Q: How many new businesses are started at home? And what percentage of home businesses typically would have employees or customers who actually come to their home? A neighbor complained about our home business, and we're presenting this information to the city council (a council member requested the information) in an effort to get our zoning codes changed.

A: Seven out of 10 new businesses are started at home, according to a recent Gallup survey, which means that the home is the launching pad for new products and businesses--the engine of the American economy. But as many as four out of five home businesspeople don't spend their workdays at home; they work from home rather that at home--which means they're away from home like their commuting neighbors.

Of the minority of businesses whose work is done at home, most of these have neither employees nor customers coming to their homes. We have found most home businesspeople dislike having an employee in their homes. With the use of technology, many of the tasks employees once did, like secretarial and bookkeeping, are done by the business owner with computers and easy-to-use software. For those who still need hands-on help, many use outside services, like virtual assistants, who do their work on their own premises--usually their homes, too.

So despite the growing number of home businesses in the country, most neighborhoods remain unchanged. Since it appears your council representative is sympathetic, provide the council with ammunition for adopting or changing a fair and effective ordinance regulating home business. Here are the primary arguments:

  • People work from home whether the zoning permits it or not, and making it unlawful turns otherwise law-abiding citizens into violators.
  • If people hide their home businesses, they're not marketing it as effectively as they could, and they're limiting what they earn, dampening the community economy.
  • Home businesses that are allowed to be visible are more apt to obtain business licenses, which helps hard-pressed local governments balance their budgets.
  • Home is an incubator for many businesses that grow out of the home and sometimes become major employers. What community wouldn't like to be the headquarters for the next Apple Computer or Ben & Jerry's?
  • Homebased self-employment is an important safety net for Americans who have lost their jobs. The best route to pulling out of a bad economy is enabling people to support themselves.

You may also wish to refer the council to this Web site for planning commissioners: www.plannersweb.com.


Paul and Sarah Edwards are the authors of several homebased business books, includingWorking From Home. Their latest book isWhy Aren't You Your Own Boss?