Start a Home Business! 10 Questions Answered
By Jeannette Moninger
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|While working from home can be a good option for those wanting to make some income and still spend more time with family, it's a major decision requiring serious thought and a lot of upfront planning. Working at home can be convenient and flexible, but it also presents unique problems and can be very challenging.|
|Where do I start?|
A good place to start is at your local Small Business Association (www.sba.gov). The SBA specializes in training people to start their own businesses and are experts on state requirements.
In addition, Elizabeth Wilcox, author of The Mom Economy: The Mother's Guide to Getting Family-Friendly Work, suggests first listing your skills (assess your strengths and weaknesses as you make this list) and then asking yourself two important questions:
|Am I a good businesswoman?|
"Someone running their own business needs to be good at and comfortable dealing with multiple aspects of business, including financial, legal and tax issues," says Shelley MacDermid, a professor and director of the Center for Families at Purdue University. "You really need to be a jack of all trades with regards to both management and administration."
|Can I work alone?|
This question can be interpreted two ways: Will your job require support staff/outside help (and if so, how will you arrange and pay for that?), and can you work in an environment where talking to yourself might well be the most stimulating conversation you have all day? While most jobs do require outside contact with clients periodically, it's not the same as gathering around the water cooler to gossip with colleagues every morning, and it can be isolating.
|How much money will I have to make?|
Debra Parnell* creates customized gifts through her home-based sewing business. "I don't expect to get rich doing this," she says, "but I like having something I can call mine and the extra money does help our family." On the other hand, Susanna Denver*, who runs a home-based public relations consulting business, is her family's primary breadwinner.
MacDermid notes that a home-based business is a lot more feasible when the other parent has a job with a steady income stream that ensures your family can weather fluctuations in home business earnings.
|What about health insurance?|
If it's up to you to provide your family with health coverage, a work-at-home job might not be the best way to go. While you can purchase independent family health insurance, it's usually much more expensive than what an employer can offer. Check into this cost before walking away from a job that provides good coverage.
|Who is going to watch the kids?|
Working at home is not a substitute for child care. "Some people believe that they can sit in the living room and work with kids underfoot," says MacDermid. While some work-at-home moms are able to work around their kids' schedules—working when the kids are in school or when they nap or go to bed for the night—this isn't always feasible. As with outside employment, you must put a priority on finding a childcare arrangement that works with your job.
|Where will I set up shop?|
Sharri Jones* has her home office set up in her children's play room, which enables her (on good days at least) to both work and interact with her daughters. However, Paula Holder* says she learned the hard way not to combine workspace with a child's play area. "Every time I needed to send a fax or check messages, I would have to go downstairs to the play room. Drew assumed it was play time and didn't want to go back upstairs," she says. Her office is now conveniently located off the kitchen.
|What office equipment will I need?|
A slow modem dial-up isn't going to cut it if your job requires a lot of online time. Check into getting a high-speed broadband, cable, or DSL service. Depending on your chosen profession, you also might need to have additional phone lines installed for work calls and another for faxes (this means you might also need to get a fax machine). Depending on your business, you should also consider establishing a work email address and company website.
|What about the housework?|
It can be difficult to focus on paid work when you see all of that unfinished housework—the sink filled with dirty dishes, piles of laundry waiting to be washed, or dust so thick on the television that your child has written "wash me"—but work you must.
"Set objectives, goals, and deadlines for your job" says Wilcox. "If you tell yourself you have to meet those objectives and goals to get your job done and domestic tasks preclude you from meeting them, you're not doing your job effectively and you won't last in business."
|Can I leave work when I'm done?|
Perhaps one of the biggest dangers of working from home is that you'll find yourself putting in more hours than you did at an outside job. Emails, voice mails, cell phones, and technology overall have made it increasingly more difficult for all of us to leave work behind at the end of the day. As tempting as it might be to just check email one last time after you've called it a day, don't! Turn the ringer on your business phone off, shut down the computer, and enjoy some quality time with your family. After all, aren't they one of the main reasons you're home?
|While working from home might seem like a perfect solution, it's a major decision that shouldn't be entered into lightly. Talk to other home-based workers—especially those in the same industry as you—to get a sense of what a typical day is like, the supplies you'll need, and the amount of revenue you can generate. By seriously weighing the pros and cons, you'll be on your way to making the right choice for yourself and your family.|
|*Real names withheld by request to maintain privacy.|