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15 Questions the Home-Based Self-employed Don't Want to Hear

Updated on June 29, 2009

Some of us work out of our homes. Self-employed or telecommuting, they’re both very similar when you’re actually engaged in a day’s work. I guess I should make a distinction from those who work alone as both employee and staff from those fortunate enough to have at least one other person sharing the day’s duties. To that end I’m speaking as one of those soloists. We’ve managed to carve out some space for a computer setup, a printer, fax, copier and perhaps even a file cabinet or two. (I realize some of us just use a laptop and a kitchen table) We’ve got a business card, and again hopefully, a separate phone line from the home line. We’ve got Kinkos and Fedex on speed dial, on a first name basis with the UPS delivery person. We’ve got on our weekly ‘to do list’ to get to Staples or Office Depot at least once a week for toner or printer paper. We’re pros at Spider Solitaire.

I’ve been at it as a graphic designer for over 25 years and have accumulated quite a bit of supplies and furnishings—though I’m still in the same odd shaped landing space just off the staircase on my home’s second floor that I’ve been at all along.

The myth of 'freedom'

One big myth about working at home or being self-employed is that of freedom. Let me just say there is none. Though I must admit, the idea of freedom lured me. I got ‘downsized’ about 25 years ago. But the company was gave a very decent severance package which kept me going for about 6 months. I managed to pick up a couple of clients during that time, and before I knew it, I was self-employed. But freedom? Not really. Every client is basically a new boss. It’s a delicate balance and takes quite a bit of tact to ensure they don’t monopolize more of your time than for which they’re paying. Clients easily tend to think you are part of their ‘staff,’ thus solely working for them. It’s not wrong for them to feel that way, in fact you must nurture each and every client along those lines with your service to them, make them feel they are incredibly important—actually they are---and at the same time remember that ultimately, you’re in business for yourself. Clients can leave at any time, for any reason, no matter how important you think you are to them. You should not be so tied to any one client that you do not have time to nurture your other clients. And more importantly, develop new clients.

I’m a graphic designer/art-director. It’s easy to start adding slices to the name of your profession when you’re self employed. My more accurate full title would be ‘graphic designer/art director/illustrator/copywriter/bookkeeper/messenger/receptionist/day-care sitter/cook/nurse/repairman/IT tech/house-cleaner/groundskeeper’--you see where this is leading…

My clients have changed over the years, as have my methods of work. I, as all graphic designers who can remember working those years ago, used to do everything by hand. Every layout, illustration, every mechanical (even when needing to re-rag entire paragraphs of type, and separating spot-colors with amber overlays), retouched photograph, and whatever I produced, needed to be done without the aid of the computer.

I’ve come to love the computer for the very simple reason that it has simplified my work day. There are drawbacks, to be sure, the perfectly timed crashes, trying to keep up with software upgrades, learning new, ‘must-have’ utilities, are today’s little building blocks of a stressful day. (Usually they happen in quick succession, at the most inopportune time—like during a conference call or Webinar or sending that final file to a printer…) but all in all, my days are simpler for the new technology, and my eyes have been spared the tedious tasks of lining up pieces of art and checking measurements under 1 pica.

You’re still a parent

Some things have not, and I suppose, never will change. For anyone who works at home and has a small assistant—sorry, I mean a small child, or possibly two, to share your ‘work day’ at home—hats off to you. I went that route for several years before my wife left her regular office job to join me at home. The work at home parent, male or female, has certain items on the ‘to do list’ that never change. Meals are mandatory. At least, are the preparation of them for the little one(s). Also there must be periods of the day set aside for quality ‘sharing’/’entertainment’ of your ‘assistant.’ A walk is good for both of you. Just vary your destinations, or that can quickly become a ‘chore.’ Television can, despite much negative criticism, can be a great option. If you watch it together with your child. Depending on your child’s age, and your patience, there’s a slew of children’s programming on PBS. (Someone tell me, is ‘Shining Time Station still on? That was my personal favorite). Again, just remember, television is not a guardian. We can do better than leave a child alone with Judge Judy. Or Oprah. Yes, even Oprah. Now if you can teach your child to be interested in the season’s sport, nothing beats lunch together and ESPN.

My first secretary

I had the idea of involving my kids into my work day. Let them learn a little bit about what their Dad does all day.

My little girl was seven when I started working out of the house. I don’t think she was nearly the handful an infant or toddler might be for some others. Neverless back then I tried my hand at showing her all my tools I use daily; the T-square, triangle, and markers—gosh, you know she loved markers. But the markers, in the end, just added to my day’s ‘to-do’ list—forcing me to allow for clean-up time (not to mention the cost of additional pads of paper and coloring books) before Mommy got home. After a while, we eliminated joint design time. This, ultimately was another reason I was thankful for computers as even I used markers less and less.

Once, my daughter offered to answer the phone for me, and I thought, ‘hmmm, I’ve always wanted a secretary,’ so I said sure ‘let’s give it a try. My clients might enjoy a young voice like hers, break the monotony of their day, innocently disarm them. It’s not like I’m talking to very high-up executives, anyway. Most of the time they’re creative counterparts on the line. And it wasn’t like she needed to write messages, just get to the phone before I did, answer it, hand it to me. Build her self-confidence. She could tell Mom about it that evening. And the phone was right on my second desk, so I could coach her if necessary. So what could go wrong? We practiced saying “Good afternoon, this is the studio. Can I help you?” I told her to sound ‘happy.’ And she got pretty good at it. At least during practice. When she officially started answering the phone, it wasn’t long before she would just revert back to her ‘normal’ phone answering skills and say “Hi, here’s my Dad,” and thrust the phone at me, or “’ello, you need help?” Once coming back up the stairs to my workstation from the first-floor bathroom, I heard the end of one her comments, “…I just heard the flush, so he should be here very soon.”

So I pretty much fired her… Well you really can’t fire them, you find some other way they can help. You can tell them it’s a promotion. Increase the pay to $4.00 a week. Oh, I didn’t mention salary? Most children, don’t ask me how or from where, know about salaries. Negotiate with them. In most cases, you can win and arrive at a price you can afford. (If you can’t win this negotiation, odds are against you succeeding in the self-employed arena anyway)

What is it you do again?

Other than all the hats I’ve worn while employing myself, my biggest letdown would have to be that there are still folks in my everyday life who do not completely believe that I am running a business. Then, there are those who, while they believe I’m running a business, assume that since I’m running it at my home address, it’s not all that important.

All self-employed folks can probably tell many different stories of being misunderstood. I can only imagine was a ‘consultant’ must go through trying to explain his or her work. Or how about an ‘entrepreneur’?

But as diverse as the home-based, self-employed marketplace is, there are certain questions that we’ve probably all heard—probably many more times than once. Here’s a couple of classic and not so classic, but all of which I’ve had to answer.

1. (A phone caller at 2:00 in the afternoon) Did I wake you?

2. (On a Tuesday morning) Are you doing anything tomorrow?

3. (Anytime from a friend) You charge that much? (generally followed by) Can you do it as a favor to me?

4.(From a teenage daughter home from school) My laptop crashed. Can I use your computer to check my Facebook page?

5. (from client at 4:00 pm on Friday) Can I get that on Monday?

6. (from same client’s secretary on Monday) He’s away on vacation for the week, would you like his voicemail?

7. (from working spouse arriving home from office job) So, what did you do today?

8. (from client when asked about a month overdue invoice) Would you mind resubmitting that invoice? I think I’ve misplaced the one from last month.

9. (from client on the day I haven’t shaved or gotten out of my pajamas) I’m a couple of blocks from you right now, can I stop by to go over this job with you?

10. (from parent-in-law) So, have you gotten a real job yet?

11. (from client) What do you mean you’re taking a vacation?

12. (from spouse shortly after arriving home from office job) You didn’t start dinner?

13. (from spouse) Did you get a check today?

14. (from spouse) When will you get a check?

15. (from spouse) That’s all they paid you?

Feel free to add questions or comments you’ve had to address from your on-looking gallery. I’m sure there’s hundreds.


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    • g.d. mack profile image

      g.d. mack 7 years ago

      Just don't get to the point where you're asking yourself 'what do you do?'

      Vacation? It's really a disciplined self-employed person who can take a vacation.... thanks piaatyourservice

    • Gift Experts profile image

      Gift Experts 7 years ago

      "What do you do?" that's always a tough one...

    • profile image

      piaatyourservice 7 years ago

      lol...Wow I just told a client I am on vacation and she just paused for a few good seconds

    • g.d. mack profile image

      g.d. mack 8 years ago

      (Wow! Sounds like 'Daughter of Repo Man')

      You're right, when introducing a child to your line of work some thought is required as to which ropes to show and to the child's acceptance of it all. I don't think it's a force-feed opportunity...

      Thanks for the comment!

    • janddplus4 profile image

      janddplus4 8 years ago

      The self employed should be judicious when using their children as secretaries. I was home-schooled by my self-employed dad. He taught me spreadsheets, word-processing, answering the phones, filing, and everything else imaginable when I was only in my early teens. Sounds great right? Until I mention that my dad was a BAILBONDSMAN and BOUNTY HUNTER. Then it doesn't sound like such great parenting to have me interpret (I speak Spanish, Dad doesn't) and ride shotgun on "business trips" (to the local jails or even gentlemen's clubs when bounty hunting). All kidding aside, he always kept me safe, it taught me responsibility and boosted my self-confidence. Need I add that my dad and I have always had a special bond that will last us a lifetime? Still, I seriously recommend thinking it through.

    • g.d. mack profile image

      g.d. mack 8 years ago

      Exactly. Even worse, declare that you're taking a day off and see how confused everyone gets!

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      My issue from working from home is that everyone around me thinks that I'm free to run around and have fun all day with them. They call during my work hours and get very upset that I don't answer or return their phone call immediately. I cannot get it through their heads that I'm working just the same as if I was off in an "official" office.


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