From the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Question: I'm looking for a business to take me out of the Navy. I need something with low start-up costs and overhead--a business that could start as a part-time venture and bloom into something full time. Do you have any suggestions?

Name withheld

Answer: Many full-time businesses can be started from home on the side. In fact, that's the preferable way to start out on your own, because you can test the viability of your idea and go through the learning curve while you still have additional income coming in. The best sideline businesses don't require a lot of marketing or administrative tasks, leaving you free to devote your limited time to income-producing work. So you'll want to choose a service or product that's in high demand and easy to sell. Also, your business should have flexible hours so you can run it after or around your workday.

Here are our picks for the top 10 businesses that could meet these criteria, including low start-up costs, from our upcoming book, Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century (Tarcher):

1. Cleaning service

2. Gift basket business

3. Web merchant

4. Mailing list service

5. Microfarming (small plots of land for such high-value crops as mushrooms, edible flowers, sprouts and so on)

6. Tutoring

7. Resume service

8. Web design

9. Medical claims assistance

10. Personal coaching

Runners-up include tax preparing, bookkeeping, fitness training and doing makeup for weddings.

While all these businesses meet the criteria you listed, that doesn't necessarily mean one is the right business for you. Here are three more criteria--perhaps the most important ones your business should meet:

1. It's something you truly enjoy doing.

2. You know enough about the business to do well at it (or are willing to invest time learning while you still have a job).

3. You can identify a specific, easily reachable market for the business.

Often the best opportunities are quite unique to the business owner. For example, a woman who wanted to be at home with her children had an inspiration: Since her husband collects bow ties, she decided to sell handmade bow ties over the Internet. An aerospace engineer had been an avid amateur photographer for years before starting a sideline photography business. By the time his job was downsized, he already had a growing clientele. These businesses certainly wouldn't work for everyone, but each was an ideal match for its owner. So look closely at your interests, skills and assets, and consider how you can use them to meet the needs of individuals or companies who would gladly pay for your help.

Before You Bid Farewell . . .

Once your business is consistently earning enough income to cover your living and business expenses, you're ready to go full time. But don't give notice before taking these steps:

  • Determine when any company benefit plans you have will vest or increase in value. It would be a shame to quit two weeks before the value of your retirement benefits increase from 40 to 60 percent.
  • Find out when you'll receive benefit money. This could help you plan your financing.
  • Before leaving--while you're still covered by corporate insurance--get all annual health exams and routine procedures done. Check out whether your group coverage can be converted to an individual policy at favorable rates or if other health coverage options are open to you.
  • Take out a home equity line of credit before leaving your job. Having a line of credit to draw upon is invaluable during the first two years you're in business, although you probably won't qualify for one once you leave your job until your business has been successful for more than two years.
  • Pay off or pay down the balance on your credit cards while you're still generating a steady income. This helps your credit rating and enables you to finance various start-up costs.

Contact Source

If you have a question regarding a start-up business issue, contact Paul and Sarah Edwards at http://www.paulandsarah.com or send it to "What's Your Problem?," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.