Until two years ago, I had never given much thought to the millions of people who work from home.
But I began to learn about this rapidly growing army when, in conjunction with my workplace segments on Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer issued me a challenge: Find ways for our viewers to make money from home.
I had always viewed work-from-home pitches skeptically - as scams by hucksters claiming that just a few hours a day stuffing envelopes can be your ticket to fortune.
But while many such scams do exist - buyers beware! - I began to discover plenty of legitimate opportunities offered by reputable firms, aimed at people who for one reason or another don't want to toil in a traditional workplace.
Those heeding the call include not only full-timers who want to leave the office behind, but also those looking for supplemental income, from stay-at-home moms who find themselves stretched monthly to would-be retirees who know their nest eggs aren't going to cut it.
I've outlined some of these opportunities in a brand-new New York Times bestseller, Will Work From Home: Earn the Cash Without the Commute, a guide to making money at home, co-written with Robyn Spizman.
Here's a look at some of the options I've discovered, spanning various industries and skill sets, that allow you to work flexibly--typically as an independent contractor--from home.
Provide business services: Businesses--from sole proprietors to Fortune 500s--turn to Elance.com and oDesk.com to hire individuals off-site to perform tasks ranging from coding Web sites to writing press materials. Both sites allow you to create a free profile to tout your skills and take assessments to certify your skill level. View postings and bid on appealing projects, and determine your hourly or project rate. (Project fees can range from $50 to design a logo to more than $10,000 to develop a Web site.)
Answer customer calls: When you call customer service at your bank or place an order with a retailer, the voice you hear on the other end might well belong to someone working out of their living room in this country.
If you've got solid customer service skills, high-speed Internet, a dedicated phone line, a workspace free of noise and at least 20 hours a week, you could do likewise. Pay ranges from $8 to $15 an hour.
Connect with AlpineAccess.com, LiveOps.com, WorkingSolutions.com, TeleTech.com, VIPDesk.com or Arise.com. Each operates differently, so visit the sites to learn which is best for you.
Get crafty: Etsy.com is an online community connecting sellers of handmade items, including candles, clothing, ceramics, jewelry, pottery and even food, with a worldwide audience. It's free to get started and the site takes 3.5 percent of your sales, plus a 20-cent listing fee.
Be a mystery shopper: If you'd like a home-based opportunity that allows you to get out of the house occasionally, consider being a mystery shopper. Make anonymous visits to retail stores, restaurants and gas stations to monitor specific behaviors, and make sure they're up to brand standards.
Another option involves merchandising, where you're charged with helping manufacturers present their product in a retail environment to generate sales. You may assemble displays, distribute coupons, sample food, restock shelves or demonstrate products.
Two trade associations list legitimate companies: the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (mysteryshop.org) and the National Association for Retail Marketing Services (narms.com). Pay starts at about $8 to $10 can go as high as $30 to $50, depending on the requirements. Never pay to be a mystery shopper or merchandiser; no legitimate opportunity requires a fee or certification.
Give care to a senior: Make money in someone else's home by providing seniors with non-medical care, including companionship, errands and light housekeeping, meal prep, scheduling doctor appointments, and other tasks. A number of national companies hire such workers, including Home Instead, Senior Helpers and Comfort Keepers.
Tap your inner entrepreneur: Bring in $1,000 or more per month with small ideas that are easy to execute with little to no investment. If you're doing this full time, you can triple or quadruple that. A Manhattan dog walker commanding $25 per walk twice a day, five days per week, makes $250 a week from one client. Add four more and the take skyrockets to $1,250 a week.
Another option: Online tutors make an average of $10 an hour, but by lining up your own clients and visiting their homes in your neighborhood, you can command many times that amount.