My Dirty Little Secret

My Dirty Little Secret

It’s true – there’s something important that I haven’t shared with you yet…  Get ready for it…  I have a day job.  Even worse?  I like it.

As someone who teaches internet marketing, I know I’m supposed to sell you on the “dream”.  The dream that in just a few short months (and for just a few hundred dollars…), the affiliate marketing skills I teach you will enable you to flip your boss the bird and ride off into the land of care-free self employment.

But take it from someone who’s been there – one, it ain’t all that easy, and two, even if it was, self employment isn’t all sitting on the beach and sipping martinis.

The “it ain’t all that easy” thing is something I’ve talked about (and will continue to talk about over and over again) on this site.  Affiliate marketing is a business (albeit one that can be very rewarding and enjoyable), and businesses require work to succeed.  The only place where internet marketing will make you an overnight millionaire – no effort required! – is on sales pages, and believe me when I say that the only ones getting rich there are the owners of the sales pages themselves!

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Today, I want to focus on the second part of the self-employment myth – that working for yourself is nothing but red sports cars and diving through piles of money like Scrooge McDuck.  Let me be clear that I think working for yourself is a great goal – but it’s one that should be approached thoughtfully and with proper planning.  Here’s my story…

About two years ago, my husband and I relocated across several states.  We didn’t move for jobs or for any particular reason – we were just ready for a change, and figured the details would sort themselves out later.  And since the income from my article writing business was enough to support us at the time, I decided to give the whole self-employment thing a try.

And boy, was it *not* what I was expecting!

When I first launched my business, I did so within the context of having a full-time job at the same time.  For me, the challenge was always to find time outside of work (or during, with my boss’s permission) to get my internet work done.  And because eight hours of each day were dedicated to my day job, there were some very real constraints on when I could work on my business.  This forced me to be as efficient as possible – I was a lean, mean writing machine!

And then, all of a sudden, that structure was gone.  Without the framework of a day job to build my days around, I was lost.  As a self-employed writer, I’d find myself sitting on the couch at 8:00 pm after all-day Golden Girls marathons, wondering where the time had gone.  Even tasks that could have been completed in a few minutes got pushed to the back burner, since I had all the time in the world to finish them.

But that wasn’t the only issue I faced as a self-employed writer.  I was lonely. Working from home is a solitary profession, and temporarily relocating to coffee shops isn’t the same as the water cooler gossip you share with the co-workers you see day in and day out.

(Yes, I disagree with Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Workweek here on the idea that you should minimize all contact with your co-workers.  We humans are social creatures, and the relationships that I’ve built with co-workers past and present are some of the best friendships I’ve ever had.  There’s more to life than productivity!)

There were also financial ramifications to consider.  Self-employed workers in the US pay extra in taxes in order to make up for the tax burden on earnings that’s usually covered by traditional employers.  Plus, working from home meant losing my employer-subsidized health insurance – or paying nearly $600/month for a similar policy on the private health insurance market.

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So after a few months, I went back to work.  I was lucky to find a great job, with a great company and fantastic co-workers.  I currently work in marketing for a candy company, and I couldn’t be happier.  I get to run the company website, develop fun marketing materials and travel frequently to candy industry trade shows.  Oh yeah, and I run the sample room, where I have over 100 different kinds of candy ready to send out to prospective customers.  It doesn’t get much better than all the free candy you want 🙂

Of course, working a day job while running my internet business comes with compromises.  I’m not able to travel as much as I’d like to, and the time constraints of doing both mean turning down some interesting projects because I’m not able to fully commit to them.  It’s also scary to think about starting a family with both my husband and I both working full-time (have you seen how much day care costs these days?!).

So while this arrangement is working for me for now, I can see a point in the future where I’ll want to try being self-employed again.  But instead of throwing myself blindly into it like I did the first time, I’m working towards self-employment mindfully by preparing for the following things.  I suggest you at least start to consider them yourself if you’re interested in becoming self-employed in the future.

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1. Set Realistic Financial Expectations

I touched on this above, but know that it isn’t enough to simply replace the income you’re making at your day job before making the leap to self-employment – you’re actually going to need to make more to account for the extra taxes and possible loss of other benefits.

Right now, I’m keeping close track of our finances to get an idea of how much we spend each month, beyond our mortgage, utilities and other bills – I won’t want to make the leap to self-employment only to experience a significantly lower quality of life.  My husband and I are also paying down debt so that we won’t have that hanging over our heads, and before all is said and done, I’ll probably meet with a tax planner and insurance agent to understand exactly how much those expenses will change when I’m working for myself.

It’s also important to take a good, hard look at your savings accounts and see how prepared you are to weather a financial emergency.  As a day job worker, I know that every two weeks, I’ll receive a steady, reliable paycheck that will pay my bills.  But when I’m self-employed, there won’t be any similar guarantees.  If I have a bad month in terms of traffic or sales (which can and certainly will happen), I’m still going to have to pay those bills, so it will be important to have that extra cushion in the bank.

2. Develop Time Management Skills

This is going to be a big one for me, and will likely be a challenge for anyone who starts an affiliate marketing business while working a full-time day job.  Will you be able to turn off the TV, or Facebook, or the Wii long enough to get your work done?  If you don’t have a boss peering over your shoulder, enforcing your productivity, will you be motivated enough to move forward with your business?

I’m practicing this right now, in preparation for future self-employment.  I’m experimenting with different planners and task management systems to figure out how to best stay on top of my to-do list on my own, and I’m practicing scheduling productive time on weekends and vacation days to get the hang of getting down to business outside of standard work hours.

Hopefully, having some of these routines in place ahead of time will help the transition to self-motivation go more smoothly the next time!

3. Have a Network in Place in Advance (or Get Really Good at Making New Friends Fast)

Admittedly, part of the reason I failed at self-employment was not having a social network in place to replace my day-to-day interactions with co-workers.  Being new to the city, I had no friends or business acquaintances to catch up with – and believe me, as much as I love the Golden Girls, hanging out with Blanche and Sophia just isn’t the same as having actual, living people to connect with.  (For the record, referencing something a TV character said earlier in the day in a conversation with your husband is a pretty great way to get him to think you’re on the fast train to Crazytown…)

Since I’ve stayed put for a few years now, I have a network of friends, former colleagues and acquaintances (some of whom are self-employed themselves) that will help to ease the transition to working on my own.  But if most of your social interactions come from your current co-workers (or if you plan to live a location-independent lifestyle that has you picking up and moving to new places frequently), it’s worth figuring out how you’ll meet new people outside of a traditional job.

If being self-employed is your goal, what steps are you taking now to make the transition as smooth as possible?  Or, if you have any questions for someone who has tried (and failed) at self-employment, feel free to ask them below!

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(Edited to add – When I first started writing this post, I thought it was going to be all awesome and revolutionary about how self-employment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Then I found this comic from TheOatmeal called “Why Working at Home is Both Awesome and Horrible” that’s basically the same thing, but way more fun to read.  Just don’t click on the link until you’ve got your productive work done, because that site will suck you in forever!)

22 Responses to My Dirty Little Secret

  1. Hi Sarah, just found out about your blog. I like your slogan “ethical marketing for everyday people”.
    What you write in this article is exactly, why beeing self-employed is so hard. It’s something different. There are some people who are born for that and others who are not and have to work on it.
    I also love the idea of beeing self-employed and the freedom and everything. But hey, I absolutely love my dayjob. Were else could I learn more and train my social skills, having fun with my colleagues and connecting to people in real-life. It’s just great.

    Self-Employed can be great if you are happy how you used your time.

    One thing that has worked for me while having all day long time to do what i want is setting a timeframe in which you work. When the time is up, you are not allowed to do anything. This can make you more productive and gives you some well earned Free-Time as a reward. If you didn’t do anything productive you can only try again the next day.
    But hey, I’m far away from an expert. Nevertheless, I think this can help some people.

    So rock on in your day job but make sure you won’t stop writing articles, I love reading them.

    Monkey from Germany

    • Sarah says:

      Monkey – Thanks for stopping by!

      Sounds like we’re on the same page with the whole day job vs self-employment thing. I think it’s important to at least acknowledge that there are benefits to having a day job, instead of pushing this whole “self-employment will solve all of your problems, ever” mentality.

      And that’s a great idea about setting aside work time and then stopping after that. I’m totally guilty of finishing up one project and then saying, “Well, I’ll just finish one more little thing…” Maybe I’ll try practicing that this weekend 🙂

  2. Jon says:

    Way to open up, Sarah. You touched upon a big part of this whole self-employment thing and that’s discipline and daily structure.

    I really don’t think it’s any of our fault. We grow up and go through years of schooling with structured classes and schedules. Then we finish school and go land jobs with set deadlines and day schedules.

    How are you supposed to “know” anything else? How can you manage yourself when you’ve spent 22+ of your most formative years being managed?

    Working for yourself is very much against the grain. But it’s certainly something to strive for as, these days, it seems job security is an oxymoron.

    • Sarah says:

      Jon – That’s exactly right. We spend so much of our lives being directly managed that it’s incredibly difficult to transition to driving everything ourselves.

      But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. I just want to be very upfront with people that the transition isn’t as easy as all the sales pages want you to believe 🙂

  3. Kelly says:

    Sarah, so brave of you to take the plunge! I know a few colleagues who have ventured back to full time work because of the pitfalls of working of yourself. We find that we have too much work to slack off, so I guess that keeps us motivated! Cheers.

    • Sarah says:

      Kelly – Thanks for stopping by!

      Self-employment was definitely more challenging than I was expecting – I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that I failed miserably at it 🙂

      Hopefully next time will be different, but we’ll see!

  4. Jeff says:

    Marketing! Candy! That is MY dream job.

    Being self-employed, I can say that two of my biggest issues are time management and not interacting with people on a regular basis (not counting internet people).

    So many people preach a specific way of life – travel the world, be self-employed. The truth is you have to be true to yourself.

    One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to lifestyle design.

    Great article.

    • Sarah says:

      Jeff – Thanks for posting!

      Haha, this would probably be a very different post if I had a day job I hated, but you’re right – marketing for a candy company is pretty awesome 🙂

      But you hit the nail on the head there – lifestyle design should be about actually designing the life that’s right for you, whether or not that includes world travel and self-employment.

      There’s a million different possibilities out there, and I think it’s going to be awhile before I can definitively say which one is right for me.

  5. Kelly says:

    Seems like you stayed positive through it! I added your feed to my growing list of Blogs I must read. So keep me posted with more marketing goodness.

  6. mike says:

    Very true.

    Of late I put in almost as much work on my blog and affiliate niche websites, as I do at my day job – for way less pay. I come home from a desk job at a computer, just to sit at my desk and computer at home. But to me it is more rewarding to make the internet money. I feel more accomplished because I feel that I have built it all from the ground up.

    I also wonder.. If I were to quit my day job and do this full time, could I make enough money to survive??? Havent yet taken that risk…

    Good luck with your ventures.

    mike

    • Sarah says:

      Mike – I totally know what you mean. Some days, it feels like I never stop staring at a computer screen. But the truth is that I love the work I do online as much as I love the work I do at my day job, and right now, this is the right fit for me.

      One thing I’m trying to figure out – if I were to do this full time, would I make more since I’d have more time to dedicated to my business. I’m not sure, but at the same time, it’s not something I want to count on.

      If you get to the point where you’re thinking about self-employment, I’d definitely recommend having a very clear grasp on your finances (what your actual expenses are, how much more you’ll spend on taxes, insurance, etc as a self-employed worker) and some savings in the bank, though.

  7. […] *My Dirty Little Secret – Probably my favorite post on the blog so far, this post takes an honest look at what life as an affiliate marketer is really like and why self employment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… […]

  8. Over the last decade I’ve been a self-employed merchant. I agree about the need for structure and society. I invented quotas and games for myself to keep me going through the duller tasks (like shipping). Then, after everything was carted to the post office, I rewarded myself with a hot beverage, a treat and good company.

    Amazon does most of my shipping for me now — they’re so much better at it. That frees me up for brainstorming new ways to promote my other businesses, which is the truly rewarding part of self-employment.

    • Sarah says:

      Charleen – Way to make a boring task like shipping sound fun 🙂 Good to hear that you’re able to reinvest that time back into your businesss now.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. […] here’s another dirty little secret for you – affiliate marketing (or any business, for that matter) isn’t all fun and […]

  10. […] example, and hope to be as involved with community service as she was when I make the leap back to self-employment again. I miss her dearly, so it was a special opportunity for me to visit an area where she devoted […]

  11. […] other tool is the Targus bluetooth keyboard I bought to go along with my iPhone. Because I work a day job, adding a task like morning pages to my morning routine means getting up earlier. Even though it […]

  12. Chas says:

    While I agree with your take on discipline when you become self-employed, there are alternatives
    to finding real social interaction outside the traditional work structure. I never would ‘hang’ with the type of people I was thrown together with in a work environment in the first place. You can always take classes at a local community college, or join some local association to fill those social networking needs. Maybe do some volunteer work for a local charity, etc.

    • Sarah says:

      Chas – I definitely agree, although I didn’t have the social networks in place to replace those interactions the first time I tried to be self-employed. My husband and I had just moved to the area and didn’t know anyone, so working online and taking online classes was really isolating.

      But now that I know that social isolation is a weak point for me, I can adjust for it in the future by doing things like volunteering, taking classes and joining a co-working space. It’s definitely possible to replace the connections you find in the workplace, but at least for me, it’s got to be a conscious thing.

  13. Elaine says:

    Wow! What a great article. As a mom of two boys, I’ve been toying with the idea of working from home. and you’ve given me a lot of things that I need to take into consideration before I take the leap. Thanks! And good luck in your endeavors.

    • Sarah says:

      Elaine – Thanks for stopping by, and thanks so much for your kind words 🙂

      Please let me know if you have any questions about different “work from home” opportunities as you begin your internet business journey!

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