More than 32 million Americans work from home either full or part time. Some are pursuing their dreams by having their own home-based businesses. Others, caught in the corporate downsizing and resulting lack of jobs that began in the '90s, have been forced to come up with creative ways to make a living on their own.
And since the events of Sept. 11, more and more people want to spend more time at home with their families.
"Since 9/11 there's been a desire to return to the old days when people made a living at home. People want to spend more time with their families and be in control of their own destiny," observes Millie Szerman, a home-based businesswoman and author of A View From the Tub (Stairwell Press, $17.95), a practical guide to working from home.
In today's world, almost every family needs two incomes. For women, who still bear the primary responsibility for caring for the family in addition to their jobs, working from home is a particularly attractive option, according to Szerman.
But she cautions that working from home is not for everyone and it may be more difficult than it might seem.
Have a Life
Before considering starting a home-based business, she suggests assessing your personality. Are you a self-starter? Are you disciplined? Can you create structure for yourself? And, even more important, are you a self-stopper?
"Having a home-based business requires perseverance, flexibility, the ability to motivate yourself and the ability to resist the urge to work 24/7. When you work for yourself, you work a lot harder than you do when you work for someone else. It takes a lot of work to be successful, so you have to know when to shut the door on your home office and get on with other aspects of your life," Szerman says. "But some people are happier working on-site with others around them than they are working alone, so it's not for everyone."
She also advises those who want to be home-based business owners to make sure they have a positive attitude about working from home.
"Don't be apologetic about working from home. Take yourself and your business seriously or no one else will," she contends.
Have a Mission
Having established that you are mentally and emotionally suited for working at home, the next step is to create a mission statement, a business plan (assuming that you already have an idea for what seems like a viable home-based business) and a plan for success.
"A mission statement that describes your purpose and goal helps you stay focused. Keep the statement posted someplace where you can see it to keep you on purpose," Szerman advises.
Among other things, the business plan should address finances. Analyze how much you need to live on and how you will get along during the start-up phase.
Szerman recommends having a four-month "cushion" of money to live on while your business gets started and, unless you're already rich, be prepared to live frugally until your business begins to reap profits. "The cushion could come from taking out a home equity loan or borrowing from your IRA," she suggests.
Then be prepared to forgo $4 lattes at the local coffeehouse, and bundle up instead of turning on the heat to save on utility bills. When starting her own home business, Szerman bought a bicycle to run nearby errands and save on gas.
Ideally, she suggests starting a home-based business part-time and then moving into it full-time when you see how you like working from home and how well your concept is selling.
Have an Office
Now you need an office. Szerman started her first business by creating office space in the garage. A spare bedroom or den could also be turned into an office. Because of the recent work-at-home explosion, many new homes include home offices in their floor plans. Depending on the nature of your business, the home workspace may need to provide for everything from office machines to storage space for products (in the case of people who are home-based distributors). Interior designers who work from home need space for samples of fabric and other elements of interior design. If you will be meeting with clients at home, the office should be set up to provide comfortable space for conferencing. A desk, a computer, a fax machine, telephone and filing space are basic requirements in almost every home-based business, according to Szerman.
And then there are the support aspects to consider. "You will need business cards and letterhead stationery - all of which can be provided by local stationers or copy shops such as Kinko's," Szerman notes. "For reasons of personal safety, don't put your home address on your business cards, because you don't know who you'll be passing them out to."
Instead, she suggests setting up a mailbox through Mail Boxes Etc, Postal Annex or a similar service in your area. . . "One of these services is better than the post office because Fed Ex and other delivery services will deliver to them. They won't deliver to a post office box."
In her book, A View from the Tub, Szerman offers information on how to avoid needless expenses, how to assess the equipment you really need, how to assess your work and whether the business is really making a profit, how to keep the city, state and neighbors happy, how to market and grow your business, and how to know when it's time to go beyond being a home-based business. The book, which also contains checklists to help you stay on track, is available through amazon.com, or visit Szerman's own website at aviewfromthetub.com.
Other websites that may be helpful include worldwide learn.com, which links to online classes in more than 40 business-related subjects and trainingcenter.com, which offers self-paced online business and computer courses.
Once you launch your home business, it's also good to remember how many successful businesses started from home - Mrs. Fields Cookies, Starving Students moving company, Famous Amos Cookies and Apple Computer, to name a few.
For more information on starting a home business.
- FTC.gov - The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on several fraudulent work-at-home schemes. For a quick, eye-opening education, type "work at home schemes" into the website's search box.
- GoHome.com - Business@Home website is overflowing with advice on planning, marketing and executing your home business.
- HomeBusiness.com - Take advantage of discount insurance, reduced long-distance rates and online business-purchase rebates for a membership fee of $9.98 per month.
- HomeWorks.com - An entertaining site by husband and wife authors. While they peddle their books, tapes and seminars, the site provides a wealth of insight and links.
- SBA.gov - The Small Business Administration can help you build a business plan and pursue funding, if you qualify. Also provides extensive links to other resources. At the main page, type in "home business" in the search function.