In the dense neighborhoods and suburbs of Mexico City (such as Ciudad Neza or Coacalcos) I’ve often been intrigued by the variety of home based businesses that families — often the mother — operate. Some make paletas — ice creams and popsicles — to sell on the street or from a door in front of their house. Others roast chickens or grill hot dogs. Some sell school supplies, or sodas, or cel phone usage, or baby clothes.
Their entrepreneurial imagination is almost limitless. The large numbers of people living nearby creates a steady market. This is often the primary income for a family, or a reliable second income.
In US and Canadian cities and suburbs, opportunities for home based businesses have generally been fewer. Try opening an ice cream stall in your suburban home — there is not enough of a market. Selling Tupperware or Avon products exists, but generally requires the entrepreneur to visit houses.
The internet age has opened new employment opportunities for suburbanites, city dwellers, and rural residents alike. For parents — particularly women — wanting to spend more time with the kids while also earning some income and maintaining a professional identity, it has been a revolution in many ways.
However, there are limits to internet-based employment. Only certain types of work lend themselves to being done by one person in relative isolation. Some freelance writing and web site design, for example, can work from home. Contracted out data entry or information processing offers other options and many women sell hand-made products on e-Bay. But many of these businesses would benefit from face-to-face meetings with clients as well.
And what if these are not your areas of expertise?
The combination of higher density living and the internet results in much broader opportunities for home based businesses. And the internet can be valuable as a supportive medium. Here are some examples.
- The fit4two pre- and post-natal fitness company’s founder, Melanie Osmack, started the business offering fitness classes for moms to be, new moms (and new parents) in downtown Vancouver where 100,000 people live in close proximity. Word of the classes helped to generate demand throughout the metro area and Melanie soon franchised to other moms with fitness instructor designations in other neighborhoods. She was a recent runner up in a contest for Mompreneur of the year. Fit4two uses the internet to promote their programs, but is based on access to lots of people living in close proximity.
- Children’s clothing stores and family-oriented cafes are retail style businesses that some women have opened just blocks from their homes. Being the boss at these retail business allows a parent to set their own hours and in some cases it works to have a young child in the store with you while you work.
- The makers of the Baby Buddha wraps and Milk Factory quick wick clothing and blankets initially sold their first products locally, through word of mouth and at “baby fairs” and swap meets. They now sell nationwide and internationally using the internet.
A great way to have access to a large number of customers or people with whom to do business is to live in a higher density area. You can always use the internet as well. But people like to do business with others whom they know.
Women in the US and Canada are starting businesses in large numbers (as Penelope Trunk often tells us), often to bring flexibility to their lives. Whether the intend to use the internet or not, those living in higher density areas with a supportive community will often have an advantage in making their venture a success.