Drinking the Midnight Oil

by Rob Spiegel

Working for yourself in a home business often means working odd hours to meet deadlines. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, when you consider the alternative.

Last night I was up until 2:30 in the evening (wait, that’s morning) meeting a deadline. I woke this morning at 6:00 to finish meeting the deadline. Today I’ll take the afternoon off – the kids get out of school early. I’ll try not to be irritable. Actually, it’s hard to get cranky when you’re with your kids at the park on a warm Albuquerque afternoon.

A new friend keeps trying to invite me over to an impromptu dinner. He calls at 5:00 p.m. and I’m on deadline. He calls at 7:00 p.m. and I’m asleep because I plan to get up around 3:00 a.m. to meet a deadline. I would do the work in the evening, but I get too tired. So rather than watch Chris Matthews yell at his guests, I go to bed and wake up fresh. I take one or two naps each day, just so I can wake up bright again. I think I’m a cat.

One of the beauties of running a work-at-home business is that I get to work at odd times, managing my tasks by energy rather than by a clock. It’s been many years since I actually went to an office to work. I can’t imagine what it must be like to match my output against a set number of hours. I guess I’d have to take naps at the desk.



To all the clock-punchers around the world, my home-business, work-from-home life must look great. And in many ways it is quite wonderful. But there is one quality of it that is more difficult than it appears. You see, I don’t get paid unless I produce something. And that something has to be of some value to those who are doing the buying. I miss a beat, and I don’t get a paycheck.

I recently popped over to Phoenix to meet with a large electronic distribution company that needs a monthly email newsletter. While in a meeting with a half-dozen managers from different departments, a seasoned manager asked why the work was going to me. “Why not someone on staff? After all, it would be much less expensive to produce it in-house.”

The woman who runs the project turned to him and said, “I’m sending it out because I know it will get done on time. If Rob gets the project, he’ll have to produce it if he wants to get paid. The people around here get their paychecks whether they do the work or not.” Good. I get the project because they know I’ll stay up all night if necessary.

The grass is always greener. Working stiffs think I have it made. And I look at them, amazed that they get paid based mostly on how many hours they spend in the office. I know they’re talking about football and movies half the time. The other half they’re complaining about their stupid boss or the dumb, counterproductive rules that stifle their creativity. I’ve been there.

Most employers believe you need the workers and managers to show up every day so you can keep your eye on them. Terrific. You can watch them talk about football, movies and the crummy job you’re doing at managing them.

It’s not a lot of fun working till 2:30 a.m. But when I click send and deliver the email that carries my just-in-time work, I feel pretty good. And the afternoon at the park is as pleasant as it is frequent.

A real estate friend frequently says, “I think the whole world should be on commission.” His point is that earnings should match results. I like the honesty of it. I like the flexibility. For us cats, there’s something soul-killing about sitting in an office because some manager wants to see that you’re there. To keep your soul from getting killed, you talk about football and the movies. That’ll show ‘em. I’ll take the honest, physical labor of pounding out these words in the wee hours, high on Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” or the White Stripes’ “Elephant.”

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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