Working from home seems like heaven – the commute is minimal, there are no arguments about whose turn it is to make the tea round, and you can even work in your pyjamas.
However there can be problems working from home. It can be hard to manage client expectations: there are all those little distracting home chores which you just need to go and sort before you get on with your client work. If you suffer from this, read our article the best places to do freelance design work.
There are also lots of issues that possibly haven't crossed your mind: can you send large files from home? Is your free graphic design software up to the task? Will you still know how to network after being stuck at home all day?
After freelancing for several years for clients both at their studios and from my home base, I am going to share some of my tips to see if working from home could suit you.
01. Make your own space
The most important element for any creative work is to find a dedicated work space. If sharing with a partner or housemates, especially if kids are at home too, putting a laptop on the kitchen table and thinking that is an office is not going to work for you or the people you live with as it is their home as well.
In my case I am lucky to have an old shed with power (but no heating) which I work in during the day, and when I need to work at nights I have desk setup away from the main living space. This enables me to work and not get in the way of my wife when she wants to relax. So try and find a space in the house, which is not a bedroom, that can be dedicated to work.
02. Give your clients access
The most important bills I pay as a home-based freelancer are not for software upgrades or for new computers, they are for unlimited fibre internet, Dropbox Pro and my smartphone. These give me the ability to be available to my clients, through skype and screen sharing.
I keep my work files on Dropbox grouped by client. I then share them with my clients so that they can have immediate access to my work files if they need.
This system has worked with clients from Soho to San Diego, and helps dispel any worry a client may have in not having direct involvement in the work that they are paying for. Dropbox also keeps my computers in sync, which means if I am travelling to meetings or am away from the house I know I have access to all of my work files in the cloud on any device.
03. Be disciplined
It may sound counter-intuitive but I still find it is useful to get ready for work if I am working from home. I get dressed in clothes that I would be happy to wear if I was working at a client's studio, and make sure I am available to clients from 8.30am to 6pm when I am working from home.
If you do not have any billable work due on that specific work day, try not to make that a reason to switch on daytime TV.
Instead, make yourself the client: update your website or your reel, check in with existing clients or potential new ones, spend some time doing training, and if you spend that day on personal work, make sure it is in a format that can be used for self publicity.
This discipline should also extend to infrastructure. If a client is paying you to work from home, that should not make the work feel ‘homemade’ (unless it is in the brief). Make sure that you have the correct equipment available to do the work, and also that you have it properly archived, I use a synology NAS for local archiving and crashplan for offsite.
This can mean that working from home is potentially more expensive than working as an onsite freelancer where equipment would be provided. The benefit of homeworking is that you have access to all of your work files on equipment which you maintain so you are familiar with it. This will greatly enhance your productivity rather than having to deal with different studio setup every time you start with a new client.
04. Work when it's best for you
The payoff for this personal discipline and financial investment is that you can schedule your day for when you're naturally at your most creative, as well as scheduling things like rendering or application compiling at a time and location that suits you.
The caveat is to make sure you're not suddenly working a schedule that impacts on downtime. Try to maintain the number of hours you would want to work if you were working in a studio. The key reason for this is to avoid burnout, but it also ensures you're not losing money if you're working to an agreed day rate with your client.
05. Don't become a hermit
Once you've managed to get ourself into a routine where you are successfully working from home it can be too easy to forget that there are actual benefits to working in a studio.
As much as we all hate the commute at least the walk to the car or train is exercise. So try and get out of the house at least once a day, even if it is just to buy some lunch.
Time for a run
Personally I took up running. My least productive part of the day is between 10am and 11.30am, so using this time for a run and making it an early lunch hour means at least I feel I am doing something useful with my time, as well as being reminded why I work at home in the first place (I live in the South Downs).
The other thing that working in a studio offers is human contact. While Twitter and other forms of social media are brilliant for news and banter and can keep the hermit tendencies at bay, do try to make a couple of days every few weeks to meet with clients, have lunch with friends and generally get out of the house and see things other than the wall behind your computer screen.
Working from home successfully is dependant on treating it as seriously as working in an office. Designers and artists especially can gain the most from working from home as it allows the creation of a personal work environment and schedule suited to you and you alone. Personally having the ability to work from home has enabled me to see much more of my family and also work with a wider range of clients than potentially are available if I was just working as a studio freelance artist.
The one thing that will make home working unsuccessful is to lock the front door to clients in terms of availability and becoming a hermit with friends. A happy creative is usually a productive creative so if you have the opportunity to work from home give it a try, it could be the best business move you make.
Words: Mike Griggs
Mike Griggs is a freelance concept 3D, VFX and Mograph artist working across TV, exhibition and digital design. Find him on Twitter @creativebloke.
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