Home-based businesses: the best of both worlds

Homemaker or businesswoman? Much has been said and written about the advantages of each pursuit, but no longer must a woman choose between the two; she can be a home-based businesswoman.

An estimated 1 million women in the United States operate businesses from their homes. They work full-time and part-time, earning from pennies to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Their businesses range from all kinds of professional services to products developed from home skills.

Operating a business from home permits a woman to care for her children, save the overhead of a business establishment, avoid expensive, time-consuming commutes to a job, and be able to work when and as much as she desires.

But the home-based businesswoman also faces unique challenges.

She has questions such as: Are my prices right? My service is good, but how do I develop a business identity? Am I keeping the necessary business records? How can I persuade my family and friends to take my business seriously and not treat it as a hobby? When do I devote my time to my family and when do I demand their cooperation?

The home-based businesswoman cannot step into the next office to test a new idea on a co-worker; nor does she learn about new business trends and opportunities over lunch with other businesswomen. To a large extent, she is separated from the business world in which she competes. A Connecticut woman who makes fine jewelry says, ''My biggest problem has always been the isolation and lack of dialogue and feedback from other creative craft worksteaders.''

A fledgling organization, the National Alliance of Homebased Businesswomen, aims to eliminate this isolation and to provide a local and national network for this relatively unknown part of the work force. The alliance is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to the professional, personal, and economic growth of women who work from their homes.

NAHB grew out of a survey of local home-based businesswomen conducted by Marion Behr of Edison, N.J., and Wendy Lazar of Norwood, N.J. Even before they published their findings in ''Women Working Home: The Homebased Guide and Directory,'' they met with a few home-based businesswomen to mold the organization.

In June 1980, nine of them began to define the organization, structure it, and write its bylaws. From the first, the alliance was conceived as a national organization.

In January 1981, 16 ''first members'' were listed in the board meeting minutes. A year later there were members in all but 12 states and chapters starting in more than two dozen cities. Membership is $25 a year, or $20 for anyone in her first business year.

The alliance encourages members to form local chapters for personal contact and mutual support. Through chapters they exchange information and experiences, create educational programs, make professional contacts, and showcase their goods and services.

The NAHB is developing ways of networking at the national level. Its ''Meeting-by-Mail'' enables members scattered across the country to take leadership roles on national committees; at the same time the national organization benefits from their varied ideas and experiences. The group is also studying ways to provide comprehensive insurance and national joint advertising and showcasing.

First-year activities included publishing the Alliance, a quarterly newsletter of helpful business information, and a directory of its members. At an all-membership meeting, members staged a free exhibition for their goods and services and heard experts discuss marketing, credit, new tax laws, and the pros and cons of computers for home-based businesses.

For more information, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to NAHB, PO Box 95, Norwood, N.J. 07648.

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