It’s a Virtual Work World

by Alyssa Quintero on September 1, 2008 - 2:12pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 5

Working from home can solve some of the daily challenges of progressive muscle diseases, such as fatigue and the need for personal care assistance, transportation and on-thejob accommodations.

Commonly referred to as telecommuting or telework, the world of virtual jobs includes home-based businesses, virtual administrative assistants, working from home for a current employer, and freelancing in such areas as writing, editing, translation, online tutoring, Web designing and event planning.

Although it pays to be tech-savvy, it doesn’t take much complicated technology to start or find telework. The key is identifying the right tools for your needs and weeding out the scams.

Working from home works

Lorinda Gonzalez
“You can work whenever you want, even if it’s at 2 a.m.,” says Lorinda Gonzalez of telework. “It’s a lot less stressful on your health.”

Lorinda Gonzalez of Lantana, Fla., who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, teleworks to earn money while attending Palm Beach Community College.

Gonzalez, 23, has been an Avon representative for the last four years, but it became difficult to travel to deliver customers’ orders. She opened an online Avon store in June.

“It’s very convenient for me and the customers, and it has minimal out-of-pocket costs,” she said. “There are other representatives that have hundreds and hundreds of clients because it’s a global Web site.”

She says it took her about two minutes to set up the site with her customized features. She pays $7.50 every two weeks, or each campaign, to use the site.

Through the site, clients sign in and place their orders; Avon delivers directly to their homes.

With the help of her laptop and speech-recognition software, Gonzalez works about 20 to 30 hours a week monitoring her online store from home.

“It’s ideal because going out and having a full-time job is very trying on my body because of the fatigue and exhaustion,” explained Gonzalez, who had to leave her job in a medical office because she got sick.

Telework not only protects her from germs, but “you can work whenever you want, even if it’s at 2 a.m.,” she said. “It’s a lot less stressful on your health.”

Find the right support

Netti Hoffman, 44, of Delray Beach, Fla., decided in October to start an online business and in February launched the Web site for her company, Jewelry That Inspires.

Hoffman, who has myasthenia gravis, didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur and business owner, and admits “it wasn’t easy.” For four months, she studied such books as Home Businesses Made Easy, and learned how to design a Web site because she couldn’t afford a professional Web designer.

“There was a lot of trial and error,” she said.

She quickly learned she needed a Web hosting company, software to create the site, software to make it an e-commerce site, and a merchant account in order to accept online purchases.

Initially, Hoffman chose a Web hosting company by reputation and information provided by the Better Business Bureau, and “hoped for the best.” She experimented with six e-commerce hosting sites that offered low monthly charges, but ended up losing money because the sites weren’t as user-friendly as claimed.

Some hosting companies charged between $12.95 and $49.95 a month to host a store front, but Hoffman found the support was poor and the software was too complicated, especially since she isn’t a Web design expert.

“Each company taught me about a new issue that I hadn’t foreseen,” she said, such as compatibility issues and limitations on how products can be listed.

She lost money in her search, but since has found a company that charges $100 a month. Hoffman purchased additional services like her SSL security certificate and merchant account services through the company, and pays a monthly fee that enables her site to accept credit card purchases.

“The company’s rates are high, but you get it all back in outstanding support,” she said. “If I have problems with my shopping cart, the Web site itself or my security certificate, I have the resources to fix it. Without the support, my business would suffer, and I’d lose money.”

Hoffman estimates she spent $2,200 to start the online business. Her valuable lesson: “You keep learning.”

Beware of scams

The Internet is a gateway to many legitimate home-based jobs, but beware of online scams: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Doing some research can save money — and disappointment — in the long run.

Before giving out any personal information, start by checking opportunities with the Better Business Bureau (, 703-276-0100), which has a special section devoted to work-at-home schemes.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection provides some special sections devoted to workat-home-schemes and how to stay safe. Check out to learn about Web-based business scams.

In addition, the FTC provides a consumer section about classic work-from-home scams, questions to ask while researching an online job ad, and how to file a complaint if you’ve been a victim. Visit, or call (877) 382-4357 to learn more.

Good jobs are out there

“Our research indicates a 48-to-1 scam ratio in home-based job ads on the Internet,” says Michael Haaren, co-founder with Christine Durst of the virtual assistant training company Staffcentrix (

“That’s terrible, and it discourages a lot of people from searching for home-based work. We tell people how to avoid that ratio and find the needles in a haystack.”

Haaren and Durst are co-authors of the book The 2-Second Commute, which provides readers with a step-by-step guide to attaining a successful career as a virtual assistant. In addition, Haaren operates the Rat Race Rebellion site (, a public telework site that screens work-at-home job opportunities before they’re posted. The site also identifies more than 100 areas where people can work from home via the Internet, with information about top hiring markets, pay range and recommended skillsets.

Each week, Haaren issues a weekly bulletin to subscribers featuring 20 screened work-at-home jobs, along with articles about telework trends, interviews with teleworkers, and issues affecting families, including people with disabilities.

Haaren says it may be a scam if:

  • you see beaches, Ferraris, mansions and palm trees;
  • people ask you to pay up front before you see the job; or
  • the headline trumpets “work from home” rather than the kind of job.

Haaren recommends checking out work-at-home message boards like Work-at-Home Moms ( and Work Place Like Home (, registration required) where people discuss scams, job leads, the ins and outs of home-based businesses, and other hot news items related to work-from-home jobs.

When running an Internet search for home-based jobs, Haaren advises using certain phrases that help weed out scams. For example, rather than using the search term “work at home,” try “this is a work at home position” for more legitimate leads. The Rat Race Rebellion site lists 60 such “smart” search terms that typically turn up in legitimate ads.

To land a legitimate work-from-home job, Haaren recommends updating your resume to highlight your ability to work independently and your familiarity with online tools such as instant messaging, e-mail, Webinar, etc.

“The good news is that telework/telecommuting is growing steadily, and there are lots of legitimate jobs out there,” he said. “But, you have to do your homework because the Internet is still the Wild Wild West, and you have to be on guard.”

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