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When cynthia brower started Atlantic Optical Framewear (which imports and exports ethnic eyewear) four years ago, finding a location was the least of her worries. “I always wanted to do something home-based because you have the advantage of being able to work any hours that you want and your office is always at your disposal.” Brower, who imports ethnic eyeglass frames from South America, Asia and Africa, operates her business out of a spare bedroom of her Owings Mills, Maryland, home.
It turns out that Brower is not home alone.
When it comes to starting a business, millions of would-be entrepreneurs are finding that there’s no place like home, and are converting dens, bedrooms, basements and attics into offices. According to IDC/LINK, a New York-based market research firm, there are 20 million home-based businesses nationwide in areas ranging from computer consulting and cleaning to medical billing and meeting planning. Growing at an annual rate of 7%-8%, the number of home-based businesses is expected to reach 27.8 million by the year 2001. There are few statistics to show the number of African Americans working at home. However, according to a recent study by Fidelity Investments, the nation’s largest mutual fund company and one of the leading providers of financial services, 37% of all home-based businesses are operated by women as for income, in 1996, 56% of all home-based businesses earned net revenues of less than $50,000, 24% earned $50,000-$99,000, and 20% made more than $100,000.
Self-employment expert Paul Edwards says there are many reasons for choosing to work at home. “A certain proportion, particularly men, work at home because there are tremendous cost savings,” says Edwards, who has co-authored several self-employment books, including Working From Home and The Best Home Businesses for the ’90s. “For another large segment, it’s the idea of having more control over your life and being able to spend more time with your family.” For the person looking to balance career and family, a work-at-home environment can create the best of both worlds.
Start-up costs for a home business vary according to the type of operation, but some can be launched for as little as $500. Brower started her company with about $3,000, which included expenses for office equipment, supplies and 12 weeks of training and certification with the Exporters Incubator, an international trade training program created by the International Association for Business Organizations (INAFBO).
The first step to starting a home-based business is deciding what type of operation to run. But before you print your business cards, check your local zoning laws to see which types of businesses are permitted in your neighborhood. Some zoning ordinances exclude home businesses entirely. But the majority place restrictions on these operations, limiting on-street parking, the number of employees, signage and the amount of vehicular traffic. Also check homeowner associations, co-op boards and condominium complexes, which may enforce their own work-at- home restrictions.
Businesses that may be red-flagged include commercial ventures or businesses that require outside storage of supplies, create extreme noise and produce flagrant