Avoid Work at Home Scams

If you Google “work at home”, Google will return more than 6 billion results.  You obviously don’t want to wade through all these results.  That would be a job in and of itself.  The results will be a mix of advice articles, cautionary tales, job listings and scams.  In general, the scams far outweigh the genuine job opportunities.  Some will be so patently fake, they’re easy to avoid.  Some are much more subtle and harder to identify as a scam.

Here’s a list that should set off warning bells right off:

  • Envelope stuffing
  • Assembly or craft work
  • Rebate processing
  • Online searches
  • Lists of work at home jobs or lists of companies that hire telecommuters that you have to pay for

These are some of the more obvious examples to avoid.  One field to avoid or approach with caution might surprise you: medical billing or medical coding.  This sounds like a great opportunity.  This is obviously a real career and the compensation is often quite good.  This is also a very competitive field.  Employers that hire teleworkers often require graduation from an accredited program, licensure and several years experience in an on-site position.  If you have these qualifications, it may be a difficult field to break into, but definitely one to consider.  Be sure to research the employer carefully and don’t accept any positions that require you to spend lots of money on specialized equipment or software.  For those who don’t have the education or experience for these position, be wary of advertisements that promise that you can get your certification and a job within months.  Understand that if you want to pursue this course, it will likely take you years to gain the education and experience to even qualify for a work at home position.

Online education opportunities are expanding exponentially right now.  Even so, there is still a stigma attached to online education, so if  you’re considering going back to school and you’re looking at online programs, make sure the school is properly accredited.  Also look online for testimonials from former students.  You’ll often pay nearly as much for an online program as you would an on campus program, so you want to make sure you’re getting a degree or certification that has true value.

When it comes to any prospective work at home position or online training program, research is key.  Check with the Federal Trade Commission, your state’s attorney general’s office, the Better Business Bureau, or even just Google the company.  If it’s a scam, you’ll often find cautionary tales posted online.  Always investigate education programs by ensuring they’re properly accredited and search for testimonials by former students.  If they had difficulty finding a job after they complete the program, there’s a good chance you will too.

In my next post, we’ll look at whether traditional employment or starting your own enterprise will suit your needs better.  thanks for joining me!

H. Lounsbury

First Steps to Finding a Work From Home Position

Before you start digging through the help wanted ads, take a moment to step back and think about what kind of job you’re looking for (other than a work from home position!).

Personally, I don’t want anything with restrictive hours or that ties me to a phone or desk for 8 to 9 hours straight.  What good does it me to be at home with my little boy if I’m working the entire day?  It’s not fair to me, my son or my prospective employer.  And frankly, at this point, my commute to work is only ten minutes.  It’s not my commute I’m trying to eliminate.  I want my work schedule to be more flexible around my family life.  This is my most important criteria in my job search.  Knowing this, I’ve already eliminated a selection of potential positions.  This saves me a lot of time as I go through the job ads.  I can easily discount a number of jobs that won’t fit the schedule I desire.

Now would be a good time to start a list of what kind of job you’re looking for.  (I know, what’s with me and lists?  I like lists…ok, ok, I admit it, I LOVE lists.)  Add on to the list you started earlier with the specific jobs you’re qualified for.  What kind of hours are you looking for?  For example, do you need full time or would part time work better?  Are you okay with working rigidly fixed shifts or even rotating shifts?  What about weekends?   Beyond just job duties and responsibilities, think about how your job will fit into your life.  Some people are okay with jobs that have erratic hours.  It’s easy to pop into your home office for an hour and finish a project, but do you want this sort of intrusion into your home life?

Another way to add to this list is to consider things about your current or past jobs that you’ve enjoyed and things that have annoyed you.  Will these be issues with a work from home position?  Add anything pertinent to your list.  Salary or hourly wages are a good item to add to this list.  What do you need to survive?  What do you need to be comfortable?  Do you want a guaranteed monthly income or can you deal with the fluctuating income of a commission based position?  What about benefits?  Can you arrange to get health insurance at a reasonable rate from another source if your future position doesn’t offer it? 

Now, prioritize your list.  My priorities are flexible work hours and a steady income.  I don’t need a full time position, in fact I’d prefer part time, but I do need a minimum monthly salary. 

All right, now you should have a detailed list of what kind of job you’re looking for, not just a job title, but a list covering all aspects of a job.  Will you be able to find the exact job you’re looking for?  Maybe not, but you should now know what your priorities are in your job search.  This will keep you from wasting time applying to jobs that will ultimately not be the right match for your skills or for what you desire in a work from home position.

Keep that list handy.  In a few later posts, I’ll address detailed aspects of the job search, but first I’m going to blog about two topics I consider extremely important when you start looking for a work from home job.  First, in my next post, I’ll blog about how to avoid scams.  In the following post, I’ll help guide you in deciding if a traditional employee-employer based work from home position is what you’re looking for or if you should consider starting your own business or franchise.

Stay tuned for more pit stops on my road to finding a work from home position.

H. Lounsbury

The Easiest Way to Get a Work From Home Job

Okay, I promised I’d reveal the easiest way to secure a work from home job.  This is how I got my first work from home position. 

If you’ve read previous posts on this blog, especially my last post, entitled “Transitioning Your Skills to a Work From Home Job”, you’ve realized the best approach to finding a telecommuting or work at home position is to focus on jobs that match the education and job skills you already possess.  An alternative, if you want to move into a new job field, is to get more training or education.

But before you start signing up for classes, stop and evaluate your current position.  First question, and the most important in my opinion, is:  do you like your current position?  If one of your main motivations for transitioning to a work from home position is because you’re bored with your current job or just don’t like the work you’re doing, then you will probably be better off in the end if you look for a different position or even delve into a new field. 

However, if you like your current job, you may be just a few steps away from getting a work from home position.  This particular method may be an especially attractive option if you like your work but you’re not fond of your work environment (i.e. you hate sitting in a cubicle all day or maybe you just don’t get along with your coworkers).  So, the next question to ask yourself is:  could my current position transition to a work from home position?

In some cases, the answer to this question will be a definite “no”.  If you’re a police officer or a firefighter, face it, you can’t do your current job from home.  But there are many jobs that can transition to work from home.  My previous telecommuting position was working as a health insurance claims adjuster for an insurance company.  I sat in front of a computer and processed 200 – 250 insurance claims per day.  I answered mailboxes and emails from coworkers.  I answered the occasional phone call.  Most of my job tools were online, so I didn’t need file cabinets full of papers or shelves full of books to do my job. 

A good way to evaluate your job and determine if it’s suited to become a work from home position is to make a list of all your job duties.  I’m not talking about your job description.  Write down what you do every day from the start of your day until you clock out.  Once you’ve drafted your list, go back through each item.  Could each duty be done from home?  Check these off your list.  For any task that is questionable, try to come up with an alternative way that it could be done from home. 

So, my previous job was perfect for a work from home position.  How did I convince my employer to let me work from home?  I was lucky.  They already had a few other employees in a similar position and I just asked if I could join their ranks.  I lived about 60 minutes from town and the commute was wearying.  My employer provided me with a computer, an internet connection and even a dedicated phone line.  The transition went pretty smoothly and if it hadn’t been THE MOST boring job in existence, I’d probably still be doing it.

Now, we’ve evaluated whether your job can be transitioned into a work from home position.  So, if it can be, how do you convince your employer to let you telecommute?  Well, before you run into your boss’s office and get down on your knees to beg him or her to let you work from home, take a little bit more time and look at all aspects of your current job.  By this, I mean look at your current job performance.  Are you a reliable employee?  Do you often work without a lot of direct supervision?  Does your boss regularly have to remind you of work deadlines or even extend deadlines for tasks? 

Work from home positions can make supervisors very nervous when it comes to employee performance.  If your job has metrics that your employer uses to measure your productivity and performance, you may have better luck convincing your boss to let you work from home.  My telecommuting position had easily measureable performance standards based on the number of claims processed per day and my claim turnaround times.  If your current metrics are above average or outstanding, this is something to point out to your boss.  It is also a way they can monitor your work at home.  Don’t hesitate to set work expectations (if they don’t already exist) with your boss when you talk about working from home.  Having defined work expectations will also help you stay on track as an employee.

So, your job doesn’t have readily available metrics used to measure your work performance.  Don’t despair.  Work attendance is also a good measure of your reliability.  If you don’t have the best track record, spend the next couple months or so boosting it.  The same goes with your other job duties.  Employers will be more willing to consider a telecommuting option if you’ve shown you’re a solid employee who can self-motivate.  Another way to track your performance is a work task log.  Keep track of everything you do.  Don’t make it too detailed and time consuming, but a simple log of what you do and what a good job you do might also influence your boss.

The final hurdle is going to be your home office.  Some employers might provide all the equipment you need to work from home, but it can’t hurt your cause to have an office that’s ready to go.  In this scenario, it might be in your best interest to have a dedicated room with a door to devote to your home office.  This will help convince your supervisor that you can avoid distractions.  Consider what you need at your current onsite office to do your job.  Can you provide the basics to get your telecommuting office up and running?  Even if your employer can provide you with a computer and pays for your internet access, make sure the kind of high speed internet access you need is available in your area.

I know this option sounds ridiculously easy.  Some people don’t even consider it when they think about getting a work from home job.  The key is to make sure you have a plan and are in the right position to propose such a transition to your employer.  If you go into your boss’s office with a viable plan and all the facts, showing you’ve thought the idea through thoroughly and considered all the issues and problems associated with it, you’re going to have a much better chance.

Finally, if your current job won’t transition well to a telecommuting position, look at other positions within your company.  A lateral move might be the right choice in such a case.  I would caution against accepting a new position (either with your current employer or a new employer) and them immediately asking to work from home.  Spend AT LEAST four to six months in a position before you make such a proposal.  And make sure you show your employer how great an employee you are during this time.  Lay the groundwork before you reap the rewards.

Whew, for an “easy” topic, this ended up being a long post, but I think it’s a really great way to get a work from home job if it works for you.  My next post will be on how to start searching for legitimate work from home positions.

H. Lounsbury

Transitioning Your Skills to a Work From Home Job

You’re focused and self-disciplined.  Chores and soap operas won’t distract you from getting your work done.  You don’t mind a bit of solitude because you make sure you spend plenty of time with friends, coworkers and family during your downtime.  And you at home office is ready to go.  But do you really have what it takes to work from home?

Not all jobs can be done from a home office.  My current part-time position is as a medical laboratory scientist in a hospital.  My job requires that I be on site to deal with the laboratory specimens and run the medical tests on the expensive, enormous analyzers in the hospital lab.  I cannot do this job from home.  I can’t bring any of my work home with me.  That’s actually something I like a lot about this job.  When I walk out the door, I am done until my next shift.

But the skills related to this job could be transitioned into a work from home position.  I could work for the companies that manufacture the analyzers I currently work with.  They often employ former lab scientists to service the analyzers.  These service reps work from home and travel when necessary to sites to perform maintenance or install a new analyzer.  With a young child, I’m not interested in this much travel right now.  Maybe in the future.

Another option would be to work as a medical writer.  Government regulations require that licensed professionals, like medical lab scientist, complete a number of continuing education (CE) hours each year.  CE writers sometimes work from home.

So you see, just because I can’t do my current job from home, it doesn’t mean the knowledge and skills I acquired during years of schooling and on the job experience can’t be transitioned into a work from home position.

The best way to figure out if your skills will transition well into a work from home position is to browse the work from home help wanted ads.  I like Indeed.com.  Search from “Work from Home” or “Telecommute” with a location of “Remote” or leave the location blank.  In the resulting job openings, look for jobs with titles similar to your current job or in the same field.  Compare the job requirements to your schooling, experience and skills.  This will give you a good idea if your skills can transition well.

So what if none of your current skills will transition to a work at home position?  Consider getting more education or training.  Look at the various work from home openings to find an area that interest you.  Consider your time frame.  Are you willing to go back to school for two, four or more years to land in a career you can work from home in?  Maybe you’re tired of the field your in and ready for a new challenge.  If you decide to go this route, make sure you carefully research your new chosen field to ensure the job will be work at home friendly.  If your timeframe is less than years, consider taking a few classes to enhance your current skills instead of moving into a different field.

Now is a good time to brush off your resume and update it.  Look at some sample resumes in your field and at job ads (on site and work from home) to see what skills might enhance your resume for employers.  Tailor your skills and your resume to what employers are looking for.  If you just dive in and start dive-bombing every employer out there with a telecommute job with your resume, you’ll just waste your time and theirs.

Finally, make sure you like the work you plan on doing.  Finding a work at home job is like searching for an onsite job.  You may be satisfied with any job as long as you can work from home, but chances are good that if you wouldn’t enjoy the job on site, you won’t enjoy doing it from home.

All right, by now you should know if you have the right traits and skills necessary for a work from home job.  If you haven’t already, take time to make a list of jobs you’re qualified for and would enjoy doing from home.  This will save you lots of time once you start looking for that work from home job.

Oh, crap, hold on just a second!  I skipped a really important step in all this and it’s the easiest way to get a work from home job.  Darn, I’m out of time.  Guess you’ll just have to swing by for my next blog entry to find out “The Easiest Way to Find a Work From Home Job”.


H. Lounsbury

The Right Stuff — Are You Cutout to Work From Home?

So, you want to work from home?  It’s a lovely image isn’t it?  Roll out of bed without an alarm.  Leisurely brew a pot of coffee and eat your breakfast.  Still in pajamas and robe, wander down to your home office and get to work.  After a few hours of work, take a break and shower.  Finally get into daytime clothes.  Work a few more hours before knocking off.  And you’re home, no commute in rush hour traffic.

It’s a wonderful dream, but are you cutout to work from home?  I spent two years telecommuting as a health insurance claims adjuster (most boring job ever, by the way) and while working from home I not only maintained one of the highest productivity levels within our department, even when compared to coworkers who worked in our main office, but I also kept up a 100% accuracy rating.  How did I manage this?

Well, some people will say that working from home can help minimize the distractions sometimes found in the workplace, like friendly chatter with coworkers.  I was also subject to less interruption from a ringing phone as the company’s customer service department fielded most of my calls and interoffice communication was largely routed through email.  But anyone who thinks there are less distractions at home is nuts.

I have two big, goofy dogs that think if I’m home, it must be petting time!  One parked herself on the dog bed under my desk and demanded regular attention.  The other wandered into my office every half hour for a good dose of ear rubs and chest scratches.  Then I had the stupid idea to put a television with cable in my office.  Even the History Channel is more interesting that health insurance claims.  Have you ever seen Cities of the Underworld?  Totally fascinating.  Then there are the chores.  My laundry is sitting there in heaps and the dishes are piled in the sink.  I’m home, so shouldn’t I take a few minutes and clean up those messes.  Then there’s your family or other loved ones who share your living space.  Who wouldn’t rather play with the kids or hang out rather than work?

To succeed in working from home, you need to be able to compartmentalize your work life and your home life.  Work time is work time.  Hang a “Do not disturb” sign on your office door if necessary.  But if it’s easy to be distracted by your pets and house chores, the opposite is tragically true as well.  Your office is right there.  That report is due tomorrow.  You’ll just sit down and work on it for a few minutes.  Yes, you’ve already put in your eight hours for the day but….

Self-discipline and the ability to compartmentalize are vital if you want to do well working from home.  If you’ve worked in a job with little direct supervision and excelled, you probably already possess these traits in spades and you’re one step ahead in possessing the characteristics you need to succeed in working from home.

A need for socialization also plays a big role in determining if you’ll do well working from home.  The relationships we form with coworkers can provide much of the social interaction we need as human beings.  We are a social species.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t live in such huge clusters.  Of course, some of us need more interactions than others.  I tend to be on the lower end of that scale myself but while working from home, I found myself missing the interaction work provided.  Even worse, I lived about an hour from town and all my friends and family.  When considering working from home, think about how this choice will affect you socially.  Are most of your friends also your coworkers?  Will you miss your daily interactions?  If so, consider making the transition to work from home a part time gig.  A few days a week in the office can provide needed social interactions.  Or if you’re close enough, drop by for the weekly staff meeting.  If you’re still set on working full time from home, make sure your social network is strong and provides you with plenty of socialization outside of work.  Or an alternative is to consider a career from home that provides interaction via phone or video conferencing.

So, you have the self-discipline to ignore those distractions at home that might draw you away from work while at the same time, the discipline to self-motivate while not spending all your time in the desk chair in your home office.  Now, you’ve determined your social life is robust enough to keep you from talking to the walls from the sheer lack of human interaction while working from home.  You’re ready to go, right?  Maybe.

Take a look at your home.  Is there a place you can dedicate to your home office?  It doesn’t have to be a separate room.  Even a small corner desk where you can set up shop may work just fine.  I like to work from my laptop with my feet up in my recliner.  But I also try to work paperless.  If your job requires manuals, files and papers, consider a small desk or a separate office space.  A defined space will also help you get in the right mindset to focus on work and ignore distractions.

Some of this might seem daunting.  Maybe you don’t have the space for a home office or you know you’ll miss the social interaction at work.  But it’s all something you can deal with.  Everyone just needs a system to deal with the things that might distract him or her the most.  Sit down and make a list of Pros and Cons (I love lists!  Yes, I am a Type A Personality.  Why do you ask?).  Maybe you have a spare room but it’s already set aside as a guest room.  Can you add a desk in an unused corner?

If you feel you’ll greatly miss the social interactions of the workplace, make a point to schedule regular time to meet friends.  I had a standing lunch appointment with a friend every week when I worked for the insurance company.  Invite the family over for dinner once a week.  Go out for drinks with your coworkers once a month.  Anything that gets you out of the house!

Self-discipline and focus are the hardest to fake.  Dealing with these issues can be an ongoing process.  Learn what distracts you most easily and eliminate the source (bye bye television in the office) or learn to moderate its influence.

So, you think you’ve got a handle on what it takes to work from home?  Well, hold your horses.  This is just what it takes to get started.  There are other challenges you might face working from home and I’ll address those in my next blog.  So head back here soon for more hints and tips on what it takes to work from home.

H. Lounsbury

The Journey to Working from Home Begins

When you’re about to have a child, you get a lot of different advice from the people around you.  And sometimes from complete strangers as well.  The very visible signs of impending parenthood seem to make people think it’s okay to give you advice on the very common human state of becoming a parent.  Some of their advice may be true and some may be completely cockeyed.  It all depends on how you ultimately experience being a parent.

The truest piece of advice I received?  “Your life will never be the same.”  A vague and sweeping statement, but true in so many ways.  I’m certain I’ve never lived on so little sleep in my life (and to me, sleep is more vital than any other necessity in life.  I love sleep).  I’m also certain I’ve never loved another human being the way I love my son.  The thing about certainty is that it’s so easily shattered.

Before I became a parent, I was sure I’d never want to be a stay-at-home mom.  But after my three month maternity leave, I was suddenly certain I did not want to leave my son for 40 hours per week and I’d certainly gained new respect for parents who stay home with their children.

Handing in my resignation and staying home, unfortunately, is not an option for me.  Even if we economize, my family still needs my paycheck.  I was able to cut back to a four-day workweek, but 32 hours is still too long to be away from my child every week.  Besides, I would love to have a second child but childcare for one, let alone two, kids just isn’t in our budget.

I’m not the sort, however, to just suck it up and deal with it.  I like to get my way (youngest child, only girl, a little bit spoiled…) but I don’t mind working hard to get what I want.  I never expect anyone to just give me what I want.

So the ultimate solution to my dilemma?  Find a way to stay at home but earn the income my family needs.  Working from home will allow me to spend the time with my son that I crave but it will also cut out our daycare expenses.  This means that the one big obstacle to kiddo #2 is no longer a hurdle.

Of course, it’s never that easy, is it?  Not just any work from home option will do.  It’s been several months since I decided I ultimately want to work from home, but I still head off to work four days per week.  My journey is to find just the right work from home opportunity and that’s what this blog is about.

Whether you want to work from home to be with your children, like me, or you like being able to work in your pajamas or you like living in the middle of nowhere but still need income, the journey and the goal are the same: freedom from the workplace.  Through this blog, I will diary my journey to full-time employee to work-from-home mom.  I’ll be sharing lots of tips to help others along the road to working from home including:  deciding if you’re cut out to work from home and discovering what kind of work from home position is right for you.

I hope my journey will help inspire and inform.

H. Lounsbury