Q: What are the hottest businesses to start from home?

A: Continuing gains in U.S. productivity are the result of companies getting more work from fewer employees. When reservists and National Guard members were called for duty in Iraq, 4 out of 5 employers did not hire new employees. Instead, they reassigned more duties to remaining employees. People working longer hours have less time to handle their personal affairs. Thus, businesses that provide personal services offer the most promise for quick startup and ultimate success. Such service businesses can be started at home, where your startup costs and overhead are the lowest. Here are some of the hottest candidates:

  • Child-care service: Institutional day-care solutions do not always appeal to single parents or dual-career couples. Not only are there not enough facilities, but many parents also prefer their infants, toddlers and preschoolers to be in a home setting. Because so many Americans are shift workers, day care for evenings, nights and weekends is especially in demand. Want to increase sales? Hire an assistant to take on more children. Check your state's Web site for more on licensing requirements, or try the keywords "child-care certification services" in a search engine.
  • Cleaning service: In addition to commercial and house-cleaning services, there are also dozens of specialties-such as floors, ceilings and windows. Check out www.cleanreport.com, the Web site of Don Aslett, self-proclaimed cleaning guru.
  • Elder and geriatric care: If there's a business with long-term potential, it's one that serves the mushrooming number of aging Americans. Seniors want to live in their own homes, but to maintain their independence, they need help that many adult children no longer have time to provide. If this area interests you, consider creating a homebased business helping seniors pay bills, delivering meals or supervising medication management. Learn more about the breadth and need for these and other services at the National Family Caregivers Association or at ElderCare Online.
  • Fitness training: Even before America's war on obesity, fitness training was growing so fast that it had already spawned more national trade and certifying organizations than most fields. Exercise is one of the first things to go when life gets busier, so the discipline and the efficiency a fitness trainer provides suits many people. Some fitness trainers have clients come to their homes, while others meet them in gyms or go to their homes. One organization that certifies fitness trainers is the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
  • Personal chef: People are turning to personal chefs to prepare the healthy meals they don't have time to fix for themselves. Chefs prepare meals-usually one to two weeks' worth-in their customers' own kitchens. Cuisines are specialized to suit a client's dietary needs and tastes. Several organizations serve this field, such as the United States Personal Chef Association and the American Personal Chef Association.
  • Pet services: Because pets are surrogate children in many households, almost any service related to pets can be a thriving business-including grooming, pet-sitting, dog and cat (yes, cat) training, pet taxi services, teeth cleaning, and counseling for grieving owners who have lost their pets. The largest association of dog trainers is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. For more on pet-sitting, visit Pet Sitters International.
  • Professional organizing: People's lives are overflowing with all kinds of stuff accumulated in our consumer society. Professional organizers help sort things out, set priorities and create systems in homes, offices and businesses. For more information, check out the National Association of Professional Organizers.
  • Tutoring: Children are expected to learn more at a younger age than ever before, and student performance on standardized tests has deteriorated. Parents who would like to help their kids with their homework are too pressed for time-a trend that's contributing to a rise in the popularity of tutoring. So if you have the background, patience and communication skills, the rewards of helping young people can be your home business. While most tutoring is still face-to-face, more is being done online at sites like Tutor.com, which enables you to set your own rates and schedules.
  • eBay sales: Sales over the internet keep growing, and women now surpass men in online purchasing. Both new and used items sell well on eBay. eBay has become a primary or supplementary way for all kinds of people to sell, from artisans to estate-sale specialists. You can follow this growing opportunity with a free newsletter.
  • Private investigation: In a world troubled by terrorists, counterfeit goods, electronic eavesdropping and industrial espionage, private investigators have gone beyond surveillance work. With training such as that offered by the Spy Academy, you can enter the security field without a law-enforcement background.

Authors and career coaches Paul and Sarah Edwards are Entrepreneur.com's "Homebased Business" columnists. Their latest book is The Best Home Businesses for People 50+. Contact them at www.workingfromhome.com.