This week marks 6 months that I've been making a living full time from our little piece of heaven in the forest. As I've mentioned in previous posts, it was a long held dream of mine to bring my work home and spend more time with my son. Of course, as is so often the case, dreams have a funny way of turning out not quite how we expect. It's been amazing, and I wouldn't change anything – until now.
Now, to say the transition from full time employment to full time self-employment was smooth would be a disservice to everyone reading this. I didn't know right off the bat how to make a living in the country.
And to say I've completely sorted out the myriad challenges of working for myself would be a lie.
But now, barely six months into this venture, I have a thriving web design and support business serving a small group of exclusive (and amazing!) clients, and am having a blast developing my modern homesteading site. I'm able to pick my son up from school and attend his plays and concerts, I can take time off in the middle of the day to have coffee with a friend, my office window looks out over a lush green forest, and I'm serenaded all day long by birdsong.
So yes, I'm happy. And super busy!
But it hasn't come without a LOT of lessons. Here are my top 5 tips for working successfully from your homestead (a couple of which I'm still working on!):
Tip #1: There's always something to do - so keep a list, prioritize it and time your tasks.
Personally, I have this really bad habit of taking on more work than I can realistically handle at any given amount of time. "Oh sure, I can do that!" Right.
I've struggled with this for a very long time. Chalk it up to my perfectionist personality, I guess, and the fact that I can actually do most things I attempt! But what I've learned the last six months is that there's absolutely no room in a truly successful home based business for this form of self-sabotage. It's not fair to the client, to me, to my family... no one. And honestly, even though I can do a lot of technical tasks doesn't mean it's the best use of my time to actually do so.
So how do you get this under control? I started with a detailed to-do list that I rewrite and prioritize every day, Basecamp, and when I'm really 'with it', using a timer. I always time my work for billing purposes, but haven't really used the tool to keep me on track with multiple projects from a time management perspective. Use a countdown timer on your smartphone, or something like e.ggtimer. I learned this trick from my business coach and when I remember to use it, it works beautifully to keep me focussed and not so likely to go wandering off on Facebook... And man I get a lot done!
So, yes, I'm still actively working on prioritizing my to-do list and giving myself time constraints for tasks, but am finding it easier every day to be at least somewhat realistic about my ability to deliver a product on time. The result? I'm feeling WAY less stressed and am enjoying my work so much more. Kind of a nice perk, don't you think?
Tip #2: Use a project management tool like Basecamp to keep yourself organized.
As mentioned above, I use Basecamp to keep my projects organized and to allow clients to check in on their projects at any time of day without having to contact me. I'm currently managing 29 projects with this tool - without Basecamp, I can't imagine how I'd stay sane. It shows all my milestones in calendar format, features to-do lists and writeboards, file uploads and messages. And the Basecamp app on my iPhone keeps me on track when I'm away from the computer.
This tip alone has reduced my stress level dramatically - I no longer have to burn through email messages to find client instructions. Can't tell you how good that feels - not to mention how much more productive. Definitely worth taking for a test drive...
Tip #3: Keep regular working hours.
It's my goal to work 6 hours a day, Monday to Friday, with specific days designated for my web design clients and the modern homesteading site. I definitely haven't got anywhere close to this sort of time management, but I'm working on it. Far too often I'm still working at 7:30 at night after being in front of the computer off and on since 8:30 am, but I have stopped working late into the evening. With carpooling for school, looking after the homestead and other stuff that just 'comes up', I'm finding it challenging to set regular working hours and stick to them, so I've pretty much given up on that – it was creating more stress than it was solving. But I still end up working far more than 6 hours a day, and that's where I need to buckle down and start outsourcing some tasks.
The whole point of moving to our homestead was so I could do more fun things with my family. So far, I've really done nothing much but work on building my business. I have a gorgeous wooden rowboat we've taken out once, I live steps from the beach and haven't been there in weeks, and I have mountains right outside my door and haven't been on a hike in years. Don't get me wrong – I'm incredibly grateful for my business, and I love serving my clients – but I'd love it even more if I could spend more time enjoying our beautiful part of the world with friends and family.
Not an unfamiliar feeling to anyone who works for him or herself, I'm sure...
Tip #4: Don't try to do it alone.
I've tried doing it all myself, and I'm here to tell you that while it's possible, it's definitely not advisable. I don't make any money spending six hours trying to figure out a Joomla component – I just get frustrated. So now I go to the people in the know, and I'm so much happier. I've been fortunate to have been recently introduced to a whole group of superbly capable, talented business owners to whom I'm now in the process of outsourcing specific tasks that they love, but I, I've only recently admitted, do not.
Other platforms for outsourcing include elance.com, odesk.com, and other services where you can find talented people to help you grow your business. My only word of advice would be to know exactly who you're looking for, and exactly what you expect from a virtual assistant, designer or other professional. As a designer, I've seen too many clients (not my own, thank goodness – my clients rock!) who really don't know what they want, and expect 5-star work for a 1-star pricetag. That's not fair to anyone. But if you've done the research, you're realistic about what virtual assistance can provide you, and you know what you want and who you want to work with, you're golden! This also applies to hiring help around your homestead to take care of some of the tasks you maybe don't enjoy so much, and could be a blessing to someone in your community – mowing the lawn, weeding the vegetable beds, helping construct chicken houses and outbuildings ... your dislike of a task or lack of time, and your willingness to pay someone else fairly to do that work for you is such a gift. Don't forget to give it! It will open up a whole new world ...
Tip #5: Get a mentor.
This should actually be Tip #1, it's that important.
As a person who used to think I didn't need help with anything, this was huge for me. In fact, I resisted the idea for years. And, of course, for years I dreamed about working from home and having an online business, but never actually got it off the ground. I learned a lot and spent a lot of time in workshops and reading manuals (and spent a tonne of money), but working for myself remained a dream – until I found a mentor. For me, it was someone who wasn't scared to kick my butt, who could be honest with me about where I was wasting time and energy, and who knew exactly what I needed to hear to motivate me to finally make my dream a reality. That person is Sandi Krakowski.
For you, it might be someone local you can meet with regularly, but it definitely doesn't have to be. My mentor lives 3800 km away, and I only met her for the first time in early June after working with her for almost a year. I started out with copywriting coaching in August 2010, then took the plunge into a 6 month coaching program in January 2011. And during that short time, I went from the modern homesteading site being just a sparkle of a dream to what you see today – a work in progress that has opened up a whole new world for me, and that's been the vehicle for me to meet some of the most inspiring people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. I've also launched my web design business that's been so successful I've had to keep it on the down-low so as not to succumb to the temptation to take on more work than I can handle ...
So there you have it – finding a suitable mentor who you resonate with, who will give you tough love, and who leads with integrity and honour, is a huge component of a successful home based business ... especially for those of use who are living on properties that also require a lot of our time and attention. For us, it's even more critical that we first get, then remain, focussed and productive. Without it, we're doomed to late nights in front of the computer, or hours away from our families.
I don't know about you, but that's definitely not the life I want.
Most of these are pretty basic business tips, but I can't tell you how many new entrepreneurs I've spoken to recently who find themselves overwhelmed, overcommitted and overly stressed! By implementing these five tips, you'll be well on your way to having a homestead-based business that not only provides you with abundance financial rewards, but you'll reap countless benefits in the form of work that you love, and clients that you love to serve.
Now how can it get any better than that?
Do you have tips to share on making a living from your country home? We'd love to hear! Please share in the comments below ...