Work from Home: The complete startup Guide

More and more mums are taking the plunge into working from home, which is sometimes a full-time or more often part-time job with a flexible company, but in many cases means self employment as a freelancer, contractor, or even as a micro business owner. The reason for this fast growing trend is clear, it has a huge range of advantages including freedom, life balance, flexibility, unlimited earning potential, and much more…, but there are also a range of challenges that you will need to overcome and pitfalls to avoid.

This article is a guide to setting yourself up as a stay at home professional the right way. The advice here comes from a range of sources, not least my 15 years experience as a home based professional, 10 of which was as a mum.

Contents:

why do you want to work from home?
So why do you want to work from home?

Before you go any further you should spend a moment to think about the reasons you have decided to work out of your own home and write down your expectations. Once you have clearly defined your expectations you could even write them down and put them somewhere you will see them regularly. Perhaps print them out and put them in a picture frame somewhere in a corner of your bookshelf.

Why should you do this? Because it will help you to avoid getting lost inside your own head.

Working from home can be a lonely journey, and it’s easy to get lost. A lot of your planning will be done on your own, which means no one will be looking over your shoulder to make sure you are moving in the right direction. When the work comes in, you will get busy, you will be cramming as much productivity into the few hours you can get between when the kids leave for school and when they get back, and then you might find yourself working late nights to keep up. You can loose weeks at a time just working and getting over tired, and in these times it is easy to forget why you are doing what you are doing.

A little reminder can help you to adjust your direction earlier to avoid getting into unhealthy habits.

Here is my reminder. I keep it as a graphic on the desktop of my macbook.

“I am working from home to have the freedom to spend more time with the kids, to have more money to build a better future for my family”

work from home job type
What type of work are you going to do?

There are basically three options available and I will briefly explain the differences here:

Payroll job from home

This is actually a bit of a unicorn. Although you can find them, most payroll positions require at least some time to be spent in the office to sync with other team members and attend meetings, etc.  A 100% stay at home job, as an employee is hard to find, but they are out there. When we see this type of job go through our job board, we tell the world, so if that’s what you are looking for then you should definitely sign up to our hot lobs list and keep a close eye on the jobs board.

Project based, Contract and freelance jobs from home

This type of work from home job is much more common. Employers are generally more comfortable with a lower commitment level and so most jobs require you to send invoices. In most ways this is exactly like running a micro business. Even if you only work with one company, it’s more like a client than an employer, and the lack of security means that you are probably well advised to keep at least some level of marketing running to find new projects or contracts.

Of course in some cases, you might be finding new projects every week, in which case you really need to treat it like a business.

Work from home business

The third option is to start your own business. As I mention above, if you are offering a service, then you might start as a freelancer, and then expand into a larger business model as demand increases. Or you might have a great idea or a great product and start selling that instead of looking to other companies for work. In this case you are really creating your own job, and becoming your own employer.

Looking for some ideas? Check out 10 income generating ideas and work from home jobs for mums.

You may also want to read a little more about the difference between a home based job and a home based business.

goal setting for working from home

Set some goals, but don’t set yourself up to fail

Visualise your perfect dream lifestyle. Now take a look at that dream lifestyle and ask yourself honestly if you think you can achieve it. If you have doubts, notch it back a bit to something you think is realistic. Remember, you can always move the bar back up when you have gained a little confidence.

Once you have decided on your goal, give it a deadline. A good time frame is 1 year, because it’s enough time to make some big changes, but not so far away that you get complacent. Now half it, then half that, then halve that, and then half it once more. That will give you 4 milestones to work with, so you can break your goal down to steps. Obviously different types of homne based professionals will have very different goals. Here’s an example that might work for a logo designer, (and I am making some broad assumptions about logo design prices, which are probably not accurate.):

  • 1 Year – Working 2 – 4 hours per day, I earn $4,000 per month by designing 3 logos per month. I have enough enquiries that I can pick and choose the projects I want to do.
  • 6 Months – I am getting 10 enquiries per month from new potential customers and regularly earning $2000 per month by designing 1 logo per month
  • 3 months – I have finished my second logo design project and earnt a total of more than $2000
  • 6 weeks – I have landed my first real job and have invoiced my first deposit.

Now that you have your first year of milestones set up, sit down and work out how you need to achieve “mini goal” number one, AKA 6 weeks. The list will look something like this:

  • Create pricing schedule and hourly rate
  • Set up simple website with portfolio pieces and (importantly) contact capture form
  • Setup Facebook page
  • Setup LinkedIn Profile
  • Get busy networking… etc etc…

My outline here is very brief and it might not work for everyone.  There are lots of resources out there, and it is never a bad idea to do some more research and learning on the topic of achieving goals. I found this course very useful: Goals and Goal Setting Made Easy

choosing a work from home industry
Choosing an industry that you will be happy in

One of the biggest challenges you will face working from home, is isolation. You can’t just walk to the next desk and ask a colleague for advice the way you can when you work in a regular office job. Unless you have someone close to you that has useful expertise, you are probably best advised to choose an industry that you are already familiar with to avoid hitting roadblocks. There is nothing more stressful than having a problem that you cannot solve, so have a good look at your plan before you get started.

There are exceptions of course, and sometimes doing something completely new is wonderful. There are a lot of franchise opportunities out there that can offer you great support in a brand new industry, and the same can be said for network marketing jobs and multi level marketing opportunities. Party planning and direct sales have grown in popularity in the last 12 months, and a lot of new business ideas have popped up.

If that is an area that you might be interested in then you should have a look at our recent article on direct sales tactics to get n idea about what might work in that space.

Which business structure should I use?

This is obviously only relevant if you are not planning to find a payroll job that allows you to work from home.

First of all, you should take advice in this area from a qualified accountant or tax adviser, not from me. But here are my thoughts anyway.

There are a number of structures that you might consider, but if you are just starting out you should probably keep it simple and start as a Sole trader.  Australian’s are very lucky in this case. You can simply start working under your own name and don’t need to worry about registering for GST until you hit the $75,000 per year threshold. You can also register a business name with ASIC and trade under that name instead of your own. Read more about registering a business name on the Asic website.

You should read all the tax department documents on Super and GST to make sure, and as I said, talk to an accountant first.

Here are two more useful links:

Super for the self employed: https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Super/Getting-started/Self-employed/

Registering for GST: https://www.ato.gov.au/Business/GST/Registering-for-GST/

The other advantage of starting as a sole trader, is that you don’t get stuck with a company, and all the costs associated, if you get offered a dream job, and decide to go back to a payroll situation with a work from home job, or otherwise).

plan your time working from home

Planning your time

If you are like most of us, time can be tricky when you are based from home and managing your kids. Mornings are usually pretty hectic, there are lunches to pack, maybe you drive the kids to school, perhaps you still have a baby or toddler at home. Maybe you get a full school day to work, and maybe you are just working during nap times. Whatever the situation, you need to have your work extremely well organised.

The first tip I would suggest is that every 15 minutes can be a useful block of work. Use every chance you get. With that in mind, try to break each of your tasks down into small chunks, or mini goals. That can help you to keep a job moving, even when you can barely find any time to work on it.

A great resource for organising yourself is David Allen’s Getting things done. You may also find some good ideas in this article on time management tips for mums.

online marketing

Marketing

Marketing is a big topic, with a huge range of options. There are many, many ways that you can promote your business. I will go through many of them below, but before you get into bulk emails and conversion metrics, you need to go back to the beginning of the article and make sure you answered the question: “What type of work are you going to do?”. Everything you do in marketing should revolve around what you are offering to the customer, and even more importantly, how does that solve a problem for the customer?

The elevator pitch

Step one in marketing is creating an “elevator pitch”. The story goes like this: You are at a conference or some other business event (or anywhere really), and happen to step into the elevator with one other person. This person asks you what you do. You have the the journey from the lobby to the conference room to tell them. (About 30 seconds).

The elevator pitch should contain two main elements. 1. What you do, and 2. Why customers use you (or your product(s)). To give you an example, here is one of my Hire my Mum elevator pitches;

“Hire my Mum is a platform for Mum’s who want to earn money. We maintain a  job board full of hand picked, flexible jobs that are specifically relevant for Mum’s looking for work that fits into their lifestyle and family routines. We also offer resources for work from home mums running their own businesses, looking for new income opportunities or searching for contracts or freelance positions. Our platform also helps employers and networking businesses to connect with the right type of work from home professionals.”

The elevator pitch is a bit like a mission statement. It is a device that should be used to clarify your core marketing message, and you should constantly refer to it as you develop new marketing material and content to ensure that all of you marketing communications stay true to that core message.

Writing a Marketing Plan

A marketing plan does not need to be a big scary document that takes weeks to write. In fact it should not be a document that is written once. It should be a working document that is referred to regularly and adjusted whenever necessary.

If you are starting out as a work from home mum, then I suggest you create a simple plan with just a few basic features. Start with the famous four “P”s.

  1. Product: What is it that you are actually offering.
  2. Price: How much are you going to charge.
  3. Promotion: This is the message that you use to communicate to the customer.
  4. Place: This is the channel or the medium that you use to communicate, i.e. where will the message be seen?

These are very old principals and there have been many updates and variation on this theme, but this is a great place to start, and an easy way to keep things simple.

Here’s a very simple example of how I would start if I was doing this for Hire my Mum.

Product: Hire my Mum is a job board for mums. We offer job listings, and the opportunity for advertisers to buy a listing on the job board. We also have a variety of advertising options including banner ads.

Price: Mums view the jobs for free. Advertisers pay either $29 for a standard job listing, or $59 for a featured job listing. Our banner ads start at $30 per month.

Promotion: For our job seeking visitors, our Unique selling point is that we are the only job board in Australia that hand picks the jobs to make sure that our jobs are all worth looking at. For advertisers and job listers, the USP is almost the same. Our job board is the best in Australia, which is why the audience is loyal and are all looking for genuine home based or school hour earning opportunities. Hire my Mum is a great place to list a job or to promote a business opportunity that would suit a mum.

Place: We promote our website on the website itself, on Facebook, Twitter and Newsletters.

With a basic plan like this in place, you can start advertising, and review this list every month or two to check if it’s working. If it’s not, then change something.

Do you need a logo?

A lot of business start ups get hung up on the logo, and spend a lot of time and energy working on it. If you feel passionate about it, then by all means, go for it, but the truth is that the success of your business will hang on your product or service, your business systems, and how you manage your customers, not on how good your logo looks. Having said that, you should treat your brand with respect. That means that all of your customer facing documents should be consistent. Choose a font that you always use. If you don’t have a logo, then write your business name in the same font, and the same colour everywhere.

Traditional marketing

As a start up home business, or work from home professional, costs are usually a factor, and that makes online promotion by far the best option in most cases. Having said that, there are a few traditional promotional tactics that you should consider.

Business cards

I think business cards are probably the only “must have” item in your marketing kit. In most cases, (not all) your first customers or clients will require a face to face meeting. The chance of closing a sale is higher if you have a business card. It also increases the chance of that customer passing your details to someone else. There are plenty of cheap business card suppliers online, or you could even create your own.

Business stationary

I recommend investing some time in creating a Google Doc template with your name and contact details so that you have a consistent impression when you send documents. The same goes for your email signature. It does not need to be a work of art. just make it consistent. You can always hire a graphic designer a bit later, after you have started earning some money.

Signage

The highest return on investment that I ever received from advertising was with a simple A-frame placed on a busy road. If you have an opportunity to place a sign somewhere, even if it’s on your letterbox, or maybe on your car, then it’s definitely worth considering.

Building a website

In my opinion, a website is a must have for any business. Some will suggest that a good social page (Facebook for example) can be used instead. Although this can be adequate, I think it is much better to centralise your online strategy into a location that you have complete control over.

The first step is to buy a Domain name (URL), that fits your business. The days of “super charging” your URL with keywords have gone, or at least is on it’s way out, so using your business name is the best option.

The next step is to decide which platform you are going to use. In just about every case I would recommend WordPress.  Wordpress is a very easy to use system that has enormous flexibility and thousands of plugins that allow you to expand the functionality of your website as you want to. Most of these plugins have free options. The only costs you will have with WordPress is the cost of your domain name and your hosting costs. You should be able to keep this down to under $5 per month for a simple setup.

Social media marketing

Once you have your website set up, then you should consider whether or not you need social pages. There are probably five that you should consider first, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. But don’t jump in and start creating profiles before you have planned out your marketing activity. Having a social profile or page that never gets updated can be worse than not having a profile.

In most cases, I would recommend starting with a personal LinkedIn profile, explaining what you do and showing some of your background experience. Connect to people you know and send a few messages, just to let people know what you are doping. (Your elevator pitch).

Facebook is next on my list. But remember that while LinkedIn is all about business, Facebook is more of a social platform. The content that you post on Facebook should be a bit more “entertaining”.

Pinterest and Instagram are both more focused on images that text, and Pinterest relies on being able to mix images with text.

So I have two pieces of advice: Create a simple plan, and start small. Here is a simple example:

LinkedIN

Setup:  Complete my profile

Regular Activity: Check LinekedIn once per day and share one piece of content that is relevant to my industry.

Facebook

Setup: Create a Facebook page, invite all my friends to like it.

Regular activity: Check it once per day, and share one piece of content that is relevant to my industry.

Using something like this as a starting point will give you a plan that you can manage. It should only take 5 minutes per day, and will get you results that you can measure and build on.

Email marketing

These days it is generally accepted that email marketing is the most effective digital marketing tactic. Another bonus for your home business setup is that you can get started with a fully featured email marketing system for free.

Very simply, your email marketing strategy requires 6 components:

  1. An email capture form
  2. An offer to encourage people to fill in the form and join your list
  3. An email newsletter system to send the messages
  4. An offer with a measurable goal to bring people to your website to take an action. (An action might be buying a product, filing in a quote request, or simply viewing a specific page on your website
  5. A method to measure the performance of your campaign
  6. A review process to read the performance reports and modify your campaign as required.

organise your home office

Organising your office

As I mention above, whether you are working for an employer, or as your own boss, you need to treat yourself as a micro business. If you are setting up for the first time, you will save yourself a lot of trouble later on by following this section of the guide and getting at least the basic systems in place so you can be as productive and efficient as possible.

First things first, in 99% of cases, you will need a desk and a computer. Obviously the ideal situation is to have a room in your house dedicated to your office, but if that is not possible,  then you need to create a comfortable space with good ergonomics and as few distractions as possible. This space might be a section of another room, or in some cases you might need to have an office space that you can pack away before the kids come home. Have a good think about hos this might work, and read our guide to feng shui in your home office for some more ideas.

Your computer

Whether you are buying a new computer or using your existing one, I would suggest either formatting the hard drive before you start, or creating a completely new user account. This way you can start with a clean desktop and without the distraction of old folders and photos lying about.

The next tip about your computer is not to save anything to your own hard drive. The days of hard drives and backup drives are gone. Nowadays it is extremely easy to create a workflow that will ensure all of your data is backup up and make it extremely easy to switch to a new computer when the time comes, or even to work on two different computers as if they were the same.

You can achieve all of this using your Google account.

Useful software for a home based business

This section of the guide affects almost every other section, because the software you use can enhance every aspect of your operation. There is far too much to discuss on just one article, so I will briefly go through the “departments” that you will need to manage as a home based professional, and provide some more resources to help you find a product that suits you.

Accounting and bookkeeping

No one likes this bit, but it’s probably the most important part of your entire operation, After all, if you don’t get paid, there’s no point at all. The good news is that it’s pretty much the same for every micro business, whether you are selling products or services. There are plenty of options out there. I would recommend that you consider finding a cloud based solution so that you don’t need to worry about back ups, software licenses or upgrading to newer versions.

This is a good article that lists all the best known solutions and a lot of not so well known systems. Take your time with this decision, and consult your accountant. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7543-best-accounting-software.html.

Time management and project management

Depending on your product or service, you might need project management software, and or time tracking software. There are a lot of free and paid systems to chose from. Again, I am going to recommend going for a cloud based “Software as a service” product to avoid the hassle of backups and upgrades.

This is a pretty good list of project management systems: http://www.creativeboom.com/resources/10-of-the-best-project-management-tools-for-small-business-owners/

This list is a good place to start for time tracking software, and you will notice that a lot of them are also listed in the bookkeeping/accounting software list. If you need both then it’s definitely best to keep it all in one platform, for both the cost benefits and the simplification of… well… everything. http://www.capterra.com/time-tracking-software/

Sales and Marketing

The market for marketing software is well and truly saturated. You can get software to help in just about every possible aspect of your marketing activity, and to be honest, it is pretty hard to decide which ones to use, if any.

I will start with the nitty gritty, non glamorous side of marketing. And the tool that is best for that, and the one that I would say is a must for every home based professional is Google Drive. I wrote about setting up your workflow to be completely cloud based a bit earlier in this article (See: Your computer). Google Drive has three main tools, the “docs” the “sheets” and the storage facility.

Google Docs is a much better option that Microsoft Word for two reasons. Firstly it’s free, and secondly, it’s in the cloud and therefore safely backed up. Google Docs is where you marketing plan should live. No matter how simple, your plan is, type in into a document and check it every week, to make sure it’s working for you. Google Docs is also a great place to store things like your email templates, or quoting templates, ideas for your blog content or any other blocks of text that you need to save.

Google Sheets is Google’s answer to Excel. It is a spreadsheet that has a very powerful feature set. You can use it to create project management tools, or quote calculators, but from a sales and marketing perspective it is perfect for starting your customer database.  Another article on creating a customer database that you might find useful.

Capterra is a good place to research and find software. This is a good list of free and open source marketing automation software that you might consider – Free and Open Source Marketing Automation Software: 10 Options for $0. But before you start investing a lot of time testing out systems like this, I strongly recommend establishing your own system, and get started in Google Docs and Google Sheets. That way yo will be much better prepared to make the right decision about trusting your system to third party software.

Let’s get started

So if you only take one piece of advice from this article, do some planning. Every aspect of your business, from the initial idea, to the target customer group, to the pricing structure to the advertising campaign, should all have a simple plan. write it down, check it later, change it if you need to.

Good luck, and stay in touch. We would love to hear how you go.