The Nuts and Bolts of Working From Home

I read the recent article on 99 ways to work from home with great interest. As someone working from home since 2002, I just had to scan that list to see if 1) anything I do or have done is on it and 2)  there is another idea I might explore. Yes to both, although these lists don’t really delve into the basics of what is required to work from home.

Hence, this article.

All of those ideas are viable depending upon your skillset, but there are certain things any home-based business requires. Here I offer some comments based on what I do today and other prospects I’ve explored, as well as the basic skills and attitude needed to succeed in the work-from-home arena. 

Find a business that suits you

This is not as easy as it sounds. It takes some research. Start with a list of things you enjoy doing, as well as things you are capable of. Currently, I freelance in the publishing industry as a professional book indexer. I read books that major presses are producing and write the index that appears in the back of them. I found this idea while sitting in a library. The book I was reading detailed 101 ways to make a living using a computer and working from home. Dating service wasn’t my thing, but book indexing sounded intriguing. I went right to the internet to check out the idea’s viability. I discovered indexing societies, including the American Society for Indexing. There are educational resources, online discussion groups, and most importantly, people making a living at this! I found a class and enrolled. 

Be aware that building a business takes time. It took me 2-3 months of research to decide and settle on a good course, one year in indexing school, a few months of marketing to land my first client, and three years before the business would support me, even in Frugalite style. 

Major point: No matter which business you choose, you’ll have to apply your butt to your chair and do the work. Corollary to that point: Not everything you do pays directly, but it still has to be done. In addition to the indexing work, I have to market, do the accounting, customer service, and procurement. Up shot: I decide what computer, software, office chair, etc., best suits my working from home needs. Down shot: Unhappy customers can be very nasty. I still have to deal with them professionally, even in my bathrobe. 

Home office setup

I have two spaces in my house for business use: the sunroom I work in and a spare bedroom containing my printer and paper files. My printer is a 4-in-1 so, even though I don’t have a landline to fax from, I can still copy and scan things. I work on a MacBook in a comfortable chair in my sunroom, with the shades behind me closed. Otherwise, the light on my screen is just no bueno for reading. Forget those old commercials that show someone working in a park in the sun. It doesn’t work. Trust me. 

Major point: Working from home does NOT mean that you can work whenever you want. This is a huge misconception! I need to be in my office somewhat when my clients are in theirs. Since my clients are in India, which is 6 hours ahead of Central time US, I’m at my desk early. In fact, I check email from my phone in bed just to see if there’s anything I need to respond to quickly. Yup, 6 am. But while my clients are in India, Accounts Payable is in the US. If I need to chase an invoice, I need to write during office hours. And my productive time is morning. 

Marketing

As a business owner, you’ll have to build your business one client at a time. It is NOT a matter of “If you build it they will come!” I spent, as I noted above, 2-3 months marketing before landing my first client. I had to research contact information, which in publishing is found in a tome called the Literary Marketplace. Paper copies can be obtained from the local library, although the current year’s copy is likely on the reference shelf. I took the free copy and headed to some websites to sleuth out the editorial staff. This sounds easier than it is. Turnover can be high, and sometimes, they don’t want to be found. You aren’t the only one trying to get hired there. 

Major point: Have your pitch ready and practiced, be it by phone or email. Have your resume ready, which may include a website. I built my website using a site builder; easier than coding by hand but still a learning curve. Include your website, direct email, and phone number in all communications. Make it as easy as possible for your prospects to find you. 

Administration 

Keeping track of earnings and expenses is part of the job when you’re working from home. You will need to update your website and withhold your own taxes if you’re self-employed. Some freelancers use a spreadsheet, while others use a program such as QuickBooks or TurboTax. I am not saying that these applications are the best, only that they are viable and popular. And yes, you can write the purchase off of your taxes! Being self-employed, you’re going to need every write-off you can get! I love the home office deduction, for example. Using that, I can write off a portion of my utilities, property taxes, and home repairs.

Major point: Legal business structure. Research this carefully! A sole proprietorship has less paperwork but gets hammered at tax time. LLC has more paperwork and may yield tax advantages. Corollary to that: If you go with an accountant, choose very carefully! A good one can help you, and a bad one can cost you. I once had a bad one. I found out the hard way that she wasn’t filing the tax forms I was paying her to file. This went on for a few years because the IRS only informs taxpayers one time when they haven’t filed forms. My assumption that no further notices meant that she had resolved it proved very costly. By the time I took my finances back and dealt with the IRS myself, I spent seven months and $7,000 to get it straightened out. 

Pricing

This is going to depend very much upon what you’ve chosen to do. In my case, I’m offered a project at the company’s standard rate. When I was very new, I made the mistake of listening to the board’s rate discussions. Freelancing is extremely competitive. I soon noticed that whenever I mentioned my offers, someone else would tell me that I should be making at least twice that much. When I stopped listening to my competitors, I landed my first client, whose rate proved fair relative to the text. 

Major point: Do your market research but remember, humans are funny when it comes to money. Follow your gut, not what your competition says. 

Selling on eBay or Etsy

Not terribly difficult, but there are plenty of fees, so do your research carefully here. I sold trading cards on eBay for a year or so while I was getting the indexing business going. I paid listing fees, final value fees (their slice of the final auction price,) and PayPal fees. Costs vary depending on what you’re selling, so look carefully! Also, be aware that in a dispute, eBay will often side with the buyer. For bulk items, I preferred Etsy. Take a good look for yourself to decide what best suits your situation. 

Online teaching/tutoring

There are several platforms for this. Outschool.com was the highest paying of the ones I have used. You can teach just about anything within decency and reason. I designed my own curriculum, though every class was subject to their approval process. I set my own prices, keeping in mind that Outschool takes 30% of the tuition. They do provide the Zoom account and some marketing, and there are tons of professional development tools on their website. You don’t have to be a credentialed teacher, but you will have to pass a background check every year. Their Facebook group is helpful, but it’s also filled with some very vocal people who love to tell others how to teach. Also, be aware of policies about what can and cannot be said in the classroom. 

I did make some money here, most notably working from home last summer during the lockdowns. However, that slowed down to a trickle after school started, to the point of having 1-2 students per class. Attendance was low for my gardening course, and my financial literacy and internet safety classes were hit & miss. Since indexing has taken off again, it is no longer a valuable use of time to teach 1-2 kids. The teachers making the most money taught either semester-long academic classes, art classes, or held story time for the 3-6 crowd. Also, there are hundreds of teachers and over 100k classes. That may be a great option for some, but not me.

The three tutoring platforms I researched were VIP Kid, Varsity Tutors, and Tutor.com. None of them paid beans, especially for the credentials the latter two wanted. Also, teaching English to Chinese kids requires that you be online when they’re home, and China is 11 hours ahead of the US. Therefore, hours tend to be 5-8 am and 8 pm-midnight. Boo hiss! At least for me. These jobs might fit your schedule, and if I were hungrier, I’d reconsider. However, I also wasn’t comfortable giving my personal data to China. Since all they needed was my PayPal address, I wasn’t comfortable with the rest. 

Conclusion

There are a number of ways to make money working from home, but they all require application and diligence. Being solely responsible for every aspect of the business isn’t for everyone. If it’s for you, I suggest finding something and researching it before dumping money into it. Make sure it’s a viable business and that you’ll enjoy it at least most of the time because you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it. Nights, weekends, and holidays are all in play. I’ve found that I make money by solving my client’s problems, not by expecting my client to solve mine. Good luck! 

Have you found success working from home? What tips would you give to someone just starting out? Share them in the comments below!

About Jayne

Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.

The Nuts and Bolts of Working From Home
Jayne Rising

Jayne Rising

Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.

6 thoughts on “The Nuts and Bolts of Working From Home”

  1. As someone who has worked from home for more than 12 years now, I absolutely agree with everything Jayne has said here. (Especially sunlight on your laptop! Dashed were my dreams of working from a beachside cafe!)

    And I’ll add one more thing.

    You have to treat your business like a business and that means office hours in which you are unavailable except for emergencies. I found earlier on, people could be very intrusive, just dropping by or calling to “say hello” or even going so far as asking me to babysit their children since I was “home anyway.”

    I have separated notifications from business clients, close people who might actually need to reach me, and everyone else. Interruptions are the bane of concentration and can make your tasks take 3 times longer. During my own “office hours,” I turn off various notifications at different times. Managing these notifications helps me to control my day. I’ve also had to set firm boundaries with those who just don’t understand that I might be at home but I’m still actually “at work.”

    This article is a great reality check!

  2. Oh Daisy! I suspect that you and I could tell some serious war stories. We both have a wealth of experience earned by doing. Working from home is very viable, but it’s important to be aware of the reality of it. In many ways, it’s no different from a “regular job.” In many ways, it is.

    Isolation: this is something to be very aware of. Working from home means no more socializing around the water cooler or yakking with the other person in the cubicle next door. I work alone, in my home office, with little more than my cats for company. As an introvert, I’m OK with that most of the time. However, even introverted humans need some social time. I had my work and volunteer time well balanced pre-‘Rona, then the world changed. Now I make the effort to go for a bike ride, walk in the park, take in a play, something that involves at least some interaction with other people. And no, social media doesn’t cut it as a replacement. I need face to face interaction, using actual words & body language. Bizarre but true.

    There’s also the perception, held by some, that working from home isn’t a “real job.” That ties in with your point, being asked to babysit because “you’re home anyway.” It’s almost a subtle shaming from some quarters! Working from home paid off some very old bills and has paid my mortgage for 15 years. What more do some require of a “real job?” But minds can be difficult to change and no one likes the snide remarks or pitying looks from the social circle.

    On the up shot, I can toss a load of laundry in easily enough 🙂 If I need to stretch midday, I can put the work aside for 10 minutes of yoga. There are many benefits.

    Don’t get me started on multi-level marketing though! Oy.

  3. I worked at home for a major insurance company for several years. Boundaries were a big thing. As both Jayne and Daisy mentioned, not everyone ‘gets’ that you are truly working. My husband being one of them, lol. He was laid off for a bit during this time, and I had to really put my foot down with all his interruptions. So your family needs to truly respect your time and work area. The other boundary you need to respect is work hours. I spent much ‘off the clock’ time finishing up paperwork, doing research, etc that I would not have spent if I was still working in the office. AND that was actually unofficially expected! As an aside, if you have pets, they might present their own interruptions, sometimes well accepted by clients, othertimes not so much. My experience is a bit different from having your own business esp if it is primarily on line.

  4. A word of caution re: home office deduction. There is no such thing as a free lunch and *if* you sell the property, there will likely have a tax implication. For this reason, we never claimed any deduction. Also be aware that *if* you close down your business, items that are not fully depreciated that you “transfer” to yourself will likely have a tax implication. Yes a good accountant is a must but one must also do his/her due diligence.
    Also if in US, there are IRS rules that determine hobby or business. Unless breeding race horses (yes, a nice benefit for campaign contributions), showing a profit 3 out of 5 rolling tax years is the rule. Another reminder is the future – as in retirement. No profit = no social security contribution. No profit = no opportunity to contribute to an IRA/SEP IRA (unless your spouse shows income then you can contribute some money to an IRA/Roth IRA).

    1. That’s an interesting point regarding the home office deduction. I was actually able to claim it while living in an apartment, and that was on the advice of my accountant. Can you provide more information on what I assume are retroactive taxes? A quick search on IRS dot gov doesn’t turn up anything.

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