Starting a business? Sometimes, there’s no place like home

Caron Beesley
Caron Beesley

Are you a stay-at-home mom or dad? Would you like to kick start an entrepreneurial dream? Do you want to bring in some extra income?

Starting a home-based business offers great opportunities. In fact, 52 percent of U.S.  companies operate as home businesses and many of today’s biggest brand names were established by stay-at-home moms — (Dorothy) Gerber, Mrs. (Debbi) Fields and Julie Aigner-Clark (Baby Einstein), to name but a few.

But what types of businesses can grow and  thrive in the home environment? Here are some business ideas and considerations for stay-at-home parents.

Become a freelancer. Perhaps the easiest form of business to delve into and operate is freelancing. Whatever  your skill — writing, web design, marketing or photography — freelancing affords an enormous amount of flexibility and freedom and can be started with little cost or paperwork. Many freelancers get their start by approaching a former employer  or customer who could benefit from their services, then branch out as their body of work and reputation grows. Freelancing does have its challenges and requires discipline — after all, you’re running a business. Common mistakes freelancers make include not setting the business up properly and legally (getting the right permits or licenses), forgetting to put money aside to pay estimated taxes and not planning for peaks and valleys in cash flow.  

Blogs on the U.S. Small Business Administration website at offer guidance to help you through the process of starting and operating your freelance business.

Become a virtual assistant. Virtual assistants (VAs) provide a wide variety of “virtual” services to other businesses  including administrative, marketing and technical support from a home office. My local window cleaner, for example, uses a VA to answer his calls and manage his calendar while he’s busy on jobs. VAs are growing in popularity, too, as firms look to cut costs  and outsource administrative functions. If you’re organized and have an administrative background, this might be for you. Start with your own connections or take advantage of the services of a VA organization or association that can help you get started and connect you with clients.

Make money from blogging. Yes, you can make money by blogging. I follow several stay-at-home moms who happen to be fashion and style bloggers — and it’s their business. If you can write and have a passion for a specific topic or hobby you know will garner some attention, this might be for you. Income generation opportunities can come in the form of affiliate marketing and advertising on your website or from companies that ask you to review and blog about their products. Look for ways to get traffic to your website through social media, search  engine optimization and by getting involved in the wider blogosphere by networking with and commenting on the blogs of others in your niche.

Start a creative business. Whether it’s making gift baskets or offering interior design consultation services, if  you have a creative streak and the room to store and create, why not consider making money out of your talents? Get to know the market and do some planning to identify an untapped niche. The SBA offers several tools that can help, including the Build your Business Plan tool and SizeUp, a market and business analysis tool that lets you benchmark your business against competitors; map your customers, competitors and  suppliers; and locate the best places to advertise.

Start a home-based bakery or food business. Food production from a home is heavily regulated, but not impossible. Take Martha  Stewart, for example. She famously entered the food service business with a basement-based catering company in 1976. Before you start a home-based food business, learn the rules and regulations that govern the production of food for public consumption in an at-home environment. Do you need a separate kitchen? What about product labeling? For tips and insight, read the blog on the SBA website about starting home-based food production businesses.

Start a child day care. Home child care businesses offer a potentially lucrative and long-lasting business opportunity. A home environment is often appealing to parents. And once their kids are settled (and assuming you’re doing a great job), then it’s likely you’ll have that business until they’re old enough not to need care. Of course, this is another regulated business and you’ll need to ensure you comply with  state and local regulations that govern such issues as the provision of meals, minimum space requirements per child and the number of licensed care workers per child. For information on starting a child care business, including financing options, licensing requirements and other regulatory matters, read the blog on the SBA website.

Start an online marketplace store. If you have clutter you want to get rid of and like the idea of selling products to an established worldwide network of consumers, consider starting a business on eBay, Etsy or Amazon. You can source products to sell from yard sales or charity shops. If you want to get a bit more sophisticated, consider buying wholesale or adopting a drop-shipping model. The goal is to find products that are in high-demand and not readily available from other sources. Read more from the blog on the SBA website about starting an online marketplace.

Still other ideas including a dog walking and pet care business, a travel agency, a home-based franchise business, event planning, architectural design or tutoring students. Whatever your idea, make sure you start, structure and operate your business according to legal and regulatory requirements. Check out the article on the SBA website covering 10 steps to starting a business.