Saturday, January 17, 2009

How much does "free" cost?

For years, my sister has been telling me to hang my own shingle. She thought I could make a bundle as a freelance writer, because she's in the business and sees how much they charge. In my performance reviews, I always said that I would eventually go out on my own; I wanted to be my own boss, be in charge of my time. So, finally, after six months of interviewing, volunteering and generally figuring out who I am, I started doing some freelance writing.

Many think this is the ideal gig for moms. You get to flex your creative muscles, cover any gaps in your resume, and still be there for your kids. Oh yeah, and you can make money!

But I'd like to bust that last myth. Freedom and flexibility have a cost--one that can easily be measured in dollars. The writing I've been doing, whether commercial or corporate, comes pretty cheap. I know by speaking with some other "independents" I'm not making as much as I could. Some are making three or four times my hourly rate, which amounts to a heck of a lot more when you tally up your invoices at the end of the year.

But this is what I get in exchange for my freedom. I couldn't pretend to provide for a family on what I'm making right now. I'm lucky I don't have to, but being type A, it's hard for me to admit this. If I wanted to make that kind of money, I could, but then I'd need to put in a lot more hours than I'm willing to give right now.

I spent quite a bit of time in a previous life documenting the HR "total rewards" packages that companies put together when they stop handing out raises. Given this, I'm looking at what else I'm getting as a freelancer rather than, well, actual money. I found a great example Friday when I got the call from daycare to pick up my daughter because of a mysterious rash. I wasn't upset when I got the call. This reaction was so much different from how I'd reacted in the past, when I was in corporateland. I told my husband honestly that it was okay--I had no deadlines looming so I could look at it as a little extra girl time. I felt no guilt. And, later, after the doctor's diagnosis of Fifth Disease, which is no longer contagious after the rash presents itself, I felt no anger at a day wasted. Because the day wasn't really wasted--I took my girl grocery shopping, we met the new doctor, we took a nap.

Since leaving the corporate world, my currency has changed. I'm starting to look not just at how much I'm making an hour, but rather how I'm spending my days. I don't always do this, and I still think far too much about my dwindling 401(k) and bank account, but I really am trying to see the total rewards of being free.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All the work in half the time: can it be done?

According to the Pew Research Center, part-time work is the "ideal", at least that's what 60% of the working mothers surveyed say.

However, the study doesn't tell you how to make a part-time schedule really work. As a mom who has worked part-time, full-time, no time and now (as a contractor) any time I can, here is what I learned.

First, ask yourself if you can afford to work part-time. In additon to the salary, you need to think about benefits and vacation.

Salary - When it came to my salary, I was pretty lucky. I worked for a large company with established policies for part time work, so my pay was calculated on a percentile. For example, when I worked 3 days/week, I made 60% of my full-time salary. All raises were also calculated based on full time salary.

Benefits - If you get them, great. But realize how much they'll reduce your paycheck and think about how much you want to contribute to things like 401(k), FSAs, etc. When I went part-time, I had to reduce my contributions to my 401(k) and drop the ESPP altogether so I would actually take home money!! So, I have lost out on future retirement income (maybe not a bad think with the current state of the stock market!)

Vacation - My vacation time was also reduced, but with all the days off, I didn't have to use vacation to go to doctor's appointments or anything else, so I had plenty of vacation time. One trick if I learned was to have Monday be my “non-work” days since it seems that many holidays fall on Mondays (labor day and memorial day, at least)—this way I didn’t burn up any vacation days unnecessarily.

Once you've figured out the nuts and bolts, you need to figure out how to make it work--for real.

In my opinion, and experience, you need to have flexibility as well as boundaries. Of course, flexibility is a two-way street. If the person you really need to meet with can only meet on your “non-work” day, you might have to take the meeting (or call). However, I found that once I started allowing conference calls to sneak into my “non-work” day, it was a slippery slope. And I slid down that slope a lot. I think that there were times when the company got more out of me than I was paid for.

Really, you have to ask yourself a hard question and give yourself an honest answer. Do you have a job that can really be done part-time? If you have responsibility for an entire area or for managing people, I'd say that you can't do this part-time. Maybe you could look for a job share option, but while it sounds great in theory, there are very few instances of this actually working. (if you know of a successful job share, let me know). The role I was in when I was part-time should have been a full-time position. I owned the marketing and communications for a 2,500 person organization. However, as much as I loved my job I wasn't ready to come back five days a week and give up the extra time with my kids. So I made a big mistake--I kept the job with a lot of responsibility and tried to squeeze it into three days. It didn't work. My performance was sub-par and I was completely stressed out.

The bottom line for me is that working part-time is not a cakewalk. It is hard socially, as I felt like I didn’t really fit into the stay-at-home mom world or fully into the work world. It was hard on my home life, as I found myself doing a lot of work while the kids napped or watched television. It was hard on work, as I felt that I was never giving it my all. When I worked full-time, in some ways it was easier because we all got into a rhythm and the boundaries are more clearly marked.

This is a very personal, very individual decision and I think that my work status (part-time, full-time, no-time) will continue to morph as the needs of my family change.