Written by Dianne Molvig Tuesday, August 10 2010
Time was when a woman operating a business out of her home felt compelled to hide that fact for fear that potential clients wouldn’t take her seriously. Not anymore.
Home-based businesses have become a vital sector of our economy, according to Steve King of Emergent Research, who, with wife Carolyn Ockels, coauthored a 2009 study on the trend.
In their report, they concluded that about 6.6 million “serious” home-based businesses provided at least half of their owners’ household income. What’s more, these businesses employed one out of every 10 private-sector workers.
King and Ockels also noted that as large companies strive to cut fixed costs by outsourcing certain business functions, home-based enterprises will play an even more important role in our nation’s economy. The research duo predicts that over the next 20 to 30 years, we’ll see a doubling of the proportion of people who are self-employed and home-based.
Would you like to be one of them? If the answer is yes, the first question that’s likely to spring to mind is: What could I do?
That depends, of course, on your talents, training, experiences, interests, and other factors. To get the flow of ideas started, here are a few types of home-based businesses you might consider:
Business Support Services – You could provide support for businesses, especially small- and medium-sized companies that can’t afford to employ a full-time person to perform certain tasks. You might be a:
- Website designer and developer. Almost any business of any size needs a web presence these days. You could provide this service for lower fees than the bigger marketing companies charge. That gives you a strong competitive edge in attracting clients.
- Marketing consultant. You could coordinate promotional campaigns, write press releases, create advertising and website copy, advise businesses on how to use social media, and so on.
- Virtual assistant. Think of this job as being “an administrative assistant from afar,” says Pat Cobe, who, with Ellen Parlapiano, co-founded Mompreneurs® Online and has co-authored two books on “mompreneurship” (Mompreneurs®: A Mother’s Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success and Mompreneurs® Online: Using the Internet to Build Work@Home Success).
- Career coaching. If you have the proper training and experience, you could counsel people regarding their career paths. “Look into trends and focus on the right client niche,” Cobe recommends. For instance, you might counsel people who have been laid off in midlife and need to find another job in their field or switch to a new career.
- Event planning. Depending on your interest and experience, this could range from planning children’s birthday parties to handling all the arrangements for meetings of large organizations, such as civic groups or trade/professional associations.
- Tutoring school-aged children.
- Assisting an elderly person. You could help with meal preparation, housecleaning, and other non-medical services. This will be an increasing need as this country’s population ages and older people want to continue living at home.
- Concierge services. This includes shopping, running errands, making travel arrangements, housecleaning, and so on.
- Pet sitting or grooming. If you are planning to be a groomer, you will, of course, need training, tools, and the proper space for working on the animals, but pet sitting is simple. You either stay in someone’s home while they are away and look after their critters or make arrangements to go and check on the animals once or several times a day, depending on what kind of animal it is.
- House sitting. This can be a lucrative job for people who don’t mind staying, for sometimes extended periods, in a client’s home. Frequently, house sitting also involves baby-sitting and pet sitting. Concerned homeowners pay nicely to have someone they trust look after their home while they are away.
“When we first started out, office support services was a big area,” Cobe says. “Today’s technology makes it possible to work for clients who are located anywhere.” You might have ongoing relationships with certain clients or provide short-term help on a per-project basis.
If business support services aren't your cuppa Joe, here are some more options to consider:
All of the above suggestions fall into the category of service businesses, which typically have relatively low start-up expenses. Still, get a clear idea of what you’ll need to launch your business idea, both in terms of money and time, suggests Priscilla Huff, author of 101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women, 3rd Edition.
“A majority of home-based businesses are started on a part-time basis,” she says. “So ask yourself if you can operate it on the side while meeting other work and family obligations.”
Do other advance homework, too, Huff advises. Find out: Does a market exist in your area for this type of business? Who are your potential clients? Will they be willing and able to pay for the service you want to offer?
Above all, be sure the business is something you’ll enjoy doing. Huff points out that people starting a new business don’t work the usual 9 to 5, but rather 5 to 9, as in 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. “So,” she says, “you’d better like what you do.”
Dianne Molvig is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer who writes regularly about business management, financial services, law practice, consumer education, and other topics.