What I wish I had known about working from home

This month, I will be celebrating my first anniversary of working for myself. In July 2014, I took the plunge and decided to go full-on freelance. After having had a few writing jobs and many more bar jobs, I decided it was high time to get to it and try it for myself. I live in Sheffield, in the U.K., where writing opportunities are few and far between. This way, I figured, I could work for pretty much anyone without having to up-route my life.

I’m not going to lie – the last year has been tough, but it’s also been kind of incredible. When I stopped answering to a boss and started to answer to myself, I learnt a whole lot about myself and what makes me tick. Freelancing and working at home was unexplored territory for me a year ago. I didn’t even know anyone who worked from home, and so I had no bar by which to measure my experience. There were times when I legitimately thought I’d made the wrong decision, but then there were also times when I knew it was the only path for me right now. Here are just a handful of things this year has taught me.

Your social life becomes much more crucial to your sanity

Working from home is a little like hiding in a cave all day long. Your only pal is your computer screen and chat boxes that pop up sporadically. Sure, you talk to people, but you can’t quite remember when you last saw someone face-to-face. And, when you emerge from your cave, you feel a little disorientated.

When I first started working at home, I realized I’d need to see people much more than I used to. I went from working in an office with people to working at home with my cat. It was lonely. It was weird. Some days, I needed to see someone just to prove to myself that I existed. Needless to say, my social life saved me countless times. After work, I make sure that I get out there and see someone, even if it’s just for a quick coffee or even a walk. It makes all the difference.

Some people won’t believe you have a “real job”—but you can ignore them.

When some people ask me where I work and I say that I work from home, I see the same, disapproving look flash across their face. It’s as though they think that I’m lying – saving face – and pretending that I actually do things. The fact of the matter is that many people don’t understand freelancing or working for yourself. But you know what? You’re far from the only one who does their work from their apartment. Last year, the BBC reported that 4.2 million people in the UK alone were working from home. That number is bound to have risen since then. It’s becoming the new norm. So don’t worry if people look askance. Even if your office is your home office, it still counts.

Putting on pants every day is really important

Confession: There were times, though I’m not all that proud of them, when I rolled out of bed and started to work in my pajamas. When I first begun working from home, I’d often do so in a state that I wouldn’t be able to leave the house in. But here’s a secret: You’ll actually feel better, and more like you’ve shifted into work mode, if you put on real clothes. I promise

It’ll make you rethink your living space

When I first started out working from home, my boyfriend and I were both telecommuting. At first, this was awesome. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see their SO all day every day? But I soon learned that being around him all the time was a bad idea.When I worked in an office, I’d come home filled with stories to share with him. Now, he knew all my stories – he’d witnessed them. There was nothing to tell.

After a couple disagreements, we realized that something had to change. My boyfriend rented an office space, where he goes some days and I bought a pass to use a shared office space when I need it. We tend to alternate between who stays at home and who goes out. Sometimes, we still work together at home, but now it’s a novelty once again, which suits us just fine.

Getting things started can take a while

I was lucky when I first started – I got a regular client that I now work with every week. It’s perfect, because it allows me to do other things, while ensuring that I’ve got regular work (and, of course, money). But it took me months an months to find a second client. Don’t worry if it takes you a little while to get one your feet.  In fact, you should plan for that. If you luck out and land a bunch of gigs right away, so much the better.

You’re your own boss, which is great! But also, it means you have to motivate yourself

When I get up in the morning, I wash, get dressed, put on a pot of coffee and turn on morning television. I eat some breakfast (cereal – Shredded Wheat at the moment) and read my emails. After about thirty minutes or so, I turn off the TV and start working. Easy, right? Wrong. It would be just as simple for me to sit on the sofa all day long and do nothing. There have, in fact, been some days when I have felt like doing just that. With no boss breathing down my neck, who would even know?

But setting a schedule and actually working is pretty important, and not just for the money. Right now, I answer to myself. I do things to the standard I think they should be and I get to choose my hours. I have to please my clients (if I want to keep them), which means that there are certain deadlines I just can’t avoid. I choose to work 9-5, Monday-Friday, since it helps with having an active social life. I love that no one tells me what to wear or when to do things. At the same time, though, I know that there will be a time when I work for someone else again and I’m ready to adjust when the time comes.

You absolutely need to take time off

When you work for a company, you have holidays and vacations allotted. When you work for yourself, you don’t. When I first started out, I made the mistake of deciding to work on holidays. So, when everyone else was drinking late on Sunday night and enjoying a day out on Monday, I was at home, stuck behind a computer. I hated it. I was jealous of just about everyone, even though I’d inflicted this ridiculous fate on myself.

The truth of the matter is that we all need down time. For what it’d cost me to take a day off, I’d have much rather had the time than the money. This is something I learnt quickly. When you are a freelancer, you have to budget for time off. Without regular breaks and holidays, though, you’ll lose your mind.

You’ll get to try all different kinds of things

Through this experience, I’ve managed to do so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to do. I’ve worked for companies in England, Scotland and even the US. I’ve managed social media accounts, written personal articles, blogs, SEO content and much more. If I was to work with just one company, my horizons would be limited, but this year, I have been able to try my hand at so many different things. And, frankly, it’s been one of the steepest and most fantastic learning curves of my life.