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DECEMBER 8, 1999

AZRIELA JAFFE

The Entrepreneur's Recipe for Success: Do What You Love
How one woman melded an old passion for cooking with new Web skills


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The following two questions rate among the top 10 I get from readers, and they're really related. One is: "I want to stay home with my kids, but I have to work. Can you recommend a way for me to make a living from home?" The other is: "Can you tell me what's the hot business to be in these days?" First, working from home isn't a panacea for the problem of balancing work and family. It can be very hard financially.You'll still need child care, even if you're not making much money. And as the second question implies, when you don't have your heart in creating a business, it's hard to know where to start.

First, forget about launching a "hot business." That kind of thinking lays you open to scamsters who are always eager to sell get-rich-quick schemes to the home-based set. The real first questions to ask are: What do I know? What do I like to do? And is there a market for this?

Following those precepts got reader Anne Cerva, from Freeland, Mich., off on the right foot when she decided to work from home. Here's her edited story:

"I am 32 years old, and I have two kids, Chloe, 9, and Griffin, 3, both of whom I'm schooling at home this year. My husband, Joel, works as a CAD designer for a General Motors subcontractor. I have worked since I was a preteen — as a babysitter, at fast-food restaurants, as a grocery-chain cashier, travel agent, flagger for a construction company, bartender, waitress and, most recently, as a 'ramprat,' loading luggage and directing the pilots on the ramp for Northwest Airlines. That was my favorite job. I got to travel free, and the work was exhilarating — though hard. "I had to quit when I became pregnant, and I decided to stay home with the kids. I always wanted to work on my own terms, but it took a while to find something that I really enjoy. I do Web design, I write for magazines, and I do a weekly column for my local newspaper on the Internet. Here's what really clicked for me: I have become a 'guide' at About.com, an online community with sub-sites run by people with knowledge in a special area. Mine is on the topic of French cuisine (frenchfood.about.com)."

SKEPTICAL. Anne had worked in France as an au pair when she was 20, and French cooking had become her hobby. She saw the possibilities of marrying her Web skills and her cooking skills when she saw a notice about becoming an About.com guide on the subject. About.com helped her set up her own Web site within its structure, training her on the technical tricks of running an Internet site. She now writes weekly articles and a newsletter, updates recipes, and hosts chats and forums on French cuisine. Guides receive a portion of the About.com site's ad revenues, depending on their traffic. They may also receive a monthly stipend, according to the site's information for guides.

Anne's budding online career is noteworthy in one respect in particular: She bought her first computer less than two years ago. Her husband was skeptical about getting it at first, thinking they'd never use it for anything but video games. Well, he underestimated his wife. She taught herself Web design with online tutorials and books. Anne started with what she knew, French cooking, and paired it with new technical skills — a classic entrepreneurial recipe. Just add determination and simmer.



Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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