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By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 10/1/2008 3:25:18 PM ET 2008-10-01T19:25:18

Pssst … are you reading this column from your desk at work right now? If so, here’s a little pop quiz for you. Are you intrigued by the idea of:

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a) Working from home;

b) Wearing sweat pants all day if you feel like it;

c) Not losing irreplaceable hours of your lifetime to meetings;

d) Avoiding the politics of a large and often cutthroat workplace;

e) And spending more time with your dogs?

If you answered yes to, well, any of these possibilities, and if you also possess healthy doses of initiative and self-discipline, you just might be a candidate for starting a home-based business.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about doing something like this for years now. And as the economy continues to falter and job losses continue to mount, you may really be considering this route as a serious option. The following tips can help you reflect on whether or not this approach makes sense for you.

1. Devise a plan of attack. Before venturing too far down this path, make absolutely sure a market exists for your product or services. Writing up a business plan can help you determine whether your idea is workable. You should prepare a business plan even if you don’t plan to apply for a loan from a bank or the Small Business Administration. You can visit your local library and check out books about how to write business plans for free.

2. Could you fly solo? If companies in your career field frequently rely on independent contractors to handle certain jobs, perhaps you could become one of those independent contractors and work right out of your home. In that instance, you could do business as a self-employed individual or a “sole proprietor” for tax purposes. For details, visit this IRS Web site.

3.Or would you need employees? If your business idea would require you to hire employees, be prepared for life to become more complicated. For information on applying for a business license, contact your state’s department of licensing or department of professional regulation. For information on applying for a federal tax identification number and hiring workers, visit the same IRS site mentioned in tip number 2 and click on “Businesses with Employees.”

4.Pay estimated taxes four times a year. To avoid an unexpected doozy of a tax bill after you strike out on your own, get in the habit of filing estimated tax payments by the deadlines established by the IRS. For information, go to the IRS home page and search for “estimated taxes.”

5.Save for retirement. This may seem like a low priority when you’re struggling to get a business up and running, but it’s important to set aside at least some money for retirement each month. One relatively easy way to do this is to open a simplified employee pension individual retirement account, or SEP IRA.

6.Think about your work space. When working from home, you ideally should have a separate space for your office. If an entire room isn’t possible, create boundaries for a work area with partitions or drapes. Your work station should be ergonomically sound, which may require an investment in a good chair. You’ll also need a computer, Internet access and a fax machine, which could double as a printer/copier/scanner.

7.Think about child care. If you have children, set rules about when they can and cannot enter your work area and how they should behave there. Come up with a workable child-care system, which may involve hiring a sitter for a few hours a day.

8.Consider installing a separate phone line. A separate phone line may be important so that your phone calls can be answered as professionally as possible, without children crying or dogs barking in the background. Also consider opting for a higher-quality voice-mail system instead of a regular old answering machine.

9.Look like a pro. You’ll want to have a professional-looking Web site with a domain name that corresponds with the name of your business. Also, your business cards and stationery should be on a par with what a large company would use. You can order these supplies quickly and economically at VistaPrint or 123Print.com, to name just a couple of places.

10.Be sure you have enough insurance. You’ll need health insurance for yourself and your family and liability insurance for your business. A good way to find relatively reasonable health coverage is through a business or trade organization in your field. At the very least, secure a low-cost catastrophic health insurance plan with a deductible of $2,000 or more.

Sources and resources:

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