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Ask the EP Experts

Nancy Collamer
Are you a full-time mom looking for a part-time career? Ask Nancy, owner of Collamer Career Consulting and an EP Coach, for help!

 EP Part-Time Career Q&As

Q. Dear Nancy,

I have three children, all under the age of 5. I work full-time as the assistant to the director of admissions at an independent school. I have experience in running an office because this is what I do, however my employer does not appreciate my efforts and seems to be annoyed that I don't put in extra hours.

My family is very important to me. I have great computer and typing skills. I have tried with great effort to find a job at home but all the sites I locate seem to always ask for money. Could you offer any suggestions as to what I can do?


A. Hi Melissa:

Each week I receive dozens of e-mails from Moms interested in finding family-friendly work options, but by far the single most popular question is, "How do I find an employer who is willing to hire me to work from home?" As much as I wish I could refer you to a job listing site or job matching service, I have yet to find one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Unfortunately, the answer is that it is quite difficult to find employers willing to hire new employees to work from home. Since a telecommuting arrangement requires the employee to be self-motivated and dependable, most employers prefer to give those assignments to employees who have proven themselves as capable and trustworthy over time.

Realistically you have two choices. You can either opt to work for an employer in-house for awhile with hopes of eventually going to a telecommuting basis, or you can strike out on your own as an independent contractor (meaning you are responsible for paying your own taxes and there is no employer-employee relationship). Many employers these days are farming out work to independent contractors because it reduces payroll costs and eliminates the need to hire and fire people as the business needs change. It also gives them an opportunity to test out your work which puts you as a leading candidate to get hired in the event that they need new personnel.

In order to interest employers in giving you an assignment, you'll need to put together an attractive brochure, rate card and business cards. You could offer word processing services, list management, data management or desktop publishing assistance. Consider offering a special first time user rate to entice new customers and be prepared to show samples of your work. Look at the classifieds to see which companies are looking for full-time help as they may be good candidates for your services. You might also go talk to some of the printers in the area, as they are often a good source of information about companies who have heavy word processing needs.

Don't hesitate to send out a mailing advertising your services to companies you'd like to do business with. Follow up with a phone call -- you never know when you'll reach somebody at just the opportune moment. Make it a point to network and send all your friends and associates information about your services. Finally, be sure to avail yourself of the networking opportunities and resources provided here at the Entrepreneurial Parent.

Wishing you much success in your new venture -- go knock 'em dead!


Q. I am a disabled female and am trying to start my home business. The Dept. of Rehab. has set me up with all the necessary equipment from a Pentium 11 400 mgh computer, scanner, color photo quality printer, fax machine, CD writer,and copier. I am proficient in all the latest software such as Excel, Micro-Soft Office, Peachtree, Lotus, QuickBooks Pro and more. Spreadsheets, file archiving, mass mailings, payroll, to every type of clerical duty necessary is not a problem for me. My problem is not being able to do the work, but finding employers or procurring contracts from the government or anyone else that are willing to give me a chance. I have faithfully been searching the classified ads daily, and searching the Internet but to no avail. My goal is to get off SS and become a productive citizen of the work force again. I found I could run a home and still have plenty of time for my family easily. Now I have many empty hours to fill. Any help from you would be greatly appreciated for I am very sincere and dedicated in obtaining my goal.

Thank you,
A. Dear Elaine:

You sound most sincerely dedicated to your goal and have taken many of the initial steps necessary to get your business off the ground. As you indicated, your problem, now that you have the resources to get the job done, is finding a way to attract customers and or/employers to your services. Rather than concentrating on getting somebody to hire you as a home based employee (which is very difficult to do unless you've worked for the company before), try marketing yourself as an independent freelance worker and find several different businesses to be your clients.

Learning how to effectively market and position your services can be accomplished several different ways. Consider attending a workshop on marketing a small business. Contact your local unemployment office, community college, town run adult education program, or chamber of commerce to identify courses suitable for your needs. These courses are typically very inexpensive and provide useful information, an opportunity to network with other small business people in your area (some of whom could probably use your services) and invaluable emotional support. Speaking of networking, you need to get out in your community and let people know about your services. Consider joining a local leads group or small business association. You'll find word of mouth advertising to be far more effective than trying to locate employers through the Internet or the classifieds.

It does take time to establish a word of mouth reputation, but one way you can speed up the process is to do some work on a voluntary basis for some worthy nonprofit institution in your area. Perhaps your church or children's school could use some help with their projects -in exchange you'll build up goodwill and work experience to impress other potential clients.

Best wishes for much success with your new venture and do let us know how you progress.


Q. I want to know if I am being realistic. Here is the situation:

My husband, myself, and our 5 year old twins moved to Auburn Washington from Houston, Texas. Auburn is a small town and I cannot find an affordable child care for the twins (they have part time kindergarten) I chose find a job working out of the house. I have experience managing an office and customer service. Is it realistic to even look for a "real" job out of my home in a new place with no prior work experience in that town? Or should I just get an outside job and hand the majority of my paycheck over to a daycare?

Thank you,
Dana Smith
A. Dear Dana:

Your odds of finding a job in a new town should be only marginally less than your odds of finding a job in a place where you lived for several years. It is always somewhat more difficult to locate employment in a new locale (because you are unfamiliar with the employers and don't have a network of contacts to rely on for leads) but we live in a world where people move all the time and being the new kid on the block is no longer the liability it once was. As long as you have good skills and use smart job search strategies, being a newcomer should not significantly impact your ability to secure a job.

However, the fact that you have moved to a small town means the number of potential employers is far smaller than in Houston and with fewer available jobs the corresponding salaries may be smaller as well. This leads us to the second question, regarding the economics of working out of the home when you have to pay for childcare. Personally, I do not think it makes sense to work only to earn enough to pay the baby-sitter and Uncle Sam. Working outside the home has many hidden costs (commutation costs, more buying meals out, dry-cleaning, etc.) and unless you love what you do or want to work outside the home for personal fulfillment reasons, starting a small home-based business may be a more realistic option for your situation.

Before you make any changes, sit down and analyze your situation to determine how much pay you bring home after expenses. Then take a workshop on starting a small business to get some idea of the steps required to get a business off the ground. Once you have more information to go on, it should be easier to come to a decision that makes sense for you and your family.

 Q. Dear Nancy,

I am a mother of a 5 year old who recently started school. I would like to work at home from my computer, but don't know where to go to use my 8 years of typing and secretarial skills. I also have a medical background; I took courses in High School and worked in the field for a while. I bought a program for at home medical billing from a reputable company, but now I can't seem to get any customer support on getting an employer as they advertised. I would greatly appreciate any advice.

Thank you,
K Gabriel
A. Dear K:

There are many different ways to use your typing skills to build an at-home business. Before investing a lot of time and money, you should do an informal survey of your local marketplace to determine where needs exist. Start by looking at the classifieds to see what type of clerical/typing help companies are advertising for help. Some of these companies may be interested in having you do their work at home as a freelance worker. Consider attending a meeting of your local chamber of commerce to meet other business owners in the area who might be interested in having you type up their brochures or manage their mailing lists. Likewise, there could be some medical billing companies that would eagerly pass on some of their overflow work to you on a trial basis.

Once you have a sense of the types of services you could most easily market, put together an attractive brochure, a rate card and start networking like crazy. It takes perseverance and a bit of a thick skin to get that first customer, but if you offer a good service with reasonable rates the business should start to slowly build over time.


Q. Dear Nancy,

I am 39 years old and live in Miami. I am married with 1 daughter (9 yrs old) who is mentally disabled. I have worked most of my adult life; until my daughter was born I was a stockbroker with Kidder Peabody. After I resigned I stayed at home with my daughter to care for her.

Since then, I have started and sold my own business, a yacht chartering business called "Sun Saik & Sea." It was perfect for me until it became necessary for me to travel out of the country more and more to evaluate the yachts we were chartering for our clients.

I sold this business 2 years ago and since then I have been unable to find work suitable for my schedule. My daughter attends school from 8:30 - 3:00 pm; after school she has speech and physical therapy. I do help my husband with his CPA business, but I would like to contribute financially.

I would like to find a job that I can work at home with my computer and where I can set my own hours. Can you please direct me in the right direction on where to begin? I am so lost.

Thanks so much, I look forward to your response.

Marilena Daday

 A. Dear Marilena,

Using the computer to work from home has become an increasingly viable and popular option for moms trying to balance work and family. The possibilities are seemingly endless so the real question becomes not, "How can I use my computer to allow me to work from home?" but "What types of business challenges can I help solve using my computer that take advantage of my unique combination of skills, interests and talents?"
To answer that question, spend some time identifying skills that you would like to use in your next job. You mention that you worked as a stockbroker and as the owner of a yacht charter company. What types of skills did you use most effectively in those jobs? I would think that you have strong sales skills along with the ability to handle customers effectively. In addition to those skills, you probably developed financial and research along with strong organizational capabilities. Make a list of all the skills you gained on those jobs and then narrow your list down to those skills you really enjoyed using. The list you end up with are your motivating skills which are a strong indicator of the types of skills you should use in your next position.
Once you've come up with that list, the next step in the process is to do some exploration to learn about ways to use your computer that take advantage of your motivating skills. Read articles in magazines such as Home Office Computing or books such as Making Money With Your Computer at Home by Paul and Sarah Edwards. Even by consulting just one or two good references, you'll read about hundreds of options for home-based computer businesses. As you read through the descriptions, look for opportunities thatL
1) utilize a strong percentage of your motivating skills
2) can be realistically done on a part-time basis and
3) take advantage of your areas of expertise (i.e. sales, finance, customer service etc.).
You will be amazed at the amount of information you can learn about start-up costs, training programs, ways to market your business, etc. from these and similiar publications.
It takes some time but the research you do up front will pay many dividends down the road. Don't hesitate to call other entrepreneurs who are presently working in businesses that sound appealing. To get started, take a look at the EP Profiles -- you're sure to find some people with interesting business ideas who would be happy to share their insights with you.
All the best,
 Q. I am currently a manager of sales representatives for a global consumer goods company. I am thinking of resigning after 9 years with this company. My skills and experience lie in motivating, managing and dealing with people. I am looking to explore a consulting business to run from my home so I can spend some more time with my 2 pre-schoolers.

Where do I start in deciding where to apply these skills? I have a university degree in business as well.
A. Having the ability to manage and motivate people is a valuable skill set with many applications in the business world. Most businesses have needs for top flight managers who know how to keep their workers happy and productive. Working as a consultant to help companies train their managers on effective management, communication and motivation skills may be a good outlet for your talents.
The first issue you want to address is to define your service. Ask yourself, "what specific knowledge do I have that companies want and are willing to pay for?" The easiest way to find an answer to this question may be to analyze the needs of your current employer. Perhaps they have a business problem that you are uniquely qualified to handle and could address on a freelance basis. After all, they know the quality of your work and may be happy to hire you as a contractor, rather than lose you entirely.
Likewise, a competitor may be interested in having you as a consultant because you possess a unique understanding of the needs of their industry. It will be much easier to move into the consulting world if you stay within your area of expertise and experience.
It takes time and patience to build a succesful consulting practice. However, this may work to your advantage, because it will afford you time to spend with your children while they are in the pre-school years. Hopefully, by the time they are in elementary school, you will have a more established work routine to your day.
There are several excellent resources available to help you with the logistics of establishing your new venture. How to Start a Service Business by Ben Chant and Melissa Morgan, The McGraw-Hill Guide to Starting Your Own Business: A Step-by-Step Blueprint for the First-Time Entrepreneur by Stephen C. Harper and Start and Run A Profitable Consulting Business: A Step-by-Step Business Plan by Douglas A. Gray.
I hope this helps!
Q. Nancy,

We were wondering if you had any proposals on job sharing that we could use to base our proposal on. Also if you have any other info on this subject that you think would be helpful to us.
Dawn and Fran
A. Dear Dawn and Fran,
I congratulate you for taking the initiative to explore job sharing. It can be a really terrific way to stay on a professional track while allowing more time for your personal life. Most job sharing teams I know love their arrangement, and employers who have tried job sharing seem to be generally enthusiastic as well.
Like a marriage, job share teams should be formed after careful consideration. Before going about the task of convincing an employer to buy into this arrangement, the two of you should have some heart to heart discussions about your compatibility. Examine such issues as: Do you have complimentary skills and job objectives? How will you handle sick days, school vacation time and personal days? Do you expect this to be a long term or interim work arrangement?
Once you both are confident that this is the right answer for you, take a look at the book Going Part-Time, The Insiders Guide For Professional Women Who Want a Career and a Life by Cindy Tolliver and Nancy Chambers. They have some great suggestions for writing a winning proposal to your employer.
Best of luck and please let me know if I can be of further assistance!
Q. I've been in the advertising field for 20 years. Throughout these years, I've remained single. I plan to marry within the next year. My fiance has 2 children ages 11 & 13. At this point of my life (I'm 46), I'd like to work at home and pursue a career in the art (creative) field. We can't afford for me to quit working altogether yet.

I'm not sure what to do, where to go or who to talk to, to even bounce my thoughts off of (someone with a little more experience in this area.)

Any advice?

A. Dear Chris,
Starting a home-based business is an exciting but unsettling process. You're wise to seek out assistance in the planning stages before investing significant time or money in your venture.
Fortunately the time has never been better to find resources to help in your decison-making process. For starters, you should read some of the excellent books available to help the fledgling entrepreneur. You will be amazed by the variety and quality of information available to help you select a business idea, learn the logistics of running a business and answer the millions of questions you have about day to day operating issues.
After you've gotten a general base of information, it's a good time to seek out more personal assistance through a workshop or individual counseling. Contact your local SCORE (Service Corp. of Retired Executives) office for listings of their workshops on starting your own business. Another option is to look into similiar workshops offered through continuing education programs, community college or local small business association. Check the business section of your local paper to see if there are meetings of entreprenurial associations or chamber of commerce that you might be able to attend. Those meetings can be a terrific way to network with other small business professionals in your field of interest.
Finally, having a few sessions with a career counselor who deals with entreprenurial issues can be invaluable in helping you sort through and prioritize key issues. Ask around for local recommendations or feel free to contact me via my website at Collamer Career Consulting for further assistance.
Best wishes for much happiness with your business and upcoming marriage. Sounds like 1999 should be quite an exciting year! 
Q. I am 31 years old, SAHM to a 5-year-old son. Before he was born, I had over three years experience in both magazine and book publishing here in NYC. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in English (Magna cum Laude and departmental honors) from
Hunter College. I consider myself to be a pretty sharp cookie, but I've yet to find my proper niche.

In the years (nearly 5 1/2 now) since my son's birth, I have held a few part-time jobs (as publishing asst. and local reporter) and I have also worked from home (typing, writing, and handling insurance claims for two clinical psychologists). I have also been very active as a volunteer...I wore many hats (fundraising, yearbook, and office administration) while serving on the board of my son's co-op nursery school; and I am in the process of creating a newsletter for the Astoria Community-Supported Agriculture organization, an organic food co-op to which I belong.

I want to continue with my insurance business, but my son will spend six hours per day at school starting in mid-September, so I'd like to find another part-time job befitting a bright, literate and computer-literate woman with excellent typing and communications skills. I charge $10 per hour for my insurance business, so I would require a salary at least a couple dollars above that to make a position outside the home worth my interest. I'm no snob; if I could find a receptionist position that offered the salary I ask within a reasonable commuting distance, I'd take it!
However, whenever I've applied for those jobs, I've been told I was overqualified.

I would love some suggestions...and if there's anyone out there who's worked in the claims field, especially someone who knows about electronic claims submissions, I would be thrilled to have a mentor!

Thanks for any help you can give me,

Liz Perez
A. Dear Liz:
You sound like one sharp cookie indeed! With your strong writing, computer and organizational skills you clearly have a wide range of marketable skills.
Given that you enjoy the insurance claims business, I would concentrate first on ways of building that business before investigating other alternatives. This is an expanding industry, with strong growth potential for the future. Since you already have two clients, you should have a relatively easy time finding a few more doctors with whom you can work (as opposed to breaking into a new field).
But.....before prospecting new clients, you need to think about significantly raising your prices! According to Priscilla Huff, author of 101 Best Home Businesses for Women, the average hourly rate for medical claims processing services are $25-60/hr (that is based on national averages calculated in 1995, so you also need to factor in the higher cost of the NY metro area and adjust for inflation). As you can see, you'd only need to add a few clients to earn considerably more than you currently do and you would eliminate the need to work outside of your home.
For more information about this field, contact the National Association of Claims Assistance Professionals at 708-963-3500 or consult Making Money in a Health Service Business on Your Home-Based PC by Rick Benzel (Windcrest/McGraw Hill,1993).
Best Wishes and keep me posted on your progress.
Q. I am currently employed as a sixth grade teacher and I am looking for opportunties to work out of my home. Ideally, I would like to do something
that would utilize my educational background. Do you have any suggestions
or insight?
Angie Thompson
A. Dear Angie,
Tutoring is the first idea that comes to mind. In my town, good tutors can earn $25-$60/hr. It takes some marketing to get your initial clients, but once you have a few and establish a good reputation, it is pretty easy to attract more clients. Other ideas that take advantage of your educational training include a birthday party service, selling educational products such as Discovery Toys, organizing playgroups for profit, or developing specialized workshops on relevant topics (i.e. animals and the environment or nutritional cooking classes for kids).
While there are hundreds of possibilities, the key to success is to combine your teaching skills with your other interests to develop a service that meets a need in your local community. Talk to your friends and neighbors to get a sense of their needs and then begin to brainstorm ways to help them. Once you start asking questions, you'll be amazed at the number of good business ideas brainstorming will generate.
Q. Hi! I'm Iris Soriano and I live in the Philippines. I need to know where on the Net I can get help to somewhat test what I like to do, what my skills and competencies are vs. what I can do, home industries I can get
involved in or career path I should go down or additional education I should get. Sort of looking for my path...
I plan to prepare myself to retire early from work and start something which I will really enjoy doing, but don't know where to begin. Guess where to begin is to get to know myself better and I need help on this.
Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
A. Hi Iris,
You are to be congratulated for taking the time to explore your true passions and skills before plunging ahead with a new business opportunity or career direction. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you with this quest through the web or your local library.
Of all the many books that have been written on personal assesment, three authors stand out as my personal favorites. Barbara Sher's Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want is a book that has truly been life-changing for many of my clients. Sher has a wonderful way of getting you in touch with what you really want out of life (hence, the "wish" part of the title), as well as concrete strategies for setting realistic goals to acheive your dreams. Richard Bolles, author of the highly succesful What Color Is Your Parachute? series and one of the pioneers of the modern career development field, has an abridged version of the Parachute book called, The Quick Job-Hunting Map that features the key assesment exercises from the Parachute book. I think you'll find these to be most enlightening. Finally, if you are contemplating starting your own business, Paul and Sarah Edwards (featured here at EP) have a wonderful book called, Finding Your Perfect Work: The New Career Guide to Making a Living, Creating a Life, that is sure to get your creative juices flowing.
If, after reading some of these books and completing their suggested exercises you find that you still have outstanding questions, consider hiring a professional career counselor for a few sessions. Look for somebody who has a professional level degree in either counseling or career development coupled with practical "hands-on" experience with job search and assesment strategies. Some counselors specialize in working with specific populations. You'll benefit most if you find someone who has worked with women like yourself with whom you can establish an easy rapport. It is so important to find someone who you feel comfortable with. At my website, Collamer Career Consulting, I have highlighted some of the different ways career counseling can assist you.
To search for a career counselor on the web, just input the words "career counseling" into one of the major search engines and you will get hundreds of listings. I can't personally vouch for these services, but would appreciate hearing some feedback if you find out some interesting information.
Best of luck. Sounds like you are about to embark on a most interesting journey!
Q. Hi,
I am a 30-something mother of three, currently employed in a medical office. As I am dissatisfied with my work situation, I am considering a home business.

The home-party route appeals to me, but I am not that interested in most of the products that are offered by the industry. What I would really like is to demonstrate and sell software for all ages through home parties, but I have not found a line that offers this option.
I suppose I have a two-part question. Are there companies with this type of service, and if not, what would it take to launch my own? The few people I have asked seem to think it is a good, marketable idea, so where do I go from
Any feedback you could give would be appreciated.
Thank you,
Anne VanScoy
A. Dear Anne,
What an interesting idea! As both a parent and an entrepreneur, I often find myself stumped by the dizzying array of software available and could really use some unbiased help in making my selections.
I checked a couple of sources and was only able to come up with one company similiar to what you have described:
Succesful Software at P.O. Box 680636, San Antonio, Texas 78268. It's probably worth an inquiry to get a sense of how they have things structured.
There are some books that may be useful to you. Making $70,000 a Year as a Self-Employed Manufacturer's Representative by Silliphant, Multi Level Money by Jeffrey Lant and Home Businesses You Can Buy by Sarah and Paul Edwards. While none of these address your specific idea, they do have a lot of valuable pieces of information to use in formulating your business plan.
As you write your plan, think about ways to make selling software via home parties succesful. One of the reasons home party selling works is because it lets the customer try out the product. I think you might need to invest in several lap top computers to use for demo purposes. Also, you might want to target one or two specific populations i.e. preschool age children or home business owners so that you can more effectively develop an expertise and target market your services.
Best of luck and keep me posted on your progress!

Q. I have over 12 years experience as a temp word processing specialist. I want to get back into this, but without an agency. Any recommendations on how I should present myself -- a letter, resume, phone call or all of the above?

A. All of the above! Target large employers in your area who are likely to be heavy users of temp services and send them a professional cover letter and resume. Explain in your cover letter that you are interested in working for them on a temporary basis. This is one case where it makes sense to include your hourly rate in the cover letter because your rate is probably less than the rate charged by most agencies (which tends to add about 25-30% for the agency cut). Follow up the letter with a telephone call to inquire about the possibility of a brief meeting to introduce yourself to the company, even if they don't have any current openings. Be polite but persistent and your efforts should pay off in no time!



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