Freelancing – pros and cons

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Do you have what it takes to work as a freelancer? And, most importantly, should you do that?

Work-life balance is something many people struggle with immensely. Even before I was married, I knew I didn’t want to be part of an unceasing rat race that would not leave me time to raise my children in a calm, unhurried way.

A simple, quiet life was a priority, and for years I had thrown myself wholly into the sustainability lifestyle – making, growing, bartering, salvaging, fixing rather than buying, raising livestock, and living out in the boonies. It was a rigorous life, but I loved our adventures, which included a boxful of chicks scattered over the living room floor, and goats chewing on the laundry I hung out on the veranda. I learned so many valuable lessons that I still profit from every day.

The thing is, though it is doubtlessly possible to do more on less and stretch every little bit of money, and you definitely should learn all those great skills that will enable you to become more self-sufficient, you still need some money to get along in the modern world. A time comes when you just can’t retrench further. You tighten and tighten the belt until it snaps.

I had come into my marriage (as my husband did) with traditional gender role expectations. We had trusted that my husband’s job would provide for all our needs. A string of unemployment, underemployment, and some very, very unwise financial decisions did away with that illusion. For a long time, my only thought from morning till night, the only prayer on my lips, was “What can I do to bring in some money? God, help me earn money for my family”.

My number one challenge was having shot myself in the foot to begin with. I lived in a remote place with no transportation, no steady phone signal, and no stable Internet access. Basically, it was like I had burned all the bridges and made sure in advance that I would be extremely hard-pressed to earn money if I ever needed it.

I am not bitter. It was a lesson I thoroughly deserved, and I learned it well: always leave room for plan B.

I had started to rally bit by bit, making some money from articles I wrote, publishing my books, and taking on clients for proofreading and editing services. What really enabled me to fuel the whole freelancing thing up, however, was moving here, where I have steady Internet connection and the ability to work with Google Docs.

I was lucky enough to soon find a good client with a steady work stream on Upwork (that was before Upwork started with their greedy policy of charging for connects), and for the past several months, I have been working with them almost exclusively in the position of a copyeditor. I also continue working on my own books.

Although I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work from home at this season of my life, setting my own schedule and choosing my own hours, I still have to deal with some challenges, the biggest of which is a blurred line between work and home.

I don’t have my own office space, and if I did, I wouldn’t be able to just barricade myself there with a houseful of kids. I work in the living room, in the epicenter of all the action and mess that go on here daily. Because I home educate and don’t have help with childcare, I can be interrupted any moment to deal with a sibling fight or a spilled drink.

On the flip side, I sometimes check out the work chat app at odd hours and places, because most of the people I’m in daily contact with are in very different time zones.

I think that every person who thinks of setting themselves up as a freelancer should remember the following:

– Work from home is still work. It’s not a free pass, and you need major self-discipline to get anything done.

– Freelancing, at least initially, won’t make you rich. The main benefit here is flexibility. Don’t despise humble beginnings and be prepared to work your way up.

– Learn to set limits. Be realistic as to how much you can do in a certain period of time, and know how to deal with clients who want the job done by yesterday.

– Take care of yourself. Freelancing with small children in the house may often mean working early in the morning and late into the night when everyone is asleep, skipping meals and showers, and dodging calls from friends. Burnout is a real thing, and there’s only so much one can handle.

Despite any challenge I might face, I am tremendously grateful for the technology that brings our world closer together and enables people to work remotely with more ease and convenience than ever before.

Making money from home – revised

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Re-reading my previous post on making money from home, which I wrote almost two and a half years ago, I thought some updates are in order.

Following the birth of another baby, a house move, and many frumpy days spent in a maze of boxes and/or with sick little ones, I was reaffirmed in my wish for work that could be done in the comfort of my home, with a steaming cup of tea and in pajamas, depending on no one’s schedule but my own. Moving to an area with a fast, reliable internet connection was a godsend, and I am now able to play to my strengths more than before, focusing on what I’m good at: writing, editing, proofreading and translation – all of which is a perfect fit for a work-from-home solo entrepreneur.

My holy grail is still writing and publishing my own books, both fiction and nonfiction. I will keep at it, and if I could, I would do nothing else. But it’s extremely challenging to make one’s way as an author, and when you’re starting on a little to nonexistent budget, you are prone to get stuck. So part of my other-source earnings will be funneled as an investment in my books, with the darling wish of someday being able to work on them exclusively.

For more income streams, I registered on freelancing websites such as Freelancer.com and Guru, but soon saw these places are absolutely flooded with people from developing countries who are willing to work for ridiculously low wages and swarm upon every project within minutes. Getting noticed was extremely difficult without several “pay to play” options (on Freelancer, they offer paid certification tests) which I consider greedy and unethical – since the host website receives a mediator cut from every project acquired through it, I don’t think it’s fair to try and get more money off people.

Being trilingual, I’m also registered on several crowdsourcing translation platforms such as Gengo. I’ve made some legitimate earnings through Gengo, but their pay rates are low, their work volume very unsteady, and their ratings often arbitrary, with senior translators appointed for reviewing without really understanding the nuances of the language.

I tried doing transcription through similar crowdsourcing platforms, but quickly realized that, again, the pay is extremely low (unless it’s transcription + translation), plus you need a quiet work environment to listen to audio files – with four kids at home and me working on the living room couch, trying to get everyone to be quiet enough for me to listen to audio is stress-inducing and just not worth it.

Recently I discovered Upwork and so far I am loving it. Hands down, it’s the best freelancer website I ever came across. They are committed to only accepting qualified people providing in-demand services, so not every profile gets approved, and the traffic is a lot less crowded. I had to apply three times before I was accepted. There are many tests you can take for free to prove your qualifications, and choose whether to display them on your profile or not. You can check out my profile here.

I would like to stress that my objective is not to make as much money as quickly as possible, but just enough to allow me to stay home with my family without struggling financially. It isn’t easy to find the perfect balance, and I will probably keep going back to this topic in months to come.

Random ramblings on finances

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This post has been brewing at the back of my mind for a long time, and though it’s going to be long and rambling, I do feel that I need to share it.

Before I was married, my husband and I had it all figured out. We would raise our family in a peaceful rural setting and live a very simple life. We would give up the luxuries and extras that come with a second income in favor of having a stay-at-home mother who is always there for her children.

It worked well enough for a couple of years, but then our family hit a rut of unemployment and under-employment, and our financial situation was further worsened by unfortunate decisions that made us lose a lot of money.

I had become an expert on pinching pennies, buying second hand clothes, frugal cooking and baking, doing all I could to minimize the electric bill. We had a vegetable garden, chickens and goats that provided us with eggs and dairy products, and we gleaned what we could from the wild-growing bounty in our area. We ate through the stockpile we made in better days. We stopped going to weddings and other festive occasions because we couldn’t afford to give the presents in money that people expected. As a matter of fact, we could barely afford the gas to get there and back.

Saving money helped. It helped a lot, and it taught me that it’s actually possible to live, and live well, on an income far below average. But it wasn’t enough.

There comes a point when you just need some cold hard cash to pay your taxes and utility bills and to buy some basic groceries, and no degree of frugality can get you around that one. You need some sort of income… And, at that point, we had none.

I was incredibly frustrated. First off, I spent way too much time griping about how things are not the way they are “supposed” to be. Then, when I began to look about me and see what I can do to bring in some money, I saw flexible and convenient positions opening just a short drive away, but they might as well have been on Mars for all the good it did, because I had no car and no public transportation in the area. I didn’t even have the smooth uninterrupted phone and Internet connection needed for most telecommuting jobs.

I did what I could, of course. I got more serious about my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, approaching it for the first time as more than a hobby. I published and sold books and articles. I began providing editing and proofreading services.

Finally came the move here, which allowed us to cut down on gas and car use, and gave us a roof over our heads (we live in a house that belongs to family). We still retained our own house, and were lucky enough to get very good, responsible renters and a steady trickle of income. I now have a reliable Internet connection, which has enabled me to set myself up as an independent contractor with several translation, transcription and proofreading agencies. I am still right here at home for my children, but I now see I can do a lot more than I thought, and it’s incredibly empowering .

A few insights:

1. Being a wife and mother, and running a home, is a full-time  occupation. I really don’t need anything else to have my hands full, but I realized I can juggle if necessary. If I didn’t have to think about money at all, I would just focus on my family and my fiction writing.

2. Looking back, I would probably think twice before agreeing to live in a location where I would be utterly and completely unable to get anywhere and would depend on my husband for every little errand, including the post office, the doctor and the bank. It eventually led to feelings of extreme frustration and helplessness. Remote rural living in a cheaper area can potentially save a lot of money, but when it comes to making money, you can find yourself stuck with no options.

3. It is no use to sit around and mope about how things should have been, what you could have done differently, what your spouse could have done… Just get up, shake off the dust and move on. I wish I had realized this sooner, and had been more flexible and less dogmatic. It would have saved me a good deal of grief.

So what next? The future is foggy, but things are infinitely better already. We have a steady roof over our heads. We live in a place where we are close to everything we need. And it’s still rustic enough that I can hear roosters crowing every morning. Life is good.

Saving and survival in hard times

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Our family has been struggling with financial difficulties for some time now, and what has enabled us to survive, stay out of debt and keep our heads above water are, among other things, these money-saving strategies:

1. Food: we keep chickens for eggs, have a herb garden, and grow and gather some seasonal produce, but naturally, this isn’t enough for all our needs. We have learned to choose the cheapest and most nutritious foods we can get, and cook long-lasting, economical meals such as soups and stews.

We stockpile and try to venture out shopping less often, making do with what we have in the house. The less you pop into stores, the less you will buy!

Another useful strategy is, whenever you find a defect in any store-bought product, don’t pass, complain. If you word your complaint right, you might get not just a refund, but all sorts of coupons and gift cards as compensation. Lately we have complained about a bag of wormy rice, and got two bags of rice and a bunch of canned goods as a gesture of goodwill.

2. Utility bills: reexamine your electricity and water usage and scrimp as much as you can. We have a solar water heater and I try to make do with it even in winter – we still have enough sunny days to shower every other day or so. Shocked? A daily shower is a privilege, not a need, especially in winter (in summer, we have plenty of hot water from the solar heater to shower every day). Wash full loads of laundry, line-dry your clothes, turn off lights and appliances, and wear extra layers of clothes rather than heat your house.

3. Gas: gas and car maintenance are expensive. Stay home as much as you can. Schedule all your errands for one day. Try to get people to drive over to see you, rather than go to them.

If you live in an area with reliable public transportation, consider going without a car. We can’t do without a car, unfortunately, and furthermore, we’ll have to upgrade in the near future as we grow to be a family of six and a standard 5-seat vehicle is no longer enough for us. Of course, we’ll sell our current car to help fund the next one.

4. Clothes and shoes: hand-me-downs and thrift stores will keep you clothed for next to nothing, and often you can get very nice brand-name gently used clothes that will last a great deal longer than cheap new clothes you might have bought at the mall.

5. Housing costs: if you rent or are paying a mortgage, it’s a huge, stress-inducing drain in hard times. Many people have been able to downsize to a smaller, cheaper, easier to maintain home, without any material reduction of comfort. We are lucky enough to own our home free and clear, but unfortunately, the local taxes are killing us. We are praying for an opportunity to sell and move to an area with lower local taxes.

6. Health: we have reexamined our health insurance to get a more affordable plan that covers nearly as much. It’s still a huge expense, and we might have to give it up altogether if things don’t improve soon, because it’s absurd to have a health insurance and starve, but for now we’re holding on.

At the same time, keep yourself in as good health as possible, because depression and physical weakness make it more difficult to handle a financial crisis. Eat as well as you can, get your sleep, be out in the fresh air, and take exercise in the form of walks, riding a bicycle, or working in the garden. It’s healthy and free.

7. Shopping and entertainment: just close your pocket and don’t buy anything you can survive without. Limit your entertainment to free stuff – walks, hikes, bonfires, friendly get-togethers – and moreover, stuff that is within walking distance or a very short drive, because gas costs money too, remember? Swap books with friends or use the library, reexamine your mobile phone and internet plans, and if you still have cable TV, cancel it.

8. Alternative money making sources: as important as saving is, sometimes you also need to think how you can earn a little extra. My husband fixes computers while he’s getting his company established, while I write fiction and nonfiction, do freelance editing and proofreading, translate, and do occasional nutrition counseling for people who are prepared to make it to my neck of woods.

It’s hard when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s possible to survive and even thrive by judicious management. Read more on frugal living strategies here.

Making money from home

Our desire for financial independence, coupled with our wish to have a quiet, gentle, non-money-driven life and a mother at home for the children, has led us down the path of exploring simple,  self-reliant living. A simple life is not necessarily a cheapo life, but it is conductive to saving money in many ways.

We home-educate, so we don’t have daycare or schools fees. I breastfeed, so we never had to buy formula. By regularly checking out thrift stores, we have a reliable source of clothes and household goods, very cheaply. We only have one car, which saves us gas, maintenance and insurance. Our entertainment is simple and usually involves visiting with friends or local, free day trips. Finally, we are currently working on the important aspect of food self-reliance, by raising our own chickens, foraging for free edible goods, and establishing a vegetable garden.

Nevertheless, while saving money is a cornerstone of debt-free living on a small income, sometimes it isn’t enough. Maybe you’re going through a period of increased expenses. Or maybe you just want to make a little extra that would go towards financing a project you’ve long dreamed about. For us, I guess, it’s a bit of both right now, and I’ve been brainstorming some ways of making money from home:

Childcare – this isn’t something I would personally do as a first choice, because frankly, with my three children I’ve got quite enough to be getting on with. But providing childcare is probably the most popular and reliable means of generating extra income from home among stay-at-home mothers around here, either as all-day care for babies or picking up children from school, feeding them lunch and watching them for a couple of hours.

Private tutoring – a foreign language, a proficiency at music or dancing, superior knowledge of mathematics, or any special skill can all be converted into a side income by providing private lessons at your home or in your neighbors’ homes, at your convenience. Of course, if you have little children you will need someone to watch and entertain them while the lesson is going on. Or, if they go to bed early enough, you might teach while they are asleep.

Coaching and counseling – I have done nutritional counseling and coaching, one on one and in group settings, right in my living room. With young children I haven’t been able to do it on a regular basis, but I look forward to having more time, and hopefully more space, in the future. Any kind of coaching or counseling can be done from home, though again this might not always be compatible with full-time parenting of little ones.

Selling your surplus produce – if you have an established homestead, with a seasonal surplus of vegetables, eggs, milk or animals, you can sell what you produce. The key is to find customers for what you offer. We tried doing that with fresh eggs last year – we had more than we could use, but people just weren’t interested. So we decided to thin out our flock a bit to make it more sustainable, and lo and behold! People just lined up to buy productive hens for their back yard, and asked us to contact them if we have more birds for sale in the future. It sure was a nice surprise. This year we hope to raise some extra chicks to sell at the end of the season.

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Above: Black Brahma/New Hampshire chicks, which will hopefully grow into nice big birds, to be sold at a good price at some point

Selling things you make – women around here and all over the world sell their homemade bread, baked goods, candles, soaps, body care products, home-sewn baby slings, toys and nursing covers, and more. It’s possible to expand this into a group tutorial: for example, people who have bought your artisan bread and liked it might be willing to pay for acquiring the skill of making it on their own. It is possible to advertise in local newspapers, and Etsy has opened a whole new world of possibilities for hand-crafters.

Selling your art – if you are the artsy type, your hobby might just redeem itself financially and become a source of income. Around here we have painters, glass-blowers, and jewelry-makers. Again, group tutorials might be an attraction as well. If I had the possibility, I’d love to learn beading. A friend of mine, Jenny, set up a successful home business selling her cute painted rocks.

Writing – I write fiction, love it and hope to get a publishing deal someday, but I realize it’s a long, slow process with lots of competition and I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. So I’m also looking at possibilities of writing articles, website content, and doing English/Hebrew translations.

These are just a few ideas I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear yours.