Advice for someone who wants to start doing some online work…

I get a lot of questions about working at home from people who know me or know I work at home. It’s actually one of the reasons I started this blog. Not too long ago I was talking with someone who knows my husband and he asked me about how I ended up working at home. He was interested because his son was interested and being a good dad, he was asking questions. So I gave him my email address and told him to have his son send me an email.

What’s always difficult about fielding questions from someone interested in working at home is that the questions are always general and unless I know the person really, really well — it’s hard to give specific answers. Here are his questions and my answers.

Q: What kind of advice would you have for someone who wants to start doing some online work?

A: Several entries in this blog contain advice for someone who wants to start working online. In fact, nearly all of them do in one way or another. If you’ve determined that you’re the kind of person who can deal with working outside of an office setting, or traditional workplace, then first be sure you have the things you’ll need at home to be productive and effective. A computer (d’oh), some basic Internet knowledge, and some general computing knowledge. You should be familiar with some of the standard software and applications used like Instant Messaging, email clients and browsers. Depending on the work you find, you may be working within a software the company provides — but without basic knowledge and skill, it may be hard to learn.

There’s no better way to learn or brush up skills than by becoming active online. If you don’t have IM, get one. If you don’t have a basic word processing and spreadsheet program (like MS Word and Excel) then look for the Open Office alternatives and become familiar with how they work. If you don’t have a blog, sign up for one and start posting entries about whatever interests you. Even the longest journeys begin with a few small steps and finding your way to work online does too.

Q: Where should one begin?

A: It really depends on what you know, what you’re looking for, and what skills you’re bringing to the table. Take an honest look at yourself and your current skill set. What do you really have to offer? What are you good at? What experience have you had? What knowledge do you posses? What are your hobbies?

The best advice about taking those first steps in the right direction is to get online BUT spend your time wisely. Stop searching for the golden opportunity that is going to solve all your problems with the promise of an easy paycheck. It doesn’t exist. Instead, put on your creative hat and start looking around for the things that interest you and become active in those types of things… and here’s the catch… without worrying about being able to pay off that credit card debt or leave your day job tomorrow.

Chances are some sweet work-at-home gig isn’t going to land in your lap. Chances are, just like in the real world, you’ll end up finding that opportunity where you least expect it. From a connection you make somewhere online or by piecing together all of the things you learn by just being out there and active. If you’re only spending your time doing Google searches for work at home job or typing jobs, you’re not spending your time wisely. Instead, consider the following ways to spend time online:

  • If you blog – begin by working your blog more seriously and looking for specific job openings that are related to your blog content.
  • If you don’t blog – determine a topic that interests you, sign up for a free blog account and start learning your way around. A great place for a free blog that gives you plenty of practice and a nice skill to add to your set of skills is WordPress.com.
  • If you like networking on social sites like MySpace – become more active outside of your comfort zones and find other social networking sites that interest you. Join Digg and StumbleUpon and start interacting in the communities. If you have specific skill sets, join LinkedIn and start networking there.
  • If you’re great with a video camera, join YouTube and start uploading your videos and interacting with others there.
  • If photography’s a hobby, get an account at places like iStockphoto or SnapVillage. I’ve even heard tell of people selling the rights to pictures they’ve posted at Flickr.
  • Hang out on message boards where creative people talk about the Internet, work at home scams, business ideas and so forth. I’ve recommended the Friends in Business Message Board before. It’s a great (safe) and very simple place to hang out and peruse posts about work at home scams.
  • Hang out on job search sites and pilfer through the listings with an eye open for what’s available and what you’d need to do to put yourself into the running for those types of jobs.

In order to get where you’re going, you’ve got to formulate a plan of some sort. Look for what’s out there–determine what interests you and what you’re good at–then work backwards from there based on what you see in current job postings.

For example, I know very little about graphic design, but I can see what types of graphic design jobs are out there. I can learn enough about the industry to know what potential employers are looking for and then work on my ultimate goal from there. By simply looking at several graphic designer job descriptions and requirements I see that 1) graphic designers can make pretty darn good money and 2) I’ll need to become proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator. I’d then go check out the software and programs. Are they affordable? What online tutorial sites are available out there? If I need to grab some courses either online or at the local community college (which also has various online programs) I might begin chipping away at my ultimate goal in that direction…

Or maybe I see a lot of freelance writing jobs out there and I decide I’m really interested in learning more about that. If I go out and search and I see that blog writing jobs often require a sample of my writing I’d work on building up a profile for myself somewhere – – either in a personal blog of some sort or in an online writers’ community where I could list some samples of my work.

Q: Is it best to start part-time?

A: It depends on your current situation really. When first started looking for work at home ideas, I looked and began working around my regular “day” job (which I finally left for good once I felt somewhat assured that I’d be able to make my way online).

I still actually work part-time now (if you add up hours) but I make as much as I used to make at a full time job. More if you consider the money I save commuting via the Internet. I don’t have the clothing expense, gas expense, wear and tear on my car, lunches out and all those other work expenses. I also don’t have day care expenses and I get to drive my kids to school every morning and pick them up every afternoon.

Q: Are there good positions available for new people trying to work online?

A: Sure. Just as many positions are available. But you’ve got to work at it! You’ve gotta put the effort in to see results. No one’s going to come knock on your door and offer to pay you for typing. No matter what they ads say, it just doesn’t work that way.

Find out what interests you and then see what types of entry level positions companies have. Look in your local classified job listings and see if anything there lends itself to telecommuting. If it’s something you’re good at and something someone local is looking to fill — it can’t hurt to either ask or offer to fill their void at a reduced cost to them (contracting the work to you instead of filling the job opening by having to hire someone in house).

Be creative, work hard at finding opportunities, and then work each and every one like your life depended on it. Don’t just expect some ‘cushy’ job to fall into your lap.

Q:Do you have to build a good resume first?

A: Again, it really depends on what you’re looking to do. Some job postings do require a resume. Some don’t. Some require samples of your work and some don’t. Do the other things first and if, in your journey, you find that having a resume is a good thing to help you accomplish your ultimate goal, take those steps.

Q: I do have a lot of questions, curiosity is one of my greatest assets and weaknesses.

A: Curiosity is never a weakness.
Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance. -William Wirt

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