If you spend any time at all on homeschool and unschool internet forums, one of the number one concerns with bringing your children home to educate them is money. Or rather the lack of money that comes from living on one income while the other parent (in two-parent families) spends time at home with the children. In one-parent families this issue comes even further to the forefront, with single parents unsure about their capabilities of bringing in income while home educating. In the next few posts we will be talking about the very real option of earning money from home, different ways that this can be done, and examining the pros and cons, challenges and rewards of living life with your family at home full time.
This first post will be looking at home educating while earning an income (or having two incomes) through working in a business at home. Penelope Trunk, a leading spokeswoman for being successful in business while unschooling, blogs more extensively on this topic on her site, and Leonie Dawson also provides incredible materials on starting a business at home based on your passions, over here.
If you are considering educating from home (or already educate from home) and love the idea of working in your home environment, where you can choose your own working hours, and work on something while being with your children, there are a few questions that may help with putting a plan in place to make that happen:
1) What are YOU passionate about?
Personally, I have worked multiple start-ups for the last 15 years or so, and have heard and read so much business advice that is absolutely non-applicable and irrelevant to me now as a home educating mother and as a woman in business. As a mother at home with your children, you may not have a lot of time, however you do have a certain degree of flexibility and you also cannot make your business your top priority (your children are already in that spot!). Therefore, it is important to consider what it is that you are passionate about. If your business will be taking time away from your time with your children, and you will be working on it in every waking moment of your ‘spare time’ then you need to love it. Don’t worry about filling the gap in the market, or trying to find something that people want to buy. Think about what you love, and what you would love to do and start there. THIS will keep you motivated. THIS will ensure that you can keep going with it, even after a long day, and this will drive you to work on your business project in the long term. Passion will drive you long after motivation is gone.
2. What do you have to offer the world?
And by this I mean - what are you really good at? What are you gifted in? does anyone ever say how great you are at doing something? If you could give one gift to the world (that you could personally provide, with little effort, using your natural talents) what would that be? Timothy Ferris talks about the concept of being brilliant at one thing, vs average at a lot of things, in his best-selling self-help book 'The 4 hour work week'. Although it is possible to succeed at things that you aren't the best at, it is much easier to pursue things that you have a natural talent in. And if what you have to offer, is also what you are passionate about - then combining those two factors is a big step toward thinking of your business idea! If you are someone that has a hard time identifying your talents, perhaps enlist your partner, children, family or friends to give you some insight into what they think you are good at! Although children may initially say things like 'cooking'! or 'giving great cuddles', with a little probing of people that know you well, they may come up with something that you had never previously thought of!
3. Do your research and add expenses
In the first years of business exploration for myself, I always gravitated towards women-centred businesses such as jewellery-making, tie-dying clothing, babysitting and other similar areas. I didn't start with a business plan and also didn't think about how much time and effort it would take to make jewellery, and the expenses of the material and advertising vs how much income they would bring in. WIth the business model that I was using (i.e. no business plan!) I ended up working 60 hours a week with massive overheads, in work that I didn't enjoy, to make much less money than what I needed to survive on! A good business plan, and research into how much time and effort, and materials, will be needed, can be the difference between being able to follow your instincts and achieve your goals, and not being anywhere near close to them! If you are making jewellery and can make $5 a necklace at the markets but need $700 a week to pay your mortgage, then chances are that you will not be able to make and sell that many necklaces and you may need a new plan!
4. Find your people
Forget about trying to sell to people. Forget about sales techniques and methods of trying to push your products on to others. You are a unique individual, and somewhere in the world there is a whole tribe of people just like you. People who you do not have to push things on to. People who are looking for that magical thing that you have to offer. For example, one business that we did really well in was lawn mowing. It wasn't something that we were passionate about, but after years at stressful desk jobs, our family wanted to try a lifestyle of working together, with the more athletic members of our family working outdoors, meeting new people and doing relatively low-stress work. We had a good business plan and found that there were people that wanted just what we had to offer; people with busy jobs, lovely houses with the dream of lovely manicured gardens, and that had little time to take care of their gardens. Our people, at the time, were family people who appreciated honest service, who wanted to find someone that could be trusted to keep their beloved pets in their yard after a service, who could also be trusted to work in their garden when their children were home after school, and who would have respect for their house, sprinklers, and their property in general! You see - lawn mowing is really not all about the lawns at all. It is also about connecting people with other people. Person 1 linking with person 2. You are person 1, and if you know what you have to offer to people, you first need to find who those people are – who is your community? Where are they? what do you have to offer them, that you can follow through with and offer them consistently, while being true to your own goals and values?
5. Link in with your people
Once you identify your people, find them where they are at. Who loves the art that you make? Who is looking for a birth photographer that is considerate, kind and compassionate (a birth photographer just like you?). If you are an incredibly loving mother and care-giver and have time to help with another Mama’s children – where would you find that Mother who is looking for time and help with her children? Where would she spend time looking for someone like you? Find the places where people are looking for someone just like you!
6. How much money does your family need to cover the expenses that you have?
There are two mistakes that women make in business, more than men. And you will not hear me say that very often! Women make incredible business people, and even the most respected and iconic business-people, such as Robert Kiyosaki, rave about the benefits of women as business partners!.
Women are typically incredibly giving, and statistically women are the biggest givers of time, energy and money on the planet. There are whole studies and research projects based on the role of women giving in the world, and the inability of our planet to survive in the way that human beings do, without the billions of hours of unpaid labour that women offer within our world. Following on from that, the first mistake that women make in business is - wanting to GIVE too much. And therefore not charging enough.
But it is my business, and I can charge whatever I like - and if I want to give away my services then I will!
Yes - you can give away your services. You can do things for free. And as a social worker, and a mother, I engage in regular service for free with our homeschool/ unschooling community. I have skills that I know will benefit our community, and our children, and I feel that offering those services is something that is invaluable to our children - and something that they would otherwise not be able to afford. But I am very clear with myself and I know that I am giving those services away.
In your business, if you know that you are a giver, then by all means, implement some planned giving. Designate one day a week or a month, or whatever you are comfortable with, and be of service to others in the way that calls you. However in your business, it is vital to consider how much income you need to survive (or thrive!), what your services are worth, and how to implement a pay system that is both fair for you and your customer. If you under-charge then two people suffer - you AND your customer.
Because imagine that person 2 (the person looking everywhere for someone EXACTLY. LIKE. YOU) has been looking for someone like you for a very long time. You meet her needs exactly. She is blessed and ecstatic to have found you – someone who will help her with her children, designs incredible clothes for her, can offer her fair and equitable legal assistance, help her to get great marks at university…the list is endless. However you do not charge your perfect customer enough. You have established that you love your work. You are happy to do it for less than it is worth, you are even happy to give it away.
However as a mother, you and your children may not be able to survive on the income of free or under-cost work.
It starts to take a toll on your life. You become less happy to do the work as your family’s needs may not be met, and you eventually start winding down (or stop) doing that work, in favour of 1) sending your children back to school and going back to work, or 2) going to other employment where the money is enough to support your family’s needs.
In the long run this disadvantages you.
And it also disadvantages your customer, who (if you are doing your job properly) LOVES you and your work, and wants to keep utilising your services. Your customers wants you in their life, and chances are, that they do not want to look for someone else (and possibly pay a lot more, for something that is not exactly what they are looking for). And ultimately, that customer may have been happy to have paid that little bit more to keep you in business, and benefitting their life. So figuring out how much you need to be able to work and continue working, doing what you love, and giving your gifts to the world, is a vitally important step in starting a business.
In part 2 of this series we will talk about practical ways to run your business at home while educating your children in the same house. If you are looking for more information on women-centred business in the meantime, check out LD's resources (many are free) online.