Business Ideas for Women Who Want to Work From Home

by | February 10, 2020

Business Ideas for Women

For some women, making money at home is the only way and business idea they can earn extra cash. In general there are three ways of doing it:

  1. Selling a service
  2. Selling a product
  3. A combination of the two

Success in a home enterprise calls for hard work and a disposition to persevere in the face of disappointments, mistakes, and the initial failures that attend most new undertakings. You will be entirely on your own. There will be no outside employer to assign you work and assure you of a set income, no distributor to provide his product to you to sell, with training, guidance, and possibly leads to help you start.

You will have to bear the expense of operating your enterprise, including paying for the equipment and supplies needed for your product or service, to say nothing of promoting your business.

There are many fascinating stories of women who turned ability and initiative into cash right in their kitchens, sewing rooms, and home work shops, of women who created a business idea out of a simple need.

One is Hazel Bishop, who was dissatisfied with smeary lipsticks and compounded a smear-proof brand. Her success grew out of a new business idea coupled with effective marketing.

A short success story:

The tale of Mrs. Margaret Rudkin, of Pepperidge Farm Bread fame, has been told many times. She formulated her first loaves of bread for her son, who was suffering from asthma, and gradually expanded until hers became a nation-Wide business, selling many different bakery items. Few commercial bakeries at the time were willing to risk the selling of a high- priced loaf. Mrs. Rudkin was encouraged by her experience, on a small scale, to believe homemakers everywhere would pay more for quality bread. Today, practically every commercial bakery has added a luxury loaf to its regular line.

These are among the classic tales of women who founded enterprises based on simple business ideas. They are part of the American mystique of success that offers dreamy challenges to the daring.

While such success may be yours, too, the offering in this chapter is of a more modest nature. We will be concerned mainly with spare-time pursuits of which at least some might grow into major occupations.

Take Stock of Yourself

Business Ideas to Follow from HomeAs in any effort to make money, the first step Is to take stock of your resources and the opportunities to use them.

  • What can you do?
  • Do you want to sell a product that you make?
  • Do you want to offer a service?
  • Can you create a service out of a skill or special knowledge?
  • Is it salable?
  • Will it lead to repeat business?
  • Do you have room to work?
  • Can you set aside a definite period each day for uninterrupted work?
  • Can you manage your home and its business?
  • What steps must you take to get started?
  • Do you have the money to get started?
  • Do you need new equipment?
  • Are you conveniently located for people to come to you?
  • Do you have the means of transportation for pick-up and delivery?
  • Are your sources of supplies convenient?
  • How will you promote yourself?

How to Sell a Service

Selling a service usually involves little investment. The service usually comes out of your skills. The suggestions which follow are merely illustrative. You may have other skills or preferences. The pattern of activity, however, is basically the same.

You may decide that when you ponder the question—is it salable? You should scout your own community to ascertain whether there are already sufficient services such as you could render, whether you can create and fill a demand, whether the need is such that you will have repeat business. With the exception of service businesses such as home renovating or interior decorating, very few can be maintained as a one-sale-to-one-client operation.

If you are uncertain as to what service you could render, a study of the classified ads will give you business ideas. So will notices posted on the bulletin boards of neighborhood centers. These represent needs in the community. Job openings for women to work at a stated place of business indicate a potential demand for the same kinds of work done at home, like:

  1. typing and other office work
  2. telephone soliciting
  3. making surveys that don’t require a person-to-person interview
  4. dog training, cat-sitting, dog-walking
  5. preparing art layouts for publications, TV stations, and advertising firms
  6. writing advertising or publicity brochures
  7. retouching photographs
  8. making draperies, bedspreads, slipcovers, and curtains

It would be worth inquiring of the company that advertises, or of others, whether they have comparable work that you could do at home. Their job assignments would form the basis from which you could seek additional business.

How to Sell Unskilled Services

There are services that don’t demand special training or skills, such as baby-sitting, taking care of children in your home, or setting up a telephone-answering service. Usually inquiry of mothers with young children, or through the PTA or nursery schools, will bring you enough requests to start you off in the first two categories.

One of the earliest baby-sitting agencies was created by Mrs. Leonard Cole, who helped her husband several evenings a week in the administrative details of his small plant. Often she was handicapped when the baby sitter disappointed her.

The Coles lived in a new, but well-populated, area which housed many young families. Inventorying the population one day, Mrs. Cole discovered that there were a number of elderly ladies who could be drafted for baby sitting, but there was no central point where they could register or from where they could be reached. Other young couples did not know of the availability of all these ladies, right on their doorsteps, as it were.

By listing the couples with young children and the ladies who were willing to baby-sit, within weeks Mrs. Cole developed a small but thriving business, with requests for sitters so numerous she enlisted her eight old daughter, who could write down the name of the customer, the time when the service was needed, and proceed to call the sitters to fill the jobs.

Ten years later, the daughter went off to college on the money she helped her mother earn. Several needs had been fulfilled because one imaginative— and desperate—young woman who wanted to help her husband build up his business had enough resourcefulness to supply a service that created a demand.

Telephone Research

Telephone research is not quite the same as telephone soliciting. It usually involves some form of consumer research or data gathering. Opinion survey and market research organizations are potential employers, as are some big retailing establishments.

A telephone answering service calls for a small investment. The telephone company will advise you of operating details and costs. These are governed by the area you want to cover and the number of clients you could serve. To attract customers, send out notices to doctors, lawyers, dentists, sales men, contractors, plumbers—in other words, to people who operate a one-man business or office. Many of them contract to have their calls taken white they must be away from their places of business. Others would, too, if the business idea and its advantages were presented to them.

Does your neighborhood have a swap shop where bric-a-brac, china, books, pictures, engravings, and small articles of furniture are taken on consignment and either exchanged for other articles, or sold on commission?

Does your neighborhood have something like a dress exchange studio where people can sell clothes they have worn so little that they are practically new? What about a children’s clothes and toy swap?

This kind of shop, which can be set up in a room of your home, would accept only items that are practically new, are fresh from the cleaner’s no matter how little worn, and are consigned for sale or exchange simply be cause their owners no longer want them hanging uselessly in their closets.

Mothers might welcome a place where they could dispose of the garments their youngsters have outgrown, and find others to take their place less expensively than purchasing them new.

Office-type Work

Two things work for you in creating a good market for office-type skills— mostly secretarial. One is the shortage of good secretaries and typists; the other is the existence of a sizable pool of business and professional people, as well as students, who have only occasional need for service.

Traveling salesmen need reports and correspondence prepared; restaurants need their menus typed; authors and professional people, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations often engage the occasional secretary. Their needs may not be steady, nor even frequent, but theirs is often repeat business, and repeat business adds up to a steady clientele.

A home secretarial service can be expanded into a broader range of business services, including the making of address stencils, the keeping of mailing lists, duplicating, bookkeeping, etc. This type of home enterprise can be operated almost anywhere, but is of particular demand in small communities and in suburbs. On a full-time basis, in the heart of town, it would be similar to public stenography service.

The larger companies have their own departments to do this work. Smaller concerns and professional people farm it out to “letter services.” You could develop this as an adjunct to typing service, depending on the character and needs of your clients. Often very adequate equipment can be purchased at second hand as warranted by your expanding needs.

Before you solicit business…

Before you solicit business, find out the going rates charged by people performing such services. These should take into consideration the cost of purchasing and maintaining your equipment, your supplies, the value you place on your time and skill, and a fair profit. Charge a little less than shops that have to include expensive office and plant overhead, but don’t operate on a cut-rate basis.

As an inducement, inform your prospects that you are ready to turn out rush jobs. Most of your clients will be in a hurry, anyway.

Good quality is of the utmost importance. This includes the condition of the printer and general neatness. Review the rules set forth in a good secretarial manual. Each page should have adequate margin space. Erasures cannot be smudged. It is better to redo a page at your own expense than to present a customer with untidy work.

Advertise in all ways you can. In addition to sending announcements, run an ad regularly in the newspaper, post a notice on community bulletin boards, tell your friends and fellow club members, have notices printed in publications of local clubs and business and professional organizations. Re member that the appearance of your announcement will serve as an indication of the appearance of your work.

Needling That Is Different

The woman who can do plain sewing—alterations, mending, make buttonholes, buttons, and belts, run up simple outfits—can always set up shop in her home. Her compensation per job will be modest, since no great amount of know-how is involved. The compensation is much greater for the woman who is creative in her sewing and who aspires to render more than a service of convenience.

If you would develop your sewing ability into fine craftsmanship, you may need to take a course in tailoring techniques. If possible, take lessons in design, so that you can suggest changes that will individualize a pattern to your customer’s taste.

The exceptionally skilled dressmaker who turns out custom-made apparel is usually booked tip for weeks, even months. There are always clients

who prefer to have their clothes made from material of their own selection, under their supervision.

Dancing and Drama Schools

Dancing and drama schools need imaginative dressmakers to make costumes for their performances. So do amateur and semiprofessional groups. Also, your community may stage a festival or a masquerade.

Draperies, curtains, bedspreads, and slipcovers, made to the order of decorators, are often produced by home seamstresses. Home decorating sections of department stores farm out their sewing to home workers. It’s a field worth cultivating, even if you need a course to learn the professional points of the technique. Let decorators and stores know you are available, and use all the advertising means at your command to build up a private clientele.

There are many ways to apply your needle skill to producing the unusual and better-paying item. Run-of-the-mill sewing brings little demand.

Take monogramming, for example. Notice the higher prices that monogrammed articles command: household linens (sheets, tablecloths, napkins), men’s shirts and women’s blouses, shorts, sports attire, intimate apparel, children’s clothes, cloth bags—to name a few. In the cities the service can be obtained through department stores or from small shops that cater to sewing and needlework needs. If you don’t live in a city, the chances are that monogramming orders are not handled locally, and the field will be open for you.

A good way to start is to contact linen departments which are often queried by friends of brides-to-be. Or, on your own, look for notices of engagements and approach the mothers. Their daughters’ friends will be asking them for suggestions for the trousseaux.


Quilting is another unique service. Even large cities seldom have such a service. The comparatively few shops that restore family heirlooms, or quilt- to-order, receive work from all over the country.

Quality and dependability are musts. Redo the work at your own expense rather than risk a customer’s frown.

The supply of little girls who Took forward to receiving new dolls at Christmas and on birthdays is never-ending. With a little ingenuity in de sign, a doll can be exquisitely and uniquely dressed at little cost, since scraps of material can be used. Add the extra touch, a real leather belt, or a sequin-embroidered jacket, or dress your dolls in foreign costumes and try placing them on consignment with department stores and toy and children’s shops.

Mrs. Eugenia Courtright prided herself that the smocked frocks she made for her little girls always evoked admiration. As her daughters grew and vehemently expressed teen-age preference for store clothes, Mrs. Courtright addressed a short note to the young mothers in her church and organizations, advising that she would make smocked dresses and blouses for their little girls. It wasn’t long before she was filling orders for a children’s shop.

In a pleasant town in Connecticut, there are two sisters who have achieved world fame for their needlepoint, which started as a hobby. So great is the demand for their wares, they are frequently forced to declare moratoriums on new orders.

If you know how or can learn how to string beads (courses may be available at the “‘Y” or a vocational school), a visit to a few jewelers can keep you busy. Even Mrs. Van Rock doesn’t throw away her pearls when the nylon thread breaks!


Mrs. Carl Williams learned how to bind books in order to mend some old family volumes. As friends learned of her project, she received so many re quests she decided to set up shop.

Her promotion methods were selective and inexpensive. She approached the booksellers—the stores as well as the second-hand dealers—offering to bind one volume free for every ten customers they sent her. Whenever she was to be in a public place, at a meeting, a lecture or concert, or the library, she would carry a volume she had bound, just in case someone would ask about it. Someone usually did.

Few people can do this work. If you can, or can learn (again inquire at the dependable “Y” or a trade school, or look up a bindery worker to teach you), a little advertising should start your ‘phone ringing. Suggest your book-mending service as a Christmas or birthday present.

Modernizing Homes

Women with a flair for interior decoration have undertaken home re modeling. A knowledge of the latest methods and equipment used in home repair is necessary. The more enterprising add a course in home de sign and architecture, and go so far as to purchase tired houses and sell them after they have renovated and restored them.


If you are a camera fan and develop your own photos, you can take pictures of people in their homes. Children, especially, photograph best in familiar environment. Offer to watch the children at their regular play or pastimes and catch them in the natural poses that are especially endearing to parents. One home photographer has clients who schedule annual sessions, so that they have a growing record of their children through the years. A booklet of several shots should be promoted, instead of one set picture.


If your cooking enchants your friends and relatives, try your hand at catering. Attempt the small affairs for a start. You might be surprised at the number of women who prefer to have someone else prepare the food for these events, from hors d’oeuvre to dessert. Work up a few unusual dishes that can be prepared easily at your hostess’ home, should she prefer the cooking done in her kitchen. Of course you will prepare as much as possible beforehand. Whether the hostess does the marketing or leaves it to you, insist on the best quality of food. Keep your standards high.

Computer Programming and Web Designing

Did you know that some of the instant information that pours out of those imposing computing machines is often distilled from data fed into them by women who work in their own homes? Throughout the country electronics companies are engaging women for programming. At least one former college math whiz, Mrs. Elsie Shutt, of Massachusetts, has developed a small business which recruits home programmers, who left their jobs for mother hood, to work for a growing list of clients. Mrs. Shutt doesn’t wait for her programmers to raise their children to school age. They can even work while they are waiting for their babies to come. Thus, their skills are not allowed to rust.

Home programming is a bit different from other services, since the work is highly specialized and opportunities definitely dependent on the number of companies within reach that use electronics equipment. But the field is growing.

Teaching and Tutoring

Tutoring is an old stand-by for teachers. A regularly placed ad, listing the subjects in which you specialize, will no doubt bring you some pupils. In addition, speak to the principals of your schools and get yourself placed on their recommended list. Do likewise with a college, if there is a local one. While the weeks preceding exams will be peak periods, there are other opportunities which should be investigated.

Slow learners need supervised, individual help throughout the year. So do youngsters who need remedial reading.

So does the rapid learner, who, because of school conditions, cannot advance as fast as he is capable. Both his principal and parents might en courage some outside instruction to enable him to acquire new subjects or a deeper knowledge of prescribed school subjects. You might take on fast learners in a group.

Are there many foreigners in your town? If they knew of a sympathetic teacher, they might like to improve their English and become familiar with some of our literature.

Because crowded classrooms have increased the load on teachers, the Montgomery County (Maryland) high school system hires readers to correct pupils’ themes. The work is done at home. That’s an idea for your school system.

Bridge, millinery, dressmaking, and cooking classes are popular. But aim to be different.

Mrs. Peter Purcell, who learned to make her own clothes because her left hip is two inches higher than her right, holds regular dressmaking classes for other hard-to-fit ladies. Mrs. Albert Spencer holds regular sales of the hats her millinery pupils make.

If you would like to teach cooking…

If you would like to teach cooking, organize a homemakers’ course for brides, and another for women who want to add interest to their menus. You’d be astonished how many women don’t know how to blend flavors and seasonings, or use herbs, condiments, and wines. Offer to teach them how to prepare the dishes that famous hostesses serve. From time to time they are published in magazines. The library will have a number of books on the cooking of foreign countries. It will be fun for the capable cook to experiment with these recipes, even make some suitable changes and pass on the secrets.

Your classes might bring you a reputation as an expert and qualify you to write articles on cooking!

Most teachers of art and music specialize in young pupils. Many adults need only a bit of encouragement to take lessons. They merely want to put their leisure to creative purpose, to satisfy a yen they never had the time or means to satisfy before.

If you can teach instruments or any of the arts and crafts, let it be known that you will accept adult pupils—indeed, specialize in them. Whether you teach individually or to groups, occasionally bring all your pupils together for a discussion on history and appreciation. It will add to their interest— and to your reputation.

Selling Your Product

Take This Test:

If you are going to try to make money from your own product, can you answer ‘Yes” to the following questions:

  • Is there sufficient demand?
  • Will the net return cover expenses?
  • Will family demands permit your working at home?
  • Do you know the best markets for your wares?
  • Do you have the persistence—or courage—to override setbacks?
  • Does your product have the unique quality which will attract customers—in other words, does it fill or create a need?

With machines turning out the finest type of merchandise, if a home product is to go over, it will not he due to its being homemade, but rather, handmade with the finest craftsmanship. It must have that special quality that sets it apart from what can be produced in quantity.

Other Women Have Been Successful

Eleanor Finch, of Clinton, Connecticut, had to build a shop on her grounds to turn out the orders for her famous hand print gift wrappings. Her great originality, revealed in her titled designs and color combinations, gives a tone to these handcrafted wrappings that must make the recipient of the gift feel regarded as a person of distinctive taste. Decorators use Finch prints for panel coverings.

When Mrs. George Upton hit on the idea of putting holes in her ceramic vases and bowls for intriguing flower arrangements, she found herself in business.

In the mountains of North Carolina, a group of women have created a nation-wide market for their preserves. They promote them as a handcraft product of the Appalachian Mountains. They are indeed. The berries and fruits grow wild or are cultivated in mountain gardens, and are cooked the old-fashioned way, slowly, in open pans. No pectin is added.

There are other excellent preserves. These have an added appeal because of the quality of the advertising. Each package contains a slip telling how the jams are prepared and relates a bit about the history of the region. The customer feels she is purchasing a jar of Americana.

If you feel your product will attract the impersonal customer, if you can develop effective selling procedures and create a real demand, you may in time build up a business that will not only engage your full attention, but may also furnish jobs for others.

Take Your First Steps

Make a list of your creative skills and aptitudes. Check your ability in fancy cooking and baking, in ceramics, needlework, and weaving, in making jewelry, in arranging flowers, in art and writing. These, of course, are merely suggestions. Your own experience may not include them, but may include others.

Having decided what you can best do, your next step is to scout the market. Naturally you will begin on the smallest scale, in your own locality. Where can you display your product to attract the greatest number of potential customers? How can you best promote it? By advertising, a personal letter or postcard to friends and acquaintances, exhibiting it at club meetings, telephone solicitation, or by starting with the people you know and asking them for referrals?

Prepare the most attractive packaging and labels. If the product has an interesting history, write it up and include it.

Taking Advantage of Fads

Should you launch your product to take advantage of a current fad, keep close tabs on the situation and retrench as soon as you sense the market is subsiding.

Mrs. Clinton McCloy’s parakeets win her many trophies at exhibits. Once she raised and trained them in quantity for sale and breeding purposes, When the fashion for parakeets grew to the point where it was profitable for commercial importers to bring in cheaper varieties from other countries, Mrs. McCloy’s more expensive, pedigreed birds could not compete in the market, and she withdrew. What had been for a few years a profitable business became merely a satisfying hobby.

A Unique “Left-over” Jewelry Business

Not always will the product you make turn out right for selling. Then, in order to recoup your loss, your ingenuity might find a means for using the imperfect item to good advantage.

Mrs. William Nicklas, who makes jewelry, works at creating a market for supplies and items that can’t he sold as she originally intended.

Her jewelry has an especial appeal because she and her husband are “rock hounds” and search out stones of unusual coloring, stripes, and markings. Most of their stones come from distant parts of the globe, and often they commission traveling friends to procure them in quantity on the spot.

Some of the stones they thus receive, because of size, shape, or thick ness, are unsuitable for the necklaces, key rings, bracelets, pins, earrings, cuff links, tie tacks that Mrs. Nicklas makes. Rather than cut them up and risk damaging them, since they already are tumbled to a smooth polish, she puts them up singly in small gift boxes and sells them as touchstones. Each box contains a legend relating that as far back as antiquity, touchstones have been fingered and rubbed for good luck, or for their tranquilizing effect. The orders for the touchstones sometimes outstrip the sales of jewelry!

Happening to read how the method of fried marbles was accidentally discovered, Mrs. Nicklas, too, roasted a pan of ordinary marbles, plunged them into ice water, and found herself with a highly saleable jewelry item.

However, the marbles that did not fry cooperatively posed a problem which she resolved by gluing them to floral bases for decoration. Their jeweled tones made attractive table decorations and created a first-class demand for rejects!

Be Businesslike

Maintain your enterprise on a businesslike basis, Keep records and pay your bills promptly, not only for good credit but to take advantage of time discounts.

Don’t go deeply into debt. Operate on a small scale until you feel comfortable about the risk of expansion. Let the market dictate your slowly in creasing investment.

Check state and local regulations for licensing or protective measures they may require.

Keep your standards always high, and aim for the customer who appreciates the creative and artistic, whether it be a blueberry pie or hand wrought silver. The need is special, but it is there.

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