Have you dreamed about starting a business from home?
Managing your own life, making your own hours, putting a service or product out in the world that helps others and makes you wake up with a smile on your face?
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. Is starting a business from home really a good idea in this economy, with so many unknowns?
I’m grappling with those questions myself. Maybe my story will motivate you or give you ideas about becoming an entrepreneur (or solopreneur) – or not – during these difficult times.
My Current Home-Based Business
I’ve been a home-based business owner for 18 years. I started my child care program (now a preschool) when my oldest daughter, 21, was about to turn three.
Naively, I thought she’d love being home with me instead of in daycare. She did love being home, but hated sharing her mom with a bunch of other kids.
That first year was HARD.
Not only was my daughter unhappy, but I made very little money at first, while I was building my professional reputation.
It took time to learn how to be an effective teacher and caregiver. I have my master’s degree in education, but nothing prepared me for working all day long, by myself, with six children under the age of four.
Many, many times that first year I almost gave up. But with mentoring from another provider and emotional support from friends and family, I stuck it out.
Fast forward 18 years. My preschool is thriving. Many years ago I built out my basement so the school is completely separate from our living space. Three fabulous teachers work with me – all part time – freeing up some of my time to do other things (like write this blog). My school has a waiting list and unfilled spaces go fast.
The school never made me rich, but it allowed me to do work I enjoy, be home for my kids, and provide a nice life for my family.
Then corona hit.
Impact of the Corona Virus Shut-Down
We’ve been shut down since mid-March and the governor of our state has decreed that all schools and childcare programs will stay closed until June 29 at the earliest.
But what happens after June 29th?
When businesses start to open back up, they will (should) practice social distancing. This includes, among other things, staggered schedules and employees wearing masks and sitting at least six feet away from coworkers.
But how do you social distance with three and four year olds? My job includes helping children gain language skills and the ability to read people’s faces for emotions. Can’t do that with a mask on. And how do we keep masks on young kids, who peel off hats and mittens moments after putting them on?
It also seems cruel to ask children to play apart from their friends. They need to be next to each other, learning the give-and-take of both physical and other kinds of play.
In addition, the agency that regulates childcare programs in my state might require reductions in enrollment. This would make the financials of continuing to operate shaky at best.
And finally, two of my three teachers are in their mid-60’s (and I’m 60), so we have an increased risk of complications should we get Covid-19. I can’t in good conscience put my staff at risk.
Max Fisher of the New York Times reports on the risks we take as society opens back up. He says, “Few want to acknowledge it, but these first phases of reopening are big experiments meant to test the unknowns … It’s a dangerous game, and it’s worth being cleareyed about the risks we’re all taking on.”
Circumstances may change between now and the end of June (or September, if I decide to stay closed during the summer), making it more feasible to open my preschool. Some of those risky unknowns may become known.
But maybe not.
Many of the families are counting on me, and I don’t want to let them down. Yet I have to weigh three considerations: best practices for teaching young children, safety, and financial viability.
As of now, I’m looking at zero income starting in July, when my Paycheck Protection Program loan runs out. That may be just for the summer, or longer term.
Time to get going on creating other income streams!
Getting a Job vs. Starting a Home-Based Business
So what else could I do, if I decide it doesn’t make sense to re-open my preschool?
Getting a job doesn’t seem likely given both the reality of the current economy, with unemployment rates in the teens, and my age. I know, age discrimination is against the law. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rampant.
Also, after working for myself for almost 19 years, I don’t want a job. Starting a business from home – a new one – appeals to me so much more.
But is it feasible? Can I replace my preschool income, and if so, how long will it take me to get there?
Starting a Home-Based Business During the Pandemic
1. What Can You Offer?
The first thing to consider when thinking about starting a business from home – at any age – is what you can offer the world.
I’m asking myself the following questions:
What knowledge and skills can I offer?
What am I good at?
How can I help others?
For me, three areas jump immediately to mind.
I Could Help Parents
First, I know a lot about kids. I’ve spent most of my adult life working with them, from my preschoolers to the teens I used to teach and coach in a summer program for immigrant and refugee youth.
I also have deep experience coaching parents and helping teachers develop effective practices for working with children.
Right now, especially, many parents need help. Stuck inside with their children 24/7, they need skills for managing their kids’ behaviors, helping them feel safe in an unsafe world, and working with them as both parents and teachers.
So perhaps an online parent coaching practice makes sense.
Or maybe online tutoring for kids who are homeschooling.
I Could Help People With Personal Finance
Another area where I could possibly help others is with their finances. I have learned so much through the FIRE movement, and I could apply my coaching skills to helping people budget, cut expenses, and build up savings.
I’m thinking about launching a financial coaching business, geared especially to people over the age of 50 who may be realizing during the pandemic that they need to pay attention to creating a more secure financial future.
Coaching, unlike financial advising, does not require credentialing. I would never presume to advise someone where to invest their money (and it wouldn’t be legal for me to do so), nor would I manage anyone’s finances. But I could help them plan, set goals, create a budget and use budgeting tools, cut expenses, and forge a pathway to greater security.
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Or another possibility combines both areas of my skills and experience: offering online personal finance classes for high school and middle school students.
I Could Write and Edit
My third area of expertise is writing and editing. I was lead editor on a traditionally published non-fiction book, as well as a contributing author. I’ve written grant proposals, articles, and blog posts, and have edited more school papers, college essays, doctoral dissertations, resumes, and cover letters than I can count.
Some of my editing work has been a way to help family and friends. I’ve also brought in a (tiny) side income from paying clients.
So developing my writing/editing business offers another possibility.
What skills and experience do you have that could become a home-based business?
2. What Pulls You?
In addition to determining the skills and experiences you could offer clients or customers, think about what lights you up.
Many people talk about “following your passion,” but not everyone has one. Feeling like you need a passion but lacking that burning desire to devote yourself to a single pursuit can hold you back from just starting something.
Instead, think about what interests you. What do you read about in your spare time? What websites or social media groups do you gravitate towards?
Making any entrepreneurial venture successful requires a lot of work. You’ll be so excited at first, then you’ll hit a wall of drudgery. That’s when many people quit. If you want to be successful, you will need to work through the drudgery, knowing that the work holds meaning for you.
It doesn’t have to be your burning passion, but it needs to pull you in some way. To make you curious. To grab your interest.
So what pulls you?
At different times in my life I’ve felt intensely interested in different things.
During the past year or two, the FIRE movement has drawn me in. I’ve spent hours and hours listening to podcasts and reading blogs and books about personal finance. I’ve learned so much, have put myself on the road to transforming my own financial life (pre-corona – all bets are off now), and have started this blog and a FI After 50 Facebook group.
At the same time, I’m a member of a few parenting Facebook groups, and I can’t help but respond to some of the questions members post. “I can help them,” I think. I read parenting columns in the paper. Heck, years before I even became a parent I read books about raising children – for fun.
So I’m interested in both personal finance and parenting. Starting a business at home in either of these areas would likely hold my interest, even when the going gets tough.
I also enjoy editing, getting down into the nitty-gritty details that make someone’s writing sing. And writing, although it takes me a long time.
3. Would People Pay for the Services or Product You’re Proposing, and if so, How Much?
Do some research. Google the business you’re thinking about starting and see what people are charging. Connect with business owners by joining industry-specific Facebook groups.
Ask not only about what you could expect for a typical annual income, but about how long it takes to reach that income. Also ask about how the corona virus has affected their business and their income, and about their predictions for the coming year.
When I asked a financial coaching FB group if anyone had made a sustainable living in their first year of business, I received a range of answers. For some, their first year goal was $2,000/month – barely a living, but definitely achievable.
Most people start slowly, building up their business over time. One financial coach said she earned $25,000 during her first year (while she was still working a full-time job), and has doubled her income every year in the four years she’s been in business. She says, “It is absolutely achievable to earn a decent income in the first year…but it will definitely be some work.”
I’m assuming that starting a business from home focusing on parent coaching will have a similar income trajectory: I can expect to make very little the first year, but have the potential to make six figures eventually.
Writing and editing? Seems income potential is all over the place, depending on the kind of client you work with and the hours you devote.
What about the venture you’re interested in starting? Do some research to figure out what you might be able to make.
4. Do You Have Access to Networks that can Supply Potential Clients?
Who do you know who could send potential clients your way?
You can certainly build a clientele from scratch, but it’s a lot easier if you know people who can help you along the way.
If I go the parent coaching route, I can tap into my network of preschool families, all of whom have their own networks of friends with children.
For financial coaching, I’d be starting from scratch and would need to build new networks. It would take a bit more work.
What networks are you plugged into? Do you know any “super connectors” – people who know everyone and like nothing better than bringing friends and acquaintances together? Let them know about the services you’re offering and ask for their help in referring people.
5. Are You Willing to do the Work?
Starting a business from home is no walk in the park.
You’ll have to spend many hours and master many new skills, from website design to networking to creating and honing your practice.
Sometimes time will fly as you’re humming along and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Other times you’ll have to do tasks you don’t enjoy. You might feel as if you’ve hit a wall and want to give up.
Can you keep going, even then? If so, you have a chance at success.
Does it Make Sense to Start a Business During a Pandemic?
In our grim economy, unemployment levels match or exceed those of the Great Depression. Many people face current financial devastation, or experience the anxiety of future lay-offs.
Still, for people who remain employed, either at home or as front-line workers, (or soon to return to the office as lock-downs ease), many services could make their lives better.
Think about what could help them. Some would benefit from parenting or financial coaching. But many other possibilities exist.
People want to become more self-sufficient. They may turn to garden consultants to help them plan and care for plots where they can grow some of their own food, for example. Or businesses may need assistance with cleaning and sanitizing.
This might be a very difficult time to strike out on your own. Or it might be a great time. Do your research, and get started.
What’s your idea? List it in the comments – you may just spark someone into action.