I recently received this question from a Twitter follower, that I thought would be good to answer here:
I know you’ve talked about making money from home, and that you do. I have been trying to figure out how to make money from home right now because everything has gotten so expensive. I am not sure where to even start because everything seems like a scam. I also don’t have a lot of money to start. How did you get started?
Well, that’s a loaded question, because I’ve been at this for over 25 years (I’m old LOL), doing all sorts of things, and also having not much if any money to give my business a boost, my growth has been slow each time, but steady. Today, I’m going to post some about my own story to making money from home, and tomorrow, I’m going to add some more specific tips. I’ve also recently written (at HubPages) how to avoid work from home scams. You can read that page here.
Just typing that makes me wonder how on earth I’ve been running home based businesses on and off for nearly 25 years. It’s true. Since my second year of college, I’ve been making money on the side by marketing both products and my skills from home, whether “home” is a dorm room at college, a bedroom in my parent’s house, or a home office from my circa 1910 Farmhouse. I’ve even made some money using the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s, Starbucks, or the local cafe, when in a pinch.
A Work at Dorm Student
My working from home journey started as a sophomore in college. I was majoring in art and design at the time, primarily doing graphic design and photography as part of my studio major. A fellow student in the computer lab one day was working on something.
“What assignment is that for?” I asked him.
“Not a school assignment,” he explained, “It’s for a client. I’m creating a flyer for a band.”
“That’s nice of you,” I said.
He laughed. “I run a little business designing things like this,” he replied, then handed me his business card.
I was duly impressed. The problem though was my own paradigm about what it meant to own your own business. I assumed that owning a business meant you were rich (he wasn’t). I also assumed that it was very complicated to run a business (it isn’t). After a few hours of talking with him over coffee, and later meeting with someone for free at the Small Business Administration (SBA) office in town, I was well on my way to starting my own freelance art business.
My First Client
My first client was actually my boss, who ran a restaurant in town.
He had been complaining for months about how badly he needed to get his menus redesigned, and how he wanted to also create a take out menu. I had thought, at the time, “I’d love to help him. Too bad I don’t have my design degree yet!”
My whole paradigm was that I wasn’t allowed to do anything until I had a piece of paper in my hands saying I’ve graduated (by the way, I wrote an article about this too, at Focus on the Family’s Boundless webzine, called A Ph.D. in Life. You can read it here). After speaking with my fellow art student and the good folks at the SBA, the next time I heard my boss complain about the menus, I found myself saying, “I’ll redo them for $50. I’m a graphic designer.” He hired me on the spot and paid me out of the till immediately.
On my way home, I stopped off at the campus print shop to order 250 business cards, before going into the computer lab to redesign Tom’s menus.
An entrepreneur was born.
Other Opportunities Abounded
During college, I made money taking extra photographs for the local newspaper to use as filler. I had some of my more popular illustrations and paintings made into high-quality prints, which I sold for what seemed like a generous amount for a starving art student paying her own way through college. I wrote articles for a few different newspapers and magazines, marketing them to editors through the Writer’s Market.
The most humorous job I got as a freelancer was when I was hired to paint a mural on a wall of Tom’s restaurant, though I had never in my life done such a thing before. I brought my fellow-art-student roommate, Shari, along, who was very excited about our project, only to find out she had no clue where to start either.
Without Google or YouTube invented yet to advise us, we queried a sympathetic professor for a brief introduction to mural painting, then set about to create a 1950’s style diner scene on the wall with zero experience. As you might imagine, the professor was stifling his giggles.
It wasn’t great, but Tom was pleased, and he was happy to encourage some students by letting us make a mess of his wall. The pay wasn’t bad either, though I personally would have wanted my money back if it were my wall.
For the following semester, I took a business course as well as my usual courses, just to learn a little bit more about what I’m doing. I found what the professor said made more sense to me simply because I had been working at creating a business for myself.
The professor also adored me, because I was actually trying to stretch my entrepreneurial wings despite having no natural gifting in the business realm. He would often give me extra things to read or hand me a photocopy of an article he read. He also encouraged me the day reality hit when I filed my taxes.
The Taxman Cometh
My father, who had always done my taxes (just a 1040EZ for his college student daughter working as a short order cook), was not amused when I sent him all of the stuff the ladies at the SBA told me I’d need for my taxes. Instead, I told him not to worry. I could hire my suite-mate to take care of my taxes. I was so enthusiastic about being an entrepreneur, I had somehow inspired my suite-mate, an accounting major, to take the test from H & R Block to be allowed to help others file their taxes.
After working on my taxes, she was pretty remorseful about telling me that, for the first time in my life, I owed taxes.
I whined to my business professor about it, and his reply still makes me laugh whenever I owe taxes.
“Wonderful?!? How is that wonderful??” I demanded to know.
“Well, dear, you wouldn’t owe taxes if you weren’t being successful.”
Bread and Butter Jobs
Since that day, and for nearly 10 years afterward, I not only created menus for nearly every restaurant in my college town (and pretty much every other town I’ve lived in), but I also developed logos, typed resumes, sold art prints, designed t-shirts, designed business cards, and even created a gospel tract with illustrations. I marketed my typesetting, layout, and illustration skills to small businesses around me, as well as to indie bands and musicians, and eventually also to churches after I became a Christian.
After I entered the world of motherhood 18 years ago, my husband and I looked for ways for me to earn some extra money to cover the added expenses of pre-natal care and childbirth without insurance. I continued to market my typesetting skills, though fewer people were hiring me for those skills now that home computers and laser printers had become popular and affordable.
Recruited by the Cult of MLM
With some pressure from a friend, I signed up to start selling Discovery Toys, a multi-level marketing program for selling educational toys.
I was quite excited about the first few shows because I made enough to put a significant dent in my medical bills, however, this soon started to fizzle out. The primary problem was that I didn’t have any new customers. My home parties all seemed to invite the same people, over and over again, instead of introducing new customers to the products. The other part of the problem, I would later realize, was that I wasn’t as passionate about Discovery Toys as I was about my own design services. I was selling them to make money, instead of selling them because I felt passionate about this opportunity.
Somehow I must be a slow learner because I would sign up for three more different MLM programs before I finally realized this wasn’t working for me.
Some people I have know could sell anything to anyone. I’m not one of those people.Some people I have know could sell anything to anyone. I'm not one of those people. Click To Tweet
Reveling in Motherhood
After having five children in very close succession, home business and entrepreneurship were the last things on my mind.
I was much too busy, and my husband’s career was now at its peak.
We were able to move from our trailer to a nice home in the country with some land, which ironically cost less per month than the trailer did. Most of my money making ventures around this time included writing articles periodically and saving money through raising chickens and growing vegetables.
During this time, I also wrote a very short, self-published booklet called Living on One Income. This booklet was full of tips I had learned for saving money in different areas of the household budget, from the biggest expenses on down.
I originally published it just to give to ladies at baby showers, but later, on popular demand, I started to sell it. Having since become adept at publishing books and ebooks now, I almost cringe at the almost juvenile look of this booklet, but I did sell many copies at $5 each. Whenever I got an order, I went to the local Kinkos, ran some photocopies and used their spiral binding machine. I marketed this ebook through the signature line of my email and my byline whenever I wrote an article.
Most of my customers were fellow moms on different email groups with me. Money made from it was my “blow money” where I could take the kiddos to the zoo, out for ice cream, or to the planetarium.
This life of ease had a large wrench thrown into it one day when my husband came home early from work to tell me that he pulled up to work only to find the company closed, boarded up, and out of business. A few days later, we’d discover that our last paycheck had bounced.
The next job my husband would get would earn just over 1/3rd of what we had been living on.
We were committed to me being home with the children, and we were also committed to homeschooling our children. Neither one of us felt any peace about changing those plans and sending me to work, though we did do a lot of praying and seeking God for wisdom. I began to work even harder at figuring out how to save our family money throughout the entire family budget.
The First Website
As the internet began to grow in popularity during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I set off to learn how to create websites. Most of this came from a passion for things that looked good. I tended to be immediately turned off by anyone’s website if it was ugly.
I spent several years, off and on, reading up on how to create websites before the information finally sunk in.
On August 8th, 2004, JoyfulMomma.org was born. The website was of the same quality as the mural on the wall of the Village Appeteaser, but it was a start.
Through hours of fiddling around with my own website in my free time, I built my own skills in website building. Eventually, a friend from my children’s art class mentioned that she wanted a website for her artwork, and I volunteered to create one for her for free. The reason was two-fold: one, she was a single mom in a hard situation, and I felt I should bless her. Two, I wanted a website that was not my own to showcase what I was capable of, even if I wasn’t entirely sure at the time what I was capable of.
A few weeks after I completed Christine’s website, I created a website for someone at my church at a discount. I soon was creating a lot of websites but realized I was not charging nearly enough. When it came to my own website, I created it as I wanted it to be. The design process took a certain amount of time, much shorter than any other web design project because I knew what I wanted, and fiddling around with my own website was different from endless changes for clients. With Christine’s site, she was so pleased she didn’t feel right correcting anything or complaining, so that also went fairly quickly. The next site was a bit more time consuming, with changes and revisions. Other sites also had many revisions and changes.
Through these changes, I learned much but didn’t earn much!
Now, ten years later, I have continued to self-publish, write articles, and create websites for clients. I’ve even broadened my horizons to feature web hosting services as well as providing tech support for a couple of different websites and businesses. Over these last seven years of internet businesses, I’ve also learned, both through personal experience and through the experiences of web design clients, different ways of making money online.
The bottom line to making money online:
Don’t imagine getting rich quick on it, but rather let it grow naturally, step by step. Sometimes someone hits on something amazing (Dell computers, Facebook, etc.), and if that happens to your idea, Praise God, but that’s certainly not the norm.