I have to admit I’m a lucky woman. Unlike say an engineer or school teacher, my skills (writing and PR consultancy) enable me to work from anywhere. This was why, becoming a freelancer was an easy decision when motherhood descended.
Many mums seem envious when I tell them my job, and I understand why they’d feel that way. There are many obvious perks like:
- Skipping the rush-hour commute (this one tops the list for me)
- You get to pick the kids up earlier from childcare (this one’s also precious)
- You get to work whenever, wherever and however. No one is going to judge you for how you dress and not wearing makeup. In my case, I try to start working before 8.30am and finish by 3pm if possible.
- You get to say no to jobs you don’t like and you can declare random days off
Underneath these benefits however are many practical drawbacks that women (and men in fact) need to consider before leaping into self-employment. I’m not dissuading anyone from following their dreams but know that it’s never all flowers and rainbows when you live in an expensive city like Singapore. And you should never assume that it’s an “easy life” – that’s super offensive by the way, almost as criminal as asking “what do stay-at-home mums do all day?”.
At this point, I should make an important distinction. There are some mummies who don’t necessarily need a job, but just want some form of paid work to keep them gainfully occupied. This post doesn’t apply as much to them as those who need (or want) to help support the family financially.
So, for the latter, here’s what you need to know before jumping into self-employment:
- Forget financial stability
Ask yourself: are you prepared to forgo CPF, bonuses, paid maternity leave, paid medical leave, medical subsidies and other comforts of being a full-time employee?
For those who are new to self-employment, it’ll be foolish to expect to be prosperous immediately. Regardless of whether you wish to be a writer, crafter, photographer, designer, headhunter or business consultant, there’ll be great months when you’re swamped with enquiries and there will inevitably be lull periods. Manage your expectations well.
- You have to hustle
I have had about 10 years of work experience prior to coming out on my own. I used the time to cultivate my network and also have a keen sense of my working style, ethics and value that I can provide to clients.
In this gig economy, competition is stiff for freelance workers, unless you are in a small niche. We can’t wait for clients to find us.
To make it a viable career, even the most introverted of us have to shamelessly reach out to our contacts, send cold emails, make our own websites, etc. After all, what good is your skill if no one knows you’re offering it?
- There is no career progression
Unless you have the ambition to scale up your business and eventually hire a team to handle the nitty-gritty stuff, you are essentially your own sales person, marketer, accountant, personal assistant and everything else in between. And oh yes, you also have to do the actual work to be delivered to the customer.
I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t have the appetite for hiring an employee, cos it’d mean I could never stop chasing new business leads so that I could afford the monthly salary, bonus, pay raises and other reasonable staff welfare costs. As a result, when things get busy, I’d rather turn enquirers down than to get help. I’m aware too that because of this, I’ll probably never be filthy rich or retire early.
Some people may think it’s silly but at least I get to sleep easy at night.
- You can’t escape mum guilt
Unless you are comfortable with less revenue, you need to put in the hours to well, work. Often, you find yourself being busier when you are your own boss.
While I try to pick my boys up from childcare by 5pm, this sometimes doesn’t happen. There are meetings, deadlines and urgent emails to attend to, just like in any other job.
When I’m having difficulties with work, my patience is non-existent and I’ll get really (sometimes unnecessarily) snappy with the kids. I hate this the most.
When you work for someone else, you get to say “I quit”. When you work for yourself, there’s no quitting and no fixed hours. If the childcare centre is going to be closed tomorrow for instance, I’ll be banging furiously at the laptop in the wee hours prior so I don’t have any deadlines hanging over my head when the kids are at home. The exhaustion is REAL.
- You have to like working alone
You can’t turn left or right to ask “what do you think?”. On most days, there’s no one to chit-chat with at lunch though you can always get out to meet your friends in the CBD. Also, it’s just your name behind the work you put out – no excuses, 100% accountability.
- Cashflow is everything
Most large corporations go by a 30-day or 60-day payment cycle, so you don’t see your money until at least one month until your invoice goes out. Every once in a while, you also get meanies or utterly disorganised companies that don’t process your invoice till you threaten with legal action. (Yes, I’ve served someone, not with a small claims threat, but with an actual letter of demand from a lawyer.)
- You have to remember your WHY
Being a freelancing work-from-home mum, I have had many moments of doubt and insecurity. Can I make this work in the long run? Isn’t it just easier to throw in the towel and run under the umbrella of someone else’s organisation? (At this point really, my CV is too shitty for getting full-time employment anywhere else.)
But I find satisfaction in everyday victories: when I get great appreciative clients (fantastic humans with good hearts), quiet pockets of time to read, jaunts to the neighbourhood playground when I get to pick the kids up early and the flexibility of finishing my work late at night so I can have the next day off.
So there there you have it, my honest review of being a work-from-home mother. I’m still learning and trying to find a happy balance between work and life while occasionally buying lottery cos come on, the extra money won’t hurt.
To anyone who has even the slightest impulse to quit your job, what I always tell people is this: “sometimes you have to do more first before you can do less”. This means, if you are venturing out into a different field (e.g. you are a banker who wants to be a photographer), pursue your creative interest first as a hobby.
Outside of your regular work hours, set up a portfolio. The great thing these days is, you can publish your work on your social media so your pages are 24/7 billboards. When you start chalking up a couple of paid gigs and feel confident enough that this can pay your bills, you can then take the plunge. It will take up a crazy amount of energy (as if parenting isn’t tiring enough), but if this is your calling, then it’ll well worth your while.