When you were a kid, you might have dreamed of growing up to become a fashion designer or world-famous architect, but a sagging economy and tight job market have made these kinds of dream jobs hard to come by. Just because your ideal employer isn't clamoring to hire you doesn't mean you have to settle for a boring 9-to-5 job you hate. Create your own dream job!
Nearly 6 million Americans primarily work from home and more than 13 million Americans spend at least one day a week in a home office [source: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Census Bureau]. It may not be much fun to be isolated from peers and you may find yourself waiting by the mailbox for checks, but being self-employed and working from home have some distinct advantages: There's no more stressful commute. Your office is just steps from your bedroom. You even can go to work every day in your Tweety Bird pajamas, if you like. When you need to take a three-hour lunch or two-week vacation, you don't have to ask your boss for permission, because you don't have one. Best of all, the earning potential is unlimited: The more hours you work, the more you earn!
Sound intriguing? Here are a few ideas to get you started on a work-from-home career, plus some tips on avoiding the scammers who try to prey on home workers.
Are you a fabulous chef? Do your friends rave every time you host a dinner party? Why not profit from your culinary talents by starting your own cooking business?
You have several options when it comes to starting a home-based cooking business. You can be a personal chef, sell food or baked goods at local farmers' markets and supermarkets, or start your own catering business serving parties and other special events.
Before you fire up your oven, though, you need to find out whether you're allowed to cook out of your own kitchen. Many state health departments require any food that's sold to the public to be prepared in a commercial kitchen. If that's the case in your area, you'll have to either bring your own kitchen up to code or rent one near you. Also check with your state, city, and county to find out whether your business will require a food safety and/or catering license, as well as a permit and inspections.
Once your kitchen is fully legal, it needs to be operational. Decide what type of food you're going to specialize in, whether you're making cupcakes, barbecue or French haute cuisine. Once you've got a menu, you have to invest in the equipment and supplies you'll need to make it.
You also need to cover yourself with liability insurance, just in case one of your customers winds up with a bad case of food poisoning after eating your famous oyster casserole.
Everyone is busy these days, and many of us need help with the simplest tasks, like picking up our laundry, shopping for clothes or making dinner reservations. That need creates an opening for anyone with good organizational skills and a willingness to tackle any task -- no matter how mundane.
Virtual concierges act much like the concierges you encounter at hotels. They do everything from running errands to making travel reservations for busy executives. A concierge might be asked to pick up dry cleaning one day, and track down 500 white roses for a marriage proposal the next.
As a concierge you can work for yourself, or for a concierge company like VIP Desk. Having your own concierge business is riskier because you need to drum up your own clients, but it also means you can set your own hours rather than working a fixed schedule.
Another type of personal service professional is a personal shopper, who actually gets paid to shop! People with limited time -- or fashion sense -- hire personal shoppers to create outfits and accessories that match their style. If you love spending time in your mall and local boutiques, this is the perfect job for you. The greatest asset a successful personal shopper can have is good taste. If you are also good at helping people design their makeup and hairstyle, then you can be a personal stylist or image consultant.
Skills that require little more than a computer and telephone offer lots of flexibility. Creative professions like writing, graphic design, translation and public relations all give you the option of working from home.
Freelancing offers consistent opportunities, no matter what the general job outlook. When companies are cash heavy, they have extra work that requires freelance help. When they're cash-strapped, they can't afford to hire full-timers with benefits, so they bring on more affordable freelance workers.
Here are a few freelance job options:
- Writing, editing, and proofreading newspaper and magazine articles, Web content, books, blogs, technical manuals and corporate marketing materials
- Graphic design --- creating brochures and other business marketing materials, Web sites, books and video game animations
- Public relations -- writing press releases and contacting TV stations and other media outlets to get coverage for your clients
- Translation -- translating books, business documents, audio and other materials into English or another language, and interpreting for people who speak different languages and are trying to communicate
If you're going to freelance in a creative profession, be prepared to show samples of your work. Post your articles or graphic designs on a Web site, or put together a portfolio you can quickly send to prospective freelance employers.
Can you type and answer phones? Then you're already qualified for one of the many administrative work-at-home positions available. You could specialize in a certain type of assistance or branch out to provide a one-stop-shop. Here are a few of your options:
- Transcription -- You listen to and transcribe recordings of meetings, telephone calls or personal dictation. To work as a medical transcriptionist, you need some knowledge of medical terms. Legal transcriptionists similarly must be familiar with legal terminology. Depending on the company that hires you, you may need to buy a transcription foot pedal or other equipment.
- Customer service -- Airlines, clothing stores and other companies need representatives to answer customer calls. When they don't want to staff their own customer service centers, they hire at-home workers.
- Answering service -- Doctor's offices and other businesses need answering service representatives to pick up calls and take messages when their offices are closed.
- Virtual administrative assistant -- Just like an administrative assistant who works in an office, a virtual assistant handles everything from typing and data entry to answering phones and making travel arrangements.
Do you have an old baseball card collection lying around, collecting dust? Or have you knitted an entire collection of sweaters you don't know what to do with? You could earn extra income selling them online.
Here are a few home sales possibilities:
- Sell your homemade jewelry and other crafts on a Web site like Etsy. You'll pay a small fee to list each item, plus 3.5 percent of the final sale price, but you'll have access to people around the world who want to buy exactly what you're selling. Art Fire is another online artists' marketplace.
- Start your own eBay store. You can sell just about anything on eBay, from collectibles to cars. You just need to post the item and ship it once someone buys. When you sell with an online auction like eBay, it's important to provide excellent customer service. The more positive feedback you receive, the more likely prospective buyers will be to purchase your items.
- Go to work for a direct marketing company like Mary Kay, Avon, Lia Sophia, CAbi, Amway or others. These businesses cut out the brick-and-mortar store, letting you sell directly to your friends, neighbors, colleagues and relatives. Direct sales are ideal for people who are motivated, hard-working -- and have an established network of potential buyers.
If you have a way with widgets and want to work from home, become a software developer. You can flex your creative muscle (and your knowledge of source code) as you author computer software tailored to meet your clients' needs. Armed with computer-programming skills, or at least the aptitude to hone them, software designers are experiencing an in-demand job market, one expected to grow 30 percent in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020. While this faster-than-average growth is a good thing, the salary's not bad, either. Software designers earned an average salary of about $90,000 in 2010 [source: U.S. Department of Labor].
There are two primary career tracks in software development: applications or systems. If you opt to develop software applications, you'll enter into the world of computer gaming and information processing. System software developers, on the other hand, create everything from widely used operating systems to those tailored for specific organizations. Whichever route you choose, you can expect to sometimes work long hours -- especially as a big project comes to fruition -- and to work from home. Many software designers are able to telecommute, embracing distraction-free productivity and make-your-own-hours freedom. Of course, a healthy dose of self-discipline is required to deliver the work, which is why an innate interest in computer software is an essential part of the package, too.
Have the training and skills to read X-rays, but long to set your own hours and work without distractions? Consider putting your radiology career on another track -- one that has you working from a home office. Granted, you'll already have invested considerable time and expense in graduation from medical school and completing a residency program, but now that you're free to diagnose diseases and injuries by studying X-rays, and CT and MRI scans, you're in the driver's seat. It's a profession suited to outsourcing. There's no need to interact with patients in an office setting; instead, a radiologist can use a personal computer tied into a hospital or medical practice's network to view X-rays and scans, and then make their professional recommendations.
You could work as an independent contractor for a company that hires radiologists to read X-rays for medical clients, including hospitals. Imaging On Call is one such company. You could strike out on your own, courting and serving clients of your own choosing. Or you could make work-from-home arrangements a bargaining chip during your next job negotiation.
And, with an expected shortage of radiologists on the horizon, the work-at-home odds could fall in your favor. By the year 2020, the U.S. is predicted to need 4,000 more radiologists than will be available [source: Mann]. So, for those of you still considering a change in profession, there's plenty of time to finish medical school -- and expect a lucrative career to be waiting on the other end of your diploma. In 2011, a survey of more than 24,000 U.S. radiologists found their salaries were the highest of all medical specialists, about $315,000 a year [source: Medscape].
Tax preparation offers flexible hours, at-home work and a nearly guaranteed busy season. Plus, you don't need to know tax code by heart to succeed -- or even be a certified public accountant, for that matter.
The key is to take one of the tax preparation courses offered by one of the nationwide tax preparation firms. These courses, offered by H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and others, are usually reasonably priced (sometimes free) and are offered across the U.S., either at in-person locations or online. And, whether or not you are hired by the tax preparation firm that offered the course, you can still use your newfound skills to launch your own business or pick up work with a local agency. Plus, with the aid of tax prep software, you'll probably only need to bust out the tax code manual under special circumstances or when you take a refresher course each year.
In some states, non-CPA tax preparers must meet a few regulations before they can take on clients. In California, for example, tax preparers must complete a 60-hour class from an approved school. In Oregon, tax preparers must register with the state. Otherwise, the industry isn't heavily regulated in the U.S [source: Monster]. The median tax preparer in the United States makes $32,320 a year but the top end earns more than $70,000 [source: U.S. Department of Labor].
If you're a registered nurse who has tired of hospital hours or the daily commute to a local doctor's office, there's an emerging way to make extra money from home. While working as a nurse is thought of as a hands-on position, that's not always the case. Health care and insurance companies hire nurses to answer patient questions by telephone or e-mail about their medical conditions or medication. Often, these companies also provide the computer and software you'll need because they want to ensure compliance with patient privacy regulations. Contracting to work as a virtual nurse is a way to stay connected to your profession while working from home, and because of its flexible hours, it's particularly suited for parents, retirees or anyone wanting more freedom in their daily schedules. You can check companies like Fonemed for employment or get more information at the American Telemedicine Association.
Of course, you don't need to interact with patients -- even by telephone or e-mail -- if you work as a legal nurse consultant. What you will need, though, is a combination of hands-on nursing experience and specialized training before launching a solo career in this field. Once you've completed your training, expect to spend time building your business as you network and market your new business to attorneys and corporate clients interested in having a medical professional review cases involving injured workers or other medical matters [source: Adams].
As the number of online courses offered in the U.S. continues to bloom, so does the number of opportunities to work as an online college professor. Granted, you'll need to have (or put) a few basics in place, including an advanced college degree (usually a master's degree, at least) and expertise in your specialty. Pair this with good written and interpersonal skills, and you may find yourself well suited for remote instruction. This type of work requires computer skills, too. You'll often use a portal designed to communicate with students, post assignments and host classroom chats. An online college professor can expect to earn an average of $56,000 a year [source: EduChoices].
Although you'll need to be available at regular times to host classes, the rest of your schedule is up to you. You can grade papers at midnight or schedule a planning session at 5 a.m. On-campus profs may give you a hard time for "phoning it in," but in some respects, teaching an online class can be more difficult than teaching one that meets face-to-face. You'll need to extend extra effort to engage and retain students in this virtual environment. If you have a passion for teaching online, but lack a master's degree, take heart: There are an increasing number of virtual schools for K-12 students, and most require teachers to have just a bachelor's degree.
HowStuffWorks talks to financial experts to find out the best ways to save money every day. And none of their advice includes giving up Starbucks.
Author's Note: 10 Ways to Make Extra Money from Home
Having worked in newsrooms, corporate environments and a home office, I'd have to say my home office wins -- hands down. (I do have to admit newsrooms are pretty entertaining, though.) The best part of working at home is the productivity. I discovered, early on, that what used to require a week's worth of work in an office took only three days at home. And this left time to take on more work that I enjoy. I've run across reports of telecommuters getting more done for less money, and I understand the attraction. When you don't have to extend a large portion of your pay to wardrobe updates, vehicle maintenance, fuel and lunches with co-workers, there is more to go around. -- LD
More Great Links
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