Category: WAHM

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

Time for a change – What’s next?

question mark 3

For the past seven years, ever since my daughter was an infant, I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona. I can’t say that it was “home,” but I lived there for a chunk of time. I’d actually moved to Tucson from Atlanta, Georgia. Tucson made more sense at that time, when I was a new mother and I wanted to stay at home with my daughter.

Thank goodness Georgia didn’t mind me too much. Crayon Writer’s new home is back in Georgia. We drove across country and we’re starting over. How exciting and scary all at the same time!

What lessons did I learn in Arizona? I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, cactus can be beautiful (who knew that they have such wondrous flowers?), and the desert is nice year round…for the most part. I got to know the mother I became, and my daughter grew up in one of the most unique places in the country (nature-wise). I also learned that diversity isn’t just a good thing in nature. Tucson lacks racial and cultural diversity, so it was time to move back to a place that thrives on diversity.

On the horizon for Crayon Writer is pretty much what I’ve always said I wanted. I will homeschool or unschool my daughter, I will continue to work at home and grow my writing business, and I hope to hire an employee in the next 12 months. I’ve updated my business’ website, and I’ve created Facebook pages for this blog and Theda K. Communications. LinkedIn is also something I’m going to become best friends with.

Change is inevitable. Change is exciting. Change is renewing. So join me on my new adventures in a not-so-new locale.

The Great Cloth Diaper Hunt 2012

A few years back I posted about the Great Cloth Diaper Hunt, an online scavenger hunt. Several small businesses, especially work-at-home-mom companies, sponsor the event by hiding a GCDH icon somewhere on their site. Thousands of hunters look for the hidden icons on the various sites, hoping to win the grand prize or even smaller daily prizes.

While the name of the hunt focuses on cloth diapering, many of the sponsors have other types of businesses. I’ve seen soap makers, knitters, jewelry designers, and more in the past.

Theda K. Communications, my writing company, is a sponsor this year! Please show your support by registering for the hunt, which starts May 1 and ends May 31, 2012. You can register anytime before it ends. Make sure you tell them that Theda K. Communications sent you (I might win free ad space if I refer lots of folks).

The hunt is really fun, and you learn a lot about cloth diapering and other small businesses. I remember fondly how much I learned while my daughter was still a baby (seems like a lifetime ago). I hope you register and enjoy the hunt! And if you have a small business, consider becoming a sponsor when the next hunt starts.

5 Tips for an Extrovert Working Alone

Are you an extrovert working from home or in an introverted field? That’s exactly what I’m doing. I think out loud (really…I talk to myself if I have to). I feel sluggish when I’m alone too much. I’m a “people person” in general. As a writer, however, I spend a lot of time alone. And it’s not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Lucikily, I’m more of an introverted extrovert, so I can take alone time in semi-long doses. But being alone daily tends to make me off-focus.

Do you consider yourself an extrovert? I’ve come to this conclusion about myself by taking several tests based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, and I pretty consistently score as an ENFP (the “E” stands for extroversion).

I also really enjoyed this article about introverts, which really made it clear to me that I am, indeed, an extrovert.

So what’s an extrovert working in an introverted job to do? Here are some tips I’ve compiled from “expert” extroverts I know.

  1. Recharge your battery every couple of hours. Call a friend, go for a walk, or chat online with a friend.
  2. Find a buddy who has a similar need. Make time throughout the day or week to chat in person.
  3. Consider working in a new location with new people around. If you work from home, try working at a local coffee shop a few days a week.
  4. Go grocery shopping. You’ll be sure to find someone who can help recharge your battery.
  5. If you can’t find someone to talk with or hang out with, try listening to talk radio or watch a short clip of an action-packed movie.

What tips do you have for other extroverts who work alone?

Freelance Timekeeping

vintage parking meter

So you’re a freelancer. Maybe you write for businesses. Maybe you’re a graphic designer. Whatever kind of freelance work you do, it’s essential that you keep track of your time. You need to know how long it takes you to finish a 3-panel brochure. Otherwise, the next time you quote your project, you may estimate incorrectly. You might also need to work on an hourly basis from time-to-time, so of course you’ll need to know exactly how much you should charge the client.

The wonderful thing about freelancing, from your client’s perspective, is that they pay you only for time on task. You’re not paid for phone breaks, laundry time, or the 20 minutes it took you to wash your dishes. If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.

Now, how fancy do you want to get? There are lots of cool tools you can use on your computer. Check out this list from Freelance Switch. Or you can use a stopwatch that allows you to stop it for breaks and restart it from the last time when you’re ready. You can download a stopwatch application for your smartphone also. Or you can just take note of the time on a piece of paper, and write down when you stop, and write down when you start again. Later, you just add up all the time.

After you’ve done timekeeping for several projects, you probably will need to have some system in place to keep a log of total time spent. This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records (in case anyone ever asks).

What methods for timekeeping do you use? Have you tried one method, only to realize it didn’t work? Share with us!

Adventures in sourdough

bread

One of the perks of working at home is getting to do creative, fun projects. My latest project is bread baking. Years ago, before I had a daughter, I used to bake fresh loaves of bread at home. After a while, I decided to try to make my own sourdough. I followed some directions I found in a bread-baking book, and it turned out pretty bad.

The other day I realized that my daughter was old enough to start helping me in the kitchen. I don’t really care for cooking, but I’ve always loved baking. My daughter actually loves both, and she’ll sit still for long periods of time watching cooking shows. So we started baking white bread.

But the sourdough bug hit me again. If you’ve never heard of the process for making sourdough bread, you may think it’s very hard. I wanted to do it authentically, and correctly, this time. No using packaged yeast to get it going. I wanted to grow my own yeast.

Want to know my sourdough starter process? On September 13, I mixed 1 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour in a bowl (of course I let my daughter help). The consistency was a little like mud or thick pancake batter. I covered the bowl with paper towel (held on by a rubber band), and let it sit on the counter. 24 hours later I scooped out half of the mixture and “fed” the starter with half a cup of water and half a cup of flour. I did this every day for several days.

Now, in the beginning, like 2 days into it, I started getting lots of bubbles and the consistency changed to more goopy, and it started smelling wonderfully yeasty. I thought to myself, “I’ve done it! I’ve grown yeast!” That’s what the websites I’d been reading told me to look for. But then everything went flat, and the smell changed to more musty.

I scoured the internet for information. I seriously think I’ve now read everything about sourdough that there is online (well, not really…maybe just the page 1 results on Google). Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out and give up. It turns out that what I thought was yeast in the beginning was actually a bacteria that causes gas bubbles and such. All I had to do, according to the new research, was continue to “feed” my mixture every day (preferably two times a day, just like any other pet).

About 8 days into it, maybe 9 or 10, I finally got the real desired result. My starter smells like beer, it’s sour, and it doubles itself after feedings. I’m so excited! I even named it Penelope!

My next step is to finally attempt to make a batch of sourdough bread. I’ve been experimenting with regular white bread to get the consistency and softness that I want, so hopefully my practicing will result in a nice loaf of sourdough. And the research I’ve done should help me get a nice sour taste as well. I’ll keep you posted!

Do you bake bread from scratch? Have you tried sourdough? Did you make your own sourdough starter or buy it from a company?

Jobs for Single Mothers – A Look Back

mum 3

Being a parent is hard work. Single parenting is harder in some ways, and is arguably one of the most difficult forms of parenting there is – for a number of reasons.

One major issue is childcare and its associated cost. For children attending daycare, the costs can be enormous, especially when the parent makes a low income. According to the department of labor, women generally earn less than men, so income matters.

While staying at home is often a wiser financial decision (saving money on childcare), it’s difficult to find jobs for single mothers that pay the necessary bills.

Another problem for single mothers is the much-needed time off from work during the end of pregnancy or immediately postpartum. Though it’s illegal for an employer to fire a woman for taking maternity leave, it can happen, especially at smaller companies or for women who don’t know their rights.

And what about breastfeeding? Mothers get so many strong messages that “breast is best,” but maternity leave is usually only about 12 weeks…nowhere near the 1 year of breastfeeding recommending by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a far cry from the 2-year recommendation of the World Health Organization.

The Internet, for now, provides a way for single mothers to remain at home and have a more flexible lifestyle while raising children. Though I haven’t worked hard enough to make a living online, it is possible (according to the many “friends” I’ve met online…not all of whom were trying to sell me something).

People can work at home as virtual assistants, freelance writers/editors, bloggers, Internet marketers, call center representatives, medical billing workers, transcriptionists, and more. It’s all a matter of finding something you’re interested in, and having a financial cushion to help while establishing your business.

Here on Crayon Writer, I’ve sort of been spinning my wheels. I tend to try too many tactics at one time. I’m a wannabe blogger, freelance business writer, freelance magazine writer, and internet marketer. Some of that is simply my personality (I enjoy multitasking), but it’s also a sign of failing to make a decision.

If you work from home, whether as a parent (single or not), or not, did you make a decision to focus on one income stream? If you diversify, how do you give it your all with the various methods you choose?

Single homeschooling writer-for-hire

Playground

As I mentioned last time, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching certification. When I enrolled, my plan was to eventually become a classroom teacher. My thought process was that my daughter would soon be starting school, and by being a teacher I would have the same vacations and similar hours.

What I didn’t count on was that the more I learned about the field of education, the more I’d want to homeschool my daughter.

But that’s what happened! So now I’m really and truly on the path to homeschooling my daughter. My method as a preschool homeschooler will be “unschooling.” Lots of time at parks, libraries, grocery stores, museums, and other unstructured activities. There’s plenty for her to learn while just living.

Just to be on the safe side, I recently enrolled her in the neighborhood school’s kindergarten class. But when I interviewed the principal of this “excelling” school, he went on and on about how much the children learn, how well they’re able to read and write, and just gushed about their academic program.

My response? When do they play??

Turns out there isn’t much play in most kindergarten anymore, even though it’s what 5-year-olds need. I dis-enrolled her shortly after.

My plan as a single homeschooling parent? For kindergarten I’m going to enroll her in a play-based preschool that accepts older kids, so when she needs to play with other kids she has a place to go. I’ll take care of the academics.  I will be investigating a play-based kindergarten program I found in town (a charter school), but I have a feeling it won’t fit the bill (besides, they want her to go to school every day). After that, we’ll see.

Am I still a writer? Definitely, though it’ll take a backseat to my studies and homeschooling. At the same time, I’ll need more than just student loans to pay the bills. So stay tuned for my single homeschooling saga.

Are you homeschooling? Have you considered it?

Get it in writing!

To Sign a Contract 3

Recently I agreed to do an editing project for an acquaintance of mine. We agreed that I would be getting paid for my services, and I agreed to work for less than I usually do.

This may not be a problem on its own, but I made the HUGE mistake of not getting a written contract. Or even a spoken contract. I trusted the acquaintance and thought that I’d at least get paid a fair wage for my work.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I know the damage is done.

Being a nice guy is great, I suppose, but if you want to get paid properly you really need to get some kind of contract. By just letting things fall where they may you set yourself up to be used. You can be a nice guy by giving your friend, family member, or acquaintance a “nice” contract to sign. It may seem harsh, but it’s the only way you can (sort of) protect yourself.

Even with a contract there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid. This is one reason it makes sense to get some type of deposit up-front…at least you get something for your work. But without a contract you set yourself up for getting nothing at all.

What kind of contract should you write?

The simplest (and maybe nicest) contract is an email exchange. After you talk on the phone or in person and iron out the details, send a short email summarizing what price and terms you’ve agreed to. I did do this with my last client, but I didn’t do one more crucial step. Before you start working on the project, WAIT for your client’s emailed response. In that responding email the client should clearly concur with your summation.

Another method is to write up a general agreement that outlines your terms and the price you’re charging. You should sign it and then give it to your client to sign. Either make a copy of the signed agreement or just have two agreements for the each of you to sign. Once you have that in hand, go ahead and start working on the assignment.

Contracts that are spoken — oral agreements — are legally binding, but they’re difficult to prove and, therefore, difficult to enforce. Don’t feel like you’re being a bad guy by running your business properly. As a benefit, you’ll start finding that clients treat you with respect when you command it from the beginning.

What kinds of contracts have you used for your freelance work? Do you have any horror stories?


Writing with limited time

Sundial

Being the parent of a small child can mean that time is a rare and valuable commodity. In my case, my daughter is now four years old, but we’ve had challenges finding adequate childcare. Part of the reason is because, in my heart, I’d rather not send her to school. My dream is to be a homeschooler. But I recognize that she loves being with other kids, and I’m pretty boring since I’m on the computer all of the time.

The other reason adequate childcare has been an issue is because I don’t have the most compliant child in the world. She prefers to do things her own way, which can be a challenge in the preschool setting. Her idea of fun is to do the opposite of what she’s told. Not usually in defiance (though sometimes), but usually because it’s just more interesting for her.

I refuse to “break” her and make her comply for the sake of complying. So I’ve changed schools a few times, and I recently changed teachers. I think this new teacher “gets” my daughter’s spirit, and so things are working out beautifully (for now). Unfortunately, this teacher only has an opening two days a week.

How do I find time to write/work/make money then? It’s tough! And with a child who wakes up at the crack of dawn, I am up early. And I’m not a night owl like I used to be in my younger days.

Here’s what I do.

I do what I can. And I try to push myself to do a little more than I think I can. My latest plan involves scheduling certain activities for each day. Not a rigid schedule, but I won’t try to write on my blog, cold call prospects, follow-up with prospects, write articles, edit articles, and go to the zoo all on the same day. Whenever I try to do that I often wind up doing absolutely nothing. It’s too overwhelming.

How’s it working for me? It’s still a bit overwhelming to try to make myself pare down my million-things list into smaller, more manageable chunks, but it’s a learning process and I’m trying. I think that’s what counts.

What about you? What are your strategies for writing with limited time?