With snow covering much of the country, seeing transport slide to a halt, a lot of Britons are taking unscheduled "working from home" days while others are wondering what life would be like if they canned the commute and set up on the sofa instead.
There are two main ways to work from home. A home worker performs tasks in their own home, but for another person's business. This should be differentiated from someone working at home on a self-employed basis.
But beware: There are a multitude of 'opportunities' on the Internet aimed at enticing people into parting with their money. Although I am apparently a target for a good scam (Wise up Women or Get Scammed Silly Online!), I have managed to avoid handing over my bank details so far!
Home working can also be open to abuse from unscrupulous employers. A popular scam involves advertising a task like envelope stuffing, and promising lots of money 'on commission'. Sometimes you are asked to pay for your own 'start-up' kit. The reality is that you may be offered no work at all, or that the market becomes so saturated that you will earn almost nothing.
There is a very simple rule of thumb to adhere to when looking for home working schemes: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Legitimate work from home
There are real opportunities out there, if you know where to look.
A good source is http://www.workingmums.co.uk/. This site is particularly aimed at women, as the title suggests, but welcomes all 'flexible job seekers', including men.
It details jobs from big, well-known companies where you can become a representative or purchase a franchise. Other jobs include catalogue delivery, sales, marketing and consultancy roles. It advertises a mixture of both home working and self-employed opportunities. Make sure you are clear about which type you are applying for, as this will affect your tax status.
Bear in mind that even a trusted website might accidently advertise a scam. Just as the Yellow Pages can't check the validity of every single advert it places, you can't expect the website to investigate all its job advertisements. It is up to you to be alert and keep an eye out for things like unrealistic salary offers or illegal pyramid schemes.
Do you have a skill?
Can you bake cakes, teach a sport or tutor children in languages or music? Could you start your own business using your skills?
Be mindful of the legislation applicable to your area of expertise. If you dream of a cake-making business make sure you are aware of health and safety requirements, and prepare for a visit from the council to check that your cooking premises are up to scratch. If you are going to tutor children you will need a Criminal Records Bureau check.
It is important to go into any enterprise with your eyes open to avoid problems further down the line.
Could you use skills from your job to enter the freelance market? Ideally work will be found via old contacts, but if not you could register on a website like http://www.peopleperhour.com/. This site is free to join, although you will be charged a fee on completion of a job.
I initially found that this was a good method of getting work, but its popularity has led to vast numbers of freelancers bidding on each job. The site has gone global, meaning that people from different economic climates are adding their skills to the market. The downside of this is that they may be willing to work for much less than the UK minimum wage. Sadly this has led to some employers offering very poor rates of pay.
Create an online presence
Whatever line of work you decide to try your hand at, it's a great idea to have an online presence. You could decide to pay for a professional website, but an alternative is to create your own blog like mine. This can be done quickly, easily and, most importantly, for free from a website like WordPress. This is a great way of advertising your business and showing potential customers exactly what you have to offer.
Sort out your tax online
Don't forget that if you are self-employed and earning money, you will need to declare it. You must do this within three months of starting work, or you could be fined £100. Anyone who has tried to freelance or work from home will be aware earning decent money can be a long slow process. But even if you are not earning over your personal allowance you must still register with HM Revenue & Customs.