Monday, 25 July 2011

Dulce domum: the joys (and perils) of working from home

My husband and I run our own business from home. He is a photographer, specialising in landscapes and architecture, and together we work on ideas for ways of making a living - organising exhibitions, running workshops, and selling prints and greetings cards. This is his website.

We like the life we have and wouldn't swap it, even though it can sometimes be a struggle.

So, what are its advantages? Well, personally, I don't miss the stresses and strains of office politics or aggressive, power-hungry bosses, even if I do get misty-eyed when I remember the monthly payslip...

And I don't envy our neighbours when I see them drive off to work at 8 am. Given the cost of fuel at present, I do wonder how many hours a week they have to work just to be able to afford to get there in the first place.

And there are the little things. We can beat the crowds, by going out to places during the week, when there are fewer people around. We get to decide our own hours and can, if we wish, saunter into town for a coffee occasionally, when we feel like it. That's the theory.

But this lifestyle is also fraught with hazards, some of them almost serious.

Cash-flow for one. The work may be flowing in, but that doesn't mean the money necessarily follows in a hurry. This can put serious pressure on the bank account: will we be able to pay the mortgage on time? Happily, the answer is usually 'yes', but there have been times...

And there are more creeping dangers. We gave up the idea of weekends long ago, because we could opt for days off during the week instead. But it can be very easy to let work seep into that designated time off when you are responsible for generating every penny of your own income yourself.

But there is a lighter side to the perils of this kind of self-employment.  

Some of our neighbours*, on the somewhat flimsy evidence that we might eat breakfast at 8.30 on a week day, seem convinced we're living in a state of semi-retirement! This has occasionally led to perfectly innocent comments, such as 'But of course, you have much more free time than we do.' Well, actually, no. No.

The high point, in a comic sense, of our work-related encounters with our neighbours came when my husband's first book was launched by our wonderful local independent bookshop, Cogito Books.

A lovely man from along the street came over and asked me: 'So, do you do any work?' (Italics his, not mine). I explained politely my own role in the photography business, but resisted the urge to tell him that we were both working ten hours a day, seven days a week.

I thought it was very funny. I did, honestly, or I wouldn't be telling you the story. The fact is that this man is a retired farmer - most probably used to getting up in the dark and doing very physical work for long hours - and therefore probably wasn't persuaded that what I do for a living is actually honest work. Perhaps it isn't.

We enjoy the life we have. True, it has its drawbacks, but we don't complain. This is the life we have chosen and we wouldn't change it for the world. True, it will never make us rich. In fact, another photographer friend once joked that the surest way of making a small fortune from this sort of thing... is to start off with a large one!

Boom-Boom, as Basil Brush would say.

* I would stress that we get on really well with all our neighbours. The whole street has a lovely feeling of community about it, and everyone knows everyone else's name. We're very lucky to have that.


  1. Hi Sophie,

    How brave you are to write this! I share your thoughts and views so much on this've brought a lump to my throat.

    Maybe I'll blog one day on a similar theme. I honestly try to look inside other people's lives to imagine how they live theirs...but it's a talent I (and I can see that you) have...not too often reciprocated sadly!

    Quite often rural lives/salaries are flippin' hard to create and survive on. . .

    Lots of hugs, Hadriana xx

  2. Having thought that last comment through...there are probably a lot of people who can think about other people's lives and put themselves in their shoes. Having said that...what, I believe, the English ain't so great at - is vocalising their thoughts and empathy about the other's situation.

    I may be wrong...any thoughts/contributions anyone?

    I must admit that I be I write offence intended to anyone! have a good evening and Sophie...I do know someone who owns self catering establishments and everyone thinks he/she is permanently retired!!!! (The units form their main income......) Hxx

  3. Sorry about rubbish grammar....I'm off for a well earned kip! ;)

  4. Good morning, Hadriana, and thank you for taking the time to comment. It sounds as though we are very much in the same boat. It's funny how many people identified with the points I raised, judging from the Twitter response this morning!

    Something I did't emphasise, which perhaps I should have done, is that I recognise that some people's lives are infinitely more of a struggle than ours! David and I have chosen this life, and knew it was never going to be easy. But we have our health and a roof over our heads, and not everybody can say that. So we shouldn't complain, and I don't think we do, on the whole.

    Our collective sense of humour is also in robust health, and to be honest, I'm not sure what we'd do without that!

    I think you're absolutely right about the English finding it difficult to vocalise their thoughts, and I think perhaps empathy is a dying art too. Do you think as a society we have just become too selfish and inward-looking? I think the media has a lot to do with that.

    You're absolutely right about rural life and making a living. You do have to be really imaginative and creative... and to be prepared to battle on!

    Thank you again for your comments. Take care of yourself, and I'll hope to see you soon.

    Sophie xx

  5. Hello Sophie:
    How well you have captured here the highs and lows of working for yourself and from your own home. We can so readily identify with so much of what you write having, for some 25 years, developed our own garden and gardening business in Herefordshire. As you say, the theory of having time during the week to do things, the flexibility of work schedules etc. etc. is just that. A theory. In practice, the hours of work can be gruelling as one is often loathe to turn down business, however anti- social it may be, in the fear that otherwise it may be lost never to return.

    However, there is, in spite of the many disadvantages, something truly wonderful and inspiring about being in a highly creative partnership where you are working together as a team to produce something unique and solely the product of your own endeavours. Food for the soul and the spirit indeed.....the trick is to produce food for the table as well!!

  6. Hello Jane and Lance! Thank you for your comments.

    I've been amazed at the response to this post, not just on the blog but also on Twitter. So many people seem to identify - as you do - with the unique pressures that this type of lifestyle entails, but also with its joys and satisfactions!

    I don't think I was ever going to fit into a conventional pattern of employment - I tried it and it just didn't suit me, partly because I resent being told what to do! The life we are living now is a much better fit, even if it can sometimes be difficult and uncertain.

    I had picked up from your latest post that you were obviously connected with gardening in some way, which sounds wonderful. I will look forward to finding out more as the weeks and months go by.

    Best wishes,

  7. Hi Sophie,
    Thanks so much for your kind comments about my work. I appreciate them very much! I, too, can relate to the work-at-home world, and I wouldn't swap it, either :) Beautiful photos, btw.

  8. Hello Elizabeth! Thank you very much for dropping by, for your comment, and for following the blog. I'm very touched.

    When I wrote this post it felt uncharacteristic, not quite along the usual lines of the blog. But I have had more responses to this than any of my other posts, with lots of people telling me they understand exactly what I'm talking about. I find that very comforting!

    I really love your work, and am so glad I discovered it. I shall visit whenever my day needs brightening up!

    Best wishes,

  9. Hi Sophie, I am fascinated by the comments about the English having trouble vocalizing thoughts. Having Anglo-Saxon roots, I think I know what you mean...but I actually think in many ways the English are better at it than we Yanks are. First of all, you obviously know and use the language better! ;) I am always amazed when I see scenes of Parliament on TV. The shouting! The passion! Those accents! ;) How great! Well, anyway--I'm having so much fun reading the blogs of my English friends. You all are articulate, funny, and observant commentators! More! More! PS thanks again for being such a fan of my work :) :) I so appreciate it!