From the November 2001 issue of Startups

By nature of being one of the experts in our Expert Center, the homebased start-up expert, I tend to receive repeat questions quite frequently. Sometimes the questions are very specific, such as "How do I start an IT consulting business?" But more often, the question is this: "I want to start a homebased business. What do I do?" And that's about the toughest question around. Actually, it's not that it's tough-it's just that if I answered that question to its fullest, I would never stop writing.

I compare it to walking into a library and asking the reference librarian, "I want to learn everything there is to know about Shakespeare. Can you provide that information to me?" More than likely, he or she would point me in the direction of the nearest computer terminal or card catalog, offer me a pencil and paper and suggest I get busy researching. And that's exactly what I'd like to suggest to any of you who have the inclination to start a business but don't know where to begin. In fact, go to your local library, armed with a list of topics that interest you, whether it's data entry or skydiving. Do as much research as possible-collect industry statistics; information on potential competitors, start-up costs and ideal locations; in short, anything that will help you saturate yourself with knowledge.

You should also make a list of those things that bother you. Is there a problem in your daily life that you could solve by starting a business? Think of it this way: Every good business idea arises out of need. Dry cleaners came about because people needed a place where they could get their clothes clean without ruining them in the washer. Fast food came about because people got busier. Child care came about because a parent wasn't able to stay home with a child. Take a look around you. How you can make life easier or better for your community? What problem nags you so much that you find yourself saying, "I wish someone would start a 'such-and-such' service." That someone could be you.

NEXT STEP

Once you've got your two lists in hand and have done some research on both of those lists, it's simply a matter of narrowing things down to the business idea that both interests you and serves a purpose for consumers. Then get yourself back to the library, get online, get networking, get as much knowledge under your belt as possible.

And remember, you need to enjoy what you're doing. In the end, it's you who needs to determine what type of business you want to start-because it's you who will be making it work.