few years is a viable part-time income from it that allows me to cut the day-job back to part time. I’ll go from there. I’m giving my venture 5 years to sink or fly and will take steps… Read more »

Forest
Forest
11 years ago

You make some great points in this post. At first thought, being a pro blogger seems like a dream job for many of us. But I guess there are so many things we don’t even think about – like regular social interaction, for example – that we get out of our ‘regular’ jobs. Still, I would love to blog full-time someday!
Love the site! Keep up the good work!

Shweta Rai @ OnlineBusiness.org
Shweta Rai @ OnlineBusiness.org
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. It only proves further that there is no magic formula to success and one needs to work hard before any progress is made. My advise to all those who are thinking of making the switch is to plan well before making the switch. Also initially there may not be any income at all from blogging so think of quitting only after you start seeing results. Cheers!

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