Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I've had a lot of jobs in my day from high school English teacher to restaurant manager to executive secretary to home-based entrepreneur. Many years ago, when Deus Ex Machina and I returned to Maine to settle down and raise our family, we brought with us a little baby girl. Even though I had always worked at an outside job, we knew, when we bought our house and got settled, that one of us would be a full-time, stay-at-home parent to our children.

We'd also made some other choices as parents, one of which was breast-feeding, and so the decision about who would be the one to stay home seemed pretty obvious - it would be me.

The thing is, I had no intention of being a SAHM (stay-at-home Mom). What I decided is that I would be a WAHM (work-at-home Mom).

And so I did.

I saw an advertisement for couple of books on "How to start a home-based typing service." I figured I could type, so why not. We bought the books (but if you're reading this, and you've seen those ads, DON'T buy those books. It's a scam, and I can give you some resources where you'll get the same, or better, information for free or at least considerably cheaper ... anyway - lesson learned, right?), and I started reading. I guess maybe "scam" is too harsh a word, because it's not exactly a scam. The "how-to" book did have some good information, but the accompanying "customer database" book was, essentially, a list of local businesses that was taken straight from my local yellow pages, which I could get for free (grr!), but paid a lot of money for. The two books cost in excess of $100, and while it wasn't, exactly, a scam, it was definitely a rip-off. Someone made some money. I hope that person worked from home, at least.

Anyway, I bought and read the books, and then got to work sending out letters letting people know I was in business, which was actually pretty costly, even back then when postage was cheaper (postage, envelopes, paper, printer ink). I also made flyers, which we put up around the college, and I put an advertisement in the local "free" paper.

Getting my first customers took some time, but eventually, I found one full-time (25 hours/week) client, and worked for him for two years. Then, I found another, similar client, and worked for her for two years, and when she decided to close her business, I bought one of her contracts, and I've been working for that client ever since. I've also had many, many smaller, short-term jobs, and I've done everything from web design, to general typing, to database design and data entry, to transcription - of all sorts. I've been self-employed for more than a decade, and I've had the good fortune to have "clients" who were willing to provide me with a lot of very valuable OJT (on the job training).

Between 1998 and 2002, I spent a lot of time researching the "home-based business" phenomenon. During that time, one statistic I saw stated that the home-based business was the "fastest growing industry" in the US, but it wasn't just business owners working from home. Telecommuting and freelance work were also becoming very popular and one statistic estimated four million people were working from home.

In 2000, Lisa Roberts (who founded En-Parent.com) and Paul and Sarah Edwards (touted as the "self-employment experts") co-authored a book entitled The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Work and Your Life. I filled out a questionnaire for the book, but as one of more than a 100 virtual assistants, they opted not to use my profile, but I still received an honorable mention and am quoted on page 380 (talking about how my son helped me when writing marketing materials).

The book lists 101 "family-friendly home-based businesses and careers", and it's not just computer-related/administrative types of work or craft projects either. One job that sounded really interesting was the "American Indian Art Dealer."

The thing is that with the exception of purely service-oriented jobs (retail, food service), some types of manufacturing jobs, and ... mining ... nearly any job could be adapted to, at least, part-time work-from-home. Okay, probably not "sea captain", but a taxi driver, for instance, could have a home-based job, if he were a sole-proprietor, right?

In my vision of our future suburbs, we'll all be working from home. In fact, there was a time when working from home was the norm and having a job outside of the home was the anomaly. I see us returning to that sort of arrangement, especially in the suburbs, because I predict, as gasoline prices continue to wildly fluctuate and slowly creep; as people continue to lose their jobs but still need some income, even a small one; as it becomes unfeasible to move, but commuting long distances is simply not an option, we'll need to be able to support ourselves - whether by working for money or for food - and we'll need to do it close to where we live.

I know most people think it's not possible. There's no way they can make the money they make from their "job" working for themselves at home, but like a good many things we're led to believe, that's a lie. It can be done.

The next problem most people have is trying to figure out what to do. For me, the computer/administrative work was kind of a no-brainer. I bought the books, because for three of the previous four years I had worked as an admin assistant/personnel clerk, and it just seemed like a natural segue. Before that, though, I'd been a restaurant manager, and the question is how to make that sort of job a "home-based business" (caterer, would be one possibility). It would, certainly, have taken some careful thought. So, when I was doing all of my research and compiling of information, I came up with a list of possible home-based careers. Not all of them translate to a low-energy future home-based job, but many of them did, and here are a few:

Basket Weaver
Clinician/doctor/nurse practitioner
Child Care Provider/Elderly Care Provider
Electronics Repairer
Auto mechanic
Bicycle mechanic
Freelance Writer
Hair Stylist
Herbal Consultant
Fiber artist (knitter, spinner)
Massage Therapist
Foreign Language Teacher
Herb Grower/Supplier
Herbal Products Maker (soap, cosmetics)
Custom Costume Designer/Seamstress
Custom Toy Maker
Custom Furniture Maker
Landscaper/Permaculture Designer
Legal Consultant
Portrait Painter
Yard Sale/Garage-Thrift Store Operator
Newspaper Deliveries

All of those jobs could be done from a garage, a basement, or a spare room. Some of them could even be done from a tiny corner of a back bedroom.

Deus Ex Machina and I have been simplifying our lives for the past several years in the hopes that he will feel comfortable enough to quit his commute and come work (with me) from home. He probaly won't be doing the same job he does now. He will, likely, not even be doing the same sort of work.

I bet, though, if he had to choose from the above list, he could find happiness in a career as a basket weaver. And we happen to know where we can get some free basket making material.


  1. Heehee, basket-weaving material? Around here, that would be kudzu. And speaking of home-based businesses, you could probably get people to pay you to remove it!

  2. I think your premise of work-from-home is wonderful. What I have found is that state & local laws/zoning requirements often get in the way. And so do neighbors if they do not understand the premise of work from home as an individual or couple.

    Boils down to the 'do what you love the money will follow' idea. And the money does not have to be a 6 figure income.

  3. FARf = I heard somewhere that kudzu was edible. So, if someone would pay you to remove it, then you'd truly get a "free" meal. How cool is that?!

    Bellen - I completely agree. Do what you love and the money will follow. I was watching some video thing a few weeks ago, and the point was made that poverty/being poor is not about not having money, but about the psychosocial stress of "feeling poor." If we reevaluate how we feel about what we "need", then I think we would definitely have some different feelings about how much is adequate ;).

  4. I ran a home-based daycare for four years. I loved it! Being a single parent household, I was thrilled that I was able to earn an income and still be home with my children. I would still be doing it today if my ex and his new girlfriend hadn't set out to sabotage my business.

    I've considered doing it again. Our current home is far to small to do a full center again, but I could care for a couple extra children with no problem. And when we look at buying our own home (which might happen as soon as December, if we get a second source of income this summer), I'll be keeping the idea of a home daycare in mind when I look at properties and home layouts.

  5. Patricia = ever consider offering a summer "school" program? You could just have your kids' friends over for a couple of hours each week and do lessons or something. You could ask for donations, or charge a per kid or per class fee. It would be some extra income, and since you're already doing it with your kids it wouldn't be any extra work, necessarily. Plus, those people who want to keep their kids up-to-date, but don't feel like they have the time/skill would appreciate your doing it for them.

  6. I will say, as a massage therapist, that while basing your practice from home and going to your client's to work is quite doable most places (and is, in fact, one of my jobs), actually working in-home is not always a possibility, given clinic regulations. I've looked into it, because I would love to open a home-clinic, but the laws in my state (last I checked) would require a separate entrance and separate bathroom, along with specific amounts of dedicated floor space, etc. I suspect most other health practitioners would run into similar challenges these days.

  7. @Wendy hmmm, that's an excellent idea! I wish this had come sooner - the end of the school year in this area is Friday, so I don't have enough time to set much up...but I might still try!

    This would also work for non-school days and school holidays...

  8. @Fae = Yep. It would be a challenge, but I think, in the long run, that even with renovations, having the office at home would be a heckuva lot cheaper than renting office space and driving to an office. With some home businesses, you can get a rider on your homeowner's policy (one insurance payment); you're already paying the mortgage (or have it paid off) so there'd be no rent; you're already connected to and paying for the utilities, and chances are that they wouldn't increase too much.

    Plus, you couldn't beat the commute ;).

    @Patricia = You should do it! It would be fun!

  9. A couple of things I have down for home based business. I have three embroidery machines,,,and numerous antique sewing machines, hand crank style.....do a lot of leather sewing and custom embroidery. It got to the point I had to build a shop next to the house. The wife stays busy. I have other things going on, and a day job to keep us with health insurance.

  10. @warlock - custom embroidery and leather work sound like a couple of very cool home business ideas. I love that you also have some older machines, too - which means that you could still do sewing jobs even without electricity ;).