by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
One of the questions we get most often from readers and visitors to Quintessential Careers is “How can I find a legitimate work-at-home opportunity?” Folks ask this question for a number of reasons — parents want to be home to see their kids grow up, workers want more flexibility, or people are just tired of working for someone else.
Those who yearn to work at home may be part of a coming boom in work-at-home opportunities, if the prognostications of writer Rob Spiegel are correct. Writing on the Business Know-How Website, Spiegel says the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sparked new interest in working at home, both because people shudder at the idea of working in tall buildings and because many seek to be closer to their families. A faltering stock market and disgust with corporate greed and unethical CEOs may also be driving workers to seek at-home careers.
Whatever the reasons, would-be home-workers are fortunate to live in the Internet age, in which exists a plethora of wonderful resources for working at home. In this article, we present food for thought that should be taken into consideration for anyone who wants to work at home and direct you to some of the best resources on the Web to help you fulfill your goal.
First, let’s look at three types of home-based careers:
- The Home-Based Business. If you start a business in your home, you are self-employed and selling a product or service out of your home. It might be your own product/service, or you might be selling for someone else (selling Avon products is a good example).
- Telecommuting (sometimes called teleworking). As a telecommuter, you are generally employed by someone else, but you conduct the majority of your assigned work from your home. You usually have the advantage of company benefits, such as health insurance.
- Freelancing/Consulting. Freelancers and independent consultants often are self-employed, but they may also be contracted to work for employers, at least for the short term (though usually without company benefits). A freelancer or consultant is closely akin to a home-based business owner, but the product or service sold is generally information or expertise, such as your ability to write, offer business advice, or counsel a business on how to set up a computer network. Freelancers and consultants may not work exclusively from home; in fact, some may spend the bulk of their time in the client’s workplace.
Let’s next look at points that all prospective home-workers should think about, and then we’ll look at some points specific to the above three types of home-based careers.
Considerations for every prospective home-based worker:
Personality. Do you have the right temperament to work at home? Do you have the discipline? Will you be able to tolerate what can often be a very solitary and lonely workstyle, or will you miss the social stimulation of co-workers too much? Will you be assertive enough to be able to sell your product or service (or sell yourself if you seek a telecommuting job)? Are you self-motivated, or do you need someone to tell you what to do? You may want to take the Are You Ready to Work from Home Quiz at ABC’s Good Morning America. See also a list of vital home-worker personality traits at Do You Have What it Takes to Be An Entrepreneur?. And check out our own Consultant/Free Agent Quiz.
Expectations. Are they realistic? What do expect your day-to-day work life to be like if you work at home? Are you expecting work to be more demanding or less demanding than working in an office or other workplace setting? Do you expect to make a lot of money? Do you expect to work full-time, or do you feel you can succeed with a lesser time commitment? One good way to get a taste of what it’s like is to talk to those who’ve done it. Seek out people with home-based careers and interview them. Many sites devoted to home-based careers have message boards or online discussion forums where you can get a feel for what you might be getting yourself into. Although geared to graphic designers, a good article on the sometimes unrealistic expectations people have about working from home is 10 Most Popular Myths About Running A Home-Based Business Online. Similarly, you can find the 7 Common Mistakes Made by New Freelancers.
Kids. Because the driving force for so many would be home-workers is the desire to be with kids, your offspring are a major consideration. If your children are very young, they likely need an enormous amount of caregiver attention. Will you be able to provide that and work at the same time? If not, do you have someone who can help? Luckily, since parents are such a major force in the work-at-home movement, there are many Web sites devoted to working at home while parenting, so you’ll find many tips and solutions at such sites as Mompreneurs® Online, BizyMoms.com, Jobs and Moms, and Home-Based Working Moms.
Costs. One of the great attractions of working at home is that — depending on the at-home career you pursue — it can be relatively inexpensive. In fact, writer Rob Spiegel reports that the low cost of starting a business at home compared to launching one outside the home contributes to a slightly greater success rate for home-based businesses (though, sadly, the failure rate is still 45-48 percent after five years). You can also virtually eliminate many of the costs associated with working outside the home — commuting, childcare (maybe), that dress-for-success wardrobe, restaurant lunches. On the other hand, you will likely incur a whole new set of costs — health insurance if you’re self-employed, marketing costs, equipment, and self-employment taxes. Be sure you thoroughly research and prepare yourself for all the costs that might be involved before you take the plunge.
Workspace. Do you have a place in your home that is or could be set up as a conducive workspace? Think about the environment you need to do the kind of work you want to do. If you want to start a home business making and selling crafts, for example, you’ll likely need a fair amount of space. Or you may do work that requires quiet so you can concentrate. You may also need to invest in equipment. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Tara Parker Pope and Kyle Pope noted that “Successful home-based workers invest in recreating the office in their home. They are set up with second or third phone lines, fax machines, computers, printers, and comfortable office chairs. They close themselves off in a separate space [and] forbid interruptions.” Scrutinize your home to see where you might be able to carve out appropriate space.
Support. If you share your home with others, will they be supportive of your work-at-home venture? Will your kids know not to disturb you when you’re working? Will your significant other take you seriously? External support is also important. How will you handle the nitty-gritty support you might need for business aspects that may not be your forte — such as accounting, legal advice, and your computer infrastructure? Seek out local support or networking groups where you can obtain support and inspiration from other home-workers. Again, the Internet can be a great source for role models, success stories, and support.
Considerations for prospective home-business owners:
Finding good opportunities and avoiding scams. Here’s where the Internet is both a curse and a blessing. You’re probably already well aware that there is no lack of work-at-home “opportunities” being touted on the Internet because, if you’re like most of us, you get dozens of e-mails a day pushing get-rich-quick schemes and too-good-to-be-true work-at-home offers. The question is, which opportunities are legitimate. While there could be legitimate opportunities among those e-mails, the best bet is to ignore anyone who spams you. Same goes for those opportunities you see posted on little signs stuck in the ground along the road or plastered onto telephone poles. You can find lots of good opportunities on the Internet, but you can also find lots of scams. Research judiciously, and read some good articles on avoiding scams, such as 10 Tips for Avoiding Scams and How to Avoid Home Business Scams.
Identifying ideas that lend themselves to home businesses. If you don’t find an already established opportunity in which to participate, consider starting your own business. The first place to look, of course, is your own passions and interests. Then check out books and Websites that offer lists of home-business ideas to see if others have been successful doing what you’d like to do. Find lots of good ideas at Work at Home & Home Business Ideas.
We offer capsule reviews of two books of work-at-home ideas. And you can find a larger collection of Work-at-Home Books in our online bookstore. And even if you don’t see your idea listed, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with your brainchild. Consider also whether you might need additional training to proceed with your chosen business.
Considerations for prospective home-business owners and freelancers/consultants:
Marketing yourself. No matter what product or service you sell, you can’t just sit back and wait for customers/clients to come to you. You will have to do some marketing to make prospective buyers aware of what you have to offer. Again, the Internet can be a great boon because a Web site is a relatively inexpensive way to sell yourself. Some businesses, though, require a lot more face time and a harder sell, so be sure you have the personality to promote your business vigorously.
Pricing. How much will you charge for your product or service? A good starting point is to research businesses, freelancers, or consultants who will be your competition if you decide to make a go of it. You’ll likely find a range of prices, and you can choose whether to place your pricing structure near the high end, the low end, or right in the middle, depending on such factors as your needs, costs, credentials, and marketability.
Consideration for prospective telecommuters:
Finding jobs where you can telecommute. The good news is that, according to a recent survey, businesses are more open to telecommuting than in the past. The survey, by Hewitt Associates, indicated that 29 percent of the nation’s largest company’s offered telecommuting in 2001, up from 19 percent in 1995. If you’re currently employed, it can’t hurt to draw up a proposal for your boss pointing out how telecommuting could be mutually beneficial for you and the company. Some Web sites that offer telecommuting opportunities include Telecommuting Jobs and Home Job Stop. Experts also advise entering terms such as “telecommute,” “telecommuter,” “telework,” “teleworker,” “virtual assistant,” “virtual office,” and “telecommuting jobs” into general search engines, such as Google.
Additional Quintessential Careers resources for freelancers and consultants:
- Jobs for Consultants, Freelancers, and Gurus
- The Word is Out: Becoming a Free Agent is a Hot Career Path
Additional Quintessential Careers resources for telecommuters, home-business owners, and other home-workers:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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