When most people tell me they want to work from home, I can tell they have an idealized vision of what it will be like. They’re envisioning total creative freedom, not having to commute or pay for child care, and the ability to wear whatever they want and work whenever they want. They’ve bought in to some of the most common misconceptions about working from home. While there is a bit more freedom and some hassles become less bothersome than in a traditional office job, working from home is not as perfect as many envision it to be. If you go into it expecting nothing but fun and freedom, you’re going to be disappointed. Here are some of the common misconceptions people have about what working from home is like.
Misconception: I’ll never have to leave home because I can do all of my work from home
Very few jobs are truly work from home all the time. Many jobs where you work from home still require you to go out and call on clients, take meetings, and deliver products. There is almost nothing that will allow you to stay home all of the time. While you will likely reduce your commuting and the associated costs considerably, you probably won’t be able to stay home all the time.
Misconception: I can completely eliminate child care
If you’re seeking to work from home so you can be with the kids, remember that you will likely need to get rid of the kids at some point. This may mean sending them to daycare, hiring a sitter or having a spouse that can watch them. It just isn’t professional to have kids screaming and demanding your attention in the background while you’re on a call with a client. It’s distracting to have the kids playing and making a ruckus while you’re trying to concentrate on your work. It’s also unprofessional to bring them with you to meetings. Unless you’re running something like a daycare, working from home will likely not absolve you from paying for childcare.
Misconception: Working from home will be easy
Working from home is still work. Even if you enjoy what you do, it’s still work. It’s work to get clients, bill clients, and market yourself, and that doesn’t include doing the actual work you’re being paid for. Many people who work from home end up working more hours than people who work in offices. That’s because you’re responsible for everything when you work from home. There are no assistants or other departments to help with your workload. Working from home is still work, so give up the idea that you’ll only have to work an hour a day.
Misconception: I can set my own hours
To some extent yes, you can set your own hours. If you want to work on your marketing brochure at 2 a.m., you can do that. However, if you want to be competitive, you’ll have to work when your clients work, too. You’ll have to be available to make and take calls when your clients are at work. If you do something like photography, you’ll have to show up when the wedding is scheduled, not when you want to show up. If your business requires you to interact with people, you have to be available during the hours that they need you. You can’t just say, “Well, I don’t work during that time,” and expect to last very long in the business world.
Misconception: I can stop buying expensive work clothes
While the notion of working in your PJ’s is appealing, it’s not often the truth. You might not have to buy as many work clothes as you did when you had an office job, but you’re still going to need professional clothes to wear when you go out to meet clients or suppliers. Also, you might have clients who want to videoconference with you and wearing your grungy clothes isn’t going to cut it. You’ll still have to buy some decent clothes.
Misconception: I’ll love it
You might. Or you might hate it. People who love working from home must also love a certain degree of isolation. There’s no one else to talk to, unless it’s a client. There are no water cooler conversations or lunches with the gang. You also have to be disciplined enough to ignore the TV, chores, phone calls from friends, the Internet, and all the other things at home that compete for your attention. If you can’t do that, you won’t make money. If you’re a salaried employee you might be able to get by with a certain amount of slacking off and still get paid. When you work from home, you don’t get paid if you slack. Working from home isn’t for everyone and more than a few who try it end up back in office jobs.
Misconception: I’ll make a ton of money
Don’t believe the infomercials. You aren’t going to get rich working an hour a day. When you work at home, you have to pay your own taxes, buy your own insurance (if you don’t have a spouse’s policy that you can use), buy your own equipment, pay your utilities, pay any applicable licensing or registration fees, and pay for all of your own marketing. That is going to eat into your profits. Unless you manage to patent some wonderful idea or you have a job with a super-high wage, you’re not going to become rich overnight. You’re going to have to carefully manage your expenses and work hard to attract clients who will pay your bills. Then you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours turning out fabulous products or services to keep those clients coming back for more.
Misconception: It’s cheap to start a home based business
There are some businesses that can be started with nothing more than a computer, Internet access, and some great word of mouth. However, many businesses require a substantial investment in supplies and equipment. Even something that seems simple like cake decorating requires you to buy the equipment and supplies, have your kitchen certified for commercial use (or buy/rent space in such a facility), pay your city or county for a business registration, pay for marketing materials/photography to create a portfolio for your clients to view, and so on. If you want to buy into a franchise or start something that requires additional education, training, or certification, you can be looking at many thousands of dollars.
Misconception: I can start tomorrow
While you could maybe quit your job and start your business tomorrow, remember that it will be a while before you start turning a profit. Unless you have substantial savings to see you through, you’re better off starting slowly, while you’re still employed. Start taking side jobs and slowly acquiring the equipment you need. Work on your business plan and make sure you understand exactly what you’ll need to do to handle things like taxes and legal issues. Starting slowly can make things go much more smoothly for you.
Misconception: I won’t have to do anything I don’t want to do
On the contrary, you’ll have to do lots of things you don’t want to do. If you don’t like marketing, paying bills, managing a budget, collecting late payments, or making sales calls, tough luck. Unless you have the money to hire someone, you’ll be doing all of this and more. You won’t be able to just focus on the parts of the job that you love.
Misconception: I won’t have to answer to anyone
You’ll find yourself answering to a lot more people than you ever did in a regular job. In a regular job, you have to answer to maybe one or two managers or bosses. When you’re on your own, you answer to your clients, suppliers, anyone who lends you money, government regulators, and anyone (like a spouse or partner) who has a stake in your business.
Misconception: I’ll have lots of free time
The idea that you can go on vacation whenever you want and that you’ll have plenty of time to pursue all those hobbies you never get around to is false. Since you have to do your job plus all of the other things required to run a business, you’ll likely find that you have even less free time. When you do go on vacation, you’ll likely still have to keep in touch with your clients and do some work. Unless you set out to create a specifically part-time venture, you’ll be working more hours than you probably are now.
Misconception: I’ll have more time for family and friends
See the above misconception about having lots of free time. Plus, even if you do find yourself suddenly free on weekday afternoon, everyone else is probably at work or school, anyway.
Misconception: I won’t have to deal with criticism or petty inter-office jealousies
You and your work will be criticized by clients and others who have a stake in your venture. You will have to deal with petty jealousy from people who think you have it easy or that you don’t do any “real” work. If you work from home for a traditional company, you’ll have people who are still in the office wondering why you’re so special. There will be times where you get halfway through a project only to find that it gets cancelled because someone higher up the chain decided to stomp on someone else’s pet project. It won’t be your fault, but you’ll still be caught in the middle of the inter-office politics. Working form home does not make all the criticism and pettiness go away.
Misconception: I’ll have total creative or artistic freedom
I hear this more from people who want to pursue writing-related or artistic businesses. They think that they’ll be able to turn out whatever their muse comes up with. The truth is that you will have to adhere to the vision, budget, and requirements that your client has for the project. You may be able to suggest certain things or present some different ideas, but it will be nothing close to total artistic freedom.
Working from home can be very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed it for many years. However, you have to be realistic about what the experience will be like. Even if you are at home, work is still work and it’s not fun all the time. You’ll have to do things you don’t like and the freedom and riches you think you’ll have likely won’t materialize. You may also hate being alone. If, in spite of all of this, you can still find enjoyment in working from home, you’ll likely succeed and find it to be a rewarding and challenging experience. If not, you can always go back to the, “real world.”
(Photo courtesy of emilydickinsonridesabmx)