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

We all have a view on what we are good at, and what we are not good at.  I’m good at making curries, and finding practical ways to solve problems, and I’m not good at doing anything that involves being up a ladder or on scaffolding.  However, the things that spring to mind as our “best” and “worst” areas aren’t always the ones that are relevant to our capability to make money.

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Perhaps it’s better to focus on our characteristics and how they make us good at some things and bad at others, because it’s those characteristics that we can apply to new situations which will make us good at new (money-making) things.  So, for example, it’s my calm and logical approach that helps me to deal with panicking tenants, or to troubleshoot problems with an online assessment system, or deal with most other problems that life throws at me on a daily basis.  My preference for things that I can do by myself in my office without having to speak to people is an area that I have to keep an eye on to make sure I don’t miss out on opportunities in an attempt to avoid less comfortable situations.  It’s about knowing yourself and understanding what sort of money-making activities are compatible with your character strengths.

I’ve always been the calm and practical type.  Many years ago when I lived with my mum and my nan, we got a phone call from my neighbour on a Sunday evening.  He was an older man, a foreigner who had lived in the UK for 30 years but still had a very strong accent, and he had lived alone for over a decade since the death of his wife, keeping himself to himself.  I answered the phone and he said with a degree of panic in his voice, “There’s a bat in my living room!” but given his accent, I wasn’t sure that I’d heard him correctly, and in any case, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it.  I replied “There’s a what in your living room?” to which he responded “A bat.  A bat.  I just hit it with my coat.”

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Thinking that it couldn’t get much stranger, I told my mum and we both went round and knocked on his door.  He was something of a hoarder, and not familiar with domestic cleaning techniques, so we braced ourselves.  He invited us in and up to his living room, where he gestured to the window area.  We picked our way across the room between the tables, footstools, records, ornaments and general detritus, and found a small bat lying dazed on the laminate flooring.  The neighbour confirmed that as darkness had begun to fall, the bat had woken up and appeared from the back of a picture he had earlier purchased at a car boot sale.  He had responded by flailing at it with his coat and knocking it onto the floor.  I poked it gingerly with an unidentified nearby object and it displayed signs of life.  The decision now was what to do about it.

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It didn’t look very well.  The weird foreign neighbour stood in the lounge waiting for us to do something about the errant and now damaged bat in his living room.  I went home and returned with all I could find at the time which may help with the situation (this was pre-landlord days so I was not well-equipped) – a small seaside-style bucket, a small fish net and a roll of cling film.  I was going to put the bat in the bucket and take it outside and put it out of its misery, but when we went to pick it up with the net, it flapped and managed to gain about 5 feet of lift, before giving up and falling neatly into the bucket I was waving in its general direction.  Given its valiant attempts at survival, I stuck cling film over it, poked some holes in the top, and called a local wildlife shelter, run by a moderately crazy woman in a mid-terraced house on an estate on the opposite side of town.  We jumped in the car and dropped the bat off to the even battier woman for recuperation.

Maybe the moral of this story is that it helps to be a bit batty…

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Girl power, facebook and drinking tea

Being a Self-Employed Mum isn’t all about independence and girl power.  Sometimes it’s a little bit lonely, with no colleagues to chat to, and nobody to share the responsibility of the mountain of tasks that must be completed to ensure that the money comes in.

Sometimes it’s quite frustrating, when people assume that you MUST have lots of money because clearly you do NOTHING all day except browse facebook and drink tea, and you still manage to buy things and pay bills and all sorts, therefore they must be entitled to interest-free personal loans from the Bank of the Self-Employed Mum.

Sometimes it’s hard not to scream at them that their timing is awful, that in fact YOU could use a loan from THEM because some idiot somewhere hasn’t paid their bill on time and your cash flow is out of the window, that you’ve over-committed yourself in an attempt to save money in the long run, that actually if they worked a bit harder – like YOU do – and looked after their credit ratings – like YOU have to – then they too could be in the enviable position of having their friends make the assumption that they can and indeed should lend them money.

Nicer problems to have

When initially searching for ideas on how to be a Self-Employed Mum, the prospect of making even a basic living wage whilst enjoying some independence and flexibility sounded like it would solve all my problems in one fell swoop.  What I didn’t realise at the time, though, was that the more successful my enterprises became, the more that particular set of problems would just be replaced with a different set of equally real problems.  Problems that may be nicer to have, admittedly, but problems nonetheless, and problems cause stress.

Some of the most stressful problems that come with achievement relate to maintaining relationships with people.  Jealousy is a terrible thing, and it can make people very bitter.  I’m very lucky, I have some great friends, one of whom in particular is always hugely supportive and never resentful, even when he is struggling financially and I’m doing well.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t ask for a loan here and there… but I know that he genuinely is pleased for me when I do well, and he will go out of his way to assist me in any way that he can in furthering my enterprises.  Friends like that are rare, and must be appreciated, and cultivated, because for every one of those, there will be numerous people who you thought were friends but who actually end up resenting you for the achievements that you have worked hard for.

Growth strategy or happy accident

Not everyone sets out to escalate their work-from-home activities into a bigger business that generates a higher income, but if you enjoy what you do, and you do it well, it naturally grows, in an organic way, and it basically happens when you aren’t looking.  You aren’t looking because you’re too busy just DOING it.

People often say to me “I want to have my own business”, without particularly having any idea of what it is they want to actually do, much less what is going to set them apart from any other people doing something similar,  which just makes me want to slap them, because “the business” is merely the administrative product of doing whatever it is you do on a daily basis to service your customers. Focusing on “having a business”, rather than on giving the absolute best product and/or service to the customers, clearly indicates a totally inappropriate attitude for successful self-employment, and ultimately spells impending failure.  In my less charitable moments, I might say that failure was well-deserved.

If you have the spirit for successful self-employment, you will go through processes of trial-and-error, through which you will optimise your products and/or services, develop a good client base, and you won’t be able to say “no” to opportunities that present themselves.  Over time, if you’re fortunate, hard-working and sensible, you will find that the scale of your operations increase and the revenue increases too.

Then you find out who your true friends are – they’re the ones who help you out when you have over-committed yourself and have no time to pick the kids up or make dinner or go out on a night out that you’d all planned.  They’re the ones who don’t constantly tell you how lucky you are and expect you to pick up the bill because they’re “a bit skint and you know how it is at the end of the month when you get paid monthly, but it’s ok for you isn’t it, you don’t have that problem…”

No woman is an island

You need the support of people who genuinely want you to succeed, but it’s important to identify the people whose intentions are good, and on the flip side work out who will resent your successes and relish your failures.  If you’re going it alone, you need all the support you can get, and unfortunately some of your friends and even family members may show true colours that you wouldn’t expect, as you start to build up a lifestyle they envy.

 

Next time…  Being honest with yourself – what are your sellable strengths and worrying weaknesses?  (That was meant to be this time but I felt compelled by recent events to write this post instead!)

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

Living the dream

A few days ago I realised that apparently I am “living the dream”, based on the rate with which the facebook ads urging people to get in touch for opportunities to work from home are increasing in frequency.  “Become self-employed!”, they urge, “Work from home, guaranteed results, be able to stay at home with your children!” and people seem to be genuinely desperate enough to respond, despite the fact that it never says quite what the “opportunity” involves, and anything that requires just a computer and phone, and no qualifications or experience in anything, is unlikely to be as easy and well-paid as the posts would suggest.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This made me think about how I got myself to the position where I was living the life that so many seem to be chasing.  OK, I’m not super rich, or famous, or anything too exciting.  I’m just a normal person, living quite a normal sort of life, but I am self-employed and work from home and I’ve been making a go of it for over 8 years now.  I’m 36 years old, I have a little boy of 3, and a husband with mild Aspergers’ Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder) and health issues from diabetes.  I have made a living and a lifestyle of working at home and providing for my family.  It isn’t particularly glamorous but I’ve proved it’s achievable, and I’d like to tell you a bit about what I’ve learnt on the way.

In my experience, implementing a successful work-from-home situation takes a bit more than a laptop, phone and the desire not to leave the house.  I always wanted to work from home, and I can say first-hand that it took a lot more than that.  An awful lot more.  If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

Having said that, it is now easier than it has ever been for people to be able to work independently from home, with the recent leaps of technology bringing superfast broadband into our homes and HD web conferencing facilities at minimal cost, and the increasing shift to the online platform for all our activities from education to grocery shopping to entertainment and social interaction.  There is now an opportunity for everyone to use those tools to enable them to work flexibly and have the work-from-home lifestyle – well nearly everyone, some people just don’t have the drive or self-motivation to do it – but for everyone else, it’s just a case of finding the right area and the right specific income-generating activity for you.

So how can you get started?

There are two initial hurdles to overcome in heading down the work-from-home path – firstly finding the right niche for you, and secondly being sure that you and the people around you understand the difference between working from home and not working at all.

Finding the right niche is absolutely essential in order to have any success.  There are so many people out there chasing their dream of flexible home based working, financial independence, and all the imagined benefits that come with it, that there are certainly no fortunes to be made from signing up to someone else’s pyramid scheme, or harassing people with cold calls for a beauty product/diet/insurance product/home improvement service/whatever for 20p per lead generated.  Those things are designed purely to make money for the people running them, and they rely upon people’s willingness to try anything for a chance of the lifestyle they want.

If you want the work-from-home lifestyle, you have to find your own way to get it.  Perhaps you’re a superb cake maker, or you can crochet anything in minutes, or you are an extremely fast audio typist or really like ironing.  All of these things are crowded markets generally, you need something that sets you apart, a speciality, something specific that you do better, faster and cheaper than anyone else.  And then you do it within the comfort of your own home, so you need a space where you can do it, where you and your work can be left alone if required.  It needs to be something you really like because it’s going to be there with you all the time.  You can’t go home from work and leave it behind, because you live there.  You succeed or fail based on your ability to maintain your dedication, your standards, your ability to adapt to meet the needs of your client base, and your passion for what you do.  It’s all down to you.  Choose wisely.

Working from home means you can do what you like, when you like, right?

Not exactly.  Do I get to spend my days under the same roof as my little boy?  Yes.  Do I spend the majority of the day with him?  No.  Do I have more flexibility to make appointments and arrangements for non-work activities?  Yes.  Do those things take priority over work?  No.  Work comes first.  Always.  It never leaves you.  With a “proper job”, you get to take your annual leave and forget about work, knowing you get paid holiday and your job will just carry on when you get back.  You can walk out of the building and what happens there becomes someone else’s responsibility.  Not with this life.

The work-at-home lifestyle is just that, it’s a lifestyle, you have to commit to it fully, it’s like another member of the family that you live with day in, day out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You have to love it, give it your attention every day, and make sure it is looked after properly.  It’s the ultimate co-dependent relationship – it relies entirely upon you for its survival, and you rely on it for your income.

A lot of people have asked me how I maintain the discipline of getting on with work and not just wandering off and doing something else around the house.  There are two answers to this question – firstly, you get used to it, and secondly, if you’re home based then you don’t get the money just for turning up, you have to actually produce some work or show some evidence of activity in order to get paid, so if you don’t do it, you don’t pay the bills.  It’s amazing the motivation that comes from the threat of ending up with no source of income.

Self-employed or unemployed?

I have had significant difficulties with friends and family treating me as though I am unemployed rather than self-employed, taking the view that I must be sitting on the sofa eating sandwiches all day rather than working, and assuming that it is OK to take up time that I need for work on trivialities or social activities.  Obviously, if it’s something important, the flexibility of working at home allows you to deal with the issue and then get back to work and make time up later, but more often than not the time in which you should be working is taken up due to thoughtlessness on the part of others and the assumption that as you’re at home you can’t be doing anything important.  People will just expect you to be available for them whenever they have time for you, because they go out to “proper work”, which is much more important you know, and your work isn’t real anyway because you’re only doing a bit at home, so they have a nasty habit of turning up whenever they like and staying as long as they like, which keeps you away from the primary task of earning some money.

So… to make it work you need something you’re good at, that you love, and that you can actually do within the confines of your home.  You need the support of family and friends, and the dedication and flexibility to do what needs to be done to make it work.  You need have the ability to balance work and home without clear boundaries between the two, or you risk sacrificing the one thing that motivates most people to want to work at home – family life.

 

Next time…  the path to enlightenment – how I found my niche…