Imagine rolling out of bed, putting on a pot of coffee, turning on your computer, and getting right to work. Or, do you feel like working from a local coffee shop instead? Make it happen. Want to take a 3-hour lunch? No problem. Need to stay home because one of your kids came down with a cold? You’ve got it covered.
Clearly, working from home has its advantages, which may be one reason for its immense growth in popularity over the last few years. In fact, according to CNN Money, the number of people working from home has increased by a whopping 41% between 1999 and 2012, which is largely driven by “the availability of high-speed Internet and services like Skype, that allow for at-home virtual meetings.”
Because of the increasing popularity of working from home—as well as the scams that go along with it—we here at HighYa thought it would be ideal to feature a series of articles discussing what work at home opportunities are, which are the most popular, which ones are scams, and how you can ultimately tell the difference before wasting any of your time or hard-earned money.
With this in mind, this article will cover some of the basics of working from home, including the different types of opportunities you’ll likely come across, as well as some of their associated advantages and disadvantages. Before we begin though, let’s define what we’re talking about.
What is a Home-Based Worker?
According to the United States Census Bureau, there are three definitions related to individuals who work from home:
- Mixed worker – A person who works both at home and at the job site.
- Home worker – A person who works exclusively from home.
- Home-based worker – A person who works exclusively or part of the time from home. A home-based worker can also be either a home worker or a mixed worker.
This is important because, while we may occasionally cross over to different meanings throughout the course of this article series, for the most, part we’ll be talking about home workers.
Qualities You Should Possess if You’re Interested in Working from Home
Before we delve into the different types of work at home opportunities available, you should first determine whether or not you have the right mindset and maturity level necessary to successfully work from home. This is because if you think that most home workers are a bunch of young kids slacking off and earning a ton of money while doing it (and you’re hoping to join their ranks), then you may want to rethink. Why?
Hard Work Doesn’t Always Mean High Pay
Because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, among the more than 9.4 million home workers in the U.S., half of whom hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, the median salary is $25,500 per year and the average number of hours worked per week is 37.4. In other words, on average, you need to put in a great deal of effort to build your home-based business, and even then, it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be rolling in the dough.
In fact, when starting a home-based business—especially from the ground up, without any existing clients or other type of income stream in place—it’s generally a good idea to keep your expectations realistic and to have at least one year’s worth of savings in the bank in order to help ease the transition. This is because most home-based businesses don’t start seeing a regular income stream for about a year after launching, and having this savings in place can go a long way toward helping you avoid frustration and discouragement that could lead you to give up on your dreams.
Because of this, you should start a home-based business that you’re passionate about, or at the very least, that revolves around something that you’re interested in learning all you can about. In other words, if you had all the money in the world but had to do one job, day in and day out for free, what would it be? Whatever it is, can you turn this passion into a home-based business? If so, this is always a good place to start.
Finally, after your home business is on its way, make sure you keep your eye on the big picture. Once you become your own boss and understand the full weight of the thousands of little responsibilities that come along with it, it can become easy to focus only on the minutiae, and not your “big goal,” whether this is money, customer base, business size, or anything else. Instead, work toward these important stepping stones with diligence, and be sure to take time out and to pat yourself on the back when you reach them.
In addition to time and money, you need to discern whether or not you have a personality that fits well with the home-based business model.
First, it (almost) goes without saying that you won’t have to worry about a boss hovering over your shoulder when working from home, so you need to be self-motivated. If not, your clients will quickly learn that you’re not reliable, and your business will fold soon thereafter. The good news is that, if you can teach yourself motivation at the outset, each stepping stone you reach along your path will only work to further increase your motivation and your confidence.
However, self-motivation might only get you so far, since working from home can entail a number of distractions that you wouldn’t have to deal with when working in a traditional office environment. Does the dog need to be let out for the tenth time today? Are the dishes piling up in your sink? Are you running out of clean clothes to wear? Are your neighbors re-roofing their house? If you decide to work from home, you’ll need to learn methods of coping with distractions and getting your work done.
Speaking of distractions: Did you know that it takes an average of 25 minutes for you to get back “in the zone” after a distraction? Because of this, it’s important to minimize these as much as you can, including text messages and phone calls from friends and family members who think that you can talk whenever you like because you work from home. As such, just like when working in a traditional corporate office, it’s typically a good idea to let your loved ones know that you shouldn’t be bothered during working hours unless it’s an emergency.
Also, when you work from home without set start and stop times, you might end up working much more than normal. After all, you just need to turn on your computer and get to work. Whether you’re single or married, with kids or without, this can ultimately cause a work/life imbalance.
Next, are you someone who needs the excitement of a large office, with plenty of noise and other people to interact with? If so, then working from home may not be your cup of tea, because this line of work can be lonely for personality types that crave constant input and face-to-face interaction. Tip: Although it may not provide the same level of interaction as a traditional office, you can always mix up your routine by working from a coffee shop or similar location when you feel like you need some more “input” than you’ll find at your home office.
Last—but certainly not least—if you quickly become discouraged and lose motivation, starting a home-based business (or any other type of business for that matter) may not be ideal. This is because, like any new undertaking, such as riding a bike or learning to play an instrument, you will fail, often multiple times. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
And while failure is often the best way to learn how to become successful, it can certainly be a blow to your ego and take a toll on your motivation. As such, you’ll need to learn how to pick yourself up and move on after you’ve failed, or you will not succeed as a work at home entrepreneur.
Different Types of Work at Home Opportunities
Once you’ve decided that you have what it takes to start a home-based business, the next step is to determine which type of business you should start. And while, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner's home,” this shouldn’t be take to mean that all work at home opportunities are created equal. Far from it.
When it comes down to it, the vast majority of work at home opportunities are centered around three different “launch pads” (e.g. how you obtain the work you perform). These are:
- Telecommuting – In a telecommuting position, you’re typically an employee of a company who gives you the opportunity to work from home, at least on a part-time basis. You’ll likely log into your employer’s virtual private network (VPN) from the comfort of your own home, and complete your work from there.
- Direct Marketing – Also known as multi-level marketing, direct marketing usually involves paying a fee to become an Independent Representative for an existing company (popular examples would be Amway and Herbalife), selling their products, and earning a commission off of each sale you make. However, the reality is that the vast majority of individuals who become direct marketers end up losing money on their venture.
- Affiliate Marketing – According to Wikipedia, this is defined as “a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate's own marketing efforts.” In other words, affiliate marketing is quite similar to direct marketing, except your marketing efforts are focused on online traffic instead of live customers. Most “work at home” opportunities you see advertised on TV and online are centered around affiliate marketing, which can take years to build up any kind of significant income.
Of these options, telecommuting offers the most stability, although you won’t be the owner of your business, and your work hours will be much more regimented than non-employee home-based opportunities. And while direct marketing and affiliate marketing might give you the freedom you’re looking for, becoming successful in these industries often requires much more time and money than the parent companies might initially lead you to believe.
With this in mind, let’s discuss an option that can give you stability and the freedom you crave: becoming your own boss.
Starting Your Own Home-Based Business
According to this Forbes article, “If you can hone skills that a) are marketable and b) don’t require you to be in a particular physical place, you can do it. The important thing is to start with your worth in the employment marketplace and find a work-from-home job that corresponds to it, rather than do things the other way around and wait for a work-from-home company to find you.”
In other words, starting a business from scratch based on a skillset that you already possess is often the best way to launch a home-based business. Are you good at writing? Think about becoming a freelance writer. Do you like arts and crafts? Perhaps you could sell your items on a popular website like Etsy. Are you passionate about turning a profit on whatever knickknack you can get your hands on? Consider selling them through Ebay or Craigslist. The point is that, whatever you’re good at, it’s very likely that you can turn your skills into a thriving work at home business.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Working from Home
However, it’s not all daisies and roses when it comes to work at home opportunities. Even if you’ve already established that you have what it takes to work from home, and you’ve narrowed your business options down to 2-3, it’s important to carefully weigh the associated advantages and disadvantages.
- Very low startup and overhead costs. Often times you just need a computer with an internet connection to get started.
- No commuting, flexible work hours, and greater scheduling freedom. After all, you’re the boss.
- The ability to deduct some of your home costs (e.g. mortgage interest, property taxes, a portion of your utilities, etc.) on income taxes.
- The harder you work, the more money you can make.
- Irregular income stream, especially if you’re just starting out.
- Takes confidence, discipline, and perseverance.
- Lack of health and dental insurance, as well as paid time off. In other words, if you’re not working you’re not earning money.
- Lack of an informal social network like you’d find in a traditional office environment.
- Potential work/life imbalance, since you can simply turn on your computer and work any time day or night. And because the amount of money you earn is directly related to how much you work, it can easily get out of control if you allow it.
Stay Tuned for More!
Now that you have a better handle on what work at home opportunities are, how to decide if you have the right personality to become successful, as well as the easiest path to financial gain, we’ll continue this series next week with a focus on what it really takes to start a profitable work at home business (hint: it's probably not what you think).
Be sure to stay tuned, and as always, if you have any tips or suggestions for HighYa readers who are considering working at home, be sure to leave a comment below!