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MyOwnBusiness Institute

How to Start a Home-Based Business


In the past, jobs provided most everyone with a dependable paycheck and long-range security - but not anymore. An alternative is to go into business, yet most people don't have the confidence to start a full-time business. This session will review the do's and don'ts of operating a home-based business, how to pick the right business, and the common pitfalls. You will realize that these options still require specific skills just like any other business.

  • What have you got to Lose (or Gain)?
  • What are the Special Benefits of a Home-Based Business?
    • Minimum investment
    • Maximized communication technologies
    • Start small and grow by compounding
    • A built-in organizational structure: all in the family
    • Open to all ages and walks of life
    • A productive activity for the out-of-work
  • Approaches to a Home-Based Business
    • Moonlight business (part-time)
    • Full-time home business
  • Picking the Right Business is Crucial
    • Specialization works best
    • One that will not conflict with your employment
    • Appropriate for "all in the family" participation?
  • Common Pitfalls
    • Failure to compartmentalize
    • Failure to limit financial risks
    • Disregard for zoning requirements
    • Physical limitations
    • Work at home schemes
    • Disregard for allowable business deductions
  • Top Ten Do's and Don'ts
  • Business Plan 

This session will review the do's and don'ts of operating a home-based business and will also state the case for not quitting your job at all. Keep in mind that operating from home still requires business skills just like any other business. And it will be important to gain understanding in all the other sessions contained in the My Own Business Institute course(s) as well.

In the past, jobs provided most everyone with a dependable paycheck and long-range security but not anymore. Along with diminishing retirement benefits, jobs are getting hard to find and hold onto. An alternative is to go into business, yet most people accustomed to working for a living do not have quite enough confidence to start a full-time business. Reasons include:

  • Being risk averse: a deep-rooted fear of failure and losses
  • Lack of entrepreneurial zeal
  • Lack of business training and experience

But the obstacles to success are not as difficult when you start a home-based business. You can even start without quitting your job--as a "moonlight entrepreneur." You don't need a high level of sales to start with because your start-up costs are small. You can then take the time to build up sales. There is less to lose and more to gain. And you will have lots of company: according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of all small businesses are home-based.

There is very little to lose In some home-based businesses because there is so little invested to begin with. For example, here is a list of Businesses You Can Start for Little or No Money.

Minimum investment
Operating from a spare bedroom or a garage, a business can be run with a minimum of investment and exited with a minimum of obligations and risks.

Maximized communication technologies
The Internet, computer and communications technologies now offer home-based entrepreneurs the same tools for communications, accounting and marketing as are employed by multi-national competitors. Web-based businesses are especially appropriate for home-based operations.

Start small and grow by compounding
You can begin in a very small way, starting with one order at a time and grow by the power of compounding. For example, sales in your first six months may produce only $1,000 per month. But if you can continue growing by 20% during each ongoing six-month period, in five years your annual sales will be over $370,000.

A potential built-in organizational structure
While home-based businesses are not just for families, a family will become closer by spending time together, sharing problems, designing challenging projects and sharing work and school lives. King Solomon put it this way: "Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one. If one fails, the other pulls him up; but if a man falls when he is alone, he's in trouble. One standing can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-brained cord is not easily broken."

The "all-in-the-family" approach to a home-based business offers some other powerful competitive advantages:

  • Common goals pull the family together.
  • You can utilize individual and collective family skills.
  • If you are still working at a job, family members can work during hours you're on the regular job.
  • It could be a better solution to "working spouses": why not work as a team at home?
  • The kids learn the benefits of entrepreneurship.
  • The business is set up with pre-established lines of authority and responsibility.
  • Both spouses can exercise individual business capabilities.
  • When all else fails (including your job), a family working together is the best survival unit.

Open to all ages
A home-based business is open to all ages and walks of life, from high school students to the growing population of retirees for whom involuntary idleness is increasingly a problem. And since there is overwhelming data to demonstrate that activity promotes longevity, for many retired people working in a home business becomes the solution in curing debilitating unproductively. Also, the wisdom and experience of maturity dovetails with the structured prudence required to successfully operate a business without risking substantial assets.

A productive activity for the out of work
Unemployed workers can gain the satisfaction of being productive by putting their skills to work in a home-based business that helps defray living expenses while they search for work. The search becomes the "job" and the business becomes their moonlight activity which can include family members. A family working together during difficult times will create bonds that will last for lifetimes.


There are two approaches to starting a home-based business: either as a moonlighter (while still holding a job) or as a full-time home-based entrepreneur.

A great advantage of moonlighting is that your job can provide not only the capital for starting the business but also ongoing income and fringe benefits during the early days of getting your business started. So if you are working, it is a good idea not to quit your job. Unfortunately, many times this approach is discarded because:

  • We're fearful of a conflict of interest...but it's within your own power to avoid potential conflicts by a disciplined avoidance of them.
  • Some mistakenly assume that we must be either an employee or an employer, but not both.
  • We're fearful of not being able to handle both.

Also keep in mind that once you have established a foothold and your moonlight business is flourishing, you can quit your job and expand from the already proven home-based start. If your business doesn't work out, your job provides a fall-back to income and benefits.

But a moonlight business is constrained by conflict-of-interest rules you must rigidly follow to avoid potentially ruinous consequences, including dismissal from your job:

  • Do not in any way compete with your employer.
  • Do not use any time on the job nor job facilities for your business.

Your moonlight business must lend itself to being completely compartmentalized well away from the job. The goal should be to create a lifestyle that completely separates your work life from your moonlight business.

Full-time home-based business

Prospective full-time entrepreneurs need to have planning in place before quitting their jobs. One of the worst mistakes made by entrepreneurs is resigning from their jobs too soon. Your job should be considered a key stepping stone in the process of becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Too often entrepreneurial zeal will result in a job resignation before preparations have been fully accomplished. The important functions that should be in place include:

  • Decide on the business
  • Work for someone else first to learn the business
  • Prepare a one year cash flow projection
  • Personally write your business plan
  • Get the business started and evaluated
  • Have adequate accounting knowledge
  • Set up accounting software
  • Construct a website


The first session of this course, Session 1 Deciding on a Business contains techniques that will help you evaluate business possibilities and avoid the most common mistake made by entrepreneurs: Not picking the right business to begin with.

Some businesses are appropriate for moonlighting and others are not. Here are some businesses that would be good to consider because they would probably not conflict with your job:


Business Why Good for Home-Based
Online/Web-based business Direct market on your time, in your place
Family-run business Built-in backup and in-place organization
A single product Specialization reduces conflict with your employer
Hobby-based business IT (Internet technology), jewelry, furniture, ceramics, art, etc.

Businesses that are most likely not appropriate for moonlighting:

  • Labor-intensive
  • Normally conducted during working hours
  • Requiring travel or excessively long hours

Sometimes choices can be made automatically by pre-established goals or existing know-how. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Specialists do better than non-specialists. Dedication to a single product or service will result in a high level of competence.
  • Can you enlist the support of others, including family, to carry it off?
  • Do you have the necessary experience in the business?
  • Does it fall within the limits of what you are willing to risk?
  • Will it conflict with your job?
  • The most humble business can be enormously satisfying.
  • Check out local zoning and business license requirements.
  • If possible, keep a focus on Internet-based businesses.
  • Avoid, if possible, a business with only one or two customers.

Here's an example of someone who picked the right home business, using the power of online marketing: Operating out of her home, Ming Friedman imports fine linen tablecloths and sells them to party rental firms. Ming doesn't need a store, a warehouse, factory or marketing organization. She has her products manufactured in China, uses her garage for storage, has a terrific website for marketing and hires FedEx for shipping. Ming operates her business full-time, but this is an example of the kind of business that can be operated either full time or as a moonlight operation.


Some pitfalls in operating a home-based business include:

Failure to compartmentalize
The overall success of a home-based business can be measured by how smoothly the business can be woven into your life without disrupting your job or short-changing your family. The greatest dangers lie in becoming fatigued and out of balance. You can minimize this risk by keeping your important activities (home, recreation, rest, business and job) all compartmentalized so that none become over-looked. The greatest tool to accomplish this will be your ability to delegate business responsibilities to either family members or employees.

Failure to limit liability
Playing it safe should be the essence of a home-based business For example, there will be no obligations for leasing a store. There will be risks, but you can limit them. Here's how:

  • At the outset, set a limit on how much to risk in the business.
  • Avoid any personal guarantees.
  • Start by buying from hand to mouth.
  • Don't hesitate to deal on a COD-only basis.
  • If you do extend credit, check out each customer carefully. Your banker will help.
  • Start small, with small obligations, and grow the business over time through retained earnings. Carefully manage your cash flow projection. See Session 11 Accounting and Cash Flow.

Zoning limitations
IRS rules and local zoning ordinances impose restrictions from both federal and local regulators and it will be your responsibility to determine what rules and permits will be required. 

Physical limitations
There is a risk of becoming physically exhausted through lack of adequate rest and relaxation. A highly disciplined and balanced lifestyle is an important business requirement.

Failure to be adequately licensed
Under the "better to be safe than sorry" rule, visit the SBA Businesses Licenses and Permits website where you can find information regarding both the state and federal requirements.

Work-at-home schemes
Unfortunately, the popularity of home-based businesses has led to many unscrupulous schemes. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission points some out on their website.

Disregarding rules for business deductions
The Internal Revenue Service has carefully defined what business deductions can be taken by home-based businesses. For a summary, please visit:



  1. If possible, specialize in a single product or service.
  2. Get your family involved with your business.
  3. Go to work first for someone in your intended business.
  4. Install a credit card purchasing function on your Web site.
  5. Complete your written business plan before you start.
  6. Prepare a 12-month cash flow projection before you start.
  7. Take classes on your shortcomings such as accounting or the Internet.
  8. Start small to gain credentials and experience.
  9. Consider starting as a moonlighter (don't quit your job).
  10. Avoid get-rich-quick schemes.


  1. Overlook a hobby as a potential home business.
  2. Quit your job until all preparations are complete.
  3. Compete with your employer.
  4. Conduct business on your employer's time.
  5. Overlook a small and humble beginning.
  6. Overlook zoning and permitting requirements.
  7. Be in a rush to get started: use a start-up check list.
  8. Incur unreasonable liabilities in financial obligations and dealings.
  9. Think it's too late to start.
  10. Neglect importance of selling, servicing and finding new customers.

You can now continue to assemble your business plan. We provided Microsoft Word template for this session below: 

Section 3Home-Based Business

The full template for all sessions can be downloaded as one document: 


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