Are you thinking of starting a home-based business? The information on this page will show you how to identify, plan, finance, and market the best business for you. Once you've read through the page, click here to see business ideas.
Millions of Americans work at home. Their "work" is as varied as the individuals themselves. Some telecommute, others have their own businesses, others are contract workers. Some created their work-at-home situation from scratch, others took advantage of flexible work options on the job or bought into an existing business such as a franchise or MLM. For many beginning to examine work-at-home options, deciding to work at home is the easy part. Its the deciding what to do that is difficult.
According to Paul and Sarah Edwards in their book Finding Your Perfect Work,successful self-employed workers who created their work used one or more of the following paths to get there:
Harvesting a gift. Some people choose to use their special gifts or talents to create their "perfect work".
Pursuing a passion. Others choose to follow their hearts, doing something they love and believe in passionately.
Follow a mission. Some people have a mission, a sense of destiny, that leads them to pursue their special work.
Capitalizing on assets. For many, doing what comes naturally, capitalizing on their assets and current circumstances is how they achieve their work-at-home goal.
Of course choosing a path, and what to do specifically once the path is chosen, is a challenge as well. Often, opportunity exists without realizing it. Jerry from Ginger’s K-9 Originals recognized an opportunity that showed itself when people began to ask him about his homemade sun visor for his dog. For others, the opportunity needs to be created. Below are some steps to help you find ideas to meet your work-at-home goal:
- Using the list above, brainstorm your gifts, talents, passions, missions, and current assets or situations. Write them all down without thinking about whether or not it could be turned into a business. This is important! After all, who would have thought a talent for baking cookies would make Mrs. Fields a well-known name?
- Using your brainstorm from number 1, think of business ideas (wacky or not) that could result from your gifts, etc. To help, use the books that list a zillion ways to make money from home. While these books aren’t so helpful on specifics, they are full of many different ideas you might not think of on your own. Some interesting ideas I have seen are: bartering club, holiday decorator (for homes and businesses), consultants (of anything) and brokers (of anything), education consultant, doll house making, genealogy researcher, sales lead generator, referral service (from child care to bed & breakfasts), and so on.
- Pick a few ideas and begin to research the feasibility of creating a business. For example, if you want to work completely from home, a business that required you to leave home to meet clients may not work. Also, begin to do market research to determine if there are people who will pay for what you want to offer.
- Whatever you choose, be sure it is something you want to commit to spending a great deal of time working on. If you are sick of bookkeeping, you probably shouldn’t start a bookkeeping business.
- Write a business and marketing plan. See below for more information on business and marketing plans. This is vitally important because businesses that fail to plan, plan to fail.
- Commit to your plan and your business. A business doesn’t grow overnight. Persistence and dedication are required. Find books and people to help you stay motivated and confident in yourself and your new venture.
Still need ideas? Use the Resource section of this web site. It is filled with books and websites to help you plan and pursue your work-at-home dream.
Did you know that it could be illegal to operate a business from your home? Many communities have laws against running a business at home. These laws were usually developed to maintain the safety and aesthetics of the neighborhood. People didn’t want more traffic on the street, a chemical lab next door, and other potentially disruptive businesses ruining the neighborhood. Many communities have changed the laws or developed waivers that allow home based businesses, but you should check with your community before beginning any home business. In most cases, if you don’t plan to see customers at home, offer toxic or dangerous products, or need a sign in your yard to advertise your business, your community will grant you the ability to start your own home business. If your community still objects you need to determine if you are going to continue against zoning laws or not. Some people do manage a home business against the zoning laws but if a neighbor complains of issues that are related to the business (traffic, noise, fumes, etc.) there is a risk of being shut down and even sued.
To check on the zoning laws in your neighborhood, check your phonebook’s local government pages. Usually there is a listing under the community government that says "zoning". Call the zoning office and let it know the type of business you are considering. Usually it will tell you on the phone if your business is okay and what you’d need to do if anything.
If you are renting your residence, check your rental agreement or lease for any restrictions on home businesses as well. The same is true of condominiums and co-ops, which often have covenants and restrictions. If there is a restriction, but your business idea wouldn't negatively impact the community contact your landlord or the homeowners association about getting permission to run your business from your home.
In most areas you will need to get a business license or permit. For small home based businesses this runs about $35 to $50 per year depending on how much money you make. You should check with your local business office to find out about fees in your area.
There is usually a one-page application that is pretty straightforward. Your locality will issue a business certificate or license that you are required to display. It's very exciting to have a business license...it makes you feel legit! So frame it and display it in your office.
To find out about business licenses in your community, look in the local government pages of your phonebook usually under licenses and permits although this differs depending on how your phone book is indexed. There should be an entry indicating business licenses. If you can’t find a business-related number, try calling another local government office, the Chamber of Commerce or your local Small Business Administration. Perhaps you’ll be lucky like me and live in an area that doesn’t issue business licenses.
If you are selling tangible goods you may also need a sales tax permit if there is sales tax in your state. The people at the business license office will be able to help you determine if you need a sales tax permit and refer you to the appropriate place. In my case the business tax people had the sales tax paperwork in their office. The sales tax permit allows you to collect sales tax (and pay it to the state). It can also allow you to buy items you need to create your product without paying sales tax.
Check to see if you need to pay some sort of business tax or personal property tax on your business equipment. Your local personal property tax office should be able to help you with this.
Fictitious Name Statement
Have you named your business? If your business name is something other than your given name, you will likely need to fill out a fictitious name statement also known as DBA, Doing Business As. This statement is to notify the public that you are the person doing business under the business name. It is usually printed in the paper. Your local business office should be able to tell you how this is done as well. In my case, I was sent to another office, filed paperwork and paid $10.00. The office took care of filing and submitting the statement to the paper.
Before you get your licenses, you will need to determine how you are going to structure your business. In a sole proprietorship, the business is just you. You retain all the glory and risk. For small one-person businesses, this is usually enough. Other options are partnerships and incorporating. These have advantages in that they limit your risk should the business fail. They also require getting special tax numbers for filing taxes (in sole proprietorship you can use your social security number). Because I’m not an attorney or a tax advisor, I recommend talking to a lawyer or tax expert if you have questions about this.
If you are starting a network marketing business, you may not need to apply for any permits or licenses as these companies often do this for each state. Check this out though before joining. And, you still should check on zoning.
You may need other permits or licenses depending on what you plan to offer. Therapists, contractors, and other types of industries require special licenses before you can hang your shingle. Be sure to check on this before starting your business.
Having a business plan is crucial to your business’s success. While it can be used to secure funding for your venture, it can also provide you with direction and focus in guiding your business to success. Business plans vary in complexity depending on whether or not it will be used to ask for funding or solely as a course of action. Below is the information most experts agree should be in a business plan.
Overview Summary: Outline your business idea (introduction).
Mission Statement: What is your ultimate goal or purpose?
Company Information: Provide information about when your company was founded, what it does, its legal structure, where its located, etc.
Product or Service: Describe what you offer, how is it created, how is it unique? Refer to brochures and literature if asking for money.
Market: Who are your customers? Where are they located? How will you reach them? What is your marketing plan (advertising, promotion, etc.)?
Competition: Who else out there offers what you do? How does your business differ from theirs?
Liability/Opportunity: What risks are you facing and how will you overcome them (i.e. financing)? What opportunities are there that you can take advantage of?
Management: Who is involved in your business and what is their experience? Be sure to include yourself.
Capital Requirements: Even if you aren’t asking for money to fund your venture, you should have information regarding start-up expenses. Often starting a business cost more than anticipated because there are more fees and small expenses than expected.
Financial Plan: This includes income statements, cash flow and breakeven analysis, balance sheet summary and sales summary.
Appendices: Use literature, brochures, charts and the like to illustrate points in your plan.
Even if you aren’t planning to ask for funding, it is important to put in writing information about your business, how you plan to market it, fund it, and your vision for it! INC. in cooperation with SCORE and sponsored by Apple, has a booklet on business start-up planning. Contact your local SCORE and Small Business Administration offices for this and other business information and assistance. You can visit the Better Business Bureau online to locate an office near you.
You have a great idea for a business, but like many things in life, starting a business requires money. While start-up costs vary, many successful entrepreneurs started with just a few hundred dollars. Your start-up costs will depend much on the business you are starting and what materials or supplies you will need. When starting a business, it is important to calculate your living expenses as well as business expenses. A new business can take several months to years before seeing a lifestyle sustaining profit. Anticipate this lean period in your budgeting for business start-up.
The following provides various ways to help fund your venture while still supporting yourself.
Moonlight: your business venture part-time during off-hours of your regular job. This lets you ease into all the tasks required to run a business with out the financial pressure. It does take away from your free time but, the sacrifice may be worth it in the long run when in 6 months to a year you have more time to spend with them than before.
Part-time: Consider working part-time and spending the other time building your business. This is a little riskier financially, but it allows you extra regular-day hours to work your business. Be sure to calculate all lost income as well as changes in benefits that often occur with part-time work.
Turn your employer into a client: By becoming an independent contractor, you are working for yourself, you have a client before you even start, and you have a ready made reference. There are many monetary benefits for your company to do this. Just be sure not to compete for your employer’s clients. That could work against you.
Live on one salary: If you are married and can afford it, live on one salary for a period of time. Because of the strain it can cause financially and emotionally, you want to have set goal in terms of a time frame to make a business profit.
Use savings: If you don’t have one, create one by putting away part of your job earnings in an account. If you have one, consider using it to start your venture. If you are successful, it will have been a great investment!
Misc. Money: Use money you receive unexpectedly (inheritance, lottery, gift, stocks, etc) to invest in your business.
Borrow from family or friends: This can be tough because not all family and friends are as encouraging or supportive as you will need to get your business rolling. On the other hand, they may be eager to help you reach your goal.
Credit: While the message of every financial planner is to cut up credit cards, it may be a way to help finance your business start-up. Remember, interest rates are high so, use them wisely.
Loan: There are business start-up loans, but they can be difficult to get. Get information on the variety of small business loans from the Small Business Administration. Consider taking out a home equity loan if you own your home instead.
Investors: If you have a great business idea other business people may be willing to invest in your business in exchange for partial ownership (usually stock). Seek professional assistance before recruiting venture capitalists.
Before spending any money on your new business, be sure you are clear on all the details of your business. Create a business plan that includes details on starting and running your business and the costs associated with it.
You have researched and chosen your home business idea. You have obtained all necessary permits and licenses. Now you need customers. Many new business owners are disappointed to discover how long it can take to generate regular clientele particularly when using only print advertising and the yellow pages. Nevertheless there are many low cost, effective ways to get the word out about your business. Below is a list of some of those methods:
Make a plan: Promotion, publicity, marketing, advertising...whatever you want to call it, it works best if you have thought ahead and developed a plan. Haphazard marketing will only get you haphazard responses. The following ideas should be put together with any other marketing ideas you have into a marketing plan that also includes a budget and method for evaluating how each marketing method is working.
Business Cards: Every business book recommends business cards. But it takes more than just having them, they need to be distributed. Hand them out to anyone and everyone that will take it (give them several so they can share them too). Include business cards in your bill payments and other correspondence. Post them on community bulletin boards. Leave them on the table at cafes or restaurants.
Send Announcements: Send everyone in your target market an announcement regarding your service. You may even want to include a grand opening special.
Press Releases: The great thing about a press release is that it looks like news written by someone else thereby giving your business credibility. In Do It Yourself Publicity David Ramacitti suggests having a press release campaign in which press releases are sent monthly. Press releases should not be advertisements, but instead give some sort of information or news. Some ideas for press releases include a grand opening, a business anniversary, a major milestone is reached such as the 1000th customer, personnel changes, winning an award, and to introduce a new product or service. In Ramacitti’s book he gives 50 excuses for writing a press release, how to write it and how to make the best use of it. Its a great book...if you can find it.
Network Join the chamber of commerce and other organizations in which other business people can exchange information and referrals.
Community Service People always feel better about working with people who give something to the community. Not only will they choose your service over a competitors, but they will refer you to others. Plus, your volunteer or community activities can make a great press release.
Write an article: Just like a press release gives you credibility, so does a published article. Many home business successes have taken this idea further and written successful books. It can take a long time to get published in traditional magazines; however, many website and ezine owners will happily publish your article. You won't get paid, but you get free publicity. Many successful online marketers including myself have used this technique. To get your article out to as many websites and ezines as possible, I recommend Article Marketer's service.
Seminars Offering a course related to your business can help you look like an expert in your field. Teach them enough to get something of value, but not so much that they don’t need your service. Teleseminars can be done from the comfort of your home. Free services such as Free Conference Call offer the phone line. You and your guests simply pay for long distance.
Go On-line More and more home based business owners are tapping into this great advertising source. Websites, e-mail, and discussion groups are a great way to get information about your products and services out beyond your community to the world! Further, the costs to promote your business online can be very inexpensive. Click here for specific information about marketing on the internet. Or visit the Internet Marketing Center for 100's of articles on Internet Marketing.
Great customer service Be sure to meet, better yet exceed your clients’ expectations. You want to offer great service, but don’t offer more than you can deliver. Use feedback surveys to help keep informed on how your customers feel about your service and to get ideas on how your service can be improved.
Some great books to help in your marketing efforts include:
Promoting Your Business With FREE or Almost Free Publicity, by Donna Albrecht,
Getting Business to Come To You by Paul and Sarah Edwards,
Do It Yourself Publicity by David Ramacitti.
(Visit the WAHS Book page for more information on these and other books.)
The one thing that keeps many from pursuing a work-at-home arrangement is the aspect of sales that comes with most work-at-home opportunities. The word "sales" can bring up images of slick used car salesmen or door-to-door sales people who won't take "no" for an answer. The reality is that successful salespeople are more like counselors....they listen more than they talk, they ask questions, and only offer information when they can meet the client's need.
The trick to overcoming sales fear is to change how sales is viewed and done. Everyone has an element of a salesperson in them. In our everyday lives we encourage, convince, and advise co-workers, family, and friends on many different things. So when it is important to us, we can find ways to "sell" our ideas, thoughts and feeling to others. When selling services or products, it helps to see yourself as offering a product or service that can meet a need. You aren't begging, coercing, or forcing people to buy your wares. Not everyone will or need the product or service....and that is ok.
The following are some ideas to help make selling second nature. When done successfully, it won't seem uncomfortable. Instead it will flow as naturally as any other activities you do relating to your work.
Sales is like any new skill learned; practice always makes it easier. Not only do we become more comfortable with doing it, we become more confident. True work-at-home wannabes feel the fear and uncertainty but, do it anyway. And usually they discover that it isn't that bad particularly when they wake up one day and commute from the bedroom across the hall to the home office!
There is a saying in business that it is cheaper to keep a customer than generating a new one. The next cheapest would have to be obtaining a referral from an existing customer. Word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful kind of marketing there is, but many new businesses fail to capitalize on it. Think about all the referrals you make....sharing a good movie, giving the name of the dentist that is good with children etc. Your goal should be to have your clients recommend your goods and services in the same manner. But you can't just hope that your customers will talk up your business. Here are some ideas to boost your referrals!
While other marketing methods are important in getting new business, nothing can beat a steady source of reliable referrals. Don't ignore this powerful source of generating new clients.
If you are looking for a great way to build a good (even fantastic) income on a part-time basis from home, network marketing may be for you. The trick to a successful network marketing business is to pick the right company and never quit. In the Scam Alert section you can find information on how to avoid fraudulent companies. Beyond the company's legality, how can you choose which is right for you? According to Randy Gage in his book How To Build a Multi-Level Money Machine, consider the following when investigating network marketing opportunities:
After choosing and enrolling in a network marketing company, you need to begin building your business with customers and recruits. Most successful network marketers agree that the first steps in building a successful business are:
If you are searching for a way to work-at-home, consider the advantages of network marketing; little investment required, be your own boss, set your own hours, and with consistent work, build a good, stable source of income. While it won't happen over night, network marketing offers people the option to earn income through distribution of products and compensation for helping others do the same.