by Bridget McCrea

I'll bet you have this great idea to break free from the constraints of corporate America, get back in touch with your family, and find Utopia in a lifestyle that you dream about between stressful board meetings and rush hour gridlock. Your idea is to create your own home-based business, and guess what? You are not alone in your musings.

At last count, the American Association of Home-Based Businesses - an organization based in Rockville, MD - reports that 24 million Americans are currently running businesses from their homes. Basements, spare bedrooms and attics all over the nation are alive with budding entrepreneurs pounding keyboards and burning up phone lines. From desktop publishing and house cleaning - to child care and freelance copywriting - the new American dream has become the discovery of freedom and wealth through successful entrepreneurship.

But where do you start? Well, choice of office location will be simple -- your home. There will be no looking around for "location, location, location", and no high overhead to consider. You simply need to look around your home and find a spot that is out of the mainstream. Unless you're like me, and you have the concentration level of a professional athlete during a playoff game (mine is mid-living room with toddler toys strewn around it!), you'll need some peace and quiet, especially if you have children. I've seen many home offices in finished (and some in unfinished!) basements, and a few in spare bedrooms. When I began writing, the corner of my bedroom was perfect. I would roll out of bed and pour myself into my chair at 5 AM each morning. Fortunately, my little operation transformed into a full-time job and I had to relocate. It was awkward to have my computer repair guy sitting on the corner of my bed to fix my PC (consider things like this when you choose your location).

After choosing a spot, you'll need some office basic office furniture -- a desk, chair and filing cabinet. Whether you're manufacturing windows in your garage, or doing freelance magazine layout, your desk will be your hub. Organize yourself early in the game, and it will pay off when growing pains set in. If your space is limited, take advantage of vertical space. For example, bulletin boards and dry erase organizers are wonderful for planning and notes, and vertical stacking cabinets work well for storage. Magazine files, bins and swing arm lamps can also help conserve precious desktop space. Use large Rubbermaid-type stacking totes for storing papers, books and accessories that you don't need at your fingertips all the time.

If a computer and cyberspace are the key to your business, then a computer work center may be ideal for you. In fact, U-Bild-It (1-800-828-2453) produces a plan for a great hideaway work center that you can build yourself. Made primarily from plywood, it has a deep file drawer and extra desktop. The plan is #869 and costs $9.95 (great for anyone who is handy, on a budget, or both). Most furniture and office stores have a wide variety of chairs, desks and accessories for home offices; but if you're looking for bargains, check your local classifieds for garage sales and individual items for sale.

Keep in mind that everyone in your household is probably accustomed to touching everything and traipsing everywhere in the house. It will take time and patience to train them to respect your workplace and new work style. If a closed door is feasible, hang a "do not disturb" sign on the knob when you're busy. Small children will be hard to train, but take it from one who knows, they do come around - in their own way. Take everything one step at a time, and use the tips listed above. Business plans, new phone lines and the perfect ergonomic office chair can come later in your new venture - good luck!

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