Knowing the difference between Grandma and the wolf

Legitimate opportunities for independent and flexible working do exist, and there are some very well-established and reputable examples in the UK, such as Avon, Oriflame, Kleeneze, Ann Summers, etc.  These companies generally work on a sales commission basis, with rewards for recruiting new salespeople to the organisation.  Unfortunately in the vast majority of cases the rewards are small and it is extremely difficult to build up to a level of sales which would generate a living-wage income.

Other, less well-established operators often offer what appears to be a greater level of reward, and no doubt some are genuinely trying to establish themselves in the same marketplace, and have every intention of offering their representatives a real chance to join them and to earn some money with them.  However, there are clearly a higher number whose only intention is to take money from prospective partners, rather than to enable them to earn it.

How do we tell the difference?

When we are in a position where we feel that we need to seek out ways to make money in a flexible way, we already know that our options are limited.  Often the search for home-based opportunities is brought on by finances becoming increasingly tight, so we may be seeking more desperately at this point and therefore be tempted to overlook warning signs in the hope that we have found a real opportunity.  However, under these circumstances, it is more important than ever that we don’t end up actually losing money through our efforts to earn some extra cash.

Early signs

Generally there are a couple of clear tell-tale signs that something isn’t a genuine opportunity which you can detect without making any further enquiries, particularly:

  • Advertising that doesn’t clearly state what is involved, for example “Need to earn cash from home? Genuine opportunity.  Inbox for details”.  If it’s a genuine opportunity, there’s no harm in saying a bit more up-front about what it involves.
  • Unrealistic earning potential, e.g. “I’ve got no qualifications but I earnt £800 last week doing this while the kids were at school”. Unless it’s high-class prostitution, drug dealing, or some other highly illegal activity, it’s unlikely.

Digging deeper

If you dig a little deeper into the “opportunities”, there are more warning signs that this isn’t going to yield any profit for you, for example:

  • Initial outlay required, e.g. “Pay just £150 for all this trial kit and you’ll earn it back in 3 days”. Chances are, you won’t, and you’ll just end up with a load of stuff you don’t want and you’ll be £150 worse off.  The company, on the other hand, have just made a nice £150 sale.
  • Registration fees, e.g. “Just £50 admin fee, fully refundable against your first payment”. Any genuine opportunity will not charge you any sort of administration or registration fee.  If they require your services to assist them in operating and developing their business, and they intend to pay you for your services, why would you have to pay them first?
  • Recruitment-based activities, e.g. “Join for £100, get 4 of your friends to join as our consultants and you’ll get a £500 bonus and 10% commission on all their sales”. This is a pyramid scheme and basically the people lower are just giving money to the people at the top and never get anything back in return.

These are just a few of the most common examples, and it would take a very long time to go through every type of “con” relating to home working opportunities, but there are some very creative but greedy people out there trying to exploit those who just want to earn some money in a flexible home-based way.

In reality, there are established companies that allow you to make a little bit of money from home, mainly by selling to your friends, family and neighbours, but it is rarely sustainable or enough to provide an income that justifies the effort required.

If you want a genuine opportunity to develop a flexible home-based income, you need to do it by yourself, because the majority of other people are doing it to make money for themselves, rather than for you.

Next time…  Being honest with yourself – what are your sellable strengths and worrying weaknesses?

How I found my niche… (it isn’t easy)

So, how do you think I ended up working from home?

Did I wake up one morning having literally dreamt of a way to make a good living from home?  No.

Did I pay someone to allow me to piggyback onto their system?  No, not that either.

Did someone come along and give me a brilliant lesson on what I should and shouldn’t do?  Sadly not.

There wasn’t a quick fix.  There still isn’t a quick fix.

The way I found the way to make money from home was by trying lots of things that didn’t work, finding out along the way what my strengths and weaknesses were, and getting used to the concept of trying to make money without visiting a defined place of work for a defined length of time and being paid a fixed amount in the process,  Meanwhile, I constantly worked at building a skillset that would allow me to do something that generated reasonable money and which was flexible in schedule and location.

“You’re 10 years too late!”

I had my critics, even back then.  Once, I was in a postgraduate statistics seminar and the lecturer asked each student why they were there.  All the other students were on a one-year taught MSc in Occupational Psychology, and they gave very worthy explanations expressing traditional career aspirations.  I was attending as a supplementary part of a research-based programme, and I explained that I was doing it as a means of building the skillset that would afford me the flexibility to work from home, so that I could look after my family and earn a living at the same time.  At the time, when I was 22, that meant looking after my increasingly frail grandmother, but I had a hazy vision of one day having a child, and figured it would be similar in terms of time demand.  The lecturer drew herself up to her full height and dismissively said “Well, you’re 10 years too late for that!”.  Interestingly, nearly 15 years later, here I am…

Opportunity knocks hard

“Opportunities” to work from home (and I use the word “opportunities” loosely) have always been advertised, but recently their prevalence on social media has reached record levels.  Years ago, companies sold directories of so-called opportunities and various suggestions for ways to earn money from home, which they would post to your house, for a fee.  I think I still have one somewhere.

Once, I responded to an “opportunity” in the local paper from a company offering home-based work assembling and packing items.  Participants had to drive to an industrial unit (some 5 miles from my house) in a vehicle large enough to accommodate a sufficient quantity of materials to make the process worthwhile.  No mileage allowance was payable for collection and delivery and payments were calculated per unit returned in a completed state.  This was before the introduction of the minimum wage, and I did two different sets of work for this company.  The first was assembling children’s drawing packs to include a pencil, ruler, paper pad, eraser, etc. in a clear plastic bag, with a cardboard hanger top stapled to keep everything in.  The second was assembling fancy two-layer greeting cards with an internal card section and a plastic exterior, held together with a fine double-sided tape, and packaged with a matching envelope.

Packing it in

The first set of work paid very badly, but I thought it was either just that I was slow on the first one, or just unfortunate that I had got a particularly bad job for the first one.  Having embarked upon a second piece of work, determined to make this “opportunity” work, I set up a well-organised production line on a large coffee table in the lounge and enlisted my grandmother to assist.  We built up a good speed of work, but after 8 solid hours we had completed enough to earn £16 between us – a total of £1 per hour each.  At the time, jobs that would now offer £7+ per hour under the minimum wage were paying around £3.50 per hour, so today’s equivalent earnings were £2 per hour, and the fuel to collect and deliver the work had to be paid out of that, and we were “self-employed” so no tax, National Insurance or pension contributions were made on our behalf.  I concluded that there was no “opportunity” there, returned the unused materials and the completed work, and drove off.

The important lessons I learned were that nobody was out to offer me a work-from-home “opportunity” that was going to be anywhere near as beneficial for me as it was for them.  I was going to have to find a way to do it for myself.


Next time…  Knowing the difference between grandma and the wolf