Thursday, 4 November 2010

How I became a home worker

When I started maternity leave in January 2007 I planned to take a year off and resume my career as inhouse freelance subeditor. I had been doing it for over a decade, so it seemed like the easy option - I had lots of contacts in the industry and knew there would be work for me provided I could find reliable childcare for my child. Mind you, I envied freelancers who could work from home but knew that in my sector opportunities were rare, plus you needed expensive equipment and software. Despite using MACs at work, I had a modest PC at home and no fancy design software.

I soon realised I was missing work so jumped at the chance of using my skills for the NCT, which is the leading parenting charity in the UK. I had become a member before doing their antenatal classes and heard that they were looking for a volunteer to help the newsletter editor at the East London branch. I ended up coediting various newsletters, churning out articles and designing my half with zero budget (we had only money for printing costs). I was lucky to secure a free copy of QuarkXpress by buying a PC magazine so I could use the professional software I was accustomed to. I did enjoy both the writing and the design side. One year later, I was not ready to go back to work. I was enjoying a busy life as charity volunteer, doing some editing work from home (not much though) and training as a breastfeeding helper with the Breastfeeding Network. I started to volunteer for this second charity by assisting my tutor who ran a breastfeeding drop-in in East London. In summer 2008, just before the credit crunch hit the country, I moved to Rugby, where I became involved with the NCT, became newsletter designer and editor of the local newsletter and got involved with the Rugby Breastfeeding Cafe as a volunteer.

Not being in London meant a longer commute if I wanted to resume my career as subeditor. The recession also meant less freelance work so although I had set up my writing and editing business (and created a website to plug it), I was mostly giving Italian lessons and even taught an evening class at a local institute. Then I heard of a new parenting website that needed product testers and I sent my CV. I started writing product reviews, while running two blogs (this one about parenting and one about eco-friendly thrifting) and volunteering for my charities.

In November 2009 we moved to Cambridge, where I joined the local NCT branch and became involved with the newsletter and started volunteering at breastfeeding drop-ins. Soon after our move I got an email from an advertising agency who wanted me to write breastfeeding and baby care copy. It turned out to be a big project so I left tutoring behind and became a fully-fledged online copywriter, contributing to parenting websites whenever I could. I have recently started indexing academic journals, which is regular work and makes me feel that my degree in Political Sciences is of some use.

So far I have produced several NCT newsletters for various branches and learnt a lot about design, commissioning, advertising and the printing process. As a subeditor for major national magazines I was part of a big team, so I was only involved in editing, rewriting, writing the odd feature, fact-checking and perhaps a bit of design but didn’t have to concern myself with production processes, distribution, overall costs and advertising revenue. I kept in touch with the media industry through moderating a group called subsuk (from 2006 till practically yesterday) but have given this up as I am now a copywriter more than a journalist. I’m not the only one, most people I know from journo forums have moved into PR, advertising, corporate writing and more lucrative fields. Aside writing and indexing I volunteer for my two charities and have started to get involved in my daughter’s preschool activities.

So this is the story so far. The picture at the top is my office, basically an antique kitchen table (there is nice wooden top under the plastic cloth) full of useful junk. Below it’s my filing unit, which is a pine dresser my father made bespoke for the kitchen of my previous house. Inside there are backup DVDs and office supplies, on the shelves you can see my reference library and various odds and ends belonging to my child, including her red book and craft materials. More stationery is parked on top of the blue chest of drawers, one of my ‘revamp junk furniture’ projects.

There is a spare room upstairs which has been kitted out as an office but it’s not practical as I need to keep an eye on my daughter when she is at home. She goes to preschool three hours every afternoon and unless my partner is at home, she is around while I toil away. If I need total silence I work after she has gone to bed or wake up really early in the morning.

Now over to you! If you work from home, feel free to link up relevant blog posts and leave comments. I confess I do miss social interaction but not the commuting to different workplaces every week (unless I got a long-term gig) nor the office politics, from which an inhouse freelancer is not totally immune.


  1. Hi there

    I'm a work at home mum too and even when I was in full-time employment I still managed to work from home and just commute to Brum on a weekly basis. The end of my contract came just as the recession was picking up speed and I was in such a niche job that it became obvious that I wouldn't find another one without so retrained as a coach and have now founded The Mummy Grapevine. I do still sometimes yearn after the kudos of being an academic but the stress is not missed. Would love it if you joined me on FB at The Mummy Grapevine etc.

  2. Great to read your story, similar here! I'm a freelance writer and also help a few baby product and parenting websites with their social media presence. My office is the dining table so I can look after my 4 year old, 2 year old and 10 month old at the same time. To say it's manic is an understatement but life is never boring! I'll take some snaps of my 'office' when I get chance and e-mail them to you. Good to read about someone as crazed as I am trying to do it all.

  3. I work from home most of the time, although I do occassional shifts. I do the juggle jive though.
    I miss contact but find twitter and facebook help, although they can be a dashed good way of avoiding the nasty jobs too.

  4. Good to read your story.

    I have an office as well as store room cum spare bedroom, infact my business is also taking over the garage! I can also be found at the kitchen table during the day when my 4 year old is at home and her sister at school.

  5. I love reading stories of how mums start out in self employment after having babies - my story is here...

    By the way, if you'd like to tell your story on Business Plus Baby, here are the details..

  6. Hi there,

    Interesting story. I am an artist and decided this year that unless I worked from home I wouldn't be able to take the exhaustion and side-lining my other things any longer - cracks were beginning to show. As a result I took my art teaching experience on-line (I teach the experimental art e-courses and have just launched another on-line week workshop starting next week) as well doing the occasional CV work freelance (one of my old/other jobs). It has made a world of difference to my life doing this. I took such a risk financially (I am only a single income household!) but it has been so worth it as I feel so much happier and less knackered.

    It has also freed up time for me to start my MA in Fine Art which I am loving and which gives me the chance to be with other people (and creatives!) because working at home can be isolating. My youngest has a disability too which was also a factor in working for myself as there was a lot of illness and hospital appointments which affected any job, and was stressful!

    I wasn't sure from your post on the BMB if you wanted more info for a piece you were doing or a photo of my workspace (which is under the stairs and my dining table!)?!

    Here's to making it work for ourselves :)