By Suzanne KearnsWith job postings still scarce, job security dissipating, and wages seemingly stagnant at best, many people are trying to establish some security by creating multiple streams of income. It’s a smart strategy, but if you have trouble leaving your home or primary position to get to a second job, you’ll find yourself frustrated and stressed out.
Perhaps you’re raising kids and you’re committed to not using daycare. Maybe you’re a little older and can’t commit to a full-time job. Or you might be injured or disabled, making it difficult for you to leave your home each day. Whatever your reason is, if you’re stuck at home most of the day, you’ve probably thought about the income you could be making by taking a work-from-home job or running your own business.
Good news: There are plenty of legitimate ways to earn extra money sitting right where you are right now. Some of them involve starting your own small business, while others mean working for someone else using your home as an office.
These endeavors aren’t without traps and challenges, though, so before we take a look at some legitimate ways to make money from your home, let’s review a few things that you should avoid. Unfortunately, if you want to earn an honest living from home, you’re also a common target of scammers, especially in these economically tough times. But if you keep these simple rules in mind, you won’t become a victim of one of the many work from home scams.
Money Scams to Avoid
1. Requests for MoneySure, you might expect some legitimate costs to be associated with starting a new business, like business licenses, permits, materials, or even some advertising or marketing fees.
2. Get Rich SchemesGet-rich-quick schemes get only one person rich: the schemer. Not you. Don’t be that con artist’s next victim. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you will have the opportunity to build a viable business or become a trusted home worker in a great business.
But if you’re looking for easy money, you’ll likely just get stuck with a lot of bills and worthless information. When websites run promotions that promise that you’ll make thousands a week with no experience and very little time, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be in your wallet before you can ask the first question.
3. Offers That Are Too Good to Be TrueYou might be desperate for work, but don’t necessarily jump at an opportunity that sounds too good to be true. In my article about common Craigslist scams, I wrote about fake employers who “hire” new employees, then “accidentally” send them too much pay. They’ll ask their victims to wire back the difference, but a few weeks later, when the bank discovers that the initial check is a fraud, the “employee” is on the hook for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars. If a job offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
These three points may seem like common sense, but the truth is that the people who run these scams are very good at what they do. They’ve been able to deceive many intelligent people because they present their “opportunities” so well that almost anyone will believe them. When you’re looking for a new job or extra income, it’s easy to get lulled in to a comfort zone where they can take advantage of you. Keep your guard up – always.
10 Legitimate Ways to Make Money from HomeNow that we’ve talked about the things you should avoid, let’s look at a few real ways you can work from your home and make the extra cash that you and your family need.
1. Freelance Writing: Sell Your WordsI may as well start with something I know well. When I started out as a freelance writer 20 years ago, things were very different. I wrote mostly for magazines, and I had to rely on snail mail to send out drafts and queries. I’d wait weeks for a response from my editors. Not many people had the patience for it, and few stuck around long enough to ever start earning a real income from it.
But the Internet has changed everything. Today, you can decide to become a freelance writer and, if you’re fortunate, get an assignment that very same day. Obviously, the better your skills and training are, the better your projects and freelance writing rates will be.
Today’s freelance writers can choose from a variety of markets. You can write for magazines, either online or in print. You can blog by setting up your own site, or by writing for someone else’s. The market for new articles on the Internet is vast, and there’s plenty of work to go around.
Additionally, book publishers are always looking for the next big book. People need sales letters, white papers, website copy, and e-books. In other words, there’s an ocean of work to do, and if you’re an ambitious writer, you can dive in and profit.
If you want to work from home as a freelance writer, consider this checklist before you get started:
- Samples. You’ll need some samples before you can really begin marketing yourself. Figure out which market you want to approach first, and then find or create some related samples. For instance, if you want to try your hand at blogging, study some successful blogs, and then write a few posts of your own to use as samples. Do this for any and every market you’d want to write for.
- Tools. You don’t need much to work as a home-based freelance writer, but there are some tools that you must have. The most important will be your computer. Get the fastest Internet access that you can afford. It doesn’t matter what kind of computer you get. Just make sure you’re comfortable enough to spend a lot of time with it. Most clients will request that you submit your work as a Microsoft Word document, so make sure that whatever programs you use are compatible. In addition, because you’ll be spending so much time at the computer, make sure that you have a good work area with proper lighting. Some clients will want to be able to reach you by phone or Skype, so have both set up and accessible. You’ll need an invoicing program, such as Freshbooks, and a good bookkeeping system to keep track of sales, orders, and accounts receivables.
- Job Boards. When you’re first starting out, you’ll have to go looking for work, and the best place to do that is on one of the online job boards. Places like Guru, Elance, Freelancer, and oDesk are today’s writers’ best friends. They allow individuals and businesses to post projects, and freelancers to bid on them. Take a look around the sites, sign up for the free access in the beginning, and then begin to place bids on the projects that interest you. It will take some trial and error to find your groove, but once you do, the jobs will start to roll in.
- Persistence and Commitment. You’ll need to have a good amount of persistence while pursuing freelance writing gigs. This business is subjective, and while one person may love your writing, another may not. Do your best to always produce good, solid copy and hold on to your commitment to do the best you can for your clients. Just by committing to do those two things, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.
2. Classes: Sell Your KnowledgeAnother great way to earn money from your home office is to sell your skills or knowledge by teaching classes. For instance, if you’re an exercise guru, you might start an exercise class in a large spacious area in your home. People are willing to pay to learn about many fields of knowledge, from cooking and gardening to soap or candle making. Playing a musical instrument, child birthing, dancing, dog training, yoga, and even foreign languages are all great topics for expert classes.
The key is to make the class sound unique and irresistible. Don’t just teach a cooking class; come up with specialty cooking classes. You might teach a class on how to make artesian breads, or cinnamon rolls that rival Cinnabon. The possibilities are endless, and if you consistently offer educational and fun classes, you’ll have people signing up over and over again.
But being successful at hosting your own classes requires some serious planning and attention to detail. Here is an outline of the things you’ll have to consider:
- Your Idea. It’s not enough to say that you’re going to offer an exercise classes. The people considering your classes will want to know exactly what they are going to get for their money, and it will be up to you to explain it concisely and effectively. Understand that you’re basically giving a sales pitch to potential attendees. You’ll have to really narrow down your topic.
- Your Schedule. Decide in advance how often you want
to teach your class, and what times will work for you. If you’re
teaching a foreign language, you will want to offer structured classes
that meet at the same time every week. But if you intend to offer
cooking classes, where one lesson won’t run into another, you can be a
little more flexible.
- Remember that you’re making a commitment that will last weeks or months, and you won’t want to end up canceling classes. Pick a schedule that you can keep.
- Furthermore, carefully consider your likely attendees, and what schedule would be attractive to them. For example, if you’re planning on teaching a tutoring class, you obviously couldn’t schedule it during school hours. Likewise, a class aimed at mothers of young children will either have to include babysitting services or be scheduled at night, when they’re more likely to have help with the kids. Find the delicate balance of times that fit your prospective students’ schedules as well as your own.
- Your Price. When establishing a price for your classes, start by calling around and finding out what other choices your clients have. If you plan to offer cooking classes, call some commercial establishments and other in-home teachers. Compare your own talent and experience to what they’re offering, and set a price accordingly. You should always come in a little lower than classes offered by commercial establishments as that will be one of your selling points: expert information for less money.
- Your Deals. In addition to establishing a per-class price, also offer packages to entice people to sign up for more than one class. For example, if you intend to host classes on making soap, offer the classes individually, as well as in a group. Someone could take a class learning how to use fresh flowers in homemade soap, or they could buy a bundle that teaches them how to use those, fresh herbs, and plastic toys for kid’s soap. However you decide to price your classes, remember that the buyer will want to feel like they’re getting a lot for their money. If you can provide that in a fun atmosphere, they’ll likely be back time and time again – and they’ll bring friends.
- Your Ads. The key to success will be in your ability to get the word out about your classes. Word of mouth will play an important role in your marketing efforts because taking classes is something that friends like to do together. Don’t just rely on friends and family, though. Post fliers in supermarkets, churches, and school bulletin boards. You’ll definitely want to have an online presence so people who are searching your area for such classes will be able to find you. You can establish one by creating a website, and then using digital media to spread your message. And don’t forget your neighborhood as a source of business. Take some time to visit your neighbors, even if you just visit one block a day, and tell them about your new business.
3. Bed and Breakfast: Sell Space in Your HomeIf you have a spare bedroom and bathroom, and a high tolerance for other people being in your home, you may be able to make money from home by hosting people in your home. Overnight travelers are always looking for a comfortable bed and breakfast, especially since frequent travelers are often weary of hotels and motels.
Your home is certainly more attractive than the mainstream sterile environments and run of the mill decor. Savvy homeowners have been taking advantage of their spare space, and they’re making money by offering travelers a one of a kind experience in a warm, friendly environment.
The best part is that people who use bed and breakfasts are more likely to pay more for the experience. The challenge is that there’s a lot of competition in this field, so if you think earning money this way is right for you, you’ll have to set up your home in a way that makes for a memorable experience for guests. Here’s a checklist to get you started:
- Location. The most successful bed and breakfasts are those that are convenient to airports, historic parts of town, or other tourist attractions. That’s because there are two types of guests who tend to frequent B&B’s: business travelers who are tired of sterile hotel rooms, and families looking for a unique experience. That’s not to say that you can’t develop a successful B&B if your home isn’t located in the perfect spot, but you might have to work harder to make it a success if it isn’t.
- Comfort. Perhaps the biggest thing that you’ll need to do in order to create a successful B&B is to make sure that your guests are as comfortable as they can be. Remember, they’re paying more for the experience of being comfortable away from home. As a trial, spend a night in the room in your house that you intend to rent and view things from a guest’s point of view. Is the temperature comfortable? Is the bath in the room, or at least a comfortable distance away while still being private? Is the bed soft and inviting? The pillows? Is the bedroom interior design, including colors, soothing? Can you hear household noises, or do you feel that you’re in a world of your own? All of these are important questions to ask yourself, but the answers will determine whether or not your guests recommend your place, or come back for another stay. Think about all the minor inconveniences and discomforts that you’ve just gotten used to over the years, and remember that a paying guest might not tolerate those problems for a night. You may need to spend a little money to fix these issues.
- Food. The second word in “Bed and Breakfast” is just as important as the first. Some B&Bs have tried to serve their guests muffins, juice, and coffee in the mornings, but the most successful hosts understand that the breakfast they serve will make a lasting impression on their guests. You can get creative and serve the type of breakfast traditional for the area that you’re in. For instance, if your home is located in the South, then eggs, grits, and biscuits may go over well, while Southwest guests may appreciate a traditional Tex-Mex meal. Whatever you decide, make it memorable and make sure that your guests feel welcome and appreciated. Make it memorable, and they’ll spread the word for you.
- Service. Another key aspect of successful B&Bs is the level of service that the hosts provide. You’re not just offering room and board, but an experience. If they need help planning a day seeing the sites, offer to sit down with them and help them plan their itinerary. If a businessperson needs copies for a presentation, offer to go and make them. Remember, your job as host will be to make your guests’ stays as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. If you succeed, they’ll remember you the next time they travel through your town.
- Advertising. You won’t have any quests until you get the word around about your room. Start locally by putting a sign in your front yard and spreading the word through friends and family. Next, build a small website and make sure that you attract the search engine spiders by using the keywords people would likely search for when looking for a place to stay in your area. In addition, there are sites that specialize in promoting specific areas and their attractions, such as BedandBreakfast.com and Airbnb - your Bed and Breakfast should be listed there.
4. Farmers’ Market: Sell Your Produce and Gourmet FoodsEvery Saturday I visit the local farmers’ market, and every time I’m amazed at how wonderful their fruits and vegetables look compared to the choices in the grocery store.
While I’m a gardener too, I’ve never quite been able to grow such fantastic looking produce. If you’re blessed with a greener thumb than mine and you’re growing mass quantities of fruits, vegetables, or herbs, you just may be able to use those skills to earn some extra income.
Farmers’ markets are rapidly becoming the go-to places for people who want to eat fresh, wholesome foods. Local and organic both sounds great to buyers, and you’re not just limited to selling fruits and vegetables. Just yesterday I bought fresh homemade goat cheese and a roasted tomato pesto that almost brought me to tears.
You’d do most of your work in a home garden, but you’ll have to spend your weekends away from home. If you love the idea of selling your home-grown produce, but can’t swing being out of the house on weekends, consider selling to friends, family, and neighbors instead. Almost everyone prefers the taste of a fresh picked tomato to a store bought one.
While this is a great way to earn extra money doing what you love, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind before you get started:
- Selection. Lots of people will be selling produce, so if you want to be a success, you’ll have to make yours stand out. You might try selling some rare vegetables or hard-to-find herbs, or you might decide to include a special recipe with every variety.
- License. As long as you’re only selling fresh produce, you don’t need a special license. But if you plan to sell gourmet foods, you’ll have to call your local health department and find out the regulations in your area.
- Rules. All markets have different rules that every vendor must follow. You’ll have to file an application with the market for permission to sell your product. Contact the market manager and ask how you can get started.
- Display. Just as in any retail operation, the way you display your wares will greatly impact your sales. Produce should be placed underneath a cover to protect it from the sun, but be sure to allow at least seven feet of head room. Display your prices prominently, and clearly identify the things that make your product special. Personalize your stand with signs to inform your customers.
- Tools. Don’t forget that you’ll need a scale if you sell by the pound, a cash box to organize your income, and bags or boxes so your customers can easily transport your products home.
5. Crafts and Art: Sell Your CreativityIf you have a knack for creating beautiful things, then you were born at the right time to make some serious income from home. The growing trend for vintage and homemade products shows no signs of stopping. Plus, the Internet is chock full of well-known outlets for such wares.
Etsy, for example, is one of the fastest growing sites that gives artists a chance to sell items at a fair price. The site boasts over 40 categories, from gifts to clothes to edibles, with thousands of listings. And the price is right; you can get your own site connected to Etsy for just 20 cents per listing.
Selling on Etsy and similar sites, however, has become an art form itself, and finding success in these marketplaces takes a lot of work and planning. Your art is already a full-time job, but you’ll need to devote plenty of time to being a smart businessperson too. Here are some guidelines to getting started:
- Research. You need to know what others are selling before you decide what wares you will offer. Lots of people sell handmade items, but those who work hard to make their items unique in some way are the ones who truly stand out. After you’ve decided on a product, check out the other sellers on Etsy and find what they’re offering, and then figure out how you can do it differently.
- Commit. People who run successful shops on Etsy say that they do way more than create. They pass out business cards everywhere they go, they blog about their site, and spend all of their free time trying to think of new ways to promote it. In other words, to truly be a success, you have to treat it like a full-time job.
- Photographs. Because your customers won’t be able to touch or hold your items, you need to give them as much of a visual feel for the products as you can. You’ll do it with photographs – but not just any photos. They have to be pleasing to the eye and make the item look fantastic. You’ll have to learn the art of photography, and if you can’t get the hang of it, you’ll have to hire someone to do it for you. Yes, it’s that important.
- Selection. One of the keys to success on Etsy is selection, according to industry insiders. In fact, the goal of most serious shop owners is to have at least 200 items for sale. If you’re creating all of those items yourself, that’s a pretty big time commitment. But the more options you give to your customers, the higher the chances that you’ll make a sale.
- Mentorship. With sites like Etsy, it simply doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel when opening a shop. Instead, look to others who have been down the path and have learned the hard way what to do – and what not to do. Blogs like Handmadeology and EverythingEtsy.com offer hints and guidance for artists just looking to get started in this profitable home-based business.
6. Call Centers: Sell Your Time and VoiceIf you have a great telephone voice, an ability to organize information quickly, and a quiet place in your home to work, you could make money working for a call center.
What is it exactly? Call centers cater to businesses that don’t have someone to answer their phones 24 hours a day. The calls are routed to a call center, and then sent out to individuals who work from their homes. These workers are equipped with computers and software to be able to answer customer’s questions.
The average pay for these jobs is about $9 per hour, and some companies offer health, dental, even matching 401k plans for their employees. Here are a few characteristics and supplies you should have:
- Diligence. In this industry, the line between scams and honest businesses is blurry, so you need to do your homework before accepting a position. Call the Better Business Bureau in your area to find out if there have been any complaints filed against the company, and do an online search on their name. Alpine Access is a well-respected company in the field, and Call Center Careers is a great place to look for legitimate call centers looking to hire.
- Equipment. You’ll likely have to invest in your own equipment before starting work with a call company. You will need a computer that meets the call center’s guidelines, earphones, an Internet connection, and a landline phone to do the work required. If you don’t already have the equipment, most companies won’t even consider your application.
- Grace. You’ll receive a lot of calls, and you must have the ability to handle them all smoothly. This means that you should have a personality that can multi-task without becoming flustered.
- Ambition. If you prove yourself a good employee, there are opportunities for advancement in the ranks of call center employees. You won’t even have to give up working from home to take a promotion; team leaders, managers, and account managers can all work from home.
7. Sewing and Alterations: Sell Your HandiworkIf you have sewing skills, you have a wide range of options. Just think for a moment about everything service you can provide if you have those skills. You can do alterations and design, and you can make wedding clothes, custom-fit clothes, and special attire.
You can make totes and bags, custom bedding, draperies, and upholstery cushions. You can go so far as to sew the special canvas cushions needed for boats and yachts, or commercial needs like booth and chair cushions.
In short, if you have sewing skills, you’re in demand. But there is more to sewing from your home for money than just hanging out a shingle. Let’s take a look at some of the issues you’ll face:
- Equipment. The largest, and most important, piece of equipment that you’ll need is a high-quality sewing machine. They can range in price from about $2,000 up to $6,000, and you’ll want the best one that you can afford. Other pieces of equipment will vary, depending on what you want to specialize in. For instance, if you intend to make custom draperies, you’ll need a serger, and a drapery steamer.
- Skill. If you’re going to sew for other people, your skills need to be far above average. If you’re a beginner or an average seamstress, wait until you improve their skills before attempting to earn money in this type of business. If people are going to trust their wedding dresses or their favorite sports jacket to you, you must be able to handle them with care and the utmost skill.
- Zoning. Because you’ll likely have a lot of customers in and out of your home, you should check with your local authorities to determine whether or not you need to be zoned for this type of business.
- Advertising. You’ll need to get the word out about your sewing business, and one of the best places to start is with your friends and neighbors. Make sure they are all aware of your services and are willing to pass around your business cards. In addition, you should put up fliers in local fabric stores and get to know the employees so that if someone asks, they’ll be able to refer you. Any business needs a website, and yours will be no exception; you can put up a simple one that outlines what you do, and tells the reader what kinds of prices to expect. Finally, by joining organizations like the American Sewing Guild, you’ll be able to stay in touch with others who are doing the same thing as you.
8. Used Book Sales: Sell Your Old PaperbacksI was working at an estate sale the other weekend, and a woman came in and asked if there were any books for sale. After I pointed out the collection of books to her, she began to scan them all with a portable bar code scanner. My curiosity got the best of me and so I asked her what she was doing.
She explained that she buys used books from garage and estate sales, and then turns around and sells the books for cash on sites like Amazon, Ebay, Half.com and AbeBooks. She uses the scanner to determine how long it usually takes for a specific book to sell and how much it sells for. She told me that she makes a full-time living doing this.
So, I got the scoop on how to run a business of this type. Here’s what you need to know:
- Finances. You need to be good at quick math and be able to make quick decisions. You have to be careful how much you pay for a book, and then keep careful track of the expenses involved in selling it. For instance, when you sell on a website, they’ll take a commission from the sale. In addition, some sites, like eBay, will charge you a listing fee for each book. If you request that your money be deposited via PayPal, then you’ll be charged a transaction fee per book. If you’re not careful, the fees will quickly negate your profits.
- Storage. Depending on how big your business gets, you’ll need ample room to store the books. You can’t get lazy or disorganized about it, either. You have to keep the books in good condition, and you need to be able to find them when someone wants them. For instance, if you list a book in “like new” condition, and then the pages get smashed during storage, you’ll be in a bind if someone places an order before you realize what happened.
- Shipping. You will only have a few days to ship a book after it sells, and even less time if you agree to include two-day or overnight shipping as part of your options. And since you’ll want to save as much as you can on the shipping, you’ll have to devise a plan. Many people set aside specific days for shipping – say 3 days a week – and then make one big trip to the post office. As long as there isn’t anything else in the package, you can send books via media mail, which is the least expensive option. Finally, your books will need to be packaged in a way that they won’t get damaged in transit.
- Ratings. Whenever someone buys a book from you, they will have the opportunity to give the transaction a rating. This is when they’ll tell other potential buyers whether the book was in the condition that you described, whether it was mailed on time, and if your communications were pleasant and helpful. One bad rating can hamper sales, and a couple of them can downright stop them. Excel at customer service and your ratings will help your company grow.
- Current. It’s important that you stay current in this ever-changing business. You can do so by following some well-known blogs about the topic such as Sell Your Books Online.
9. Consulting: Sell Your KnowledgeConsultants offer their services or advice for a fee. For instance, you may help a new non-profit organization develop a plan for fundraising, and then oversee the process. Or you may help a new company garner media attention by writing press releases and then distributing them to the proper channels.
Individuals use consultants, too. Some people use consultants for tax or financial advice, while others may pay a consultant to teach them how to set up and maintain a garden.
Basically, if you have proven skills in an area, you can market yourself as a consultant and provide your services from home. Breaking in isn’t always easy, though, so consider these topics:
- Experience. Whatever area you want to work in as a consultant, you must be able to show clients that you’re qualified to advise them. If there are organizations related to your field, make sure that you’re a member of them. Similarly, if you can take a course and become certified or registered in your field, do it and then add that to your credentials.
- Work Space. When acting as a consultant, the probability is high that clients will be visiting your home office. Therefore, you need to have a neat, professional home office that is welcoming to guests. Try to locate your work space in a quiet, even secluded, area of the house. A converted garage space with its own entrance works well, giving you a private space for work and adding to your credibility.
- Marketing. When operating as a consultant, you won’t necessarily be marketing your company; you’ll be marketing yourself. You’ll have to “package” yourself in a way that makes people trust you. For instance, if you’re marketing yourself as a financial consultant, ask yourself why someone would trust you with their life savings, and then figure out a way to convey that to potential clients. It might be in the form of a brochure, a portfolio, a sales letter, or all three.
10. Medical Transcription: Sell Your Computer SkillsIf you have great computer skills and can type quickly, you might be able to work from home doing medical transcription.
That means you need to come with a lot of knowledge and follow this checklist:
- Training. To get a gig as a medical transcriptionist, you will have to take specific training. You will have to become proficient in medical terminology, and the best way to do that is to take additional courses in that area. The average course lasts from 9 to 18 months and costs about $3,000. Financial aid programs can help pay for your tuition.
- Breaking In. Many people find that once they’ve completed their training, getting their first job can be difficult because many companies require a minimum of two years experience. Many newbies start out by volunteering to get some history under their belt. It’s not impossible to land a job fresh out of school, but you’ll need diligence and persistence, and probably a little luck.
- Equipment. When you accept a job with a reputable company, they will provide you with all the equipment you need, except for high-speed Internet. Beware of companies that require you to supply your own equipment; that’s a sign of a possible scam.
- Socialize. Especially when you’re getting started, you need to establish contacts who are already immersed in the business. They can act as mentors, keep you up to date on industry changes, and even help you land your first or subsequent job. Look for the local chapter of the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) in your area and join.
Final WordFor some people, work just has to be in an office, factory, store, or any other environment that’s separate from home. Even a second job would have to be in a separate place. For others, a home office is a welcome place for a secondary or even a primary job. If you’re one of those people, you have some unique opportunities, but you also have some very particular challenges of working from home.
Make sure you set a smart schedule that lets you diligently focus on your work, without throwing the rest of your life out of balance. And make sure you always keep your guard up for scams and cheats. When you’re on your own, you might have a little more freedom with your schedule, but you lose the sense of protection that a company can provide.
These ideas are just ten of the great ones for earning money from your own home. While employment opportunities are getting scarcer, isn’t it good to know that your ability to take things into your own hands is getting greater?
Do you make money working from home? What other ideas have you been able to come up with?