By Patrice Lewis

With the economy in uncertain territory, many people are looking for ways to earn money from home, either as “pin” money or even a full-time replacement for your previous employment. What’s the best way to go about doing this?

Obviously much depends on your interests, education, skills, training, and a myriad of other factors, but there are many possibilities to explore. The internet has been a game-changer for ruralites, allowing millions of people the potential to bring their work home or develop new income streams from home.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, it was common for people to create jobs for themselves rather than waiting for someone to employ them. Women cooked meals and sold them outside factories or construction sites. Men did repair work for everything from shoes to engines.

In this regard, flexibility helped. Those who were jacks-of-all-trades actually did better than those who were experts in just one field. Fortunately developing these kinds of alternate income sources fits very well with the rugged, do-it-yourself attitude of most readers of this magazine.

One codicil is in order: In looking for ways to work from home, watch out for scams. As unemployment spikes, sadly there are many who will try to take advantage of someone else’s financial desperation by promising a get-rich-quick scheme. Do your research and don’t get fooled, especially if it calls for a large outlay of money up front.

Different strokes

There are roughly four categories of work-from-home opportunities (not counting telecommuting through an office job):

Manufacturing. Artists, crafters, and others who work with fabric, wood, metal, glass, and other media fall into this category. Look at the millions of people who sell on Etsy and you’ll have an idea of how many people are making or augmenting their living through skill and labor.

This is the category into which we (my husband and I) fall. We manufacture a line of wooden tankards (like beer steins, made of wood) from our home workshop. We specialize in a niche market (Renaissance Faires and other living history events) and sell exclusively wholesale. Our little woodcraft business has supported our household for nearly three decades.

Information. If you have a passion for a subject, you can make a living providing that information online and/or in person (as a speaker or consultant). I know several people (such as Daisy Luther, the Organic Prepper; and Lisa Bedford, the Survival Mom) who took their passion for preparedness and turned it into a living. Both thrive by providing readers and listeners with a vast array of information from a variety of experts on everything having to do with handling finances, food, water, protection, and other necessities when times get tough.

Homesteading. One of the most common " and difficult " desires from those who live on small farms is a means to make a living from the land. This usually cannot be done solely through farming (selling fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.), and so is often supplemented by an information component such as online master classes, or hosting in-person workshops teaching rural skills.

Services. Those who have in-demand skills can often set up to work from home. Mechanics, carpentry, hair dressing, childcare, sewing, welding, transcribing, editing, tech services (i.e. building websites, computer repair), consulting, etc. " all these have the potential to be done from home. Of course some industries are more regulated than others, so keep legal requirements in mind.

Finding that niche

It’s all well and good to decide you want to turn your skills, passion, or homestead into a money-earning venture. But what concrete, practical steps are required?

One thing is to find a niche and fill it. That’s what we did with our woodcraft business. We’re passionate about Renaissance Faires, and we realized people who attend living history events are passionate about authenticity. Our tankards fill that niche of authenticity for drinking vessels.

As an example of income production through homestead farming, Tim Young of Small Farm Nation, while trying to make a living from his farm, noticed a shortage of humanely raised meat and an interest in making specialty cheeses. He began marketing his organic meat products and offering cheesemaking tutorials and classes. From there he expanded into marketing services, farm website building, and other information products.

Another piece of advice for cultivating an in-home income is catering to passions. We first marketed our wooden tankards toward living history events because we knew attendees were passionate about historical authenticity, and our tankards hit the mark. If you can create a product, provide a service, deliver information, or grow and market farm products that tap into peoples’ passions, your chances of success are much higher.

Our woodcraft business, making drinking tankards, has provided us with an income for almost 30 years.

Begin with the end in mind

One of the most important things to achieve success in any endeavor " including developing an at-home income " is to clarify your goals and write them down.

According to Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, “Most people don’t bother to write down their goals. Instead, they drift through life aimlessly, wondering why their life lacks purpose and significance.”

If you’re serious about working from home, physically writing down concrete goals provides several benefits:

  • It forces you to clarify what you want
  • It motivates you to take action
  • It provides a filter for other opportunities (keeping you from getting distracted from your goal)
  • It helps you overcome resistance
  • It enables you to measure (and celebrate) your progress

Essentially, to create an at-home income source, you need to begin with the end in mind. This is one of the key pieces of advice in Stephen Covey’s classic business book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Beginning with the end in mind means knowing your purpose and what you’re trying to achieve.

Once you know what your “end” is, then work backwards to identify and write down the steps to get there. This is better than flopping around in the dark, hoping for the best.

When we started our woodcraft business, our “end” goal was to work from home and support our family. We didn’t write down the steps to get there, and as a result we flopped around a lot. We succeeded, but it was a long, hard road. We could have been much more efficient had we followed concrete steps toward our goal. What saved us, actually, was having a goal at all. More than anything else, we wanted to work from home, and that single-minded determination built our business.

Building a platform

No matter what kind of income sources you’re trying to cultivate, you need to market yourself. The most efficient way to do this is to position yourself online.

The internet offers marketing, networking, and exposure possibilities that weren’t available when we first started our woodcraft business. By harnessing the multiplying power of social media (blog, website, Twitter account, Facebook, etc.), you have the potential to bring in customers literally from around the world.

Ironically, we have no internet presence for our woodcraft business. Early on, we were able to cultivate a suitable wholesale base solely through word of mouth. However don’t think you can get away with that today. By aggressively marketing yourself online, you’ll be able to expand your business far faster than we ever did.

The benefit of side gigs

A surprising number of people don’t bother developing side gigs, which is unfortunate and short-sighted. Side gigs not only bring in incremental income, but you never know what may develop into solid long-term potential.

While our woodcraft business has provided the bulk of our income through the decades, our goal was not to build a woodcraft empire; our goal was to work from home. To that end, we’ve always stayed on the lookout for any (legal, ethical) ways to earn money from home. In essence, we’ve developed a lot of side gigs. Some have turned out to be more trouble than they’re worth; others have become extraordinarily lucrative (at least in the short term), and all have provided us with both income and experience.

The side gigs most likely to succeed are those that are reasonably recession-proof. This means people still need or want the product or service, no matter how tough the economy is.

Some examples of recession-proof businesses include: butchers, seed companies, food production (truck farming, garden seedlings), childcare, beauty care (hairdressing, etc.), repair services (everything from shoes to engines), etc. If you can develop a side gig providing something people need no matter what, you’ve got a toe-hold.

Side gigs have another benefit: they diversify your income streams. Laying down multiple income streams (what I call “many irons in the fire”) is critical. That way losing one “iron” won’t leave you financially destitute. This often means multiple part-time occupations instead of (or in addition to) one full-time job. If one gig dries up, just ramp up the other gigs to get by.

Cultivate frugality

The more you can trim your expenses (both fixed and variable), the more likely you’ll be able to cover those expenses from at-home earnings.

I speak from experience. In the early days of our woodcraft business, our income was very low, and we had two babies to support. We learned to cut our expenses to the absolute bone. This frugality has never left us, and even now we’re always on the lookout to trim costs. As a result, we’ve been able to have a comfortable lifestyle on an in-house income, even during hard times, for nearly 30 years.

It takes time

Very few endeavors become instant financial successes. Be patient and allow things to come to fruition. If you still have a full-time (or even part-time) outside job, don’t give it up on the touching and misplaced hope that your at-home income will be able to replace all your income. Instead, work on cultivating your in-home income as one or more side gigs, growing them to the point where they can replace outside income.

If you’ve lost your job in the economic downturn and are unable to find another, then you have nothing to lose. Throw yourself full-time into developing in-house income, and take any side gigs that come your way.

The idiom “time is money” may be one of the most important expressions ever coined. Our time is limited. We can’t buy more time, but we can spend it wisely. If you decide to set sail on the sea of self-reliance, it can become time well spent.

You too can become the master of your destiny. And there’s no time like the present.

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