Whether you've had the urge to work freelance and walk away from a corporation or you've recognized that you're a natural night owl and do your best work when others are asleep, there may be times you've thought about making a go of it from home.

It's not "easy" (I've been doing it for more than 20 years straight), but it's possible. In fact, you start it as a side hustle, as my Inc colleague Damon Brown often says. Over time, maybe faster than you realize, you can make really good money on your own or grow your business to almost any size.

The important thing is to start at home where you've got the instant advantage of low incremental costs for your venture. You do need a good dose of discipline or be willing to develop it and you also have to toss some romantic ideas, like being able to work when you feel like it. Your business is a job and you have to keep at it. But the potential rewards are great.

For most of us, the question is how you can keep the costs low while looking at high potential for earning. That's a matter of looking at your existing knowledge and skills, considering your interests, and finding some common ground that offers what you want. In general, you want one of the following three basic businesses:

  • Get paid for products and not for your time.
  • Provide your time and expertise in areas where you can charge a lot.
  • Offer time-based services that you can eventually pay others to do.

Here are 7 different types of home-based businesses you might try.

1. Consulting

Consultants can make very good money, particularly when you learn enough to know how long things take and charge by the project, not by the hour. Since businesses are generally the audience for consulting services, you do need skills or knowledge that someone else is willing to pay well for. Maybe you know how to structure projects, are good at strategic planning, can write corporate or marketing copy, provide graphic designs, or provide some other activity needed by many companies. If so, you've got a chance to bill out large sums to companies that need what you can offer.

2. E-tailing

There are reasons that some of the biggest fortunes every made result from selling stuff. Whether Wal-Mart or Microsoft, buy it from someone else or make it yourself, the retail industry has been a good one to many because you can expand as fast as you can sell. E-tailing gives you the home-based boost because, so long as there's room in the garage or attic or basement for the goods, you can take orders and ship product. Certainly establish your own site, but with Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and plenty of other marketplaces in existence, you also can reach a broader audience than you might otherwise.

3. Business services

This is related to but different from consulting. There are many tasks that small- to medium-sized companies will need help with. If you can provide such services as website construction and management, accounting and bookkeeping, computer repair, office cleaning, event planning, or virtual assistants, you can start on the side and eventually subcontract work out so you're not limited by the number of hours in your day.

4. Software or book publisher

If you've got some skills in coding, or can work with someone who does, you can develop and publish software and apps. You do need to find a market niche where people are willing to pay for what they want. (In other words, don't expect to come up with a silly smartphone app and have the world beat a path to your door. Rovio had 51 flops before hitting upon Angry Birds.) Or you could try publishing books or e-books. It's a tough business and requires you to find the exact things people will jump on. But if you can hit on the right niche, there's profit to be made.

5. Insurance agent or broker

This can be a difficult one if you aren't already in the field. You may need a state license and finding insurance companies willing to work with a solo practitioner can be a challenge. But you can start out of the house and build a clientele. (Here's a hint: Use an electronic document management system to keep all the records and forms on a computer rather than needing the space and filing cabinets for paper.)

6. Personal services

Whether chef, trainer, tutor, concierge service, home cleaning, junk removal, or some other task that people don't like or are unequipped to do, you can take their money to make problems go away. As with business services, you can start by providing services yourself. However, that can quickly become an income ceiling to crack, so you may need to bring in others to help over time.

7. Independent sales rep

If you have a gift for sales and a knowledge of a specific market, you can do well here. You take on national and international brands and sell them into stores, distributors, and other companies that are part of the retail distribution chain. I spoke with someone a few months ago who had started his career selling surfing and snowboarding equipment into shops up and down California. He eventually employed dozens of people and finally sold off the business so he could enjoy time with his family and then realize a life-long dream of opening a French bistro. You should know something about the products and how they're used (he was a surfer), but the sky is the limit. Or at least the next breaking wave.

Published on: Jul 26, 2017