Making it Work as a Designer: Tips for Working from Home

My business started when my youngest son was three months old. I’d taken voluntary redundancy from a civil service job 6 months before and one day the money ran out and I wasn’t sure how I was going to buy groceries for my family. As I sat at my kitchen table, I looked around at things I could do with a 6 month old, an 18 month old and a 4 year old at home with no childcare. I’d dabbled in making crochet hats previously, but that day a business was born. 

There is no question that working from home is pretty dreamy, but its not with out its challenges. Being at the house means that I am always the one who has to deal with house related appointments, the one who takes the time off for holidays and school-related events and where the responsibility for dinner lies.  Its mostly great, but often frustrating. However, after 4 years, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sort Out The Money Side:

Even if you are starting to sell your patterns as a small business on the side or a hobby, you need to start thinking about money. If you are in the UK, you need to register as self-employed. The advice from HMRC is to 

Register as soon as you can after starting your business. At the latest, you should register by 5 October in your business’s second tax year.

Even if you aren’t making any money, you should still register as you can claim tax relief on your household expenses as you build up your business. HMRC has a guide here. Also, make sure you check out any other tax relief options if you are paying for childcare or making a loss as it may effect your eligibility for Tax Credits. 

You also need to keep track of your accounts. This is something that I wish I had done earlier, as for most of the last 4 years, I would just download my bank statements on the 30th of January and start going back through 12 months of receipts 24 hours before my taxes were due.  Thanks to Kim (read her blog, if you don’t already), I found Kashflow, which importantly, works on my rather slow internet and is very easy and intuitive to use.  

VAT MOSS and International Taxes

Recently, European legislation was brought in that means that sale of digital goods is now taxable based on where the buyer lives.  What this means that if you sell a pattern to someone in the European Union, you are responsible for ensuring the tax is paid on that sale, no matter where you live. One option is that you can register to pay this tax yourself.  However, as you get started selling patterns, my advice would be to stick with a platform that handles VAT MOSS for you, such as Etsy and Ravelry.  For more on VAT MOSS, the Digital VAT Group on Facebook is a great place to start. 

Create Space and Time to Work:

I started my business with 3 very little children at home with me all the time.  I quickly realised that this wouldn’t work well for the concentration needed to write and grade patterns and deal with the day to day runnings of my business. Kevin and I worked on a plan where I would work when he came home and on weekends and I also used every ounce of good will from friends who offered to watch the kids so I could work. At first it wasn’t much time and it was VERY stressful, but it was crucial to moving things forward and building a business.

The moment we could find a childcare situation that worked for us, we took it. Even though it would cancel out any profit I made for the first 3 years of my business, we saw it as an investment in my future work. 

Maybe you don’t have kids, maybe your design gig is on the side of a full time job or maybe childcare isn’t an option for you, but the basic principle is the same, you have to make space for your design work in your life. Make it a priority on your list of things to do (its WAY above doing the laundry and housework on mine) and keep it there. 

Its not just about creating mental space, but physical space to work is crucial.  Even if its a corner of your bedroom or at the kitchen table, make a space that is your work place. You may have to pack it up every day, but having a place where you feel creative and productive is crucial. Have the things you need together so you don’t have to use your precious working time looking for them.

Set a Routine, but Make it Your Own:

My best and most productive days at home are when I follow a routine.  I get up, I get dressed, I walk the dogs, I set my priorties for the day and then I work.  I definitely take breaks to make coffee or switch the laundry over, but I stick to a working for the X hours I am child free and rarely do household tasks in my working day. I also make sure that I am dressed and ready to work. 

I also take an overview of my week and look at when I need to be available for kids or have appointments and think about what work I can take with me to do while we are out.  Swatches and mindless crochet are always in my bag and a notebook always comes with me to draft posts or patterns on the go.

When I left the civil service, I really felt like I had to work 9-5 as I had done for my entire working life.  However, I have become an ardent supporter of doing the work when I am best at it. I am best at writing in the morning, so I do that before the kids are up. I also schedule photography for the afternoon when the light is better. I hit a wall after about 5pm, so designing into the late hours isn’t a solution that works well for me, so I rarely even crochet in the evenings.

Divvy Up The House Related Tasks

Being the one who works at home usually also means that I am the one who takes on the majority of the house and kid related tasks.  If there was one friction point in Kevin and my relationship, this is it.  Being the one at home means that its my work day that is interrupted when the electrician wants to come by, a kid needs to come home, etc.  There is no question that this is super frustrating and I don’t take it well when its my deadline that is always the one that is missed.

We’ve worked hard over the last 4 years to make sure we share out these tasks.  Where possible, he takes the time off with sick kids or we swap half way through the day.  If I have had my work interrupted for most of the week, he will take the kids out for a full day at the weekend or clean the house by himself so I can catch up and school holidays are split evenly between the two of us.  We share out the household tasks and try to make a plan each week so that we know who is doing what, that way there is no ambiguity (and the related resentment) as to who is responsible. 

Get Out of the House

I realised recently I have become the person who is overly chatty at the post office, the butcher, the supermarket…well, everywhere.  There are weeks when the only time I leave the house is to go to the bus stop to collect the kids from school.  I am a pretty social person, so working at home all the time can get me down.  I am luck to live in an area with lots of other work at home folks, so I try to make a point of scheduling at least one meet up during the week so that I can talk to another human being. This is also where online life really comes into its own and I am frequently messaging my business partners to talk shop. 

And I am off to do just that! See you later!

Explore the rest of the Making It Work Series: