Web-Based_Home-Based Business Distinctions Blurred

Starting a home-based business (HBB) is not a novel idea since many successful businesses of past years originated in the home and their owners were forced to acquire more space as the business grew larger. Businesses like Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company all started out as home-based businesses and, according to the U.S. Small Business Association, more than half of all U.S. Businesses today are based out of an owner’s home.

The traditional home-based business has evolved but what make today’s HBB launches different as compared to the era during which Henry Ford decided to launch his Ford Motor Company (known today as simply Ford) home-based business is the Internet and all the technology, tools and equipment associated with it.

The Hershey Company (Hershey’s), didn’t have an Internet connection back in 1894 when founder Milton S. Hershey started the company in his home; neither did Mary Kay Cosmetics (currently Mary Kay, Inc.) for the original launch back in 1963 but, rest assured, both companies are connected today and have their own unique Web spaces (company websites).

The companies mentioned above and many others have seen enormous growth and extraordinary success after having been launched as a HBB business without the aid of modern-day tools and equipment made possible by the rapid growth of the Internet and technological developments, including the aforementioned computer, software, and other digital tools. So this begs the question: Have the traditional home-based business evolved into a Web-based business?

In attempting to answer this question, we must first acknowledge the one explicitly clear factor that tend to blur the distinction between home-based business and a Web-based (or Internet-based) business, and that is the desire for most business owners to strive for maximum exposure for their business, thereby creating for them an attraction to the vast Internet marketplace. If we can agree that all home-based businesses need the Web, is it the same as saying that this need transform them to Web-based businesses?

Jim McConnon, Extension business and economics specialist at the University of Maine wrote in his Starting a Business in Your Home: Weighing the Pros and Cons article that “types of home-based businesses range from service-oriented child care businesses to product-oriented craft outlets.” And he goes on to say that other examples of home-based businesses “…include: farming, catering, specialty mail-order, home horticulture, computer software consulting, woodworking and bed and breakfast establishments.” Accepting this without dispute, can we therefore conclude that any of these businesses need Web exposure? Or do they all?

Since a farmer does not require an office in the downtown business district or the city in which s/he does business, is it not reasonable to state that the business website – assuming one exists – transforms this traditional home-based business into a Web-based business? Since this business is represented to the public in only two spaces (office in the home and site on the Web), this home-based business is therefore also a Web-based business.

But where is most of the activity, customers and sales volume for this business generated? If your answer is from the Web, then maybe this home-based business must be considered a Web-based business first and home-based business will be a secondary designation.

What’s your opinion? Is your business Web-based? Home-based? Both?

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