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Making a Living in the Country – 5 Tips for Success

by Victoria Gazeley

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“Did you start your business before you moved to the country?”

“How did you figure out what business to start?”

“We really want to start over on a rural property – do you have any advice?”

Every week, I’m getting more and more messages like this in my inbox and on my Facebook page.

On November 30, 2012, I’ll be celebrating 2 years of making a living full time from our little piece of heaven in the forest. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it was a long held dream of mine to bring my work home and spend more time with my son. Of course, as is so often the case, dreams have a funny way of turning out not quite how we expect. It’s been amazing, and I wouldn’t change anything – now.  But it’s been quite a journey, with lots of moments of, “What the *(*&! am I doing?”.  And lots of re-thinking what exactly I want to do for work.

So to say the transition from full time employment to full time self-employment was smooth and all hearts and roses would be a disservice to everyone reading this.  I didn’t know right off the bat how to make a living in the country.  I spent many evenings in tears wondering what I’d done.

In other words, to say I’ve completely sorted out the myriad challenges of working for myself would be a big fat lie.

But now, almost two years into the venture and after much re-invention, I have a growing WordPress web design and support business serving a growing group of amazing clients, and am having a blast developing my modern homesteading site.  I’m able to pick my son up from school and attend his plays and concerts, I can take time off in the middle of the day to have coffee with a friend (though, sadly, I don’t do it often enough), we’ve just built an addition to our cabin where I’ll actually have a real office, and I’m serenaded all day long by birdsong and a crowing rooster.

So yes, I’m happy.  And super busy!

But it hasn’t come without a LOT of lessons.  While this article won’t discuss how to pick a business, here are my top 5 tips for working successfully from your homestead once you’ve decided on a path (a couple of which I’m still working on!):

Tip #1:  There’s always something to do – find a time/task management system that works for you and stick with it.

I used to have this really bad habit of taking on more work than I can realistically handle at any given amount of time.  “Oh sure, I can do that!”  Right.

I struggled with this for a very long time.  Chalk it up to my perfectionist personality, I guess, and the fact that I can actually do most things I attempt – even though it might take five times as long as it would have if I’d just hired someone else to do it.  But what I’ve learned the last two years through some incredible mentoring is that there’s absolutely no room in a truly successful home based business for this form of self-sabotage.  It’s not fair to the clients, to me, to my family… no one.  Just because I can do a lot of the technical tasks, does it mean it’s the best use of my time to actually do them?  Nah, I don’t think so either.

So how do you get this under control?  I used to use a detailed to-do list that I rewrote and prioritized every day, but that turned out to be a disaster.  After trying many different methods, this is what I’ve come to know and love:

  • Schedule my week on Monday morning (or if I’m feeling really organized, on the previous Friday afternoon) in my Entourage calendar.  This way I can see my entire week blocked out visually, including all my personal commitments, carpooling, Skype meetings with clients, and work block times (including 3 blocks during the week of ‘extra time’, just for emergencies).  For a more centralized option, Google Calendar will do the same thing, or iCal.  I can’t tell you how much this has simplified my life.
  • Use Basecamp - I could not run my business without it.  The time I save keeping track of all my projects more than pays for the monthly subscription fee.
  • Check email once an hour at the top of the hour – I’m a recovering ‘shiny object syndrome’ sufferer, so needed to come up with something that would work for my need to stay on top of things, but wouldn’t allow me to get distracted.  I tried checking email at 9am, noon and 3pm, but, well…  you can imagine how long that lasted.  So in a discussion with one of my business mentors, we came up with the plan of checking email on the hour and giving it 5 minutes.  Works beautifully…
  • Honour the timeline - meaning, stick to the schedule and don’t get distracted with other tasks until the time block is complete.

So, yes, I’m still actively working at finessing the system, but am finding it easier every day to be realistic about how much I can get done in a day.  The result?  I’m feeling WAY less stressed and am enjoying my work so much more.  I can’t tell you how great it feels to get that sorted so I can deliver projects on time.

Tip #2:  Use a project management tool like Basecamp to keep yourself organized.

As mentioned above, I use Basecamp to keep my projects organized and to allow clients to check in on their projects at any time of day without having to contact me.  I’m currently managing 20+ projects with this tool – without Basecamp, I can’t imagine how I’d stay sane.  It shows all my milestones in calendar format, features to-do lists and writeboards, file uploads and messages.  And the Basecamp app on my iPhone keeps me on track when I’m away from the computer.

This tip alone has reduced my stress level dramatically – I no longer have to burn through email messages to find client instructions.  Can’t tell you how good that feels – not to mention how much more productive.  Definitely worth taking for a test drive…

Tip #3:  Keep regular working hours.

It’s my long-term goal to work 6 hours a day, Monday to Friday, with specific days designated for my web design clients and the modern homesteading site.  I definitely haven’t got anywhere close to this sort of time management, but I’m working on it.  Far too often I’m still working at 7:30 at night after being in front of the computer off and on since 8:30 am, but I have stopped working late into the evening.  With carpooling for school, looking after the homestead and other stuff that just ‘comes up’, I’m finding it challenging to set regular working hours and stick to them, so I’ve pretty much given up on that – it was creating more stress than it was solving.  But I still end up working far more than 6 hours a day, and that’s where I need to buckle down and start outsourcing some tasks.

The whole point of moving to our homestead was so I could do more fun things with my family.  So far, I’ve really done nothing much but work on building my business.  I have a gorgeous wooden rowboat we’ve taken out once, I live steps from the beach and haven’t been there in weeks, and I have mountains right outside my door and haven’t been on a hike in years.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m incredibly grateful for my business, and I love serving my clients – but I’d love it even more if I could spend more time enjoying our beautiful part of the world with friends and family.

Not an unfamiliar feeling to anyone who works for him or herself, I’m sure…

Tip #4:  Don’t try to do it alone.

I’ve tried doing it all myself, and I’m here to tell you that while it’s possible, it’s definitely not advisable.  I don’t make any money spending six hours trying to figure out complex WordPress CSS string – I just get frustrated… and broke.  So now I go to the people in the know, and I’m so much happier.  I’ve been fortunate to have been recently introduced to a whole group of superbly capable, talented business owners to whom I’m now in the process of outsourcing specific tasks that they love, but I, I’ve only recently admitted, do not.

Other platforms for outsourcing include elance.com, odesk.com, and other services where you can find talented people to help you grow your business.  My only word of advice would be to know exactly who you’re looking for, and exactly what you expect from a virtual assistant, designer or other professional.  As a designer, I’ve seen too many clients (not my own, thank goodness – my clients rock!) who really don’t know what they want, and expect 5-star work for a 1-star pricetag.  That’s not fair to anyone.  But if you’ve done the research, you’re realistic about what virtual assistance can provide you, and you know what you want and who you want to work with, you’re golden!  This also applies to hiring help around your homestead to take care of some of the tasks you maybe don’t enjoy so much, and could be a blessing to someone in your community – mowing the lawn, weeding the vegetable beds, helping construct chicken houses and outbuildings… your dislike of a task or lack of time, and your willingness to pay someone else fairly to do that work for you is such a gift.  Don’t forget to give it!  It will open up a whole new world…

Tip #5:  Get a mentor.

This should actually be Tip #1, it’s that important.

As a person who used to think I didn’t need help with anything, this was huge for me.  In fact, I resisted the idea for years.  And, of course, for years I dreamed about working from home and having an online business, but never actually got it off the ground.  I learned a lot and spent a lot of time in workshops and reading manuals (and spent a tonne of money), but working for myself remained a dream – until I found a mentor (or as is now currently the case, mentors).  For me, it was someone who wasn’t scared to kick my butt, who could be honest with me about where I was wasting time and energy, and who knew exactly what I needed to hear to motivate me to finally make my dream a reality.

For you, it might be someone local you can meet with regularly, but it definitely doesn’t have to be.  My mentor lives 3800 km away, and I’ve only met her in person once.  I started out with copywriting coaching in August 2010, then took the plunge into a 6 month coaching program in January 2011 and have been at it ever since.  And during that short time, I went from the modern homesteading site being just a sparkle of a dream to what you see today – a work in progress that has opened up a whole new world for me, and that’s been the vehicle for me to meet some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I’ve also launched my web design business that’s been so successful I’ve had to keep it on the down-low so as not to succumb to the temptation to take on more work than I can handle…

So there you have it – finding a suitable mentor who you resonate with, who will give you tough love, and who leads with integrity and honour, is a huge component of a successful home based business… especially for those of use who are living on properties that also require a lot of our time and attention.  For us, it’s even more critical that we first get, then remain, focussed and productive.  Without it, we’re doomed to late nights in front of the computer, or hours away from our families.

I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not the life I want.

The Wrap-up

Most of these are pretty basic business tips, but I can’t tell you how many new entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to recently who find themselves overwhelmed, overcommitted and overly stressed!  By implementing these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a homestead-based business that not only provides you with abundance financial rewards, but you’ll reap countless benefits in the form of work that you love, and clients that you love to serve.

Now how can it get any better than that?  Do you have any tips for ‘working from home success’ from a rural property?  Share it in the comments below!  We’d love to hear your experiences – they could help someone else in a great big way.

Stay tuned for more articles about finding the right business to work from your rural property, tools for success and ways to address challenges in the coming weeks!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Elvie Look June 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm

You and me both Victoria – learning how to work less. It will come. Thanks for the info about basecamp, I will check into that. Right now I was just using iCal. It sounds like it so so much more? Really enjoyed your article!

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Carol Rosenberg Giambri June 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Victoria, sounds like you got a big taste of heaven.  Now finding time to enjoy it with less hours and more family time is a journey. I’m sure it will come and learning that from Sandi Krawowski who is uses the less time and more productive work example.  Thanks for sharing resources too.  Basecamp new one.  Great post.

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Victoria Gazeley June 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm

We sure do, Carol – and yes, now is the task of finding the right balance, if there is such a thing. I love my work, but as Sandi says, you’ve only got so much ‘bandwidth’. Time to focus on that… As for Basecamp, I LOVE it – have been using it for about 3 years both in my previous job and in my freelance business. Couldn’t function without it!

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Mike Key ? September 11, 2012 at 5:32 am

Great little post. I’ve been a freelance WordPress/Web Developer for 4 years now. Although I recently took a full time position after 4 yrs of working on my own, to speed up the process of getting our own homestead but eventually I’ll go back to this being a primary source of income. Glad to see others managing it from the hills. Gives me more confidence that it will work.

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Victoria Gazeley September 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s work, but it definitely ‘works’ if you’ve got the will and the right business model (i.e., flexible!). All the best with your homesteading preparations – I’m excited for you! :)

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Victoria Gazeley September 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Thanks so much, Mike. It’s definitely an adventure, and well worth it. Cheers!

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