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Why Work at Home?

"I just had a baby, my maternity leave is almost over, and I don't want to go back to work! What can I do from home?"

© 1998, by Arlene Jacobs

If you ever asked yourself that question, you are not alone. Wouldn't you love to spend more time with your children instead of sending them to a child care provider, or earn a good living without the daily drudgery of going into work? Many people are deciding to choose to raise their own children and still earn a living.

Frances Whitaker, the Montgomery Distributor for Tupperware, emphasizes the benefits of working at home. She states that not only are the hours flexible, but you can "be the Mom, take the kids to the ball park, etc., and if you worked for someone else you couldn't do that."

Often people think that working from home and being there for your kids at the same time is a dream. If working from home is your goal, you can accomplish it. You may be told why you can't do something, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. People will have no problem telling you that you are crazy. But don't become disheartened. There are over 25 million Americans who have found independence through their own home-based businesses.

This isn't saying you will never make a mistake with your business. Because quite frankly you will! But it helps to be aware from the start that no home business is guaranteed to make you rich quick. They are real jobs that require hard work. However, there is something out there you will enjoy doing, that you could make money at, and do from home.

How to Decide What to Do

You should begin by listing what you enjoy doing, what your hobbies are, which skills you've acquired, what your work experiences have been, and what your goals are for the business. The vast majority of moms have the best luck starting a business of their own, or working as a representative/distributor for an established company.

Pam Malik, who is a desktop publisher, had been wanting some type of business on her home computer, but she had an old computer that she couldn't do too much with. She was led to get a new computer and while playing with the new printshop program, she began designing business cards and other things. She was amazed when people started wanting to buy them. After a time she would even start dreaming up ideas in the middle of the night -- she enjoyed it so much. Then she read a book on starting a home based business, and it took off from there.

Harry Johns, a Computer Consultant, had been in the computer industry for about 20 years and done just about everything, and had always wanted a side business. Johns started investigating his business a year ago, and officially got started in January, when he was laid off from a computer company that he was working for and decided to go into business for himself. He states that it took a long time trying to decide what aspect of the computer business that he was interested in.

"I did a lot of planning of what I was going to offer and how I was going to offer it. The opportunity is out there if you can provide a service."

He decided that selling a service is better than selling a product. "If you sell a software product, then you are opening yourself up to the problem of different taxation in different locations and states," remarks Johns. The service he chose was doing computer back-ups. "People don't understand what a computer back-up is. They are concerned about the `latest' software. They don't realize how much money and time is invested into their machines, and can be lost without proper back-ups."

Fran Kramer, an Executive of Tupperware, began in May 16 years ago, when she held a Tupperware party, and her husband "recruited" her. She was a stay-at-home Mom at the time and her husband told her that she needed an outlet from the children. She states that she came in to Tupperware to prove that you couldn't make money. However, she says, "When the Lord is in what you do, He will overcome your obstacles." Kramer stated that it doesn't work with everyone, but you won't know unless you try. She suggests that you have to stretch your comfort zones to see what works. "You get a paycheck if you work, if you don't work, you don't get paid," Kramer insists.

Tracey Miles has tried many different home-based businesses to the find the one that fits her family's needs. She has sold Premier Design Jewelry for three years with one child, but states it was really time consuming with a lot of paperwork and cleaning the jewelry. Though profitable, when she became pregnant with her second child, she was just exhausted, so gave it up.

"I was wanting to give attention to Gregory (her oldest son) and found it just was too time consuming. It was a five day a week business and there was lots of demand, and not enough time with two kids," Miles explains.

Miles has been selling Usborne Books, an educational book line, for the past two years, and has just started selling Avon. She sells the books through Day Cares and schools because the books are for the ages of her children. She sells out of her home, too, and does home shows/work shops. She started selling Avon because she had a fantastic Avon Representative whose business was going so well, that she decided to do it herself, and as she put it, "everyone knows the word Avon."

There are very few companies hiring home workers. As you can imagine, they already have a pool of workers who will jump at the chance to work from home. However, if you are employed currently, you may be able to convince your employer in the benefits of alternatives to the traditional work arrangements, especially in this world of downsizing and competition. Medical transcription is only one example. When I had my son Jeffrey, I convinced my employer that I could do the transcription at my home. I was able to transcribe on my home computer during the evenings and naptimes, and then modem over the transcribed dictation directly to their computer for printing.

Also you can think about teaming up with another mom in your area. For example, you could begin a home cleaning service together, and perhaps assist each other with child care. Organize a Sitter Co-op Program with a friend (or friends) to care for each other's children while the other works, either at home or at an outside job. When each person only needs a few hours a day, this arrangement works very well.

When it comes to searching for the right business -- reading is the key. Read as much as you can about home businesses in general, the specific business you would like to start and everything in between.

Getting Started

Presumably, at this point, you've identified some need in the market that's not being met. If so, you're ready to match your skills with those unmet needs and begin your home-based business.

Tailor your expectations to your situation. Decide how many hours you need to work per week minimum and view anything else as a gift! Pam Malik stated, "The key to increasing your likelihood of being successful is in the initial planning of the business, and record keeping. Keep separate accounts for your business and keep separate books. This allows you to determine how you are doing."

Be sure your client's expectations are clear and both of you agree on them. Tell them how long it will really take to get the job done and beware of being over-optimistic. Remember the needs of your family comes first and be realistic in promises to your clients. Tracey Miles states "I have an 8 year old and 2 year old and they come first. So if the children are sick, my customers just have to be understanding."

Make written plans to use as benchmarks along the way but be ready to revise them if your results don't keep pace. Utilize the internet community to gather opinions, suggestions and advice. This can also be a valuable tool for advertising.

Getting a separate business phone number can help your business, and help you sound professional. The local phone company can add a second number that rings distinctively and thus identifies calls coming in for your business. This service costs $4 per month. A second line costs $40 per line connection fee, plus to put in a new jack costs $87.25, rewire an existing jack is $50-$75, and required monthly phone charges around $22.

Getting a P.O. Box is an affordable safety measure. This allows all business transactions to be conducted without revealing your home address. A standard P.O. Box costs about $59 per year or about $5 per month.

When Harry Johns started his computer consulting business, he tried to find if there were a package that he could purchase, as designing his own would have been too slow of a start-up. He found several packages that were available, and picked one that was right for him.

With many of the brand name products, there is an initial kit to purchase or earn. For example, Tracey Miles compared the costs of the start-up kits of Premier Design $2000, Usborne $100, and Avon $20. If you like the products, then you will most likely be a good salesperson. Decide on which product you want to go with, and check out the initial costs, commitments, commission rates, and the cost of sales tools, brochures, and replacement items.

Harry Johns warns, "Someone who wants to get into (the computer) business should consider their equipment costs carefully." He states that it can cost probably a couple thousand dollars to get started. However, Johns reminds us that, "The more money you can through in upfront than the more you can offer your customers."

Incorporation and Taxation

Another concern and expense with starting a business is whether or not to incorporate. As a sales rep for a company, this is not really a factor. As Fran Kramer notes, with Tupperware, the consultant is independent, but the company has the overhead. Frances Whitaker, who owns the distributorship, also began as a consultant, and worked her way up through the ranks to manager, senior executive manager, and then, because of her unit she was one of the top 100 managers in the nation 7 times, she was offered the right to buy a distributorship. She now owns the company, which is a Limited Liability Corporation, and is the Authorized Tupperware Authority in Montgomery.

Pam Malik, did not incorporate her Desktop Publishing business, but instead chose to do sole proprietorship, which means that you operate the business under your social security number. If you are the sole employee of your business, you do not need a Federal ID number, but can still deduct all the normal business expenses. She states that the down side of this is that if you are in a business that has a high liability, then all personal property could become at risk, where as an incorporation would protect that. One thing she notes, was that she had to go to the city hall to get a business license which started at $50 then increased to $100. Since she also has to charge sales tax she also had to apply for a tax number through the State of Alabama, however, the benefit of this is that you can then buy whole-sale supplies.

Harry Johns states that while getting his business license was definitely a challenge when he first started, he found it very helpful to network with other business owners to find out how they did it. But one difficulty he avoided by selling a service rather than a product was the various tax codes in the state and the country. There are some tax problems in Alabama for certain types of business. Johns states that there are different taxes depending on where you do business; along with the State Tax there are also locality sales taxes, throughout the state. Some localities are trying to collect their taxes themselves, rather than waiting for the state government to distribute the revenues.

Also, if your business goes national, then you open yourself up to the problem of different states and their tax laws. If you have operations in a state you may have to pay that state's sales tax, or some states have reciprocal taxation. However, the new tax code helps as the limitations on business write-offs have been raised.

Time Management and Reality

After all, how hard could it be to stay home with a baby? It is easy to think that full-time mothers who can't manage a creative side career with all the time they have at home must be disorganized, lazy, or just not interested in anything but soaps or TV talk shows. However, working at home and bringing up a baby at the same time is not as simple a matter as just being organized.

Do you remember those office equipment ads where Mom or Dad is working happily along while Junior plays quietly in a nearby playpen? Forget it. Reality is trying to make phone calls, or remember where you left off and actually make some progress before the videotape ends. Reality is having to (and being able to) let go of your day's work plans when your toddler decides to sit on the potty rather than take a nap. Reality is typing with one hand while your baby nurses and falling asleep at your desk long before your work is done.

However, here are some tips on making your at-home career successful:

Organize Your Home Office. It is important to get and stay organized. It is important not only to get the right equipment, but to set it up in an useful manner. Keep records right from the start. Make files and use them. There are some ready-to-use business tools which can be found on the internet (http://www.toolkit.cch.com) to help you get the job done faster and easier, including:

  • Model business documents. Sample letters, contracts, forms, and policies ready for you to customize: from a Sample Independent Contractor Agreement to a Job Application Form.
  • Financial spreadsheet templates. Help for managing your business finances: from balancing your checkbook to creating your own financial statements.
  • Checklists. Information you need at a glance, from whether you qualify for the home office write-off to the right things to do and say during an employee termination interview.

Prioritize Housework. Decide what items need to be taken care of immediately. Make a weekly schedule either by task or by room, allowing time for doing work each day. Involve other members of the family, assigning chores as appropriate for age level and maturity. Even a 3 year old can help by learning to sort laundry by colors, for example. But remember, that during the hours that you have set aside for tending to your business, forget the household chores.

Be Flexible in Everything. Some days just don't come off as planned. Remember that the family comes first, but not only for emergencies. If today is a beautiful, sunny day, and your preschooler would benefit from a day at the park, well, then work may have to wait till later.

Discipline Yourself. Make time to take care of yourself, get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. Don't be tempted by soap operas or romance novels. Use naptimes, early mornings or late evenings when the children are asleep to get work done.

Being Successful

According to The Home Business News magazine, in order to be successful in a home-based business, you have to remember the "4 A's": Appearance, Attitude, Action and Advertising.

Appearance and Attitude go hand in hand. Not only should you look professional when meeting customers, but you must take your job seriously. Frances Whitaker, reminds us that, "You have to decide when you are going to work and when you are not going to work. Treat it like a job."

Action refers to not only the time management aspects, but also setting attainable goals for yourself and your business. Harry Johns states that when he started his computer business he first decided what to do and how to control its growth, so he did a lot of planning. He planned what he was going to offer and how he was going to offer it, and then did it. Pam Malik notes that for the first year, every profit went into getting equipement, from a computer, to printer, to laser printer, to scanner, and upgrading computer programs. She notes, "You have to be creative in finding new ways of doing things, so that you can keep your costs down."

One of the pitfalls for home-based business owners is advertising. When money is limited, it is best not to waste it on advertising that will not reach your target customers. It is important to find out what will give you the largest return on your dollar. Generally between 5 and 10% of your gross sales should be spent on advertising.

Many home based businesses only use word-of-mouth as advertising. Fran Kramer, states that as an Executive of Tupperware, her business was built mainly by word-of-mouth. "If you give good service, people will refer you. Don't treat them like customers, treat them as people!" Kramer insists.

"People need to know that what they want still counts. Giving good service is becoming a lost art. People often get in it (Tupperware) for money and thrills, and for themselves -- and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are in it to give to others, if you give as if you are giving unto the Lord, then you will get back double what you give to Him."

Pam Malik also started out by word-of-mouth from customers, then a friend invited her to the Business Network, which is a word-of-mouth marketing organization. The members each promote the other members in the organization. This gives 15 other people to talk about your business. This has been the most effective means of advertising for her.

Johns also began his computer business through word-of-mouth. He notes, "I don't have a big budget for advertising. I use word-of-mouth, using business associations, and networks. I've sent out (direct mail) fliers periodically." Johns continues, "but there are always new alternatives. I'm thinking of doing a web-site, now. This is becoming a basic in the industry."

Tracey Miles has employed several means of growing her various businesses. She uses business cards, the Montgomery Parents Magazine, catalogs, and of course, word-of-mouth.

One of the best ways of advertising is joining the chamber of commerce or getting into some of the business associations, like the Business Network. There are also several national/international associations for home-based businesses (see Your Resources).

Pam Malik has some final words of wisdom: you have to perceiver past the point of feeling like you want to give up -- over and over again!

Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.

- William Jennings Bryan

You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.

- Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull


Arlene Jacobs is a freelance writer on nutrition and parenting issues. She can be reached via email: : or visit her web site at: http://www.neosoft.com/~acoustic/wwwarlenejhp.html

 
 
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