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Working From Home: What Can You Do?

in Do What You Love, Joan's Posts

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Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared some things I love about working from home, I had questions in the comments in two particular areas. The first was simple – what can you do as work-at-home work, and how do you transition your skills into that set?

The other was a little more detailed and involved how to find freelance clients, deal with “droughts” and irregular income, and so on.

I’d like to talk about the first today, and then in a couple weeks, we’ll talk more about the business angle of freelancing!

What kinds of work can you do from home?

Let me preface this by saying that while I work mostly literally at my home, I’m really talking about any work you can do in a location-independent way, and as your own boss.

As an example, consider pet-sitting. You could be in York, Pennsylvania or New York City or Caracas, Venezuela, and if you have the skills, you can do that work. It might not be done at your home, but it’s done independent of a major company’s location.

There are thousands of types of location-independent jobs, but they break down into a few main categories. I’m not listing them here to be all-inclusive. In fact, your challenge is to brainstorm new ideas that aren’t listed here! But I want to get you thinking about types of work that can be done at home.

Technology work

  • Graphic design
  • Writing, editing or proofreading
  • Social-media consulting
  • Email management
  • Website design and management
  • Working a helpdesk or otherwise providing customer service
  • Web or app development
  • Transcription

Even here, there are tons and tons of subcategories. Almost all the work I do falls into this category, which can be oversimplified as “work you probably do on a computer.”

Service work

  • Pet care (grooming, sitting, companionship, training)
  • Cleaning homes or businesses
  • Consulting and coaching in a particular area (fitness, finance, faith, you name it!)
  • Photography
  • Cooking or baking
  • Handyman/laborer
  • Farm worker
  • Welding, plumbing, carpentry, blacksmithing
  • Lawn care
  • Babysitter
  • Hairdresser
  • Teaching a class
  • Tutoring
  • Massage therapy
  • Giving music lessons

These jobs are ones in which you provide your time to perform a service for someone else. These can overlap with technology jobs; for instance, writing and social-media consulting are certainly both technology and service skills. And such jobs can be skilled (and, in fact, can require licensure or certification, such as massage or cosmetology) or accessible to anyone willing to work, such as .

Physical product work

  • Making clothing to sell at craft fairs or via Etsy
  • Creating art to sell in a local shop
  • Direct sales/multi-level marketing/home party businesses
  • Selling baked goods or candy at a farmers’ market
  • Writing a book
  • Creating furniture or wooden crafts to sell

These are, in a way, also “sales jobs.” The idea, though, is that there’s a physical product involved that you’ve traded for income, not a skill or service.

There are many more opportunities – these are just the tip of the iceberg. I encourage you to brainstorm additional options in the comments! But first…

How can you transition your current skills into a work-from-home position?

Here’s the part I hear commenters and emailers from the Man Vs. Debt community struggle with the most. “I’m an accountant/chemist/machinist/phlebotomist. How on earth can I work from home doing THAT?”

Sometimes, the answer is “You really can’t.”

Sometimes the answer is the final class of jobs, which I didn’t mention because it’s not self-employment, and that’s telecommuting, or working for an existing company remotely. That’s an awesome option, and one we can dig more into in the future, but today we’re really talking about how this works with self-employment.

So is there anyone who cannot work from home? No.

Are there some people who don’t want to work from home, or who have skills that make it inadvisable? Yes.

It’s a question of choices.

I firmly believe that everyone has at least two key marketable skills. Usually (not always) one comes from their education or their career choice, and one comes from their passion.

In my case, my biggest marketable skills are writing (which came from my 14-year journalism career) and website management and design (which came from my passion since high school of working with computers, and which was self-taught). As a side note, neither comes from the undergrad degree in mathematics that I paid so much money for. Pfft. ANYWAY. The point is, you have a choice – and the ability to combine your skills to be more than the sum of their parts.

Coming out of my “work job” in journalism, it would have been easy for me to say “All I know how to do is write, edit and lay out newspapers.”

Instead, I market myself in a variety of ways. I used to have a hard time describing what I do – because I make money in so many different ways. I write blog posts here, manage You Vs. Debt, provide email support for a WordPress plugin, offer technology consulting and freelance writing for the newspaper where I used to work full time, design websites for businesses in my community, carry out social-media campaigns for a variety of brands, review products for compensation and more.

What I quickly realized is that I needed to break down the job into its component skills. 

  • I did know how to lay out a newspaper… But I also knew how to (and had the technology to) lay out newsletters for local businesses.
  • I knew how to coach reporters to tell award-winning and life-changing stories… And I realized also knew how to coach bloggers whose writing wasn’t getting them the results they wanted.
  • I often spoke to groups in the community about the history of our town and how to get their news reflected in the paper. I realized that I was also happy to speak to groups in our community about homeschooling, a personal passion of mine!

I have a friend who worked for years as a phlebotomist. (You know, the people who draw your blood in the lab?) When she lost her job suddenly, she parlayed her skills with people and her interest in health and wellness into a job teaching at a local daycare center, where she worked while she finished paramedic school. Phlebotomy is not daycare. But her skills were more transferable than most people would think!

The same holds when you’re looking to work at home. Maybe you’ve been an administrative assistant for years. Can you parlay that into online work as a virtual assistant, email manager, project manager or scheduler?

The choice is yours. If you’re a chemist for an international company, maybe you don’t want to break that down into component skills and offer “pieces” of that service for $25 an hour when you were making $200,000 a year. Maybe you actually HATE being a chemist and love painting, and would like to sell your paintings at local craft fairs, and you could care less about the money. Only you can make that decision.

My goal today has simply been to help you think more about what options there are for working from home, or working independent of location. You might not want to do that. But if you do, I want you to think about how you CAN think of yourself as marketable and your skills as transferable!

I’d love to hear your questions, ideas and success stories in the comments.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Ree Klein July 25, 2013 at 8:50 AM

Hi Joan ~

This is a great post does a good job of getting the mental/creative juices flowing! There’s no reason today why someone can’t work from home (or be self-employed) if that’s their desire. I know it’s mine.

When I go into an office for consulting jobs, I feel the life being drained out of me. I didn’t know that was happening for so many years because I just recently was able to become self-employed and spent seven months at home building my website. I take consulting jobs when they come up because I haven’t figured out how to monetize my business yet. But I will.

All I can say is that if there is a desire, it can be done. It’s just how bad you want it or how deep the pain is at “work.” We should all do a sanity check to figure out the real pain level and not wait until 50 to face the fear of “what if” I follow my passion!!!

Cheers,
Ree

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Thanks, Ree!! I think that’s the key – what is the pain level of staying vs. doing something else? I don’t think any of those choices are easy, but they ARE choices. Some more or less workable, but choices nonetheless!

Congrats to you for continuing to pursue your dreams!

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Michelle July 25, 2013 at 9:20 AM

I love this post! I am making the work at home switch within the next couple of months. I have been adding more things to my plate in preparation.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:25 PM

That’s awesome, Michelle! We’re cheering for you!

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Kari McGilvra July 25, 2013 at 9:55 AM

6 years ago, walked away from being a director in non-profit organization and used some of the skills I had learned, a few classes from a local tech college, and MOST-DEFINITELY the network I had built over 10+ years, to start an apparel printing business out of my home.

The actual work is COMPLETELY different than what I did before (and my degree), but many of those things have translated well in establishing a successful business serving great customers.

My transition: I got a call on Friday evening (of my honeymoon) that the company I was to start working for on Monday did a “business restructure” and my position had been eliminated. (I think I got fired before I even got to start. LOL.). So, I looked for work and researched this screen printing business idea.

Learning a new business: I literally bought a set of DVDs about apparel printing. (Now you could learn it all for free on YouTube). I bought some used equipment off of eBay. I designed some business cards and I was off and running.

I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily the most intelligent way to start a work-from-home business, but it has served me well.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:26 PM

Kari, that’s awesome – and I think with an attitude like yours, you were bound to make it work! I’m sorry about how the transition happened, but so thrilled that you could leverage your skills and your network. That’s something I’ll be talking about when it comes to the next part of this miniseries, how to find and keep work – the value of networking!

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Alan July 25, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Also do mystery shopping. I have done well with that

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:27 PM

Ah, a good service!

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Rechovot July 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM

This post is so timely! My family is brainstorming like crazy trying to set up multiple mini-businesses so we can uncouple our time from our income. Following your passion to make it a business is good advice. I agree, transitions from a full-time J.O.B. (Just Over Broke) to a self-employed business can be difficult. There’s a business podcast I used to listen to, http://www.jackspirko.com, which has good advice in this respect. It is no longer updated, but there’s still some great content there.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:27 PM

HAAA! Your J.O.B. description is awesome. Isn’t it so true that if we were really strapped financially, it would in some ways be easier to let a job go, than if it’s “just good enough” to get us by?!

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Jason July 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Good ideas. Anything from services to product that you can provide can make you an entrepreneur. Make me realize that there is always an option to work from home. Thanks for sharing!

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:28 PM

You’re so welcome, Jason!

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Becca July 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

This is what I have been looking for! Ideas like this! REAL ideas!

I am going for my MBA to push off student loans but we are only paying cash. No more loans period! I have an ebay account and Poshmark account (Fashion website to sell stuff). I have sold some stuff on Poshmark but my items on Ebay are pretty specific so that may take some time. Still! Very excited to see this post today!

I am an accountant and have realized that I like to budget through out the years. I push as far as I can to tighten that belt. I will be doing some more research but I think I can market my ability to create budget for others. Its not corporate accounting which is my job not my passion. I am still trying to find that passion :) Time will tell!!!

Thanks for real advice!

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:28 PM

Becca, thanks so much for the kind words! We are cheering for you – and so happy that you’re able to do something that helps other people in the meantime while searching for that one thing you’re truly passionate about! :)

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Maureen July 25, 2013 at 12:51 PM

People also have to remember that when you work for someone else from home, such as a full-time telecommuter, you are still responsible for answering to higher ups. I know in my company, part of the telecommuter agreement is that you will find alternate child care. We are paid to produce work and must maintain or exceed these guidelines, so having a child (or children) at home would interfer with the required working arrangements.

In other words, be sure to read the fine print of any telecommuting agreement to find out what you can and can’t do.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:29 PM

Maureen, definitely. I specifically left out telecommuting here in large part because the flexibility is so different! (And I’m in a different boat too with a teenage daughter, who is help more than hindrance to work; she helps me with a lot of the graphic design work I do, in fact!)

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Scott July 26, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Joan,

My first comment post… Very good article on the options available to those of use who would like to work from home! I’m a mostly self-taught systems administrator for on of the largest non-profit organizations in the state of Oklahoma. I have taken training classes for server 2012, vmware, virtual storage, etc… I have been asked several times to consider offering my knowledge to home users & I would like to, but my market is pretty saturated i.e. geeksquad, geektothe rescue, etc… I’m not sure if I would be able to have enough business to support my family. Nevertheless, it is something I am considering, but I guess my challenge is how to market myself. Thanks again for the thought provoking article.

Scott

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:31 PM

Hi Scott! Glad to hear from you. I think it’s interesting – the very fact that you’re being asked seems to indicate that someone thinks you have a niche that’s different from what they’d get through those chain services, and I say GO FOR IT! Even if it’s just on the side, it’s worth trying. I hope you’ll check back in about another week, week and a half, when I talk about how to get and maintain customers as a freelancer… I’m hoping to talk a good bit about marketing!

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Jeni July 26, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Hi Joan! I’m new to the MvD club. Thanks for sharing all of you knowledge and your journey. I’m hoping you can help with some specific questions. I love crafting and am currently attempting to set up an Etsy shop and have spoken to a consignment shop about selling with them. What I know nothing about is the business part of it. Do I need a business license? How do taxes work? And can I sell my used paperbacks on Amazon too? Thanks for all of your help and insight!
Jeni

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:32 PM

Hi Jeni! Welcome!

I’m not sure how much help I am specifically because the laws vary depending on your place of residence. Here in PA, if you sell physical products in person, that requires a sales tax ID number, but it’s super-easy to get. (The consignment shop would require that of you.) Selling online, at least for now, is a little different and worth talking to, for instance, your state’s department of labor and industry, which can be a huge help!

Selling your own used paperbacks on Amazon is different – and you can do that with no worries. It’s awesome!

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Cassi July 27, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Everyone has their own decisions to make, and only an individual can decide to change their life and really work for it! Great and uplifting article!

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:32 PM

Thanks, Cassi!

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Brian July 28, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Hi Joan,

A really interesting post. I would say that the starting point needs to be closer to home as in brainstorming your skills which you touched upon. If you really look at what you do & break it down into its components then begin sticking some of it back together again until you come up with something marketable, then your closer to solving the problem of freelancing / home working.

The next step would be to see if there is a market, who else is doing what your skilled at, how many are doing it & how much do they charge for it. This may help you to work out what income you can produce and if it will support you before taking the leap.

My wife is just getting into the party line of business selling children’s products at weekends & evenings whilst still employed. Hopefully she can make the transition from one to the other without to much loss of earnings should she give up her day job. At least she gets to test out the opportunity before committing, might be worth considering.

Thanks
Brian

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Gary July 28, 2013 at 8:33 AM

There’s the key Brian, testing the waters before you jump in, I’ve known people who have spent large sums of money before acquiring their first client or even quitting their jobs prematurely.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:33 PM

Yes to both parts! That’s a big key. In fact, I’ve talked before and will talk more about this in the next post on entrepreneurship in this miniseries, about finding clients, but this is REALLY my advice for how to side-hustle, not “how to quit your job with a week’s notice.” When it builds up, sure, absolutely! But I kept up a full-time job and a lot of side hustles for a LONG time before I made the switch!

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debtfreeoneday July 29, 2013 at 10:33 AM

I really like the idea of being an email manager! I currently work from home as a childminder which is quite a nice as I’m raising my little girl at the same time. It wasn’t my original profession but I enjoy it! I’m also getting into freelance writing although I haven’t made much money from that yet. I love blogging though and am hoping that will take off one day. Working from home is brilliant, you don’t need to dress up smart for work, you can save on fuel and save money on lunches at work.

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:34 PM

I had no idea there was such a market for managing people’s inboxes, but it proves profitable for me for sure! ;-) I like childcare as well in a lot of situations – you’re so right, you get to focus on caring for your own children at the same time that you earn! :)

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Bilgefisher July 29, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Joan,

I like the creative thinking within this post. There are countless ways to make money from home. I do urge caution when looking for alternative income streams. Many tasks have a very low return of dollars for the amount of time invested. Ending debt is only a small step in the ultimate goal. Freeing up our time. There is a saying “Even the wealthiest man cannot afford to waste one day”

As long as the money generation from working at home has the ultimate goal of freeing up your time through ending debt slavery, increasing passive income, or early retirement than I say it is worthwhile. But, if someone spends 20 extra hours a week (1120 hours per year or 46 days of their life/year) to generate $100/wk that does not go towards that free time end game, then I say that person has taken a step backward. Will spending 46 days per year to generate $5600 pretax income ultimately save you 46 days down the road, or have you merely traded 2 nickles for 1 dime.

Jason

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Joan Otto August 1, 2013 at 11:36 PM

I think that’s true, but I think the other piece is simply doing something you enjoy every day! (And, obviously, I’m the last person to advocate quitting a $100,000-a-year job to make $250 a month selling art or something – unless you’re financially sound and able to do so!)

The biggest hurdle I see is that so many people aren’t able to think outside the narrowly defined box of their job. There’s this misperception that all entrepreneurs (full-time or on the side) must “sell something,” or something like that. You know? And I’m sure glad that’s not true – sales is not my forte! :)

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Jennifer Woodward August 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM

Great post!

I decided to go freelance last year… but I needed to work both my freelance work and my regular job until my freelance work was bringing in enough money. That equaled long (70-100 hour) weeks for 5 months, exhaustion, and physical problems from sitting/working on a computer for so many hours per day that had to be treated medically. BUT – I would do it again (although in a smarter fashion!) because now that I’m fully up and running my schedule is AMAZING.

I like to have varied work and get bored really easily so I have multiple jobs that really have nothing to do with each other – that keeps me entertained :)

These work-from-home jobs include:

1.) Accounting Manager 75% virtual, 25% in office – Employee Status
2.) Executive Assistant 100% virtual – Independent Contractor
3.) Schedule Manager 100% virtual – Independent Contractor
4.) Freelance Writer 100% virtual – Independent Contractor
5.) Marketing 99% virtual (occasional in-person meeting @ office) – Independent Contractor
6.) Bookkeeping 100% virtual – Independent Contractor

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Joan Otto August 14, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Jennifer, that’s an excellent diverse set of income streams – and I am so glad you have a good time doing them!! :) You’re so right about how hard it can be at first, but it definitely feels great when you’re rolling!

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Kristy August 12, 2013 at 6:52 AM

I’ve thought about starting by doing some freelance work, selling my artwork, and selling my exess household stuff online, but the thing I’m trying to figure out, taxes. At what point does selling a few things, or doing some freelance work becomes taxable, and if you’re considered self employed or the money you make falls under other income? IRS website only says if you make more than $400 as self employed you have to pay taxes. Does anyone know where to go to get good info on this? Its so confusing.

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Joan Otto August 14, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Kristy, I STRONGLY recommend talking to an accountant. We use one and it’s been a lifesaver for us. I prepared taxes for a while and there are just so many details that there isn’t a way to give advice for a particular situation without sitting down and going over it, in my opinion!

The biggest thing I can recommend beyond making a plan with an accountant is to keep good records of what you make, when you make it, from whom, and what your expenses are. That makes such a difference!

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Gary August 12, 2013 at 5:32 PM

Ask your tax preparer before you start, also think about projecting about how much you’ll make. A rough business plan can’t hurt either.

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Joan Otto August 14, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Exactly, Gary! Getting those details organized up front makes a huge difference in the long run.

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Lindsey @ Sense & Sensibility August 25, 2013 at 1:07 AM

You’re right about networking – I’m far more likely to go to someone I’ve dealt with in some one before going to someone I’m unfamiliar with. Personally, I haven’t done anything formal like ‘hang my shingle’ but I’d like to expand my work into more freelancing stuff in the future. Thank you for the tips!

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