Make Your Work-from-Home Dreams Come True

Week 1: Choosing Your Business

Tired of the office? The commute? Worried about day care and not spending enough time with your children? If you're looking to establish a healthier work-family balance or a livelihood that allows you to pursue your passion, there's no better time than the present to turn your dreams into a reality.

This four-week workshop will lead you through the necessary steps to establish a work-from-home situation, with a focus on starting your own home business. You'll learn the right business for you, what's feasible, plus how to set up a workable at-home office and how to market yourself effectively.

Which Road to Take
Hundreds of businesses can be started from home, so the question becomes not so much "What's possible?" as "How do I select a business that has potential and is right for me?" As you consider this question, keep in mind that there are two main ways to work from home: (1) You can start a business of your own or (2) you can join a direct-selling organization.

Creating a Business of Your Own
The majority of people who have a home business started from scratch. Creating a successful business requires that you ask yourself "What will people pay for?" Market research will help you find out, and that can be as simple as asking prospective customers what they need and investigating whether you can compete on price, service, quality, variety and ease of use.

With these considerations in mind, here are six possibilities for finding the ideal business for you. You can:

  • Turn your favorite hobby or interest into a business
    Find a need you can fill that's related to your interest. Example: Someone nearing retirement and interested in helping other senior citizens remain active could create a counseling business, advising on how to enjoy retirement.
  • Turn your existing job skills into a business.
    Accountants, communications specialists, graphic artists, salespeople, teachers -- people from all walks of life -- can take their skills and reinvent them. Examples: A secretary could start a secretarial service; a personnel director could set up telecommuting guidelines for companies.
  • Solve a problem
    People will pay to have someone do tasks they find unpleasant or need help with. Examples: Errand runners help thousands of people take care of their daily tasks; someone who's dealt with a disease and recovery could provide information and teach classes on coping.
  • Use a hidden or latent talent
    Take notice of the talents you use without thinking. Example: A great hostess never thought of being a party planner until she threw a party for a friend. The friend said, "That was so great, I would have paid for it."
  • Use technology and other resources you have around the house
    Many people have created successful businesses with equipment and technologies they already had around the house. A sewing machine can be the key to an exclusive dressmaking business. We even know two women in Texas who use their washing machines to run a laundry service for the crews of ships that dock in the local harbor.
  • Put what you know to work
    You can turn virtually anything you know into a business if enough people want to know it too. The author of 1,000 Adorable Names for Your Cat sold enough copies of his book to start a pet-oriented mail-order company.
  • Joining a Direct-Selling Organization
    For over 7.2 million people in the United States, working from home means being associated with companies like Avon, Discovery Toys, Fuller Brush, Mary Kay, Herbalife, Tupperware and Amway. These companies sell products ranging from cleaning supplies to telephone service directly to consumers. Direct selling includes door-to-door sales, home-party sales and multilevel marketing (MLM), now popularly being called "network marketing." You can find a list of direct selling organizations on the Direct Selling Association site.

Direct selling is a way of getting into your own business without laying out substantial capital. And because a number of companies provide extensive sales training and motivational support, previous sales experience usually is not required.

But before investing your time and money in a direct-selling organization, make sure the company is worth it. This means being able to distinguish a sound business from an outright scam such as an illegal pyramid scheme, or from an undercapitalized or inexperienced company whose chances for survival are slim. An illegal pyramid scheme exists if the majority of your profits are to come from recruiting other people rather than from product sales. A clear indicator of this is when there is a cost, usually over $500, for obtaining the right to sell a company's products. If you have doubts about whether a company is legitimate, check it out with the Better Business Bureau in your community or in the headquarters city of the company.

Exercise: Discover Your Best Talents
If, after reviewing so many business possibilities, you're still wondering just what would be the best business for you to pursue, here's a simple exercise to help you narrow down your choices:

  1. Sit down and honestly make a list of what you can and can't do.
  2. Write a letter to yourself bragging about your strong points. There is no room for modesty.
  3. Look around your community and see what goods and services people buy. Match those with your skills. This will ideally leave only two or three options.
  4. Ask yourself if you can run one of these businesses professionally.

As you work on and think about this exercise, be sure to check in with other women taking this step on the Working from Home: How Do I Start? message board. Share your concerns, ask questions and, together, vow to reach your goal -- living the work-from-home dream!

Next week, we'll look at how to create a realistic business and financial plan so your endeavor will succeed.

© 1999 by Paul and Sarah Edwards. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin Putnam Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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