Feb 21, 2012

How to Become a Work-at-Home Mom

This is no generic, anonymous post. Today, I write about my own personal journey towards being a work-at-home mom.

Perhaps, this will help other mothers who want to work at home understand something very important: the road between being an office mom to being a work-at-home mom  is not a road you can travel overnight (or even in one year).

A long road

We've all done it, I suppose. We searched Google for "how to be a work-at-home mom," hoping to find those five or ten steps that will let us resign from our regular jobs and start working from home in a week or so.

In my case, though, it took much longer than that.

It all started when I was a stay-at-home mom in 2005, seven years ago. I had resigned from being a public school teacher to care for our first baby full time.

It was not easy to survive on one income because my husband's income was not steady at that time. So I looked for something I could do at home. I decided to try my hand out at writing.

Now I had absolutely no professional experience in writing or editing. I had no portfolio whatsoever.

So I took the only writing job I could find that did not require experience and portfolio: I started writing keyword articles.

It was terrible. They paid P50 for a 500 word article. It was of no real financial value. But it gave me my portfolio -- and it gave me the courage to call myself a writer. Now I had something to put in my writer resume.

Tip 1: Start doing the work, even for free. The money will follow.

First break

Soon, my brother Ivan found out about what I was doing. He, too, wrote articles, but for a print magazine.

When Ivan heard how much I was making per article, he said, "You know what -- I'm a bit busy these days. Perhaps you would like to write some of my articles for me? They pay a bit more." 

Only then did I realize how much print articles pay. I never looked at keyword articles again.

Now let me say this: my brother would never have let me write articles for him if he thought I could not do justice to them. And he would never have passed the work to me if he did not care for me in the first place.

Tip 2: Build a reputation. And build relationships.

Relationships are very important. My brother once said, "What you know can only bring you so high. In the end, it's who you know that will bring you to the top." 

He was not being cynical. We all know he was right.

So let me say it again: relationships are important. They are especially important if you are hoping to step out of employment and into freelance work. College degrees and portfolios don't bring in clients; they only secure them. But to bring clients in and to keep them, you need to reach out. You need people who will refer you to others. You need people who will trust you.

Paid training

All the events I related to you so far occurred while I was a stay-at-home mom. Now a month or so after our second child's birth, I got a regular job as editor at a Swiss-owned company. And yes, to secure this job, I put in my experience in writing keyword articles (which paid peanuts) and print articles (which paid real money).

I was hired as writer. It was a few months after that -- before I was regularized -- that I was unofficially promoted to editor. How did that happen?

We did not have an editor. We needed one. So I volunteered. I had absolutely no editing experience, but it was close enough to writing. The other skills I needed, I learned from the Internet. 

It entailed more work for the same pay, but it was a learning opportunity. Not only did I learn what a serial comma was, I also learned how to deal with writers, the editor's natural enemy (I'm kidding -- somewhat).

Tip 3: If you are employed, give it all you've got.
Volunteer to do the tasks nobody else wants.
Consider it paid training.

Going home

At this point, I had one client for freelance writing. I started to look for others. I found a company that accepts home-based editors. I applied and got accepted.

When I finally decided to take the leap and leave my office job to work at home full time, I asked this same company if they would take me on a fulltime basis. They accepted.

Tip 4: Collect your clients one by one.

While I was working from home, I kept looking for other work-at-home jobs on the Internet. I found one on Craigslist.com. He was looking for a virtual assistant. I had never been a virtual assistant, but I looked at his work requirements and told myself "I can do that."

I e-mailed him my application. He replied in an hour. We talked on Yahoo! Messenger, negotiated, and he gave me a test assignment: news writing.

I had edited a lot of news before, but I had never written one. I learned how to do it by searching the Internet. The next day, on the deadline he gave me, I submitted my sample article. 

Just like that, I had a new client.

Tip 5: Meet challenges head-on.
They will force you to learn new tricks in your field.

More clients

Here's one other new trick I learned online: a blog is a good way of marketing yourself and your skills. In 2010, I started writing this blog. Again, it was one of those "non-income-generating activities" that I felt I had to do, for long-term benefits.

Many months after I began writing the Nanay Notebook, a television company looking for working moms to interview found me through this blog. They interviewed me and showed the segment on television. 

That's how an old classmate who now worked with a PR company found me. She asked me if I could write press releases for her. 

Of course I said yes. Who cares if I had never written a press release in all my life? Google to the rescue! I learned how to write a press release, submitted my first copy, it was accepted, and I received more assignments.

Now I had another client.

Leap of faith

By this time, I had enough work to keep me busy more than eight hours a day. Then one day, I got sick. I had absolutely no output -- and no income -- that day.

A week before that fateful day, a childhood friend Jocelyn Domingo had invited me to a free financial literacy seminar. I learned two important things there:
  1. The wealth of a person can be measured by how many days he can stop working and still eat.
  2. Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a new result. (I believe this was a quote from Albert Einstein.)
On that day, I decided to do something different: I decided to hire freelance writers so that, even if I stop working, articles will continue to be written and the work process (and income flow) will not completely stop.

It was scary because at that point, I was earning barely enough for our family's needs. How could I think about sharing that income with other writers?

But a good aunt, Vidda Chan, referred me to a very inspirational video that reminded me to trust in the providence of God. I took the leap.

Sure enough, on the first few months, my income was halved. But with writers helping me out, I had more time to look for other clients. My Tita Amy referred me to a friend who needed somebody to edit biomedical journals. On Elance, I got invited to do small jobs. In time, my team and I were writing fashion articles, technology articles, travel guides, product reviews, UK news ...

Eventually, I was able to earn as much as I earned before I had writers to pay. At times, my new income even exceeded my old income.

"At times?" you may ask. "You didn't always earn a lot? So where was the benefit, then?"

The benefit was that now, I could go out on dates with my husband. I could take weekends and holidays off. (When I first started working from home, I had been unable to stop working, even on weekends and holidays, for about six months, because I had so many deadlines to catch all by myself.) I could even get sick now, when it was absolutely unavoidable.

And all that time, the work and the income continued to flow. What's more, other people -- my dear writers and editors -- were able to share in the blessings too.

Friends in high places

Today, the story continues. I have been working at home for about two years. I am far from being an expert.  I am very far from being a millionaire. I can only share what I have learned so far.

But if there's one last thing I would like to point out, it is this: I am no savvy business person. I don't really know how to market stuff; I don't know how to sell. What I have so far, I have gained through two things only: (1) my sincere effort and desire to do things right, and (2) God's pure grace.

A famous poet once said, "Only God can make a tree." It's true. The most we can do is plant the seed -- and indeed, the seed needs to be planted. But whether that tree will grow, and whether it will bear fruit, only God can say.

So whatever you endeavor to do, make sure God is on your side. Make sure it is an endeavor that you can ask God to bless.

As my brother said, "It's not what you know; it's who you know." It's a great idea to make friends in high places -- and heaven is as high as anyone can get. Make friends with the One there, and you will be on the right track.

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