A Moms Guide to Working From Home

Balancing Family and Career Under One Roof

You want to be at home with your kids, but still want (and need) to have a career. If you’ve thought about how great it would be to work for yourself – no boss, no rush-hour traffic, no office politics – then you’ve probably considered working from home. But can you really get work done at the same time you’re on mommy-duty?

Thousands of women right now are proof that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Whether it’s by working several jobs, preparing dinner while teleconferencing or working in the wee hours of the night, women across the country are demonstrating that you can have the best of both worlds.

It’s not as easy as those envelope stuffing ads make it sound, and you might find yourself using the term “multitasking” to describe your life, yet all of the moms we spoke to agree: They wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mixing Productivity and Playtime

“I decided to stay at home for the same reason a lot of women do – I was tired of leaving my son with a sitter to go to a job that I hated,” says Prairie City, Iowa, mother of two, Kara Kelso. “I know I was missing a lot of my son’s life because I was gone every day and I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

Mixing business productivity with playtime can be a tricky juggling act, though, as Kelso has learned while operating her Web site, Mom’s Marketplace, an online shopping mall geared to mothers.

“I still struggle on some days,” says Kelso. “For the most part, I work from the time we all get up until around 4 in the afternoon. I take breaks to grab drinks for the kids, to make lunch and to change diapers. My 2-year-old daughter likes to sit on my lap a lot, so I’ve mastered the art of typing with a child on my lap or typing with one hand. Basically, I work around my kids when they are playing and don’t need me.”

Following your child’s schedule, especially in the early years, seems to work best for moms like Janelle Taliercio of Platte City, Mo., who operates two Web sites for moms – Mommy’s Place and Mommy’s Working Virtually – while working as a virtual assistant and caring for her 4-month-old son.

“I work on my son’s schedule,” she says. “He is at that time in his life where he likes to be entertained by his mommy. So, I do so. We have a good routine, so it’s getting easier to be Mommy and business owner and employee!”

This might be a difficult way to work if you are used to a 9-to-5 schedule. Many moms try to catch a block of time before their kids get up or after they have fallen asleep. It also helps to lower your productivity expectations in the beginning.

This is how Jennifer Strumbel, a mom in Monticello, Minn., works. “I try to get up earlier in the day so I have an hour in the morning before the kids are up to answer e-mails, get any packages ready and so forth,” says Strumbel, who is the owner and founder of On River Street, which sells unique gourmet foods and hand-poured candles. “I do work throughout the day, but I don’t have a set specific time so that I spend the more important time with the kids and attending to their needs and growth.”

The Importance of Support

Family support can play a key role in the success of your work-at-home venture. Explain to children about your career, your responsibilities and why it’s important to you. As Lynn Phelps, president of the National Work at Home Mom Association, points out, “When your children respect your work time, the distractions dwindle.”

Phelps suggests allowing your children to help out and be a part of your work. “Depending on their age, children can file papers, sharpen pencils, help you research and so much more,” she says. “By letting them experience what you are doing, they will come to a better understanding.”

Nora Statler, of Bloomfield, Mo., works as a Home and Garden Party consultant and lets her daughter in on the fun. “My daughter helps me,” she says. “She puts stickers on my catalogs! She’s a big fan of the merchandise and she loves to smell the candles.”

Also, discuss your career with your partner and be specific when asking for help. “Anyone considering a work-at-home opportunity should seek the support of her spouse,” says Phelps. “Spousal support can mean all the difference in success or failure. A great way to begin the discussion is to show an outline of your business plan. Your spouse will want to see what’s involved and what the outcome will be.”

Taliercio agrees that having her spouse’s support was key. “My husband helps with laundry, dishes, dinner, etc.,” she says. “I still have to work many hours a day and it’s very hard to do that and all the housework. Having my husband know how important my job is and that I need to take time out of each day for it makes all the difference in the world.”

The legal side of beginning your own business can be even more intimidating than juggling work and kids, mainly because it’s often a new and unfamiliar area. However, it is an aspect that requires immediate attention.

“You need to check zoning, business and other permits and licensing information,” says Phelps. “You’ll need to get appropriate licenses, permits and sales tax numbers from your state government offices. You also need to make sure that the area that you’re in is not saturated already with the type of business that you’re considering.”

Keeping good records of profits and losses is key, especially at tax time. Don’t be intimidated and procrastinate or even ignore the tax rules for small business owners. You will probably need to pay estimated taxes every four months if you are in business for yourself. Equip yourself with a good bookkeeping system and software to make these chores less arduous.

10 Tips for Home-based Success

Below are 10 home-tested tips that address some of the everyday dilemmas you may encounter on the road to working from home:

1. Be Flexible.

Nothing is more important for a work-at-home mom than the ability to switch from completing a major sale to taking a little one to the potty. Strict schedules are usually the first things to go in a home career. The trick is to not get stressed, adapt to the situation at hand and look ahead for other opportunities. “It’s been a juggling act and it’s never the same,” says Taliercio. “As soon as I think I have it all worked out, something changes and I have to figure it all out again! My son’s constantly growing and changing, so I have to adjust my schedule around his wants and needs. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve never felt as fulfilled and happy as I do now that I’m a mom and work from home!”

2. Set Realistic Goals.

What a confidence boost to have completed the day’s to-do list. Don’t sabotage your work by thinking you can do more than you can. Be honest in what you can do and adjust your goals to fit your current schedule. Taliercio initially ran into problems because, as she says, she gave up too fast.

“A lot of people are guilty of giving up too fast,” she says. “We think that a business should bring in money pretty quickly, but it doesn’t work that way. When I had my first Web site I gave up on it and almost gave up on business in general. I then was given a second chance. I researched, read, learned and asked questions. I’m happy to say it worked.”

3. Work When You Can.

If an opportunity to work presents itself (the kids are reading with Dad, the baby is taking an extra-long nap) be ready to take it. Even 10 minutes can allow you to send out e-mails or read a chapter in a book. “My kids manage my time for me!” says Statler. “I know when their playtime, naptime or mommy time is, so I work around that.”

4. Stay as Organized as Possible.

When you get a chance to work, the ability to jump right into a task is key. If you spend 20 minutes collecting your notes and files, that’s time wasted. “I use a dry erase board to list all the tasks I need to get done, so I’m not wasting time wondering what needs to be done or where I left off when I have to get up and do something else,” says Kelso.

“Portable workspace is an option to consider,” adds Phelps. “You can work from your kitchen table. Purchase a mobile cart that will hold your supplies and a mobile filing system for paperwork.” Voila, an office on wheels!

5. Divide Tasks.

A project that can seem daunting as a whole can be broken down into smaller and smaller steps that can be completed one by one.

6. Find Shortcuts.

Create business letter templates for correspondence you often write, bookmark Web sites and learn shortcuts others in your field use.

7. Do Your Homework and Learn From Others.

Read books on your subject. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. Take a night class if needed. Taliercio suggests using online message boards to share tips and tricks. After seven months of struggling to draw visitors to her Web site, Strumbel considered ending her business. Like many moms, she was trying to manage home, business and family while still having a little time left for herself. She found strength in the online community of working moms, joined forums and message boards and learned from moms just like herself.

8. Stay Confident (Fake It If You Have To).

In the beginning, you may feel that you lack experience. When speaking with someone, act like you know what you’re doing (if you’ve completed step No. 7, you probably do). Don’t be scared to say you don’t know something, though, because it’s a sign of honesty, not inexperience. Be prepared for criticism, but don’t be discouraged by it. “I had support from half my family,” says Kelso. “There were still a few that would give me the classic line: ‘Get a real job.’ I’m glad I tuned them out!”

9. Be Passionate About Work.

Nothing is a better motivator than doing something you love and believe in.

10. Step Back and Get Perspective.

When it all seems like too much or you feel like you haven’t gotten anything done all day, remember why you chose to stay at home. “Sure I love being a successful business woman from home,” says Strumbel. “But I wouldn’t be working from home if it wasn’t for my kids. I’d still be in the corporate world working 60 hours a week. As long as I keep in mind that my kids are the most important thing, I figure out how to do the rest.”

Is That Opportunity Knocking?

If you’ve made the decision to work at home, the next thing you need is, of course, a job! We’ve detailed some of the most popular work-from-home businesses below, so you can see which one fits your personality, lifestyle and aspirations.

Virtual Assisting

Description: Offer a variety of personalized administrative support to small business owners, such as writing invoices, setting appointments, planning trips and organizing personal affairs.

Pros: VAs are becoming quite popular and since it is still is a relatively new field there are many openings. Can be done entirely through telecommuting.

Cons: You will need to aggressively market yourself in the beginning to find a few clients with whom you can develop a relationship.

Experience: Administrative experience is helpful, but anyone who can handle multiple tasks and who enjoys supporting others in their businesses can be a successful VA.

Salary: Average salary is around $50 an hour.

Product Parties

Description: The cosmetic and plastic food storage parties of the 1950s have come back into vogue. Today, products range from toys to fine home décor to lingerie. The basic premise still remains the same: host a party and sell products.

Pros: You spend most of your work time at parties! Great discounts on the company’s merchandise. Nora Statler, owner of two online marketing Web sites, is a testament to the party plan. “I fell in love with the merchandise and on a whim decided to give it a go, never dreaming that I could turn this into a very profitable business, and never dreaming I would be this successful this quick,” she says. “I can name my own hours. The kids don’t have to be sent to the babysitter. The company makes it easy to sell their products. If I need money, all I have to do is schedule a party. It’s really nice to have an instant paycheck. I walk away from the party with at least $100 in my pocket that I have made.”

Cons: Most party companies require you to purchase party kits and demos. In addition, the majority of the work is outside the home and you may run out of friends to invite. “They can be fine for someone wanting to make a minimal income,” says Lynn Phelps, president of the National Work at Home Moms Association. “However, other factors need to be considered: mileage, kits, catalogs and other hidden costs that are involved with some of these party plans. Usually, in the end unless you’re willing to devote and run your party-plan like a full-time business, you end up spending more than you’re actually earning. If you consider the time that it takes to commit to finding people to have a party, your hourly income would be very small.”

Experience: Little needed, however it helps if you’re a “people person” and have a talent for selling.

Salary: Varies depending on the number of parties.

Tip: Comparison shop for a good plan, taking into account commission rates, inventory requirements, quotas, deliveries charges, incentives plans and support systems.

Web Design

Description: Design Web sites for businesses using HTML and Internet software.

Pros: Steady online business growth translates into demand for Web site designers.

Cons: Strong computer skills are needed.

Experience: A strong knowledge of HTML and good marketing sense are essentials for this career. Computer skills can be learned by taking one or two courses in Web site design and HTML. Be sure, however, that your instructor is a successful business designer himself.

Salary: Varies widely.

Home Daycare

Description: Take care of children in a specified area of your home, while staying at home with your own children.

Pros: Makes use of toys and equipment you probably already have. Great if you love (really love) being around children.

Cons: Space can become an issue. Conflicts may arise between the attention given to your own children and your client’s children. Varying parenting styles can also lead to tension. Burnout can happen quickly if you take on too many children. Hidden costs (like crayons, wipes, snacks, etc.) can add up.

Experience: It helps to have some knowledge of child development and the ability to keep your cool in chaotic situations.

Salary: Earn about $200 to $500 a week, depending on the number of children.

Tips: Start out slowly, with one or two children to see how it works. Make sure to check your local zoning laws and license requirements and obtain the necessary certifications. Also look into added insurance needs.


Description: Sell your own creations at neighborhood craft shows, fairs and online craft venues.

Pros: Allows you to express your creativity while making money.

Cons: Significant investment necessary in the beginning to buy materials and supplies. You’ll need space to store inventory and equipment.

Experience: Little experience needed, although an artistic eye is essential and you need to perfect your craft before you can begin to sell.

Tips: Use wholesale suppliers for materials and work to develop a personal niche that can meet consumer demand. Make sure you are able to produce enough products. Many crafters fail because they were unable to meet demand.

Freelance Writing

Description: Write, for example, magazine articles, commercial copy or children’s fiction.

Pros: Telecommute exclusively. Set your own schedule and work independently.

Cons: Rejections can become unnerving.

Experience: Helps to have some published pieces to show as samples. Writing for free for organizations and publications can give you experience working with editors and deadlines.

Salary: For magazines, expect to earn between $50 to $100 for each article for mid-sized publications. Commercial copy can be more lucrative.

Tips: Search magazine and publishing houses’ Web sites for submission or writer’s guidelines.

Mystery Shopping

Description: Visit stores or restaurants and report your findings to a contracted independent research company, such as the length of time it took to have a transaction completed or the steps taken in a return.

Pros: Get paid to shop. Need we say more?

Cons: A field littered with scam offers. Cannot be done exclusively from home.

Experience: None required.

Salary: Ranges from about $10 to $30 per trip.

Medical Transcription/Billing

Description: Transcribe doctors’ recorded dictations or write and file patient bills. Duties include updating client data, mailing out patient statements and filing claims.

Pros: A steady, solid career in an ever expanding field.

Cons: Investment in the beginning of several thousand dollars for equipment and training. Can become tedious work.

Experience: Knowledge of medical terminology and billing codes can be learned through home study or community college courses. Ability to type quickly helps.

Salary: $400 to $500 a week and up.

What Not to Do

Never pay a lot of money up front unless you have thoroughly checked out a refund policy and the company’s record with the Better Business Bureau.

Don’t buy into scams, such as home assembly jobs. Although the ads sound great, these “opportunities” often cost more money than you will make.

Don’t go into something just for the money. Write a list of the top five things you would like to do. Brainstorm how you can parlay one into a work-at-home career.

Don’t overwork. Burnout is bad for business. Slow, steady growth is best. Don’t jump into a business venture without a good month of solid research. “Beginners in any type of business opportunity or business owner situations usually fail to do the research required to have a successful work-at-home career,” says Phelps.

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