“Do you miss people?”
When I mention that I work for myself, I can always tell the more social types, because this is the first thing they ask. It’s funny because depending on the day, I totally vacillate as to whether or not I miss people.
On one hand, I miss being able to exchange ideas in conversation. I miss the nuance that comes from a facial expression rather than an email or an instant message. I miss being able to run to grab coffee around the corner for a break. I miss seeing the full sweep of office politics.
I don’t miss the constant grind of meetings. I don’t miss coworkers looking for an excuse to waste some time. I don’t miss having to put on a happy face for 9 hours when things aren’t going well. And I *really* don’t miss enforced fun (aka “team building exercises”)
The first time I worked remotely it was hard – I was close to everyone in my office, and I left to move back home. I found it hard to stay motivated, and days went by when the only person I saw was my roommate.
The second time I worked remotely (yes, I’ve done this more than once) it was almost effortless. My major job tasks required a lot of concentration and being able to manage the noise and distraction level really helped me get things done. From a productivity standpoint, I was a rockstar and I loved working on my own. At the same time, I was (again) very close to my office mates and had moved to a new city where I knew virtually no one, so it was lonely. I went back to the office once a month because keeping those ties were incredibly important. I almost had the best of both worlds.
At the start of my consulting career, I was effectively doing the same things I’d done at my old job but I wasn’t working on a team. My client was two time zones away and I wasn’t on the phone all day long. It was really lonely, but I did try to connect to the outside world more frequently. By the time I went into consulting full time in 2009, I had several clients in town. Over the past two years I’ve been able to cobble together that allows me to get my work done while also engaging with other people – clients, friends and other people in my industry – with whom I can exchange ideas.
Here are a few things that I recommend you do to keep yourself connected:
- Get some facetime with your clients – Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype…etc….is great but it doesn’t give you the real nuances of a person. I try to meet with my clients in person somewhat regularly – for some it probably feels like I drop by daily, but for others it’s scheduled. Getting that time with them can give you some cues to how a project is going, and some understanding of the person behind the emails/phone calls/etc.
- Find a professional organization – I’ve been really bad about going to local events in the last year or so due to childcare reasons (as in “When I have childcare, I’m usually too busy to go to a luncheon”) but getting involved in my local professional organization was invaluable for my first few years in town, and working on my own. If you work for yourself, or if you work at home, I’d really recommend not just going to meetings but actually volunteering your time. Most of my clients came from referrals of people that I met while on the board of my local organization.
- Get thee a support network – One of the best things that’s happened in recent years is that several friends of my have gone off on their own as well. It’s been great for me, because it’s like a built-in support network of people who get it. We might not all do exactly the same thing, but its close enough that we can share ideas, commiserate (or congratulate) and address issues that might not be something your friend whose worked at the same job for 10 years can answer.
Most of these things can help you stay connected without pulling you outside of your work environment. I’ve actually thought about Coworking as an option, but ultimately the way my day(s) are scheduled I would lose an hour of work time driving, parking and walking into the nearest coworking place. Maybe in the future it would help me be even more connected, but for now, these things keep me going.
I’ve been consulting for three years, and every time I tell someone that I a) consult and b) do it from home, I get some version of the following statements:
“I’d love to do what you do, but I just don’t have the discipline.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to not have to get dressed in the morning?”
“It would be awesome to work at home and be with my kids!”
“Don’t you miss people?”
“I would get so much more done at home, but my boss would never go for it.”*
My answers usually go something like this:
“Yes, you do”
“I actually often get dressed in makeup and shoes for conference calls.”
“Working at home is not a substitute for childcare.”
“You would probably get more done at home…”
I’ve been thinking about working for myself a lot lately, and its something I really enjoy. I love who I work with, I love my clients and I enjoy (and am often scared by) the fact that what I do is always a new adventure. I’ve written down my thoughts on the questions (and answers) above and have broken it down into a five part series that I’ll be posting over the next few weeks. Most of it is just hard won experience, and I reserve the right to learn something new in the future.
Part One: Discipline is Something You Already Have
“I’d love to do what you do, but I just don’t have the discipline.”
I always get confused when I hear people say this because usually, the people who do are some of the most highly motivated people I’ve ever met. On one hand, I can understand feeling like you don’t have the discipline to work from home or to self motivate. For many who are used to cube life, it seems like your boss is your motivator – the bosses control your reviews, your projects, the teams you work on, and how you’re compensated.
Thing is, I’ve come to see bosses as just the catalyst for someone’s motivation. They set things in motion, and point everyone in the right direction, but they don’t sit in your cube every day and watch you do your work. They don’t hold your hand and wait for you to get your reports done. They say, “Here’s what I need and when I need it” and then expect for you to have it done. If you do, you get rewarded, if you don’t, you don’t.
When you work on your own, like I do, your clients are your catalysts. Clients bring you a project, say (or ask) what they need and say when they need it by, you agree to a scope of work and then it’s your job to do it. If you do it, you’ll probably keep that client and maybe get some recommendations from them to other jobs, if you don’t, well…you won’t keep them. The motivation comes from you – its just about who kick starts the work cycle.
For a while when I first started out, I had trouble motivating myself do certain things. For example, for at least a year, I hated doing invoices. I did them – but always sent them closer to the 10th than the 1st. Didn’t keep records of who owed me what and when the invoices were due – basically, I drove my husband NUTS. Eventually I realized that this was something I had to do because no one was going to hold my hand while I did it (for the record, I asked, and my husband said no).
From an outside perspective, understand that you spend your career working for other people’s dreams. When you work on your own, you’re working for your dreams. If you can make yourself work weekends or late hours for someone else, then you have the discipline to do it for yourself.
One of the things that keeps me in check, discipline wise, is to have office hours. My hours have changed over the last three years, but having some regular time set aside each week to work on projects or take meetings has really helped. My family knows them (so they don’t bother me), my clients know them (so they do bother me), but more importantly, I know them, and I stick to them.
Because my boss can be a real pain when I skive off. It’s like she lives with me or something….