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…
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.
Author: J.D. Roth
In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he's managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.