Figuring out how to work from home in a realistic, sustainable and profitable way has been one of my main goals since I was at university.
And it hasn’t always been easy.
There’s been times when money has been short, stress has been high, and the prospect of going to a “real” job would keep me up at night.
These days, however, I feel more confident with my setup and have been happily working from home for quite a few years.
And I know a lot of other people want that too.
I’ve put together this guide on how to work from home to give you all the main tips that I’ve picked up over the years. It’s my hope that something here will help someone out there make a transition from a stressful job to one that they love.
Let’s dive in!
NOTE: This article will be coming from the angle of blogs and online businesses because that is where my experience lies. I am NOT selling anything and there are no affiliate links in this post. I just want to share some realistic tips!
A “no-bullshit” guide to working from home?
When I started researching this article I quickly learned how much rubbish there is out there on the subject of working from home.
There’s even a website built by the Australian Government devoted to helping people figure out whether they’re getting into work from home scam!
So I want to make it clear from the start:
This article will focus on general tips that I’ve learned from building my own sustainable online business. There is absolutely no get-rich-quick element to it. Unless you are willing to work hard in an systematic, legal and ongoing fashion then this post isn’t for you.
The thing is, I actually take these types of articles extremely seriously because it’s real people who are reading them and possibly making a decision based off of something they heard from me.
With that in mind I have worked hard to make it as useful and comprehensive as possible in order to combat some of the rubbish.
And that leads us nicely into the next section.
Some (very) important considerations to make before you quit your day job
If you want to work from home (full time) you’ll eventually have to quit your job.
And that is a really big decision.
The decision is even bigger if you have things like a mortgage, a family to support or some other debts that need to be serviced regularly.
As I mentioned in my guide on how to start a blog I spent quite a while working as a cleaner in a gym from 6am to 10am in the morning so I’d have enough money to pay my rent while I built up my blogs in the afternoon.
Here’s some things you should know about working from home:
- A lot of small businesses fail
Unfortunately the stats don’t lie. Most small businesses will close in the first two years. You have to be realistic and acknowledge that it’s going to be tough.
- Profits can be slow growing
It’s only recently that I’ve really started to feel like the money is where I want it to be, and I’ve been working at it for a long time. Some people make it happen in a big way really fast, others it takes a lot longer.
- There’s no safety net
Unless you have savings or a spouse that earns a good income, there aren’t a lot of safety nets should your work from home business fail. Consider what would happen if you couldn’t make it work.
- It costs money
Most businesses (even blogs, websites and online ventures) need to spend money initially on set up, advertising, stock, etc. in order to get started. Factor that in.
- Sometimes it will be stressful
Being your own boss has its advantages (we’ll get to that soon) but it also can be stressful. Honestly speaking, a lot of people simply aren’t made for that kind of pressure and a regular safe job is a better bet.
Please read this article knowing that it isn’t a quick little decision that you should make in a week, month or even year.
That being said, it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
So let’s get onto the positive stuff.
The major benefits of working from home
When you finally figure out how to make the work from home thing happen for your situation it is one of the most incredible feelings.
All of a sudden you realize that you are working on a brand and business that solely belongs to you. All the hours of creativity, late nights and hard work are going directly into an asset that you yourself own.
And that is pretty cool!
Here are some of the major benefits that I’ve found:
- You can set your own hours
Some people, no matter how they try, cannot get used to a 7am start. Well, when you work from home you can work from 12pm to 8pm if that suits you better.
- There’s more flexibility
Just like setting your own hours, generally speaking you’ll have more freedom to pick up the kids from school, go to the gym or run some errands. You need to still work the hours, but it often doesn’t matter when.
- You’re growing your own baby
As mentioned, when you work from home on your own business you are building something that is just for you. That asset is yours.
- No office politics
When I catch up with my friends it’s only a matter of minutes before they start talking about some work drama. Sometimes it can be a serious source of stress. None of that at home.
- The earning potential is more
Unless you are an investment banker or surgeon, chances are there is more potential income running your own business as opposed to a regular career type job. This is especially true for online businesses. Note that I say “potential income” – it’s not a guarantee.
- You can do some good
If you are able to set your business up so that you have more time, and especially if you make a decent income, you’ll be free to do more things like volunteering, charity donations, etc. This is a huge motivating factor for me.
Everyone will find their own joys and stresses when it comes to working from home.
The important thing is to weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision based on a calculated risk, not a blind risk.
My essential tips on how to work from home
Okay, so now I’d like to just go into some detailed points about what I have found to be the most important parts about figuring out how to work from home and make it last.
Again, the focus will be mostly on using websites and web-based businesses as that is where my experience comes from.
1. Make a plan with a solid goal and timeline
I am always quite surprised at the haphazard approach that a lot of bloggers and website owners take to online business.
It shouldn’t really be like that.
If you really want to work from home you need to try and come up with a plan that includes a set of solid goals and an appropriate timeline.
Here’s an example:
I want to work from home in one year.
I will use a blog to collect 10,000 email subscribers within one year using PPC advertising in order to sell 300 copies of X product valued at $297 per copy.
Now of course there’s no way you can know all the variables within this equation.
You’re never going to be able to know how many copies of your product you’ll sell, what the conversion rate will be, etc. But without that concrete aim it is really not taking the process seriously enough.
Some elements you’ll want to try to incorporate into your goals:
- Why are you doing it?
Do you have a really good reason for wanting to do this thing and will it affect you in a positive way? You have to know exactly why you’re setting out.
- How long could it take?
Is six months realistic to make $100k? Or will you need five years?
- What will you be selling/promoting?
You need to have a product or idea ready for how you will make money. We don’t have the time in this post to cover all the elements of your product but services, affiliates, digital products, etc. are all viable options.
- What technology will you use?
Are you going to start a blog and use that to promote an online store? Or perhaps you want to use Facebook Ads to send traffic to a landing page? Will this be on WordPress or Blogger? Consider the technology.
- What resources will it take?
Do you need money to spend? How much money can you spend while still meeting your financial obligations? How many hours a day can you devote to your online business while still working in your current job?
Again, you don’t need to have all of these 100% solved but you really do need to consider all the important stuff just to make sure you don’t get a couple of months in and realize that you’ve forgotten something important.
And that leads us on to our next point nicely.
2. Dig deep into your industry and build your knowledge
A lot of the above information will come from one thing: research.
Now, unfortunately, the research stage can take up a huge portion of your time. When I really look back at my online business career I feel like probably the first 2-3 years were actually just me mucking around and researching things. It wasn’t until much later that I started to get serious.
It’s at this stage of the game that you need to answer important questions for yourself like:
- Who are your competitors?
Do you have many competitors out there and what kinds of things are they offering?
- Can you make improvements?
You want to be able to look at what these existing websites and blogs are doing and figure out if you can do something better. That will help you make you distinctive.
- How can you get in on the action?
Look at things like the level of competition on Google, whether you can use platforms like Facebook Ads to bypass the organic results ‘wait time’, and find out who you might be able to collaborate with.
Now there are a lot of websites and tools that you can use to assist you in this process (like AHREFs, Market Samurai, Majestic SEO, Google Traffic Estimator, etc.) but one of the main things you need to do is start Googling your friends and competitors and asking questions.
If you can meet and connect with someone on the “inside” it will speed your success up dramatically. You’ll often be really surprised at how generous existing bloggers and online business owners are to new comers.
More on that later.
3. Focus on getting as many quality email subscribers as possible
Every smart business is focusing on email subscribers.
It doesn’t matter whether you run a blog, online store, pizza shop or even a little stall that sells cupcakes on the weekend – having an engaged list of subscribers is one of the best things you can do to ensure your long term success.
Quick interruption – If you still don’t have a blog or website with your own domain name and self hosted set up then you are way behind. All businesses need a website and almost every business should be active with content creation, social media and web advertising. Here’s some things to know before you start a blog and here’s my guide on how to start a blog or website that you might like to follow.
Back to the subscribers. Here’s why they’re so important:
- Instant (virtually) free promotion
Of course it costs money to build and store an email list but once you’ve got them you can promote anything to them for as long as they are subscribed unlike other forms of advertising where they see and advert once and are gone.
- They grow your reach
The good thing about email subscribers is that they are there because they want to be. And that means they share your stuff. When I write a new post I email my list and get at least 1,000 visitors within a few minutes. Nothing else does that as regularly.
- They provide feedback
Email subscribers are a good place to gather data about selling, promotion methods and what products you might want to launch in the future. These types of surveys are extremely valuable.
- They are a multiple-sales stream
Once you get an email subscriber you can theoretically promote to them again and again and again. So as long as you are launching relevant products, websites or services you have an instant promotion base to tap into repeatedly.
Other than sales and reach, growing an active mailing list should be the main priority of most businesses.
Once you really appreciate the value of that mailing list it’s important to look into conversions and how we can really maximise the number of sign ups, email opens and then email clicks.
That is really important.
4. Continually aim to increase your reach (and never stop)
In his now-famous book, How Brands Grow, Professor Byron Sharp lays out some hard truths about how it is reach and not loyalty that all brands should be focusing on.
As their stats end up showing that loyalty is a by-product of reach, not the other way round.
What this means is that if you want to work from home in a sustainable and longterm business you need to be getting in front of as many relevant people as possible. The more new traffic you can get the more money you will make.
Well, simple in theory.
If you want to grow your reach in an online scenario:
- Focus on evergreen content that solves problems
Don’t get too advanced with your content. Focus on simple problems that beginners encounter on a regular basis and solve them in a very genuine and clear way.
- Spend money on advertising
Get good at advertising on Facebook and Google and try to continually improve your conversion rates and returns in order to keep advertising. Ever noticed who is doing all the Sponsored Posts on Facebook? It’s the successful, big blogs.
- Get involved on other platforms, blogs and websites
Don’t write for your own blog that often. Focus instead on getting guest posts and mentions on other sites, writing in forums, making videos and podcasts and really getting your brand out there. Once a week is enough on your blog. Expand outwards.
The web is a really, really big place. And it’s getting bigger. If you want to have the work from home business then you need to keep reaching new people and getting your message out there on a continual and growing basis.
5. Try to build recurring income
Some of the smartest (and safest) businesses out there are the ones that have a recurring income from the customers.
If you want to work from home in the long term this is a really important idea to get your head around because it might mean the difference between a successful three year business, and a successful 20 year business.
Let’s take a look at the difference between two monetization methods:
- Selling advertising space
When you sell advertising space an advertiser will buy a spot in your sidebar and pay you a fixed amount for a fixed period of time. The income then expires and you need to find new advertisers or re-sell to that one.
- Selling memberships to a premium site
When you sell memberships you generally charge a recurring fee (monthly or annually). What this means is that if you can manage attrition you are building an asset that continues to produce income instead of a once-off benefit.
One of the best examples of this is Yaro who built a pretty significant online business using a model that was based on recurring income. He hired a team of people to help him keep the membership filled with value and as a result continues to make money years after the launch.
Some other examples of recurring income include:
- Website hosting
Web designers might focus more on getting clients who pay an annual hosting fee instead of just a one-time design services fee.
- Management services
Many small businesses pay people a management fee that covers website hosting, email hosting, updates, etc.
- Social media services
Similar to above, I know a few people who do very well by charging clients a monthly social media services fee which covers posting to social networking sites, campaign creation, brand management, etc.
- SEO services
Many companies do very well by charging a monthly or annual SEO fee to their clients to help keep them ranking for their business’s chosen keywords.
- Some affiliate programs
Some companies pay their affiliates a lifetime recurring fee based on the referrals they make. For example, if you refer someone to a company that charges $100 a month they will pay you 30% of that for the length the customer remains.
This type of income stream is often a lot slower to build up because it usually necessitates a large number of clients. If, however, you can do this while building a short term stream of income you might be able to build a work from home business that lasts a very long time.
6. Diversify in various places
One of the best examples of this in the online space is Brian Clark of Copyblogger fame.
Copyblogger was once just a simple blog with a neat little sidebar and some pretty clever articles. It has since grown into a massive and diverse brand that sells memberships, hosting services, premium WordPress themes, etc.
Not only does this give them additional streams of income, it also protects them should something go wrong with one aspect of the business.
I have a personal story about why this is important.
When I was first starting in blogging I had a fitness blog that was starting to get pretty big. Unfortunately I didn’t focus on email subscribers, and I only had one method of making income – Adsense.
Well, one day I woke up and my traffic was gone. For a reason I still don’t understand (I suspect it was a competitor accusing me of something I didn’t do) I had suffered a complete Google ban.
Since that time I have always tried to be careful with relying on Google and careful with relying too heavily on one source of income.
So where should you diversify?
- Your website’s traffic sources
It’s vital that we have traffic coming from referrals, social and Google. This means more outreach, guest posting and advertising.
- Your income streams
Don’t rely too heavily on one stream unless you are certain that you have something else that you can pull the trigger on should something go wrong.
- Your backups and storage
If you are building an online business your website is like your shop. You need to protect it and that means taking backups regularly of all the important stuff and making sure it’s stored in various safe places.
Each business will be different in this respect so it’s a good idea to constantly think about the different ways in which you can diversify.
It’s not always an easy thing to do but it is well worth the effort.
7. Stay mentally and physically healthy (the business depends on it)
One thing that I don’t think we talk about enough is how important it is for someone who works from home to stay mentally and physically healthy.
Unlike a regular job where you might get sick leave and have people to cover your shift, when you work for yourself there is no safety net.
If you get sick for an extended period of time you’ll be in trouble.
The interesting thing about this type of healthy is that a lot of the symptoms are somewhat “hidden” until it’s too late.
So what do we need to watch out for?
- The back, neck and hands
The back, neck and hands (including the wrist and fingers) are area that all show signs of wear and tear from sitting too long. Often times it can lead to RSI and these types of injuries often don’t go away and often do show up til it’s too late.
- Your mental health
Working from home can be isolating and extremely stressful, especially in the start-up stages or when something goes wrong. Watch out for signs of anxiety and depression like mood swings, appetite changes, lack of energy, constant catastoihpsing over small things, headaches, irritation, etc. Check out Beyond Blue for a good source of help. Don’t be ashamed – it’s just like any other illness.
- Your waistline
New research is showing that sitting for long periods can shorten your life and contribute to disease. And if you have a large amount of belly fat you are at massively increased risks of cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other bad things. Unfortunately moving at the end of the day isn’t enough – you need to stay active during the day. Go for walks, do pushups, jump rope, stretch, etc. every 20 minutes or so. Make it routine.
- Your patterns of sleep
There is strong evidence to suggest that poor and irregular sleep is linked to increased levels of body fat, heart disease and many other conditions. When you work from home you’ll want to burn the midnight oil when inspiration strikes you. That’s okay sometimes, but if you regularly don’t get deep, rested sleep you’ll find many areas of your life begin to suffer.
- Your family and friends
If your work is beginning to impact on your friendships and relationships then you know something is going wrong. Nothing you do at work is that important. Prioritising social activities will replenish your energy, make the people around you happy and also help to stave off many of the bad guys I’ve listed above. Get out!
Again, there is no one else that is really going to look after this stuff for you. Part of being a responsible business owner who works from home is learning to deal with this other stuff that is related to work but not exactly work.
If you take anything from this post I hope it’s the fact that nothing is worth damaging your health and relationships for.
Please be careful.
8. Collaborate and outsource as early as possible
When you work from home it’s very easy to feel like you need to do everything yourself.
Well, please don’t.
Think about all the broad functions of any business: accounting, marketing, strategy, research, etc.
Now just think about marketing which might involve and offline and online strategy, and the online aspect includes website, blog, social media, security, advertising, content creation, design, etc.
The list is endless!
It’s really not a very good idea to try and do it all yourself.
Firstly, ain’t nobody got time for that!
It’s best left to people who know what they’re doing.
But it’s not only about getting things done efficiently, it’s also about making progress in a really quick way by connecting with people who can help you out.
With that in mind, here are some big recommendations I can make about outsourcing:
- If you’re tweaking for more than 20 minutes, hire someone
If you’re spending more than about 20 minutes on a task and not getting anywhere, add it to a list and start looking for someone who can help you with those tasks. For example, I do zero WordPress tweaking on my sites and instead email CrazyHTML instantly who I have been using for years.
- Start getting acquainted with outsourcing sites
Every outsourcing site is slightly different. Some focus on helping you find designers, others more technical things. I think Freelancer and ODesk are good places to start. Over time you will hopefully build a close relationship with one or two quality people.
- Know that it’s an investment and a cost
Hiring people to the tasks that you aren’t very good at is an investment in your time and business. Thinking of that can make you feel more comfortable about spending good money. But, for many businesses it can also be a business expense which means you can claim it as a tax deduction.
- Start with a small ‘test’ project
Please don’t start by hiring someone to do a $15,000 app development without testing that firm out first. They might be shit house. Perhaps set aside $1,000 or a smaller amount to do a test project first and look at their efficiency and/or any working issues that arise.
- Make excellent instructions and reward good work
If you want someone to do a complex project then you often need to spend more time making clear instructions. Chris Ducker recommends doing a screencast video showing them what you mean while you talk about the project. And if they do good, consider sending them a bit of extra money as a bonus. This will make them more likely to do good work for you next time.
I really honestly do believe that finding the right people to hire can make all the difference between success and failure of a blog or a even a whole business. It took me literally years to settle on a good developer but now I will use no one else.
It’s also important to remember that it doesn’t always have to be a situation where you pay for services. You might be able to build and foster a relationship where you help each other out, team up for projects and really increase your output by making a clever little alliance.
With the internet the possibilities really are endless!
9. Learn to deal with failure
I really can’t stress enough how important it is to be okay with the idea of failing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we are negligent and lazy with our business because we don’t care. Rather, it means that we never let the fear of failure prevent us from taking an action.
A few years ago I had pretty bad anxiety and as a result I spent way too much time worrying about things being perfect when actually I should have been launching and learning.
Failure happens (on some level) to almost every single business owner. The trick is to genuinely see it as just part of the journey and not the end.
And make sure you do learn from it.
10. Set up routines and systems to deal with efficiency
The topic that I want to finish on is actually probably the most important.
It’s all about your behavior.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that almost everyone has a good idea, but only a few people are disciplined enough to do the work that makes it succeed.
So what’s the first step?
Here’s some advice from someone who knows this well:
Make a schedule! Yes, we’re trying to “break away from the 9 to 5”, but the nice thing about the 9 to 5 is that at 5, you know you’re done and you remove yourself from the opportunity (mostly) to continue to do work.
When you’re working from home, it’s super easy (and tempting) to do work at anytime, and unless you create a boundary in your schedule you’re going to cross over between personal and business life, and it’s going to be bad. You can overwork yourself and remove yourself from other parts of your life that are also important.
Additionally, when you know you have X hours to work, you’re more likely to be efficient because you know you only have that amount of time. Without that boundary, it’s easy to just say, “Oh, well I’ll do that later because I have the time.”
– Pat Flynn, Smart Passive Income.
Something that Pat mentions in his quote is that working from home can have a huge impact on your personal life. As I’ve touched on above, it doesn’t matter how much you love your work, if it’s costing you a healthy relationship with your partner or children then it absolutely isn’t worth it.
Everyone deals with productivity and efficiency differently.
For example, I know Glen from ViperChill really enjoys the Pomodoro Method. Other people will prefer to work for longer periods and have longer breaks.
Whatever it is, try to figure out something regular that you can do everyday, and remember that you might be doing it for the next 30-40 years.
Can you help someone who wants to work from home?
Working from home can be one of the most rewarding goals that you ever set out to achieve. And I know many readers of this site are already living that dream.
What I’d really like to do now is turn this post over to the Tyrant Troops and ask you for some help. If you work from home either full time or part time and have a tool, resource, article or tip to share with someone who might read this post then please share it.
Let’s fill up the comments section with a host of useful and friendly tips and conversation. Please leave a comment below – you legends!