From the April 2001 issue of Startups

I got an interesting letter a couple days ago that I felt compelled to share with you. Normally I would reserve this type of thing for my expert column, since, well, that's the place where we like to answer questions from readers, but this letter, written by a 16-year-old, spoke loudly to me.

"I'm only 16 years old," he wrote. "I spend 90 percent of my spare time in front of my computer. I wonder if you think it would be possible for me to start and manage my own business without it affecting my performance at school. It would be small and homebased, and it'd have to do with designing Web pages. My most important question is, is it too much legal stuff, too expensive and too risky for a boy my age to handle? Would it be too hard to make the company known and get customers? If you don't think I could handle it, please tell me."

Here's the abbreviated answer: Anything is possible. And yes, it's complicated and risky for a boy your age-and anyone, for that matter-to start a business, homebased or not.

I know that's not a particularly satisfying answer. And I know it's often easier for someone else to tell you whether or not you can do something. It saves you the trouble of figuring out how much you can squeeze onto one plate.

But owning a business is such a personal decision-it's as personal as deciding what your major will be in college, or even what pair of shoes you'll slip on in the morning. (The latter might mean nothing to some of you, but if you took a look at my closet, you'd understand the quandary I go through on a daily basis. But I digress.)

There are an awful lot of legal, financial, marketing, sales and other start-up issues that go hand-in-hand with business ownership. But all that means is that you have a lot of research and soul-searching to do before you jump in and launch a business. Simply put, whether you're 16 or 60, you have to be sure someone out there will buy your product or service, and you have to enjoy doing it. That's what HomeOfficemag is for-it's here to help you wade through all those complicated start-up matters and, once you succeed, to help you grow your business.

And for that 16-year-old boy: I wouldn't presume to know whether you can handle entrepreneurship, because only you know that. If you want to design Web pages, I'd say do it, just as you might try football or drama or any other extracurricular activity. Talk about it with your parents or another trusted role model. Figure out if it's something you really enjoy. If you do, you're an entrepreneur, and you'll probably do whatever it takes to make things happen.