Blog: Erika-Marie S. Geiss

Erika-Marie Geiss is the editor-in-chief and publisher of theWAHMmagazine , a digital magazine for work-at-home parents. A 'mompreneur,' she is a freelance writer, professional blogger, editor and published non-fiction author. Erika will be writing about the personal, professional and economic issues of being a work-at-home professional.

Post No 3: So What Do You do

 In Post No. 2, I discussed home-parties (a Detroit original) and telecommuting. But what are the other work-at-home alternatives?  Many professionals spend a considerable amount of time working from home than one might realize at first blush. Were they included in the statistics referenced in Post No. 1, the figures might actually be higher than reported.  For example, many artists, who have working residences (such as those discussed by Guest Blogger, Trace Koe Wick) could quite easily be included. For readers not familiar with the creative lifestyle of having a functional studio and comfortable living space, think of Sam and Molly’s apartment in the 1990 movie Ghost. Other professions that are thought of as being done solely out of the home, have for years, been at-home jobs—from physicians (think Dr. Huxtable in The Cosby Show) to psychiatrists and therapists (think Dr. Seaver in Growing Pains), and teachers. As a former university instructor myself, I can’t recall how many times I graded papers and exams, created syllabi and reading lists at home and not in my office. My sisters-in-law, both of whom are teachers, can also attest to the amount of work that occurs not in the school building, but at home. In essence, all of these workers mentioned are work-at-home professionals.

But in the minds of most people, they are not. And as one commenter in Post No. 1 mentioned, most people, when they hear that you work from home think (or have the temerity to say), “when are you going to get a real job?” and “So, what do you do?” with a degree of skepticism.  With ire, often rising like bile in the throat from a case of horrific indigestion, you explain, wondering the whole time, why it is that you are having to justify your profession at all, in the first place. The problem is that when you are a freelancer, independent contractor or home-based entrepreneur, the “collective intelligence” discounts it because there is no established, larger recognized “employment club.” Auto workers have the UAW and bricks-and-mortar entrepreneurs have the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. (Don’t despair, there are organizations for each field as well as the Freelancer’s Union and nothing precludes a home-based professional from joining the Rotary or Chamber.) But, in general terms, “work” is still viewed from the narrow perspective of a set of behaviors that include getting up in the morning; getting dressed; driving somewhere else; clocking-in or signing in; performing a set of tasks; and at the end of the day, leaving and heading back home (often with a stop for “happy hour” along the way). I offer that in examining the wide range of aspects to working from home, that perspective of “work” needs to be shifted. (Yet another reason why theWAHMmagazine was started ? to be a new voice for the work-at-home industry.) Working from home, when looked at in a broader way, is not much different than owning a store, for example, and living in an apartment above it, as occurs in many cities across the country.

Beyond Telecommuters

What many are unaware of is the large and silent workforce that enables larger businesses to be productive and efficient. Telecommuters and flex-time employees are not the only home-based professionals who can help larger businesses achieve their staffing needs. From virtual assistants (VA) to marketing, public relations and networking professionals and those in the creative fields, working with a core group of home-based entrepreneurs (rather than going through staffing agencies) can provide the same level of expertise and professionalism without the overhead and fees that outsourcing companies can charge. Staffing firms specializing in creative talent, often charge a fee or percentage over the hourly wage given to the creative freelancer. On one hand, going through a staffing firm/agency has one benefit, for a larger business, of getting prescreened talent. But for the freelancers, they might not be getting the income that a company is actually willing to pay for their services. Becoming a core freelance/contract home-based professional does take work to gain the trust of those bigger clients, who do, if fact, need your services. In the Detroit Metro area, where many have become “collateral damage” of shifting corporate needs, considering working as a freelancer may be a viable alternative, since it may allow you to work in other markets and use technology such as the Internet to your advantage. After all, you may have lost that job, but not the knowledge or expertise gained doing it—leverage it into something viable and lucrative. And in Michigan where companies are saying “we have jobs, but workers without the right skill set,” you (and those companies) might find that your skill set is a good match.

To return to the original question of: “So, what do you do?” When you have those larger clients, you simply smile sweetly and say: “I do very well, actually. I perform x, y and z services and ‘Big Widget Co.’ is one of my clients.”

A prompt: Do you consider yourself a work-at-home professional and how do you handle the question?