“What kind of business can I run from home?” That’s the most common question I get from readers. I recently got the question from a woman in Australia. My goodness, what do I know about what you can do from home halfway across the globe? Another version is: “What kind of work can I do from home?”

These questions typically come from women who are about to become mothers. They also come from women who are already mothers and despair that their kids spend more time with daycare workers than they spend with mom or dad. I met one woman who decided to start her own business when a friend asked what her daughter’s favorite color was – and she didn’t know the answer.

Running a business from home is a good way to get intimate with your child’s favorite color. Chances are, she’ll use her favorite color crayon to write “I love Daddy” on the wall while you’re on the phone to Singapore. Such are the joys at-job parents miss.

There’s an implicit difficulty in the question about what kind of business to run from home. It’s not the kind of question an entrepreneur would ask. Entrepreneurs typically ask questions like: “Where can I get funding? Will you invest in my company?” Entrepreneurs launch at home only as a strategic choice. If it’s better to launch from an office, the entrepreneur will launch from and office and take the playpen along. They usually conform to the needs of the fledgling business rather than asking the business to conform to they’re preferred life.

There’s some speculation that the entrepreneurial drive is genetic – that entrepreneurs are born, not groomed. I agree. Entrepreneurial behavior is more a calling than a decision. Most entrepreneurs simply can’t help but launch businesses. They’re impulsive and have short attention spans in all areas of life except the business. When it comes to business, their focus is deep.

But the good news is that you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to start and run a business. Launching a company can be a lifestyle choice, just like any career decision. Often businesses run better when an entrepreneur is not involved, since there is less impulsivity and overwrought attention to each and every detail. Non-entrepreneurs are very good at putting the business down at night and attending to life’s other joys.

What’s missing in a business when you’re not an entrepreneur is the truly creative part. Entrepreneurs want to create a business from concept down to marketing tactics. They believe their ideas are superior to conventional ideas. They only resort to convention when their creativity fails.

Non-entrepreneurs have far more regard for convention. They want to imitate what’s been successful. That can be a handy trait, since conventional approaches become convention because they work.

My advice to those who want to start a business from home and don’t know where to start: look for a franchise. The majority of franchise companies have developed versions of their business than can be run from home. They understand the huge demand for at-home enterprises, so they create at-home versions as a competitive imperative.

The non-entrepreneur is well-suited for a franchise. To succeed with a franchise, you have to be able to follow directions. Franchises are portable success, but only if the business model is followed in great detail. Entrepreneurs are lousy as franchise owners because they’re constantly thinking, “Why are they doing it this way? I can improve on that . . . and I will.” That attitude is fatal for franchisees.

So if you want to know what kind of business you can run from home, go to a Website that has a long list of franchises and search through the ones that are tailor-made for at-home owners. Your chances for success are stellar – franchises run at a 95 percent success rate. And many of them are self-financed. But if you have entrepreneurial urges running through your genes, stay away from the franchise.

by Rob Spiegel

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