It’s called a Work At Home Collective. A collection of people with similar skills who do that work from home. It’s a flexible, friendly way to generate a bit of income while being at home with young kids. It’s become one of the leading “emerging” business structures for the digital age. To do it, you need someone “ in the know” in your industry and a bunch of work at home buddies ready to do the work!
Collective Not Co-operative
It’s important to differentiate between a collective and a co-operative. A co-op is where every member has equal say in the business decision making process – and equal pay! This cannot work for a collective as it’s all about serving the customers best. The focus is on delivering what potential customers want – not strengthening the business.
Guaranteeing the finished product
Because it’s all about customers, not participants, members should not be admitted unless they can prove their skills and agree to meet certain guidelines around quality and deliverables. For the most part, failing to meet those standards will result in fewer jobs. It’s a good idea to set up some rules from the start. Make sure they’re workable for the whole collective though – because live happens! Failing to meet a deadline when there’s a very sick baby might not mean penalties – failing to tell the collective that work needs reallocating because of a sick baby – that may mean penalties.
How a “work at home collective” works
You’ll need at least one “ connector” – probably a marketing person or someone who has worked in the industry you’re targeting. Say you’re a collective of seamstresses hoping to get some sewing work from home – ideally, you’d look for a connector who had worked in the local garment industry BC (before children) or who has lots of friends who work in that industry. Their role is to promote you to potential customers. You can have more than one connector – the more the merrier! This is then your “quasi sales team”. They find the work for the collective and take a commission for their efforts (usually 20%). This is a nice little work from home job for a marketing person too!
The freelancers are the soloists. They each take only the level of work they can manage – and use the rest of the collective to pick up the slack when they’re too busy/have a sick kid/have a new baby. All the soloists should have a single core skill that is the basis of the collective – say sewing, or admin skills, or graphic design. These are the core jobs and the connector can flick work to any of the soloists in the collective. This allows the connector to say “we can do this job, in this time, to this standard, for this price” without hesitation.
Soloists can also then claim a specialist role in the collective. A soloist with specific skills (working with lace for example) or whiz bang tools (an expensive embroidery machine for example) can then value add to the collective and in return, be guaranteed all work in that area. It’s vital that a collective can guarantee the quality of any specialist work though – don’t just accept a specialist based on tools if you’re not positive they’re able to use it. Specialists can be added just for one off jobs – say you need a printer that can do billboards – something you don’t usually do – bring in a contractor just for that job and then if they work out – call on them for future work. You now have an extra skill you can shop out to potential clients.
A good collective starts small
Keeping collective members happy is all about giving them just enough work at the right pay. Taking on fifty initial members and then forcing them to work for less to get the work is the fastest way to ruin a collective.
How to set up your collective
- First step is to find a connector who is looking for a work at home opportunity. Marketing and sales are areas where work from home is simple so there are lots around, they may just not be thinking of this idea just yet! Your connector is probably someone you already know, maybe they own a Facebook group about sewing or they have had a cool career in your industry before kids. Talk to them about the idea and see what they think.
- Decide roles. If you’re managing the worker side of things, you may wish to work out a cut for yourself. You and your connector need to work out who will get what money, who will be responsible for various tasks and what the guidelines will be for including soloists in the collective. At first, with no clients/work to prove yourselves, you might need to charge lowball prices. Consider the pricing structure that will keep you competitive but also be satisfactory for your collective. You will likely put prices up over time – so consider giving prospective clients a discount on their first job with you as a buying incentive.
- Decide on marketing. Start small. Approach Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups that service your industry and talk to them about sharing your idea. Set up your own social media pages. The beauty of the digital age is that start ups can start up very cheaply. Members can also contribute information and images to help market your business.
- Do the business research – the boring bit. You’ll need to register a business name, get an ABN, bank account and check out the legalities of your new enterprise (your local council will have a business advisory section who will help free). All of this can be done very cheaply, or free. Insurance can be a big cost but a contractor based business may mean that it lays with the contractor, not the collective. In the case of sewing collectives, you may need to make sure that clients have the necessary insurance and meet the standards for the safety of their products.
- Running a remote business. You can use Trello, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Skype, Dropbox, Facebook groups and other free/cheap digial products to manage the work load and stay in contact with your members. Start with a Facebook group (if most of them are on Facebook!) and grow your admin systems when it becomes necessary.
Applying for work at home jobs can leave you feeling deflated – they’re terribly popular and hard to come by. Building your own, and some for your friends and contacts may be the most satisfying thing you ever do – plus, you’re building a business which will some day be worth real money – that you can sell and be rewarded further for your great collective achievement!