There's no place like a home office
Do try this at home. Work, that
Home-based businesses are no longer the novelty they
once were. Today, approximately 21.8 million businesses are in the
home, according to International Data Corp. The Framingham, Mass.,
market research firm expects the number to swell to 25 million by
So what work are all these companies doing?
Almost anything goes
"Everything from A to virtually Z can be a business in the
home," says Paul Edwards, home office expert and co-author,
with his wife Sarah, of
The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century.
The Edwards suggest almost limitless opportunities,
listing home-based business ideas from "Accident Investigator"
to "Travel Agency" on their
Web site. They also devote a section to home-based franchises.
Exceptions to the operate-in-the-home rule are heavy-duty
manufacturers -- most local zoning boards prohibit such companies
-- or businesses that require a lot of face-to-face time. These
can't be done in the home, or at least, not easily.
But businesses that require a lot of personal interaction,
such as meetings between you and the client, still can be done from
the home with a little planning. Lisa Kanarek, Dallas-based author
101 Home Office Success Secrets, notes that interactivity
works from home as long as your residence is properly equipped and
you and your clients are in the same geographical area.
"If you have a business that requires constant
meetings, your home office has to be conducive for meetings, ideally
separate from your home, and soundproof from your family,"
says Kanarek, who also operates the HomeOfficeLife
Technology opens the home-office
Even without special home-office accommodations, technology has
helped move jobs once considered only suitable for traditional offices
into residential areas. Phones, faxes, computers, modems and the
Internet now are work-at-home staples, notes Jeff Zbar, a home-office
expert based in Coral Gables, Fla.
"One of the hottest jobs right now is virtual
assistants that handle bookkeeping and scheduling for clients,"
says Zbar, who writes on home based companies and also runs a consulting
Soho that works with corporations.
"It used to be an on-site position," Zbar
notes, "but now with the advent of technology you can run operations
from the home."
Four home-business categories
Paul Edwards divides possible home businesses into four categories:
service, product, high-tech or low-tech.
Just about any service business, from accounting to
public relations, can be done in the home.
Product-oriented companies include mail-order firms.
Here, your company gets the actual manufacturer to drop-ship the
product so your bedroom closet doesn't end up being your firm's
High-tech home-based businesses on Edwards' list includes
Web designers or computer consultants.
Low-tech companies can be mobile firms, such as a
massage therapist who works out of home and makes house calls to
Heart, head and market
Not sure which is the pick of the home-office litter for you? Zbar
recommends researching what you're going to do before you strike
out on your own.
"You don't want to quit your job on Friday and
then start work on Monday," he says.
Zbar also recommends going over three things to figure
out what business best suits you: heart, head, and market.
Heart is what you like to do. What personally interests
you? What are you passionate about? Whether it's water skiing or
computers, it doesn't matter. What does matter is what you care
about, because that's what you'll be willing to invest your time
and money in.
Head is the skills you possess. Most would-be entrepreneurs
fair best when they select a business in which they have expertise
and know-how. This isn't true 100 percent of the time, but is a
good general rule to follow.
Market is whether there is a demand for what you want
to do. Maybe you enjoy making apparel for ferrets, but if ferret
owners don't have a fetish for dressing up their pets, this probably
would not be a profitable enterprise.
Zbar recalls a woman he met in Bismarck, N.D. She
loved taking photos and was also an accomplished equestrian. She
combined the two loves into one business: equestrian photographer.
She takes pictures of horses and riders at shows and sells them
What's great about the equestrian photographer is
not only how she created a job that she loves doing, but that she
simultaneously carved out a profitable business niche. Wedding photographers
are a dime a dozen. Equestrian photographers are a rarer breed,
and a market with more maneuvering room since it's less crowded.
Convenience companies and
One easy way to turn a same-old home business idea into something
innovative is to make it mobile. Edwards calls it riding the "convenience"
boom. Veterinarians, pet groomers, massage therapists and hair stylists
can all give their businesses a makeover by putting them on the
road to customers.
Also, don't overlook how technology is creating opportunities.
Smart graphic designers latched onto the Internet boom early and
acquired the required skills so they could transition over to Web
Ask yourself how technology is changing the type of
work you want to do or how it could give a new twist to an old business.
The answer could help you could transform a has-been concept into
a hot business opportunity.
And before you take the leap into a home-based business,
Zbar suggests, consider doing it part-time before going entirely
solo. That way you can work out the kinks and decide whether it's
the life for you before you give up your regular job.
Jenny C. McCune is a contributing
editor based in Montana.
-- Posted: July 30, 2001