Tips on finding your best work-at-home career

Parenting is the most important job I've ever had.  I've been lucky enough to be able to be home with my kids while they're young, and I'm thankful every day for the opportunity.  But (and this is a big but) it's really, really hard to live on one income.  You can survive, but it's tough to take vacations and pay for Christmas gifts without taking a big hit to the checkbook.

I recently decided that it was important to me to find a way to supplement our income, without giving up my stay-at-home mom status.

There is so much information on working from home.  I was completely overwhelmed, and not sure what was a scam and what was legit.  After a lot of research, a zillion questions, and a few "Why am I doing this, again?" moments, I'm very happy with the path I chose.  I've been pretty successful so far, and I'm thrilled to be doing a job that feels absolutely nothing like work.

However, I found nothing online that was easily understood, made sense to me, or was available in little ol' Billings.  So here's my take on what you should find out and consider before attempting to work at home, and a few lessons I've recently learned about the logistics of actually doing it.

#1:  There are some very different kinds of work-at-home jobs.

There are jobs like preparing mailings, writing, editing, proofreading, and medical transcription where you are working for a business or individual that pays you directly. And there are direct sales jobs, where you actually work as an independent representative for a business.  By starting as an independent consultant, you start your own small business.  You market yourself, you pay your own taxes, and you are responsible for the details of your business.  There are some jobs where you can work at home for a local company.  All of these types of jobs have pros and cons.  I've ended up doing one of each, but only you can decide what best fits you.

If you want to find one of the first kind, googling will find you a million.  But beware; with this type of work-at-home gig, you should NEVER have to pay a fee to them to start working for them.  If they ask you for money up front, it is not a good sign.  Make sure to check it out very thoroughly before paying anyone for job leads or the jobs themselves.

For the second type, there may be a start-up fee.  It isn't unusual in a direct sales business to pay the company a fee, which usually includes some product, marketing materials, website, and other business tools.

#2:  Do something you love!  I know that's a cheesy cliche.  But honestly, working at home is sometimes HARD.  Working in your pj's sounds like an ideal world, but making your job a priority when all your other priorities are singing, playing and making a mess around you is much more difficult than I anticipated.  I'm pretty sure that if I didn't love what I was doing, I wouldn't get it done.

#3:  Research any company you're contemplating doing business with carefully.  If you find a freelance blogging job, or one for medical transcription, make sure you find reviews.  Talk to someone (at least by email) who has done work for that company before.  Make sure they got paid when they should have, and find out anything you can before signing on.  If you are interested in direct sales, look up anything and everything you can find about the company, talk to a representative, go to a party or a show.  Look at the product, the quality, the marketability, and whether or not you will use the product.  Because in direct sales, if you don't use your products, you won't sell your products.

#4:  Compare companies. If you're freelancing, look at the rates the company is offering.  Compare it with rates of a similar company.  Check out deadlines, turnaround time, contact info.  It all makes a difference in how good your experience will be.  For direct sales jobs, compare the start-up fees, the amount of product you need to purchase, the number of representatives in your area, and the commission amounts.

#5:  This applies only to direct sales, but I strongly suggest only signing up under a person who you like and respect, and who gives you prompt, honest answers to your questions.  In direct sales, the person you sign up with is called your up-line, and you are part of their team from then on.  You want to make sure you have a supportive, helpful up-line.

#6:  Be sure your family is supportive of you working from home.  If my husband and my kids didn't respect and support my work time, I would be completely incapable of doing my job.

#7:  Set a work schedule.  Part of working from home is not having to maintain an exact schedule, and I enjoy that.  But if you don't work on a schedule, you'll either work a lot more hours than you intended, or you won't get to it at all.  I have twenty minutes every day set aside for marketing, and I have (or am supposed to have, anyway), an hour a week for writing.  This is the part of working from home that I haven't even come close to mastering.  I'm very good at marketing outside of my set hours, and I'm excellent at giving up my writing hour because of a kid-mergency or a messy house.

It truly can be a great solution for a one-income household.  It takes research, dedication, and discipline.  But moms are pretty fabulous at all three!