Freelancer in Maine: We earned $150,000 while social distancing – Business Insider – Business Insider

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  • In 2019, Mary Kearl and her family traveled to 12 countries while working remotely. As COVID-19 spread, they decided to move from Los Angeles to Maine to shelter in place.
  • While following social distancing regulations, Kearl and her family found safe ways to adventure locally while she and her husband kept their freelance businesses afloat.
  • Kearl says the time she’s able to dedicate to family by being a freelancer has proved invaluable during the ongoing pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In 2019, after saving up for several years and setting aside $36,000 for our world travels, my husband, toddler, and I managed to visit 12 countries together, all while working remotely

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re no longer traveling globally and our daily routine looks a lot different. Still, the lessons we learned from running our own businesses as freelancers, caring for a young child, and exploring the world have stuck with us, so we’ve found new ways to make the most of our surroundings

We moved to Maine in summer 2020 to help my parents with their expenses after my dad lost his job at the start of the pandemic, get extra help with childcare, and have a safe place to isolate and work remotely.

The area we live in is relatively new to us and even while wearing masks and social distancing, we’ve enjoyed discovering the new place we call home.

Most weekday mornings we head outdoors as a family of three on local adventures — taking in hikes, picnics on the beach, riding the local ski lift, visiting state and national parks, discovering new lighthouses, and going blueberry and apple picking.

Kearl and her family at Beth's Farm Market in Warren, Maine. Mary Kearl

Kearl and her family at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, Maine.
Mary Kearl

Here’s how we manage to grow our freelance careers and have time to enjoy nearby excursions together safely during the pandemic.

Read more: My husband and I left our full-time jobs to travel the world for 6 months — and only spent $288 from our savings. Here’s how we found remote work.

We used to work a combined 100 hours a week. Now my husband and I work about 40 hours a week total and earn about the same income.

When I gave birth to our child, my husband and I were both working full time for two LA startups. Between commuting and working in our roles in marketing (mine) and operations (his), we were logging about 100 hours a week, often on opposite schedules that left little time to see each other, let alone enjoy time together with our newborn. 

For over a dozen years, I’d freelanced in writing, social media, and marketing in addition to working full time. However, it wasn’t until 2019 when our little one was a year old that I thought about going solo and exclusively working for myself.

Despite earning over $150,000 annually as a family, we knew that  rent and childcare costs could easily add up to $45,000 a year if we stayed in Los Angeles, where the median cost of a just a one-bedroom apartment totalled $2,131 per month. 

I had a hypothesis: If we could become remote freelancers, we could potentially live somewhere more affordable and, even if we made less annually, we could more easily break even or possibly net out ahead.

In 2020, as we wrapped up our second year of both freelancing part time, my hope  became a reality. We’d managed to earn our old combined income of over $150,000 annually while both only working about 40 hours a week — about 25 hours a week for me and 15 for my husband. We’d also saved on rent and childcare expenses. 

These days I work with about six or seven «anchor» clients, who have a need for freelancer support on either a monthly or bi-monthly basis. My husband has several anchor clients as well. This means we spend nearly 100% of our working time doing paid work, rather than logging inviolable hours looking for more opportunities. 

Read more: I made 6 figures in 2020 while only freelancing part time. Here’s how I’m able to set high rates and work less hours.

We plan everything around meals and sleep schedules.

Kearl and her family in Camden Hills State Park.

Kearl and her family in Camden Hills State Park.
Mary Kearl

Many people ask us how we managed to travel with a baby (now toddler) and  get work done at the same time. The answer is through careful planning. 

As a freelancer, I avoid the kind of work that involves too many meetings, projects with short same-day turnaround times, or the expectation to be «always on» email or Slack — duties that would keep me tied to a desk (or, in my case, a couch) and wouldn’t allow the flexibility to get out and about on my family’s schedule. Independent, project-based work on the other hand, allows me to work at nights, during my kid’s naps, and over the weekends.

As a result, we generally have the mornings off, and enjoy breakfast, lunch, and pre-nap story time all together. My husband and I work while our little one naps, and, if we have additional projects to work on, my parents, who we’re living with, often help with childcare before dinner. Otherwise, either I or my husband will take over and let the other one finish up an assignment as needed.

Kearl and her family on a chair lift at the Camden Snow Bowl. Mary Kearl

Kearl and her family on a chair lift at the Camden Snow Bowl.
Mary Kearl

After that, we all have dinner together and enjoy another evening activity before bedtime. If either of us has deadlines to meet, we’ll pick things back up for a couple of hours at night. We stick to this schedule on weekends, too, when we have busier weeks.

For  standing weekly video calls with some of my regular clients, I tend to schedule these outside of naptime, so I don’t disturb my sleeping coworker, and outside of our morning outing hours, so we have the time off for our adventures.

With an almost 3-year-old, we’ve started the process of potty training, but that’s been impacted by the pandemic as well. Open public bathrooms are a lot harder to come by, so we still use diapers on our longer morning excursions or full day trips.

Read more: I’m a freelancer who’s brought in 5 figures a month in income since the start of the pandemic even after losing half my clients. Here’s how I’ve found additional work and kept business up.

We travel like locals.

Kearl and her family in Birch Point Beach State Park. Mary Kearl

Kearl and her family in Birch Point Beach State Park.
Mary Kearl

I used to be the kind of person that liked to pack as many activities and destinations into one trip as possible. After traveling six months straight in 2019, however, I realized not only is that unsustainable, it’s also not the best way to really get to know a place. We found we were able to learn more   about our new environment by taking part in routine daily activities, like going shopping at a local market, having a picnic, going to the playground, visiting the local library, and simply hanging out. 

While we can’t do all the things we might have normally if there weren’t a pandemic, we’ve managed to fit quite a lot in since moving to Maine in June.

We enjoy getting outdoors and going hiking.

Through careful planning we’ve managed to visit several state and national parks during the pandemic including Acadia National Park in October for peak fall foliage. 

Mary Kearl

Kearl and her family in Acadia National Park.
Mary Kearl

Since Acadia is a two-hour drive from our house and we didn’t want to stay overnight, we went on a weekday to avoid weekend crowds and planned it on a day when we didn’t have any work deadlines. As it turned out, one of my regulars did need something last minute the next day, so I used my phone as a hotspot and took care of some work on my laptop on the drive back while my husband drove and my child played with the plenty of toys and books we always pack on longer drives.

Even as the temperatures cooled down, we’ve continued to head outdoors. Inspired by reading about the Norwegian concept of «friluftsliv» or «open-air living» in all kinds of weather, we’ve invested in gear to stay warm and dry during rainy, windy, and snowy weather — with one set of boots rated to keep us comfortable in up to -20 to -40 degree weather and another pair for Maine’s notoriously rainy and muddy spring. I’ve also kept to a personal goal of walking 10,000 steps, or about four miles, a day so far, mostly outside. That’s allowed me to catch many a full moon, as well as shooting stars. 

We take advantage of local seasonal activities.

Mary Kearl

Blueberry picking in Beech Hill Preserve.
Mary Kearl

In the summer, we enjoyed blueberry picking with a local farm that required patrons to follow physical distancing guidelines. 

We’ve continued the seasonal activities with apple picking, going through a corn maze, going «trunk or treating» at Halloween, and riding a local ski lift in our Halloween costumes.

Trunk or treating in Thomaston, ME. Mary Kearl

Trunk or treating in Thomaston, Maine.
Mary Kearl

We also participated in our town’s holiday light decorating competition and going on a driving tour to see all of the lights, and visiting this year’s Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens holiday lights display, adapted to a driving tour due to COVID-19. 

While we can’t enjoy local museums or libraries, our child can’t play with other kids, and we can’t travel longer distances to see family and friends, there’s a lot of beauty we’ve been able to enjoy all within a short drive, thanks to planning our schedules in a way that allows us to have time together. 

Read more: A 29-year-old ‘California girl’ moved to Nova Scotia with her husband last year. She says it’s been a culture shock, but living in Canada meant they could finally afford the American dream.

Holiday lights driving tour at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Mary Kearl

Holiday lights driving tour at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
Mary Kearl

We’re grateful for the chance to be able to work remotely and create moments of joy in otherwise challenging times. One difference we’ve found in seeing the world this way is compared with being a visitor on a short stay, we can experience all of Maine’s seasons and take part in local customs. We’ve not only picked apples, but we’ve learned to make applesauce and cider. We’ve hiked and gathered pine cones for wreaths we made at home. During our beach excursions, we’ve gathered driftwood and abandoned buoys we’ve found washed up on the shore to add to our home decor.

Leaving the inflexible workforce behind was a great decision for our family. It opened up a wealth of opportunity for me and my husband to not only leverage our professional skills and work on our own terms, but to also prioritize family time and adventure, regardless of a pandemic.

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