You started a homebased business with the fantasy of your toddler playing quietly by your feet while you make phone calls. Reality has set in, however, and said toddler has eaten the Post-it with your client's phone number and decided oatmeal belongs in your disk drive. "But," you say while pulling out clumps of prematurely gray hair, "What's the point of working at home if I still need child care?"

Think no commute, flexible hours and lunch meetings with your kids. "The beauty of working at home is that your hours are flexible and your choices of child care are, too," says Ellen H. Parlapiano, co-author with Patricia Cobe of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success (Perigee Books, $13, 800-788-6262). If you're worried about the cost, Parlapiano suggests these alternatives:

  • Child-care co-op: Get a group of work-at-home parents to share duties. You receive a token or ticket for each hour you baby-sit each child, then cash them in when you're in need. "The plus is, it's free," says Parlapiano. "The downside is, you routinely have to give up some work time to keep this system going." For more information on co-ops, visit www.cooperative.org.
  • Trading places: A pared-down version of the child-care co-op involves you and a good buddy trading off child-care days. To avoid getting taken advantage of, Parlapiano says: "Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure you're both clear on when and where you're going to take care of the kids. Also, make sure the kids get along and that you share a common child-rearing philosophy."
  • Sitter-sharing: Share a full-time sitter with a friend. You can either split the cost and have the sitter watch all the kids at once, or trade off days. Parlapiano suggests having a written agreement outlining your expectations, when and where you'll use the sitter, and how you'll pay.
  • Barter: Trade your goods and services with neighborhood parents for child care. For example, if you have a catering business, bring baby-sitting parents meals a few times a week. If you sell children's clothing, outfit their kids in exchange.

To come up with child-care solutions, Parlapiano says, call on the same networking prowess you use in business. "[Tell] everyone you know you're looking for child care. Think of it in terms of teaming up, just as you'd team up to find a business partner."

Testing, testing

Can you handle working without child care? Take this quiz to find out. The more "yes" answers, the better your chances of survival.

  • Are your kids in school full time?
  • If not, are they easy to manage and good at entertaining themselves?
  • Do you do the type of work that can easily be interrupted?
  • Can you do most of your work while your kids are sleeping? Do you have the stamina to keep this up?
  • Does your business require very little phone time?
  • Does your business require very few face-to-face meetings?
  • Can you bring your kids with you when you pick up or drop off work?
  • Are you in a laid-back industry where clients are apt to be fairly kid-tolerant?
  • Are you in a field (such as toy-selling or children's fashions) where having kids around is actually a plus?
  • Do you have a business partner to rely on when you're in a bind?

--Excerpted with permission from Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success

Kid Around

These sites can help you get a grip:

www.bizymoms.com: articles and chats

www.familyinternet.com/dad/dad.htm: Web site for work-at-home dads

www.hbwm.com: a national association for homebased working moms

www.momsnetwork.com: network with work-at-home moms

www.wahd.com: an e-mail newsletter and Web site for work-at-home dads