The Simple Dollar started as a way for me to organize my own thoughts about our ongoing financial changes and perhaps as a way to make a few dollars on the side. I started writing down my thoughts, put a few ads up on the site and shared the link with some friends. After a ton of work, it slowly built into a thriving side gig and then eventually into my full-time work.
Both before and after the launch of The Simple Dollar, I tried all kinds of ways to make extra money working from home. I had a small computer consulting business. I mowed lawns. I wrote about parenting issues.
Along the way, I learned a lot of useful lessons about how to make extra money from home. Here are the key lessons I learned.
Identify things you can do quickly and with a reasonably high level of quality that others seem to be unable to do with the same mix of speed and quality.
I learned early on in my career that I had the ability to write reasonably good articles, documentation and content at a fast rate of speed. I had a process that I honed over the years that involved having a core idea, jotting down notes, turning them into a really simple outline and then just churning out reasonably good words – and I could do it fast. I don’t claim to be a great wordsmith, but I do think I can convey ideas in a personal way at a pretty high rate of speed, and that’s a skill.
My wife, on the other hand, can crochet like a machine. If we’re watching a television program, she’s usually crocheting something for someone and her hands are a blur of activity while doing it. She can churn out all kinds of things surprisingly quickly, given that she’s usually doing it while focused on something else.
I have a friend that can churn out YouTube videos on certain topics incredibly quickly. He has a number of technical skills and a system in place that lets him produce reasonably good videos at surprising speeds.
I have a friend that makes handmade soaps. I have another friend that makes glass etchings. Another friend makes deck furniture. Yet another friend tutors math students.
All of these people are drawing upon skills that they either naturally have or that they built up over time that lets them do a particular task better and/or faster than the average person, usually both, and usually significantly better and/or faster than the average person.
That’s the key to finding the right at-home work for you. Find something you can do faster and better than the average person, then figure out how you can easily sell that skill either to an employer or through some kind of marketplace.
What if you can’t figure out that skill? It’s not hopeless, but it will be a lot harder to find good work at home.
Don’t sink a whole lot of money into it.
Many “work from home” opportunities are actually just attempts by businesses to get you to buy their stuff with the idea that you’ll then sell that stuff at a markup. This usually requires you to invest money upfront into products, marketing materials and other items.
Don’t do that. In fact, avoid it like the plague. In those situations, you’re the customer, not the money earner. If a “work from home” opportunity involves you spending more than a tiny amount of money upfront to get started, then it’s not something you want to be involved with.
A good work from home opportunity is one in which you use a skill and, in some cases, equipment you already have to make money. You may have to buy a small amount of material to get started, but it should be a trivial amount and, after that, the income should make everything self-sustaining while producing income for you.
If that’s not the case, then it’s not a good way to make extra money from home. If it’s requiring a significant up-front investment from you, it’s probably not something you want to be involved with.
In fact, of the work from home side hustles that won’t work out well, most of them revolve around putting your own money into it upfront. Those fail the vast majority of the time, leaving you having tapped your own money, a lot of your own time and energy, and sometimes friendships, too.
Even if you do find something that doesn’t require a lot of money, you can still nickel and dime yourself with little expenses. A piece of software here, a web hosting plan there, a few car trips, and before you know it, you’ve devoured much of what you make. You have to keep track of your expenses if you work from home, not just for taxes, but also to determine if the time is worth it for you. Here are some good strategies for minimizing a lot of common work at home expenses, but the real key is to just keep track of them and keep a close eye on them.
The magic ingredient is time.
There are a lot of advantages to working from home, particularly if it’s a side gig when you’re making extra money. It gives you quite a bit of scheduling flexibility, eliminates commuting, and allows you to multitask household chores.
That being said, it’s still work. You have to put time into it if you want to get money out of it, and that means working in a focused manner when at home. If working at home just means an endless flood of distractions, whether it’s Netflix or chores or a hobby, then you’re not turning that time into money.
The single most important ingredient for successfully working at home, no matter what you’re doing, is focused time. Yes, you can often flex that focused time around your other scheduling needs, but if you don’t sit down and do the work, you won’t make money.
If you’re considering working from home at all, I strongly encourage you to read my earlier article on twelve strategies for maintaining focus while working at home. In a nutshell:
- Find small rituals that signify the ‘start’ of a block of work and the ‘end’ of a block of work.
- ‘Bank’ as much work as possible and use every droplet of focused time.
- Set and keep a regular schedule.
- End each working session with a period of reflection on successes and failures
- Have a specific place in your home where you work
- Find an ‘alternative workplace’ or two outside of your home, and maintain a ‘portable office’ bag
- At the beginning of your work session, start loads of dishes and laundry
- Figure out which times of the day are most conducive to your focus, and work during those periods.
- Turn off digital distractions during those key focus periods.
- Use ‘focusing audio’ by playing it in the background.
- Try to get in the ‘flow’ as much as you can.
- Block off times for professional development.
To put it simply, if the magic ingredient is time, figure out how to get as much value out of that time as you possibly can. This is especially true if you’re not doing freelance work using a skill you have. If you’re working from home on tasks that are mostly about applying focus and grit, these tips are extremely important.
Most “make extra money at home” gigs are freelance jobs.
Most people that want to make extra money at home rely on freelancing work that enable them to use the skills they’ve identified to make a quick buck.
People who are trying to sell their digital skills often go to sites like Fiverr or Freelancer.com, whereas people who make things often sell through sites like Etsy or eBay.
The goal, if you’re freelancing, is to figure out what you can offer that you can do with a great deal of efficiency, then offer it in an appropriate place. At first, you’ll want to keep prices relatively low to build up a reputation and some clients, but as success builds, the limitation often becomes the time you can give to it.
There are a few legitimate part-time jobs to make extra cash from home, but they can be demanding.
Aside from freelancing gigs, there are a lot of jobs that are more traditional in their employee-employer relationship that allow you to work from home. Most of these jobs are location independent contract positions, often in fields like medical transcription, software development, document translation, call center representative, and so forth.
You can find listings for these kinds of positions on sites like Upwork and Career Builder. They tend to aim for candidates with some experience in those fields or with obvious transferable skills (meaning you’ve done similar tasks in the past), which is important because such jobs usually involve a great deal of independent work and you’re expected to come in the door with some knowledge of what to do.
It won’t be easy, but it will be flexible.
The advantage of a side gig that’s also a “work from home” gig is that it’s both flexible and also not essential for you to make ends meet. Of course, those two things can work against you in terms of being focused and making things successful.
The keys to the castle are simple: you have to be able to really focus at home, and you have to understand what you can do well efficiently that others may value. Figure that out and you may just find some part time success from the comfort of home.