How I Made a Living Working at Home — and How Much Money I Made — in 2019

How I Made a Living Working at Home — and How Much Money I Made — in 2019

I’m sure many of my readers have wondered how I make a living at home, with enough income for me and my family to survive.

I could be vague about it — but my gut tells me you want specifics. I don’t blame you. I would too.

To help you learn more and live better, I’m always an open book! Helping you to be able to work at home and make a real living as I do is my goal. And for you to be able to do that, you have to be able to fully believe that it is attainable and realistic.

I see and hear a lot of online bloggers and influencers writing and talking about making huge amounts of money — with the paperwork to back them up. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not one of them — at least not yet. The honest-to-God truth is that those people making six and seven figures a year are, indeed, a very small percentage. However, that’s not to say that you can’t make a decent living and survive while working a business from home.

So I’ve no intention on holding back on how much money I make and how I make it. You deserve to have the curtain pulled back. No smoke and mirrors here. This is the real thing.

So let’s dive in! The following is how I specifically make a living from home — and how much money I made while doing so in 2019.

How I made money and how much money I made in 2019: Can you do it, too?

I’m going to start with my biggest money making activity, and work my way down. All amounts are the income I made over the course of the year 2019. (Keep in mind, these figures are GROSS — that is, BEFORE expenses and taxes. And I’ve rounded to amounts down so that there are no cents.)

For each stream of income, I’ll also answer what might be your most burning question: Can you, dear reader, do this from home to make money (and perhaps a living), too?

Let’s find out!

Creative services business — $48,329

The largest income generator I have is my creative services business, LaCroix Creative.

But what’s that all about and what does income from that business look like?

Well, the business itself has existed under many names over the years (30 years to be exact), as my last name has changed a few times over that span of time as well. But essentially, the business has been the same at its core with the same services. As a “creative specialist” (my self-nomer), I offer creative services for the purposes of publishing and marketing.

What are creative services?

Creative services are the “artistic” means of written and visual communication. In my case, the creative services I offer have been mainly the following (in order of largest income producer first to least):

  • Graphic arts services, both for print and online visual content (this includes website design and development, printed materials such as books, ads, brochures, fliers, catalogs, and forms, and branding items, such as logos)
  • Social media management
  • Writing for online written content, such as websites, blog articles, and bios
  • Editing of books, magazines, and online written content, such as blogs
  • Search engine optimization
  • Online advertising/marketing
  • Photography

I’ve always considered my big three creative services to be graphic arts, editing, and writing, but the truth now is that social media management is now in second place. Of course, that involves producing content — both written and visual — so that does still translate into graphic arts and writing.

In the earliest years of running my business as a side gig, I was mainly a freelance editor/proofreader and also a “stringer” (freelance reporter) for local newspapers. Then, after quitting my job and deciding to go all in with a freelance business, I also went back to school to study Advertising Arts (I already had my B.A. in Communications with concentrations in Journalism and Organizational Communication/P.R.).

While I was in that program, I was hired as a freelance graphic artist for a company that is my client still today, 30 years later. While I still offered writing and editing as services, I provided mostly graphic arts for the next 24 years.

Then, after my husband died in 2014, I reconnected with the person who hired me as a graphic artist at that company so long ago. Now as my associate, he encouraged me to keep my business despite Steve’s death and fed me writing and editing assignments again on a regular basis. I had already dipped my toe into online website design and content before that point. I did a lot of online content and marketing for my own business as well.

Now, I’d say I about 50 percent of what I do is graphic arts — mainly graphic layout and production, along with some website design and development. Writing/editing and social media management makes up about another 35 percent of my services, with online ads/marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) accounting for about 15 percent.

With more than 30 years of experience in publishing and marketing, my creative services business — now morphing into a virtual “boutique agency” — is clearly my bread and butter when it comes to generating income from home.

What’s the business like?

Overall, I love creative services (and I like to think I’m good at providing them as well), but admittedly, the deadlines can be fierce. While I’m great at meeting deadlines, I’ve never been good with the stress they produce.

Some people thrive on that sort of pressure. Not me. It affects me very negatively. When I was younger, you’d always be able to tell that I was under a hot deadline because, without fail, I’d come down with a cold. The stress, I think, would weaken my immune system, and inevitably, within two weeks of my deadline, I’d be sick. I’d still have to play through that though, because, well… I was on a deadline!

I would much more prefer work that naturally starts and ends without a goal date, but that’s never been the case in publishing or marketing/advertising. Luckily, over the years, I’ve become better at both managing deadlines and managing the stress they produce. But while I may not get physically sick, I still find deadlines to be stressful.

As such, after pulling many all-nighters over the years to reach deadlines (I even worked in Steve’s hospital room next to what turned out to be his deathbed in order to “stay on track” with a project) and after doing the same sort of work for more than 30 years, I’ve come close to burning out. This has been especially true over the last 10 years, and even more so during the last two. What has saved me repeatedly is the variety of my work. When a project crosses my desk that is “different” than what I’ve been currently working on, it’s like getting a Vitamin B12 shot in the arm.

For example, in 2019, after months and months of editing and writing jobs, I landed a website design project. The challenge of doing the visual design work, the change of pace, and the variety it all lent helped me get out of a serious period of burnout.

So now I’ve learned that I need to “supplement” my creative work life with different, varied projects in order to stay happy and content. That’s not always easy to pull off. I rarely have a lot of control over who my clients are going to be and what they want. But I’ve found that hobbies and breaks (something I should give myself more of) are good ways to counteract any boredom, stress, and burnout generated by my creative business. And having this blog has helped a great deal as well (read more about that at the end of this article).

What if YOU want to be a creative specialist?

If you want to offer these creative services, you either need to have the right skills, or employ and manage people who do.

How do you get these skills? Well, I think it doesn’t hurt to have some innate talent, and a love and passion for either visual or written communication — or both — depending on which specific services you want to offer. I love it all, so I offer it all. That’s not always a good way to go, but it’s the only way that I can feed and nurture what’s often referred to as a “multi-passionate” entrepreneurial spirit.

That said, with or without talent, building the skills still takes an education. It doesn’t have to be formal, necessarily (although I do personally have my Bachelor’s). Courses online could be just as well. However, I’ve seen the results of many a person who tried to “wing” writing, or editing, or design… and it’s rarely quality work. (I personally know, because I’ve been called in to clean up a lot of the garbage that others have left behind.) There is knowledge that exists behind the experience of a decent communication artist that makes him or her “decent.” So you have to learn the craft, and then put what you learn to work. And learning does take time, and it does take money.

Beyond that, experience is essential. A more formal educational institution often offers internship opportunities that can provide that necessary experience. Even if a client doesn’t look for a degree (and remember, many still do), they will almost always want you to demonstrate at least some experience in the field, usually via a portfolio full of quality work and a number of strong references. An internship allows you to at least start working toward all of the above.

Other ways to gain experience include working for friends and family, doing work for your own business, or pounding the pavement to find your own internship opportunities.

Keep in mind that these first assignments will most likely be pro bono — that is, for free — in order for you to get your foot in the door and build the experience and portfolio that clients will demand. You need to demonstrate that you can, in fact, do the work they’ll be paying you to do, and do it well.

For me, one stream of income flow is NOT enough

I’d love to say that the income from my creative services business is enough to sustain me and my family. But since my husband, Steve, died, and we no longer have his income, that’s no longer the case. I’ve had to do more in order to survive. I’ve had to create multiple streams of income. In 2019, that looked like the following.

Real Estate agent — $4,205

I was a full-fledged real estate agent in 2019 for almost the entire year. I worked hard in 2018 toward becoming an agent, by going to real estate school that summer to get my license.

Why? Well, at the time, I was suffering from that burnout I talked about earlier. I also wanted to indulge a passion I had for a number of years, that being real estate. And lastly, I wanted to produce extra income with business that I could run myself from home. So I went for it.

I worked as hard as I possibly could, part time. When I wasn’t thinking about my creative services business, I was working on my real estate business. Every evening was totally devoted to real estate, and so was the weekend. That said, I managed over 12 months to convert into financial transactions only two sets of clients — a couple who bought their first home, and three roommates looking for a new apartment to rent.

What’s the business like?

Simple and yet cutthroat, all rolled up into one. Making money itself, in my opinion, isn’t difficult. Finding clients to convert, however, is a lot of work. You cannot rest on your laurels for even a second. You need to have goals and be working toward them every day. And you have to be open to every single possible opportunity, always.

You do need to know real estate law. Getting through the course and passing the test is the first big step. And then, either with a coach or a mentor or a lot of self-educating (reading, watching online videos, podcasts), you need to learn how to sell — which you will not learn in real estate school.

No real estate transaction is the same. So even armed with all the law knowledge from class, it’s still very easy to feel lost if you are on your own as a newbie.

While I liked the industry overall and found it very “easy” money per se, it was also extremely stressful. I felt like I was behind the eight ball in the departments of both knowledge and experience. It would take years to catch up to the comfort level of experience that I already had in creative services.

Lastly, you’ll meet all types of people — and I mean all types — in real estate. Some were golden, and I’m better for knowing them. Many others were more like rust. It’s highly competitive, and there are a lot of people within the industry who have huge egos and mean spirits. I’ll just say this (and you can let it sink in): Virtually anyone (and everyone) can be a real estate agent, and it’s typically the ruthless who survive.

While I don’t regret going into real estate (I learned SO much, and I’m glad I tried it and found out what it would be like), I found myself at the mid-year point too splinted between the two businesses. The effort I had to exert to “fill the pipeline,” as they say — that is, to find and convert real estate prospects — was immense. And I needed to apply a similar level of energy to keep my creative services business going as well. Something had to give.

I decided if I had to choose careers — and I felt I did, as it was costing me money to stay in real estate (fees, fees, and more fees) — I’d go back to where my talents, skills, and experience were, and that, of course, was with my creative services business.

It was also where the money was consistently coming from — and I’m very much a show-me-the-money kind of gal.

Technically speaking, I’m still a licensed agent, but I cannot work actively on any transactions. However, I can refer people to other agents, which has the potential to create an income stream for me until April 2020, when my license expires. Thanks to being in eXp, a virtual real estate agency that is nationwide, I had the opportunity to get to know a number of agents across the country. So if you are in need of an agent anywhere within the United States, feel free to contact me by clicking HERE, and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can help you out.

What if YOU want to be a real estate agent?

Starting a business as a real estate agent, like any other business, takes both time and money. However, in comparison to most careers and businesses, it’s probably the LEAST amount of time and money you’d ever have to invest into becoming a sales professional with your own business (past some direct sales careers). I spent a little more than $2,000 to get started. Certainly, it has the  potential to give you a substantial income for a very small investment, proportionally, if you work hard and do it right.

With that said, keep in mind that estimates of how many agents leave the industry before their third year.  In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 50 percent of all small businesses fail by their fifth year. In real estate, the rate of agents leaving the industry has been reported by various real estate speakers and coaches to be as high as 95 percent. That’s a staggering number. And I have to admit that in just a few months, I’ll personally be part of that percentage!

But if you think you have what it takes, step one is finding a good real estate school to attend. If you live in the Chicagoland area, I can connect you with an excellent real estate school — the same school I attended and still attend for my continuing education that I need as a licensed agent. I passed on my very first try, a feat to which not everyone who takes the real estate exam can attest. And I personally feel that my education played a huge part in that (along with my hard work, of course). If you are interested, please click HERE to contact me and learn more.

Teaching English online — $170

I started teaching English online to young students in China in late 2019, so the $170 represents just two weeks worth of work in November (16 25-minute classes, for nearly eight hours of class work). My first full month of online teaching was in December 2019. My January invoice for that work will equal just over $496 (50 25-minute classes, for nearly 25 hours of class work). The December work is a better representation of how much I’ll be making monthly going forward, without a lot of stress and strain. But since we don’t invoice until the beginning of the next month, I can’t include the December income in this report.

One of the best things about working as an online English teacher is that I can choose exactly how often I want to work and exactly when I want to work. Now, it behooves me to work “peak” hours and a certain number of classes a month to get top pay — and so I do. If I find I need to make more income, I can open up my class schedule, and quite frequently, those additional openings get filled with students.

What’s the business like?

As of right now, I teach lessons regularly from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., Mondays through Thursdays. Beyond that, I work the occasional Saturday night from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. I also work occasionally on Friday mornings, but much less so. Ideally, I would just work Mondays through Thursdays, but because my goal is to always teach at least 45 lessons a month, sometimes I have to open up my schedule on other days to ensure that actually happens. This way I can be reasonably assured that I will make at least a minimum of $450 through this income stream.

I’ve written a very extensive article on my journey as a teacher of English online that can give you all the ins and outs of doing this for income. Frankly — I love it. I think it might have been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. The children are wonderful to work with, and the work feels very meaningful and fulfilling for me, personally. Beyond that, I can feel very certain of the income that is to come in monthly, which helps out me and my family tremendously. And best of all, I do it from my own home office. I roll out of bed into my office and into the online classroom!

What if YOU want to to teach English online?

You certainly can, with the right credentials, background, and qualifications — and those might be less involved than you might think. Again, I talk about what those are in my article about my journey as a teacher of English online. Click HERE to read how you might be able to turn teaching English online into an at-home career for yourself! It might just be right for you too.

Click HERE and LEARN MORE! Or just click HERE to APPLY RIGHT NOW!

Online business (monetized blog/affiliate marketing) — $0

Yep — so far this blog website and affiliate marketing has brought me zippo. So if you thought I’ve been rolling in the dough since I started it, you’ll have to think again.

But that will change in just a few weeks, as I’m scheduled to receive my first affiliate marketing check in January 2020, for a big whopping $77. Woohoo!

OK, that amount might not sound like much… and you’re right. It isn’t. But I’ve only first started this blog in October, and I’ve been working it very part time for the last three months. Right now, it’s still very much in its infancy. I’m slowly learning how to optimize it and market it correctly to produce income from it, and do it all above board (there are a lot of laws that cover affiliate marketing that need to be followed).

Much of the content and work I’m pouring into the online business right now is purely a work of love and a nice outlet for my creative juices. But I don’t expect that to always be the case. In fact, the reason I’m working the online business now is because I’m giving it the time it needs to ramp up.

In five years, I’d like it to be making serious money. My goal? Five figures a month. While that might sound lofty, I personally know people who are doing just that. I intend to be one of those people. Check back in five years… No, make that THREE years, because that’s my true goal date to pull in five figures a month PURELY from the blog and other online things related to the blog that do not yet exist (videos and podcasts). The social media tied to this blog helps to bring in money as well. It’s all being designed to work together, as one big online business.

What’s the business like?

I’d say it’s a lot of work, and I guess it is. I can spend hours writing just one blog article (such as the one you’re reading right now). But that article will remain in cyberspace for as long as I decide it does. And during that time, people will find it, and they’ll click on links, and slowly but surely, an income will be made.

And there’s that saying: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” And you know what? I’ve never loved doing anything as much as producing and marketing online content. I love it even more than my creative business. I could easily see myself doing this in a “semi-retirement” role at an advanced age — and being very, very happy.

What if YOU want to write and monetize a blog?

If you think you’d be interested in becoming a blogger and monetizing it, I’d recommend investing in the same online course that I took, and that’s the one created by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

First, a little about its creator, Michelle. She’s one of those people literally making five figures monthly on a regular basis solely from her online activities, with affiliate marketing activities via her blog, “Making Sense of Cents,” as her number one online money maker. During two years, 2017 and 2018, she was actually hitting SIX FIGURES PER MONTH.

That sounds insane. But it’s true.

Michelle used this income to pay off all of her debt, including her student loan debt. She now spends a great amount of time traveling. She, along with her husband, lived in an RV for a number of years, traveling around the United States, and then, more recently, they took to living on the high seas on a boat, just off the coast of Florida!

As for the course itself, it is extremely thorough. I feel like it gave me tremendous insight into affiliate marketing, in a very step-by-step way. I left the course feeling like I had what I need to start — and as we all know, I did.

Of course, even with a course under your belt, monetizing a blog still takes hard work and time — as all of these businesses do. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It might not even be a get-rich scheme. All businesses respond to the amount of hard work and time that’s devoted to them. But at least with this course, you know everything you’ll need to know to blog successfully. You just have to apply it.

If I have any criticism of this course, it’s that it has no videos. I found that disappointing as I’m a very visual and auditory learner. I can learn from reading, but having visuals and audio along with the text would have been so helpful for me, personally. But for the price — I really don’t think you can beat this course as a means of getting started. I’ve already referred BACK to the course (you have forever access to it, which is important) for refreshers as I’ve moved along. So it continues to provide value, even though I’ve officially completed it.

You also receive as a bonus access to Michelle’s private Facebook group. This alone offers tremendous value. Not only do we bloggers in the group help each other, but Michelle also takes a very active role within the group and offers great advice along the way. There are very helpful post threads available in the group to assist in building your blog’s engagement, traffic, and marketing. My absolute favorite is Michelle’s “Ask Me Anything” thread, where, for one day, you can truly ask Michelle anything and pick her brain, and she will answer. I’ve asked all sorts of things, including what was the one thing she did to move her blog income into five figures — and her insights were extremely helpful and eye-opening.

For more information on this affiliate marketing and blogging course and how to register, just click HERE!

My total gross at-home income for 2019: $52,704

So as you can see, my grand total, gross, for 2019, was $52,704. “Take home” net income, of course, will be less (and I always let me tax account come up with that bottom line). This current amount won’t make me a millionaire anytime soon, but it does help me support myself and my family. It keeps a roof over my family’s heads and food on our table. But it’s still really not quite enough for our lifestyle and comfort, in my humble opinion. And with “retirement,” such as it might be, breathing down my neck, I’m looking forward to stepping up my income and the growth of my agency and online activities in 2020. I have some other ideas as well up my sleeve that I’m not yet ready to divulge. But when the time is right, I will, and hopefully, what I have to share will help you out as well.

I hope this gives you an idea of what working from home — and truly making a living from home — could be like. It’s not impossible. I’m proof of that. If you are confined to your home, if you are a stay-at-home mom with kids, if you are a retiree looking for more income, if you want to make some side cash, if you are a home-bound caregiver to an elderly parent, an ill spouse, or a disabled loved one, if you hate driving in winter storms, or if you just want to try something that would be an exciting and creative challenge — you too might find working your own business from your own home the right move for you. It sure has been for me!

Look out, new decade — here we come.