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Family-friendly, Home-based Career Solutions

A New Series of Columns on Home-Based Careers: Preserving “Farm-Family Values” in a Non-Farming World

by Christine Durst and Michael Haaren [If US State Department and military spouses are doing it, you can too. How to find legitimate home-based work – and continue to protect and pass on core beliefs – in a world where valuables are so often esteemed over values.]We are delighted to be writing in The Link, this first in a series of columns that will focus primarily on creating and/or finding legitimate, home-based work, integrating it into the family, and using it to convey values to your children that will serve them in good stead throughout their lives.

But before that, we’d like to introduce ourselves and explain why we speak of and care about “farm-family values,” and why our professional and personal passion is dedicated to home-based work and careers.

We both come from farming communities – Chris in rural Connecticut, in an area called “the Quiet Corner,” and Mike in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia – and we spent much of our youth working on farms. We grew up surrounded by the farm-family values of hard and healthy work, parents spending a good deal of time with their children (often near them day by day), a distaste for – and mistrust of – debt (not only as unwelcome evidence of need, but even more for the relinquishment of autonomy and independence to the creditor), family caring for family and neighbor for neighbor, and a strong sense of oneness with the community – all under heavy pressure now from the national trend toward “sprawl-and-crawl” suburban living and the hyper-materialism that it requires to function.

Chicken Beaks & Nails

Chris will begin. I was the second of six children, growing up amid a family-owned business as well as a bustling family.
In my childhood, entrepreneurship, rather than employment, was the rule in my family. Some of my earliest memories are of my father and grandfather talking in the kitchen in the pre-dawn hours before they went off to a farm to work. At that time, they were traveling from farm to farm, sometimes hundreds of miles away, debeaking chickens (a process where the point of the bird’s beak is snipped off with a small machine, so they won’t harm each other through pecking. I still vividly recall joining “the Men” when they had a local job (I was four or five), where I’d be tasked with scooping up the little birds in a laundry basket and bringing them over for debeaking.

Years later, the Men had segued from debeaking chickens to home construction, teaching themselves along the way. The early mornings in the kitchen continued – with my grandfather downing several cups of coffee and my dad laying out the work plan for the day. I’d tag along whenever I could – picking up dropped nails for a penny a piece when I was younger, and later, as a teenager, helping out with shingles, sheetrock and painting, but mostly basking in the company of these men I loved so well and aspired so much to be like.

My mother, being a traditional stay-at-home Mom and typical wife of a small-business owner, took care of payroll, taxes and accounts payable from the home office. She managed this while juggling six children, piles of laundry and dishes, lunchboxes, runny noses, after-school activities, and an assortment of animals – domesticated, and those intended for the freezer. We all had our chores – making beds, washing dishes, sweeping, feeding the livestock, weeding the garden, etc. – and we all felt that we were contributing (though not always without grumbling) to making our house a home.”

Choosing Stalls Over Malls

As a teenager I didn’t spend any time in malls – I wasn’t interested, and they would have been too far away anyway, even if I had had the money. I spent my ‘spare time’ raising beef animals, in 4-H. It will sound funny to people who haven’t farmed, but, even though they each found their way to the family freezer and table, I loved my animals, and they taught me a lot.
That was years ago, and now I have two children of my own – Zach, 18, and Laura, 15. Like me, they’re growing up in the same rural community and sharing their home with a business – mine. Mike and I, with our company, Staffcentrix, train people to start home-based businesses and find home-based work. We think that ‘time-starved parents and parent-starved children’ is not a good thing, and we’re committed to helping families find better ways to live. My own experience of growing up in a family business environment was so lovely, so valuable, that it has become a passion that I share with others.

Life in a Log Cabin
Now Mike’s turn. When I was born in rural Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, my parents lived in a log cabin on a dairy farm, surrounded by creeks, rolling fields, and a deep, dense woods that began just a few yards from the front door. My father, who had returned from WW II a few years before, was an entrepreneur about to open a small cinder block plant in a nearby town, and my mother was a homemaker.

My days were filled with walks in the fields and woods, among Holstein cows and trees and grazing horses. One of my most vivid memories is going to town with my father when our well went dry, and bringing back big, cold milk cans full of water. He let me ride in the open trunk with the milk cans – I was about five – and I remember the walls of honeysuckle on either side of the road, whose perfume in the summer humidity was so intoxicating and motherly that it seemed to surround Dad and me and the car, too, in a kind of rolling embrace, as we coasted down the hill toward the cabin.

My grandfather was a cattle farmer and broker, and hadn’t finished high school. But he was well-to-do, even wealthy, in a place where few people had money. In the Depression he would get up at 3:00 a.m. to drive to Baltimore, hours away on rutted country roads, to strike hard bargains with sophisticated buyers from the Chicago meatpacking houses. The local farmers would entrust him to get the best price for their beef animals, and he prospered, in tough times. He had two big farms he supervised closely, and read The Wall Street Journal and didn’t say much.

I worked on farms growing up, spending almost every weekend on a dairy farm where my best friend’s father was a tenant farmer. I would help them milk the cows, clean out the barn, pitch silage down from the silo, and spread manure by tractor. We would eat the bony bluegill and perch we caught in the pond, and gut, skin and give to his Mom for frying or stewing the squirrels we shot with our .22s. You learn a lot about life when you yourself kill the things you are going to eat. It teaches you to look at life and living things in a different way, especially when you’re a child, and all of life is so vivid and palpable and colossal, and every experience fills you up with feelings and dreams and speculation.

Later, I worked summers pitching hay for a dollar an hour. In my thirties, when I practiced law on Wall Street and couldn’t sleep at night from the details of tides of paper and big deadlines, I would wish that I could retrieve the rich sleep of those summer nights.

From Holsteins to Humvees – Our “DISTINCTIVE” Contemporary Lifestyle

From these agricultural and small-town backgrounds we, with so many others, have watched with growing concern as American life skews more and more toward “sprawl” and a host of related influences and pressures, most of them hostile to families, children (not to mention the environment), parents, and individual growth. Hyper-materialism, lifelong debt, lengthening workweeks and commutes (commuting itself is work), children pulled from the breast and handed to strangers after a mother’s “liberal” maternity leave is over – a bleak picture of American “mainstream” life takes little talent to see, but all of our energy – and much of the world’s – to live.

In the interim, the 400 dairy farms that existed in Mike’s county when he was born have now been reduced to one (replaced, predictably, by treeless developments with leafy names), and fewer of Chris’s neighbors are farm families as the “New Yorkers” are buying up the property, searching for small-town life but, encumbered with other perspectives, scattering it even as they seek it out.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: Should we be living the DISTINCTIVE lifestyle (Dual Income Striving To Impress Neighbors & Co-workers, yet Tormented by Increasing Vexation & Emptiness), or leaving it, in both body and mind?

The Virtual Assistant Movement and the Home-Based Freelancer
Our passion to find family-friendly, home-based career solutions – solutions that would help preserve and transmit those “farm-family values” we and so many others hold dear – led Chris to found the Virtual Assistant (“VA”) industry in 1995, with the launch of MyStaff, LLC. (For those new to the term, a Virtual Assistant is simply a self-employed individual who provides business-support services – administrative, bookkeeping, Web design, etc. – via email, phone and fax. Clients may be down the street or around the world.)

Fairly soon, with a batch of international clients and growing word of mouth, Chris became inundated with queries from people who wanted to do what she was doing, and in 1999 we simultaneously launched Staffcentrix, which specializes in virtual careers training and resources, and the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) – the nonprofit parent organization of the VA industry. (As planned from the beginning, we turned IVAA over to its members a few months later.)

After much hard work, we developed groundbreaking virtual careers training programs for the Armed Forces and the US Department of State, which are now available at over 100 military bases, consulates and embassies internationally. Our new book, The 2-Second Commute, which explains how to launch and grow a home-based e-services business, is used in these training programs, along with our weekly bulletin of screened, home-based jobs, The Rat Race Rebellion.

It makes sense, however, that people seek guidance (whether from us or others) when looking for home-based work – our own research team reports a 30 to 1 scam ratio in the leads they find. That is, for every 30 leads they evaluate for The Rat Race Rebellion, 29 are bogus, and only one is legitimate. That’s “Russian Roulette” in reverse, and why every family seems to have a horror story about a home-based “opportunity” that went awry.

“Virtual Work” Goes Mainstream

Before we move to some practical tips (which will be more the focus of subsequent articles), we should mention that the virtual worker now has plenty of company. Indeed, the trend has become so established that the mainstream media covers it almost routinely.
Readers who’d like more information might begin at Michelle Conlin’s article in the Dec. 12, 2005, issue of BusinessWeek, “The Easiest Commute of All.” (In it, Michelle quotes workplace expert Charles Grantham of the Work Design Collaborative in Prescott, Arizona, who predicts that 40% of the US workforce will be distributed by 2012. (“Distributed work” is the latest umbrella term for virtual workers.)

Another good resource for news on distributed work can be found at former Harvard Business School faculty member Jim Ware’s website, at http://www.thefutureofwork.net. Among other things, Jim monitors and analyzes developments in distributed work internationally, and his Weblog, at http://www.thefutureofwork.net/blog, is a great place to dig.

Google, of course, will yield many more references, and readers can also go to the media page at our website, at http://www.msvas.com/NewsCoverage.htm. Home-Based Jobs and Projects – Starting Tips
With the background and context material behind us (albeit in summary), our next columns will be much more pragmatic. But to help get you started, here are three introductory tips for home-based jobs and project searches.1. Many “work-at-home-mom” (WAHM) sites can be a great first stop for home-based job seekers (including dads, too).
If you haven’t already done so, log on to some of the many sites that have been established by and for WAHMs. Among other resources, you’ll often find message boards where parents exchange details of their own experiences with various hiring companies. If you want to know if something is a scam, these sites are an excellent place to find out.

Some of the sites we use in our weekly research for The Rat Race Rebellion include:MommysPlace.Net, at www.mommysplace.net (Excellent message board forum; see their “telecommuting jobs” board.)

WAHM.com, at www.wahm.com (The “telecommuting moms” message board has lots of useful posts.)Mommy Essentials, at www.mommyessentials.com (Click on the “telecommuting jobs” link for a list of companies that hire home-based workers.)2. Choose search terms carefully.
Consider how legitimate hiring companies word their help-wanted ads, then conduct your search using phrases that they themselves are likely to have used.

For example, in Google, the search phrase “work from home” turns up over 11 million entries, while the phrase “this is a work at home position” turns up only 274. Why? In part, because scammers often use the phrase “work from home” as their hook. For real hirers, on the other hand – who are not trying to “hook” the reader – the location of the work is usually but one aspect of the job. Hence, they’ll use phrases like “this is a work at home position” in the same way they might mention “this job requires that you be able to lift 50 lbs.”
(Of course, not all advertisers who use a particular phrase are thereby bogus or legitimate, but we think you’ll see our point.) Following are just a few examples of “good” and “bad” search terms:Bad search terms:
“work from home”
“work at home”
“work at home jobs”
“home business opportunity”Good search terms:
“must have home office”
“must have a DSL”
“must have quiet home office”
“this is a telecommuting position”
“this is a work from home position”3. Beware other “hooks” and indicators of doubtful leads.
We’ve mentioned the phrase “work from home” as one popular scammer approach, but (donning our coonskin caps) here are a few others to help you as you paddle your canoe through the shark-infested waters.• “Work From Home” appears prominently in the title of the ad.• The pay is unrealistic for the nature of the work or the time commitment. • You’re required to pay for more information, “application processing,” or lists.• The ad states “no experience necessary.”• The ad is vague or ambiguous about what you’ll actually be doing.• The company’s only Web presence is at a “free” site. • If you call for more information, someone tries forcefully to sell you the job.Until Next Month…
We hope we’ve given you at least an introductory sense of the home-based career options that so many are pursuing now (though we must also add that they are not for everyone), and how homeschooling families too, can finally ease some of the harsh financial sacrifices that having a parent at home used to universally demand.
We hope you’ll join us again next month for our focus on tips and pointers, and in the meantime we’d like to invite you to share with us any comments or questions you might have about any aspect of home-based work. You can reach us via email at linkreaders@staffcentrix.com. ■
_____________Christine Durst and Michael Haaren are the co-founders of Staffcentrix, LLC, which specializes in virtual career training programs and resources. They have appeared in such publications as BusinessWeek, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The London Times, as well as on radio and T.V. Their best-selling book on Virtual Assistants, The 2-Second Commute, may be found at Amazon or www.2secondcommute.com.

© 2006 Christine Durst & Michael Haaren. All rights reserved.