Peg Rosen

Over the past few decades, kitchens, spare bedrooms and backyard garages have been turned into offices.

Why the renovations?

An estimated five million women across the country have hired themselves as head honchos and launched their own home-based business. With many working moms out of a job and at-home moms eager to bring in extra income, the idea of being your own boss is becoming more attractive than ever.

The appeal is obvious: With no commute and no employer dictating your workday, you can pursue your passion, bring in bucks and still keep a foothold on the home front. It's just that these days, you've got to be a bit more flexible and strategic in choosing the business you launch.

"In this economy, think carefully about what other people are willing to spend money on," says Ellen Parlapiano, co-author of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step by Step Guide to Work at Home Success. "Personal services, like home organizing and personal training -- which mompreneurs have traditionally done well with -- are really taking a hit right now."

In addition, this probably isn't the time to launch your first clothing line or start producing that deluxe diaper caddy you designed. "Manufacturing any product can take $50,000 just to get started and three to five years to make a profit. Unless you have lots of money in the bank or a true million-dollar idea, I'd think twice before manufacturing anything right now," says Parlapiano.

So how do you figure out what's right for the times? And how do you get started on a business and make it blossom?

Tap your talents

Veteran legal secretary Andrea Cannavina of Hicksville, N.Y., started typing transcripts for lawyers at night to earn extra cash several years ago. She eventually had so much work that she quit her day job, invested in a secure computer server and launched LegalTypist, a Web-based business. "I tell everyone who asks for advice, ‘Go with something you know,'" says Cannavina, who now oversees a staff of more than a dozen freelance virtual assistants. "Everybody has a strength. Sometimes the trick is simply figuring out what it is."

Do your homework

Research as much as you can about services or products like yours, what potential competitors are charging and which small-business development organizations are located in your area.

Also, consider taking a course. Before launching her clothing line for plus-size petites, Diane Lindblade of Pittsburgh, Pa., enrolled in FastTrac, a "boot camp" for aspiring entrepreneurs that's offered at various locations across the country. "It helped me draw up a realistic business plan and develop a budget. The few hundred dollars you spend on a course like this may eventually save your business or your personal finances," says Lindblade.

Make the most of your online lifeline

The Internet is oxygen for home-based entrepreneurs. Your first order of business should be setting up a Web site. It doesn't have to cost a fortune: Many sites offer inexpensive templates you can use. Next, tap into social networking sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. "The exposure and contacts you make are invaluable. And best of all, it's free," says Parlapiano.

Grow slowly and be flexible

You may have big dreams about managing a staff and turning over the boring stuff like bookkeeping and order fulfillment to someone else. In the beginning, however, much of this work will probably fall in your lap. "In this economy, your first priority is to get cash coming in quickly and to avoid putting a lot of cash at risk," says Parlapiano. "Then, once you've got a steady cash flow, you can consider outsourcing and hiring in order to focus on the big picture."

That's certainly been the case for Cannavina and her LegalTypist business. "When I started out, I was up all night typing on my own, trying to fulfill my clients' demands," says Cannavina, who now focuses almost entirely on managing and growing the business. "I have no limits on how big I want to get. I just grossed six figures this year, and I figure if I can get to six figures, I can make a million."

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