Mommy Talks is a weekly feature of different moms. For this new season, I am featuring different work at home moms. Our guest for today is Marge Aberásturi of The Happy WAHM. I met her through the Manila Work at Home Moms FB group.
Hi Marge! Thank you for allowing me to feature you today at Mommy Talks. Can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m a happily married mom of three, also known as The Happy WAHM. I always say that our children are God’s gifts to us, and indeed, they are, as only in 2010, after having given birth to all three of them, did we learn that I was not supposed to bear children to maturity. That belatedly explained why all my three pregnancies and subsequent deliveries were complicated. My first baby was in breach presentation, the second was premature at 8 months and the youngest was born 2 days short of 7 months. And in all pregnancies, I was bedridden.
I’m a self-professed workaholic. Or at least, used to be. I worked fresh from college in a variety of disciplines, including show business as a production assistant, before I landed a position with a telecommunications company where I rose from the ranks in my 12 years of stay. There’s a funny story there that will tell you how persevering I am.
I applied for the position of credit and collection staff without any idea what the position entails. I applied because that was the only vacancy for their office in Mindoro, and my mother wanted me to go home to the province. So during the interview, when asked how I would contribute to the company, I just told the Treasury Manager, with all honesty and a have-pity-on-me-and-I-won’t-ever-make-you-regret-you-hired-me face, that I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was going to learn fast, and I was going to learn good.
So I got hired, with a little help from a piece of paper that says I have a degree in Accountancy, and I received my first promotion the following year. Before I know it, it was time for me to say goodbye, at the time that I was a Regional Manager.
Why did you want to be a work at home mom? How did your journey start? How long have you been working at home? What sort of work do you do at home?
I have never envisioned myself to be a WAHM. I was going to be Vice President for Credit Management. Well, that was my goal. But then my last pregnancy brought us to a myriad of complications and all the –logists that you can think of were suddenly in my payroll attending to our son and doing everything they could to save him. So when my [former] boss called me to tell me the good news that I was getting promoted to head office after my maternity leave, I knew it was time to let go.
While the baby was still at the hospital, I kept myself busy looking for ways that I could still earn from home. I was into crafts, but it’s both capital and labor intensive. I wanted something that would not require too much capitalization, as hospital bills were still a concern. Medical transcription was really hot that time, so I enrolled in a medical transcription course to get certification, and all my days of maternity leave were spent on the stairs in front of the NICU studying medical terminologies, listening to sample audios and got my ears trained on speech and accent nuances. The course not only prepared me for a new career, but it made me knowledgeable of our son’s condition. Taking a medical transcription course was like having a crash course in medicine. I took special interest on the Pulmonology, Cardiology and Neurology Modules. And so each time the neonatologist would talk to us and tell us that she had to make some tests, we were making informed decisions and not merely relying on what she was telling us. I finished the 6-month course in 3 months.
My first project as a WAHM was as a transcriptionist in a production company. There was a queue of audio files and every morning I would download a file, then work on it as time would permit. At that time, I was feeding my son through a dropper! He was so tiny that even a preemie nipple would not fit in his mouth. And he had no sucking reflex. So feeding time was really a whole day affair.
After a year, I started to teach myself new skills. I was audacious enough to buy myself a domain and build my own site, without any technical background, and without any idea what I would put there. I went on Skype interviews where majority of my answers to prospective clients’ questions would be: I can learn that!
But of course, my confidence was backed by the tenacity of a bull to make things work, and maybe a good head between my shoulders. I studied, experimented, researched, and studied some more.
I have since grown to be a well-rounded VA, doing tasks as mundane as converting Word documents to PDF with clickable links, to tasks as daunting as project management. In the 7 years that I have been a VA, I’ve only had 3 major clients, and about a dozen of project-based ones, whom I have maintained communications with through the years. Every now and then, they would just email me to have some work done for them, or refer someone who needs something done.
In 2010, four years into my WAHM journey, I found the client that would shape me as a VA. I was interviewed over Skype for over an hour, and the following day I was given 20 pages of system sheet, with instructions not to print, and to delete the soft copy from my PC after I have memorized everything there. The system sheet is every VA’s bible. It defines all the work you have to do.
I am now at a point in my career where this one particular client just gives me his goals, and it is up to me to present him the tasks that will see his goals through. There are days that suppliers would email him, and his reply would be: Marge knows more about that than I do, so talk to her. Or something happens to one of his sites, and he would just email me with: Fix it. No instructions on how. Just “Fix it.” So that’s what I do. I run my client’s business like it is my own. And I don’t have to bother him with the details.
Just very recently, I decided to spread my wings a bit wider and got into a partnership with another seasoned VA. Together, we offer VA Coaching as a service to help out newbie WAHMs get into the mainstream.
What were the steps you took to become a work at home mom?
We prayed. The preparation was a family affair. My husband and I discussed the pros and cons of me leaving the corporate world and staying with the kids. To this day, we still have the Excel file that saw us through our decision-making process. The considerations were mainly financial, but we really put everything in that Excel sheet. The concern was me getting a promotion to head office, and the new baby needed to be monitored by either parent at all times. We listed all our options in separate worksheets: Me taking the position, we all move to Manila. Me taking the position, my husband would resign. Me resigning, I need an income stream. Then in all those worksheets were rows and columns of numbers. How much is our aggregate income? How much is our monthly expense? How much can we save if I stay home? What are the expenses that we will have to cut? Down to the details of cans of milk and packs of diapers. Based on the numbers, we decided that we’d survive with me at home, but I still need to have an income.
After identifying the target income for me, we moved to deciding on what I would do when I was no longer employed. It was easy to decide that it should be internet-based. But what? At that time, we already have a PC and internet connection. So I spent hours on researching what were the services that I could offer, and we decided on transcription for the time being, and we were going to ask family and friends to refer me as an online assistant.
What are the struggles you face being a work at home mom? How do you overcome them?’
The schedule can be insane sometimes. We have no helper at home. When the nanny we had at the time that our youngest was born got sick, we decided not to replace her anymore. She was like family, and we knew we could no longer find someone like her, so when diabetes rendered her incapacitated to work (she went blind), we just let go of the idea of replacing her.
We also homeschool our younger kids. I have our 9-year old and 7-year old kids with me at all times. So the schedule actually goes around homeschool and home office. The housechores take a backseat. Cleaning is like one room a day. I do the laundry while either uploading or downloading videos. My husband cooks. We cook in big batches over the weekend, and put them in the fridge for reheating over the week. The kids get to learn some life skills, too. Together, we made a list of chores they can do around the house. The kids fold their own clothes, clean their own room and keep their study area tidy.
Working from home is actually a lifestyle. We adapt to the nuances of life. We adjust our schedules accordingly. I’ve stopped stressing over some mess. Sometimes I have to meet with [local] clients and since we don’t have a helper, I just take the kids along. The kids are well-adjusted to my WAHM status, so they get excited when they get to be part of that. The trips even become part of their homeschool activities.
Now that you have been a WAHM for quite awhile, were your expectations met? Why?
A resounding yes! Surpassed, actually. All we really wanted was for me to be able to augment our income while taking care of the children. But we not only survived the financial challenges, we have been able to invest, too. We are now part owners of a Science High School in our place, all from my WAHMing.
What advice can you give to those who want to take this journey?
Find your happiness. Not everybody can be happy working from home. And it is important that you are happy with what you are doing to make it work. So when you do your skills assessment, make sure you stop to consider if what you are about to do will make you happy. Don’t be a WAHM just because it’s the trend, or because you can earn dollars. Pray about it.
Involve your family. They have to understand that you also have a schedule to keep. There may be days that you have a deadline to beat, so someone has to take charge of bathing the kids or preparing the food. Or you may have to take a client call and you need some quiet in the house, so the kids will have to move to the bedroom for a few minutes or play with Daddy outside. My home office is just a table in a corner of our tiny living room, but the kids refer to that as Mommy’s Office. They do not take anything from it, not even a small piece of paper, without asking for permission. They respect my space and the time that I spend in that space.
Invest. On software. On equipment. On tools. But most importantly, invest on learning. Learn from others. Attend workshops. Be willing to be coached. Find out what works from those who have been down that road. Having a support will make the journey a lot easier, and therefore, more enjoyable.
Thank you so much Marge for sharing your journey with us. Your story is very inspiring!
You can follow Marge at her following sites:
The Happy WAHM - The happy journey of a homeschooling, work-at-home mom.
Marge Aberásturi – Her personal biz site
VASupportPro - A business portal with her partner, Jennyfer Tan
Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter – TheHappyWAHM