My buddy Fran asked me how in the heck did I go from being laid off, to making roughly $40K as a work-at-home mom one year later. And I didn’t have an answer for her at that time, because honestly, I didn’t know how it happened. 2011 is a bit of a blur for me, as I was on my grind mode 24/7. If I wasn’t sleeping, I was working. Nonstop. I was editing books and writing blog posts and managing other sites and handling social media accounts and getting my daughter acclimated to school. Plus grad school. Plus tending to the needs of my three-year-old. Plus trying to be a decent wife every once in a while. It was nuts.
But 2012 is shaping up to be much more manageable. I’ve still got work up to my ears, but no longer am I regularly staying up until 3 or 4 a.m. to get my work done. I’ve been going to bed at—gasp!—10 p.m.! That’s practically the afternoon!
So anyway. Back to my point. How did I manage to make a pretty decent salary in my first year of self-employment? I’ve got some clarity and I think I’ve learned some valuable lessons about becoming your own boss, particularly as it relates to being a work-at-home mom.
1) Be nice to everyone. At all times. When I was in my “You’re getting laid off” meeting, my boss calmly told me that I no longer had a job at the company. It hit me like a ton of bricks but I kept my composure. There had been rumblings in the company for a couple months that layoffs might be around the corner, but I honestly wasn’t too concerned. I did, however, start compiling a “What I Do For This Company” document that outlined all my various tasks and how much time I spent on each one. I figured, if it came to it, I’d have a very compelling argument for why I should keep my job. If not, then the rest of my department would know exactly what they’d have to do, workload wise, to make up for my absence. So when I was told I’d be laid off, I calmly told my (former) boss that I had that document and it might prove to be helpful as they try to rearrange the department. I could tell she appreciated that.
So a month later, I get a call asking me to come back on as a consultant with a one-year contract, giving me some much needed stability in income for the next 12 months. I accepted with both hands. It was much, much, much less than they were paying me as a full-time employee, but my duties with them are also about 1/10 of what I was doing before. Because I wasn’t too emotional, I didn’t get angry and I maintained my composure, I’d like to think that helped in getting me that consultant contract, which helped give me confidence in pursuing other clients.
2) Plant seeds before you get hungry. This is probably the biggest lesson. If you wait til you’re hungry to start planting seeds, you’ll starve before you bear any fruit. You’ve got to plant seeds while you’re still snacking on something else. In my case, I started building my freelance career when I was still employed full-time. Heck, I started back when I was in college, before I even had kids and a husband to think about. And that meant working for free in order to get my name out there and make connections. At times I questioned myself, wondering, “I already have a job that pays pretty well. Why am I staying up til midnight working on stuff that isn’t paying me anything?”
But you know what? It all came back to me. When I was in college, I wrote for a site that spotlighted journalists of color. The founder of the website didn’t have any funds to pay writers but I felt like it was a good group of people to be around so I said, sure, I’d write for them and do some interviews. Wouldn’t you know that I got an email from that same founder last year and she is now the editorial director for a major site. She didn’t know if I was even still writing, but she emailed me out the blue and gave me a couple assignments – this time paying $250 a pop. All because I planted those seeds a long time ago.
3) Flood your name in your industry so much that your name comes up in every other conversation. You’ve got to be top of mind. If someone says to their colleague, “Hey, do you know anyone who does X?” and you do X, then your name better come up. I sent out so many emails after I got laid off I thought my Gmail account was going to start smoking. I began commenting on industry blogs. I was up late at night researching writer’s sites and trying to find where I could find work-at-home jobs. I was at the library reading books, contacting the authors. I.was.on.it.
One of my first big breaks was with a particular relationship site. I emailed them and asked if they were hiring writers. I submitted my resume and waited for a response. They emailed me back pretty quickly, telling me they weren’t hiring. Whomp, whomp.
BUT! BUT! I got an email a week later from their sister site. They said they had been forwarded my email and resume and thought I could be a good fit. They wanted me to write two articles for their site. The pay? $1500!!!! You needed to pick me up off the floor after that.
“Are you interested?” they said.
“Hell, yes!” I said inside my head.
“Yes, that would be great,” I replied to the account manager.
The lesson is to keep putting your name out there because you never know who that person knows or if your name will get passed along.