It takes work to find legitimate work-from-home opportunities. Then, success - or failure - is all in your hands.
By Patricia Rivera
When Alan Mater found himself laid off from the lens grinding company where he worked near Lewiston, Pa., he didn't waste a lot of time looking elsewhere for work.
Instead, he pursued a new gig as an affiliate marketer working from home. At 22, he decided that being his own boss might be more promising than trying to compete with many others who were similarly unemployed. In recent months, the national unemployment rate has reached a 26-year high.
"I knew that the Internet offered a lot of promise," he says. A year later, Mater has settled into a niche of promoting what he describes as legitimate work-from-home opportunities. He's complementing his income by offering proofreading services. Although his income isn't what it was when he worked at the lens manufacturer, it's growing each month.
For those who are ready to treat work-from-home jobs like real businesses, there are legitimate ways to supplement an income and possibly even earn a living. The trick is not landing in a scam, of which there are many.
Mater, who, as an affiliate marketer, promotes a dozen other businesses through his Web site, blog and articles, says he has used common sense to weed out illegitimate offers.
He suggests being wary of promises that seem too good to be true or of organizations that want to charge fees. Also, he says, check for negative reviews and complaints submitted to the Better Business Bureau.
"You have to do research before getting involved with any organization because you're making a commitment to spend a lot of time on promoting them," he says.
Tory Johnson, co-author of "Will Work from Home: Earn the Cash Without the Commute" (Berkley Trade, 2008) says the key to successful employment from home is to treat any venture like a real job. But it's also important to find something that you like. "There is so much out there, you have to feel passionate about what you're doing," she says.
Direct sales, like Avon, Herbalife and Pampered Chef, are tried-and-true opportunities that existed long before the Internet. And right now, they're experiencing a resurgence in interest from the public. Pampered Chef, a company in Addison, Ill. that sells kitchen tools, has seen an 8 percent increase in the first half of 2009, says Andrea Rossell, a public relations manager.
"We do know that in recessionary moments people are looking for opportunities to supplement their income and they take an interest in direct sales," she says.
Kits to get started selling Pampered Chef merchandise cost between $65 and $155. The company says that income potential averages about $850 a month for independent contractors who schedule two shows per week to sell the merchandise, Rossell says.
The problem with direct selling is that beginners often have high hopes, unrealistic expectations and few selling skills. Finding new customers to buy products takes constant, energetic networking and prospecting. A common mistake is that these sell-from-home reps don't market themselves in order to attract potential customers, Johnson says. The result: they use the discount they receive from the company to buy products for themselves, instead of for resale.
Online, project-based contract job boards, like Elance and O-Desk, offer individuals the chance to do work in their field of specialty. Building a business requires building a portfolio.
Ed Gandia, an Atlanta-based coach who helps freelancers develop their business, suggests that before bidding on any work, you ask yourself: Why you? What unique value do you bring to the table? Use this as the basis for explaining in your bid why you're different and why that should matter to the client.
"Clients aren't looking for just another freelancer. They're looking for someone who understands their world and their challenges and how to solve them creatively," Gandia adds.
Focus only on the work that has the highest probability of success based on your background and experience.
"You'll spend less time bidding and your success ratio will be much higher," he adds.
Virtual Customer Service
Alpine Access, a Denver-based provider of home-based call center outsourcing, consulting and training, receives about 100,000 applications nationwide each month and hires only about 2 percent, says Remi Killeen-Weber, a recruitment manager.
"We can hire the cream of the crop," she says. Reps receive between $9 and $10 an hour and work as employees rather than contractors.
"We look for [people] with demonstrated success at working from home. You have to self-motivated and ready to go each day," Killeen-Weber says.
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