You have the perfect home business idea. You can't believe no one has thought of it before. Or, if someone has, he or she doesn't have your vision, skills or passion. You are convinced this new business is the key to your successful future.

Now what? The best way to improve your odds of success is to move slowly and carefully in starting a business. Do so, and you can join the 70 percent of businesses that succeed in their first two years, according to the SBA.

  1. Begin with a plan. Not all home businesses need an official business plan, but every home business owner must spend some time planning. Before you put out your shingle, sit down and determine how much money you need to invest (and in what), your goals (short- and long-term), your marketing plan and all those pesky details (For example, do you need a separate checking account?).

  2. Find a mentor. You may know someone who has successfully created a home business and feel comfortable asking for advice. An incredible free resource is SCORE, a national association dedicated to helping small-business owners form and grow their businesses. SCORE offers local and online mentoring, and it helps 20,000 small-business owners a year. Seek help from other small businesses, vendors, professionals, government agencies, employees and trade associations. Be alert, ask questions, and learn everything you can.
  3. Money in the bank. Don't quit your day job just yet. For those of you considering the full-time freelance plunge--set up a savings account with enough funds to cover at least six months' worth of bills. This will give you a buffer to help with your budget. While hunger might be a good motivator, it's easier to work when you have electricity and your house isn't being repossessed.
  4. Keep competitive. Even if you think your business is unique, you need to conduct a competitive analysis in your market, including products, prices, promotions, advertising, distribution, quality and service. Also be aware of the outside influences that affect your business. Know what makes the difference between you and your competitors. Is it service, price or expertise? Whatever it is, capitalize on it.
  5. All systems grow. Word of mouth is the best way to grow your business. Ask your satisfied clients for referrals, offer free consultations to new referrals, and consider a referral or finder's fee. Get your name out to build your brand. Go to industry events--conferences, association meetings and seminars. Go to events in client industries; socialize, and always have your card ready. In addition, do some pro bono work for a charitable organization with industry links.

Focus on getting several good clients who pay on time and are easy to work with. "I've seen many virtual assistants put all their efforts into one client only to find themselves stuck when their client closes its doors or its needs change," says Tracy Morris, a VA in Houston. "I was making enough money to be relatively comfortable with just one or two clients, but I knew I had to diversify to feel safe." .

With some advance planning, sound advice and a dedication to succeed, you can join the thousands of home business owners who have found their ideal work solution right in their own home.