Working at Home:
The Pitfalls and Possibilities of Being a WAHM
by Carol Topp
Working at home while homeschooling can provide a very attractive and flexible environment for both teaching children and making money. As a work-at-home mom, you can have your foot comfortably placed in two very different worlds: your children’s world, and the income-producing business world. Running my accounting practice from my home is ideal as it affords me time to teach my daughters and provides income as well. However, being a work-at-home mom (WAHM) also has some pitfalls. Here is my advice from the trenches.
Start With What You Know
Don’t start a business; instead, grow a business from your current interests and hobbies. If you pick a field that is already familiar, then you can concentrate on building a business rather than learning about a new trade, product, or service. Starting and running a home business means long hours and sacrifice. It is easier to do when you are doing something you enjoy. Focus on areas where you can see yourself spending a lot of time. Then consider whether your area of interest can generate income.
Before you begin being a work-at-home-mom, ask yourself: from where will the time come? If you think you will need 10-20 hours a week, write down specifically where you’ll find that time.
For example: *
*Skip three favorite TV shows: three hours a week *
*Get up one hour earlier (ouch!): five hours a week *
*Work one night: four hours a week
Then discuss your list with your spouse and children. They will be your reality check. Can you really be productive in the morning? What if customers call or visit in the mid-afternoon? What if sales calls must be made in the evenings?
Set Work-at-Home Mom Boundaries *
* Set up a REAL office. Have real office hours, rules for the phone, and an actual office setting or at least a spot where you can work comfortably and store your things. A room with a door is ideal.
* Establish a daily routine with a set lunch time and a real quitting time.
* Turn on the answering machine during meal prep time. Do not answer the phone, and do not let the children answer it either. Nothing throws off a schedule like an interruption at dinnertime. Return calls after dinner.
* Stick to a daily schedule. Linda Hobar, author of the popular history curriculum The Mystery of History suggests having set hours for homeschooling and for work. She found that she could homeschool in the mornings and then assign independent work for her children to finish while she researched and wrote her books in the afternoons.
Consider the Product or Service
If you sell a product, your biggest pitfall will be dealing with inventory. I’ve seen several WAHM businesses close because they didn’t manage inventory well. The owner ordered too much merchandise and couldn’t resell the inventory or couldn’t compete in the marketplace on price. Some solutions to the inventory pitfall include drop shipping and ordering inventory only as customer orders come in (i.e. keep very little inventory on hand). Sometimes selling e-books instead of paper books is a good option for authors to keep inventory low.
If you are selling a service (like childcare, web design, or bookkeeping), you are paid for your time. Service jobs are limited by your availability, and a service provider can only handle a limited number of clients at a time. One solution to this pitfall is to sell information, not your time. You can do this by writing articles and books to share your knowledge. Another solution is to train others and then serve as a supervisor, not a worker.
Being a self-employed WAHM takes work and plenty of reading, preparation, and planning. If starting a business is not for you, then consider working at home as an employee.
Work for Others (Telecommute)
To be hired by a company and be allowed to work from your home may be a real blessing, or it can be a curse because you are an employee and under the direction of your boss. The wages may be more predictable, but the hours may not be as flexible as self-employment.
Most telecommuting jobs come about from current employees who move to home-based work for the convenience of their employer. Finding employment as a telecommuter can take a little work. You must already have skills such as bookkeeping, computer software design, medical transcription, or editing, etc. Be careful to avoid scams. Try employment web sites like Craig’s List or Monster. Search for jobs that match your skill set and avoid jobs that prominently mention “work at home.” Working at home is a benefit, not a job title.
There are wonderful possibilities of being a work-at-home mom (WAHM); however, there are also pitfalls. If you can see the obstacles in the road ahead, you will be better prepared to face them. It simply requires doing your “home-work.”
Check out Carol’s article “Money, Taxes, and the Homeschooling Family.”
Originally published in The Old Schoolhouse magazine. Reprinted with permission in THVE, Fall 2009. Carol Topp homeschools her two daughters and runs a home-based accounting practice specializing in tax preparation, small/micro business accounting, and nonprofit accounting. Carol has presented numerous workshops on money management, business start up, taxes, budgeting, nonprofit management, and homeschooling. www.HomeschoolCPA.com