Making a Living From Your Home Office
Many moms want and need to earn money, but balancing child care and work poses a problem. For many, working from home is a good option. Not only is it possible to save time by eliminating a daily commute, but moms also appreciate being available for their kids during the day. Still, working from home has challenges, though many can be resolved with a little planning and open communication among employers and clients.
What Companies Allow You to Work From Home?
Many businesses and government agencies, including “traditional” companies that operate bricks-and-mortar offices, are willing to hire home-based workers:
Private sector employment: Many companies, both large and small, allow employees to work from home. Some of the bigger names include Hilton, Amazon and United Health Group.
If you are currently employed and are interested in working from home, talk to your supervisor. Even if your company doesn't currently offer telecommuting as an option, that doesn't mean that they aren't willing to consider it.
Government jobs: The federal government allows many of its employees to work from home either part-time or full-time. A website called Telework.gov provides information and support to teleworkers and government agencies.
Freelance work: Some companies rely heavily on home-based freelancers, particularly writers, editors and graphic designers.
If you work from home as a self-employed freelancer, you are responsible for paying quarterly estimated tax to federal, state and local tax authorities. You'll have to set aside a portion of your earnings so that you can make these payments. Failure to do so can result in a huge tax bill at the end of the year.
How Can I Identify Legitimate Home Work Opportunities?
If you are not already employed by a company that allows you to work from home, be aware that some of the online opportunities you encounter may not be legitimate. Unfortunately, some individuals and businesses use “work-from-home” ads to take advantage of applicants in the following ways:
- Identity theft: A company may offer a work-from-home position and ask you to fill out an application asking for sensitive information, such as bank details for direct deposit or your Social Security number. A scammer can use this information to open credit lines in your name or drain your bank account.
- Stealing work: If you respond to a job ad and receiving a response asking you to provide an unpaid sample of your work, be wary. The company may be trying to get you to work for free.
- Taking your money: Some companies may ask you to pay for training or materials, which is almost certainly signals a scam.
How you can protect yourself:
- Don’t pay for a job: Legitimate companies, including those that hire freelancers, understand that training new workers is a normal business expense.
- Request a written contract or agreement: Before you do any work for a company, get a written contract or agreement stating the services you’ll be performing, salary and payroll times. If a company asks you to provide a sample of your work, offer a link to your online portfolio. If they want you to create a custom sample, get a signed agreement that if they use the sample, they must pay you for it.
- Do some research: If you aren’t familiar with the company offering an online job, do some research. Check to see if it’s registered as a business in the state where it’s headquartered, look the company up on the Better Business Bureau website, and check work-at-home forums.
- Don’t send sensitive information right away: A legitimate work-from-home opportunity will need to collect some sensitive information from you, such as your name, address and Social Security number. In the hands of a scammer, however, this information can be used to steal your identity. Don’t provide this information until you’ve researched the business thoroughly.
How Can I Work From Home if I Have a Baby?
Working from home with a small child can pose a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Some common issues as well as possible solutions:
- Communicate with clients and employers: If you have a new baby at home, let your employer or your clients know that things might be topsy-turvy for a while. For example, let them know that response times to emails and texts may take a little longer or that you may need a bit more lead time on projects. That way, if a business contact knows that you have a baby, he or she won’t be so surprised to hear a baby crying or babbling in the background during phone meetings.
- Keep to a schedule: This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have a baby who sleeps and eats on schedule, learn to divide work tasks during those times when your child doesn’t need your full attention. Use a day planner to stay on track.Get help: If working from home with the baby gets overwhelming, consider getting some help. If you know other work-from-home moms, propose that you occasionally swap child care duties in which each of you takes care of the other’s kids once or twice a week. Other options include hiring a babysitter who can care for your baby in your home. You’ll be able to get more work done, and your baby will get the attention that he or she needs.
I’m Already Working From Home; How Can I Make More Money?
If you’re working from home but are not satisfied with your current income, you may be able to improve your earnings by taking one or several steps.
Update Your Home Office
A badly organized home office, or no dedicated home office at all, can have a negative impact on your earnings. If you are constantly being distracted by noise, aches and pains, or having to leave home to perform necessary business tasks, it’s time to take action:
- Get a private office: When possible, set aside a room in your home that you use only for work. If that’s not possible, find an area that you can convert into a permanent workspace: Use portable screens or room dividers at least during the work week.
- Be comfortable: Check the lighting and the ergonomics of your workstation. If you find yourself suffering from eye fatigue, back or neck pain at the end of the day, consider getting a new monitor, adjusting your desk height, or buying a new office chair.
- Buy necessary office equipment: Avoid interrupting your workday by having to run out to get copies made, documents shredded or mailing labels printed. Purchase what you need to do your job or run your business.
Rethink Your Work Habits
Poor work habits can also hamper your productivity and work quality. Some changes to consider:
- Set regular work hours: A flexible schedule doesn’t mean no schedule at all. Many people who work from home are surprised to find themselves working 12- and 14-hour days, seven days a week. Decide on a work schedule that works for you and your family and stick to it.
- Choose a time management system: If you have a hard time staying on-task, look into the various time management systems available, such as the Pomodoro Technique, to find one that works for you.
- Dress for success: Working in your pajamas is a bad idea. You don’t have to wear a suit to your home office unless you’re going to be participating in an important phone meeting, but you’ll feel more professional if you’ve showered and are wearing work-casual clothing.
- Get your family’s cooperation: Constant interruptions are demoralizing and hurt your productivity. Call a family meeting and ask for everyone’s cooperation in respecting the privacy of your home office. Make a rule that all non-essential questions and messages are delivered before or after work hours.
Talk to Your Client or Boss
If you are an employee who hasn’t had a raise in a while or you’ve been making the same freelance rate for the past few years, don’t be afraid to talk to your client or boss. Because you aren’t sharing a physical space with your employer, he or she may not be paying as much attention to your career development. It’s up to you to take the initiative: Ask for a meeting.
Seek New Work Opportunities
As an experienced telecommuter or freelancer, you have an advantage over applicants who have never successfully worked from home. When you apply for a new position, point out that you have been working out of a home office for some time and know how to stay productive and professional even if you aren’t in the company office.
Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.