If you’ve ever felt like your calling was to start a business, what’s held you back? Perhaps your credit isn’t good enough for a business loan. Maybe you aren’t sure your idea would attract investors, or even customers for that matter. Or maybe you simply feel like your life is too busy as it is to seriously pursue a business idea.
Whatever your reasons for postponing your dream, consider this a wake up call: starting a business in your garage, home office, or spare bedroom is completely feasible, and it doesn’t necessarily take a huge investment of either time or money. Countless full-time employees and stay-at-home parents use what free time they have to work on a passion project, and for many of them it becomes their full-time gig. Women especially are often burdened by family responsibilities and societal expectations, yet 36% of all the small businesses in the world are owned by women. No matter who you are, you can start filling your free time with something that excites you, from fine arts to dog training, and eventually build a business out of it.
Amazon and Google were famously started in a garage. But you may not have known that Microsoft, Mattel, and even Disney were started in their founders’ garages as well. Who knows? By starting a business in your garage right now, your own company might be the next big name on that list. Whether you’ll need employees and a fleet service or you’re a solo operation, this article will take you through every major step in the process of starting a business in your garage.
Choosing a Business Idea
Business ideas are as varied and diverse as types of hose clamps. Some business ideas are better suited for your home or garage than others. For example, starting a practice as a doctor or lawyer would technically be launching your own business, but it wouldn’t give you much credibility to work from a shed in your backyard.
Of course, if you were a doctor or lawyer you probably wouldn’t be reading about starting a business in your garage. Still, when considering different business ideas, remember to think about what you would need in terms of space, and what your ideal customers would expect to see. Obviously if you were starting a little bicycle repair shop, having your garage as a base of operations would make perfect sense. But even in an industry like marketing or graphic design, you could get an unexpected boost from operating in an unorthodox venue like a garage: people have come to equate garage startups with revolutionary ideas and rebellion against convention. For the right clients, operating from your garage could be an attractive sign to them that you aren’t afraid of bold ideas. Even a land development company could have its beginnings in a garage.
However, the most important thing when starting a business is to choose something you’ll enjoy. This comes down to two things: long-term mission and present enjoyment. If you’re starting a company to revolutionize an industry and change the world, that vision might be enough by itself to keep you going. On the other hand, if you’re starting a little home business doing something you genuinely enjoy, it doesn’t have to be world-changing — all it needs is to pay the bills and keep you engaged.
The ideal scenario is to find a business idea with visionary, world-changing implications that you also enjoy in the moment. But this is by no means necessary, and it’s certainly not right for everyone. Some people are simply stressed out by such profound aspirations. But your business still needs to be one you’ll enjoy running, at least once it takes off. If you’re going to do something you don’t like, you might as well get a job and work up the corporate ladder. Starting a business in your garage is a rare opportunity to redefine your life on your own terms. Be sure and make the most of it.
Check Local Zoning Laws
Once you’ve come up with a business idea to bring to life in your garage, it’s time to lay the groundwork of ensuring your idea will actually work. The first part of this is making sure it’s actually legal for you to start this business in your home.
For most people and business ideas, this probably won’t be a problem. As we mentioned above, countless individuals run entire businesses from home, whether they’re freelancing or running an online drop-shipping store. But depending on where you live, businesses that require customers to actually come to your property could be a different story. Whether your business idea is virtual or based on in-person interaction, it’s still a good idea to check with a reputable lawyer to make sure you won’t risk breaking any laws.
Before you invest any more time or money into your business idea, familiarize yourself with the zoning ordinances in your city. Your local council or municipal office can give you the information you need to know if starting a business from your home is acceptable.
Write a Business Plan
So far you have a general idea of what you want your business to be, and you’ve done the research to verify that it’s legal to operate such a business in your home. Now it’s time to further establish your business idea and turn it into a comprehensive business plan.
This may sound tedious and unnecessary, but it’s really very important. Too many people rush into business with a half-formed idea, only to be disappointed when they don’t attract clients or they run out of money. This is one reason why the percentage of failed businesses is so high compared to the number of successful ones: most people simply don’t know what they’re doing.
The good news is, by doing your research and planning ahead of time, you’re dramatically increasing your chances of success.
There are two critical things to remember during the planning phase: first of all, it’s okay if your plan and business change down the road. Amazon may have started out as an online bookstore, but now they sell everything. Second, don’t be afraid to start small. In fact, if your business idea is particularly far-reaching and visionary, it would be in your best interests to break it down into its simplest possible form for starting out. Again, Amazon became a store that sold everything over time. Whether that was ever their plan or not, they probably wouldn’t have been successful if they’d tried to do everything right out of the gate.
This leads us to an important concept in the world of business: your MVP, or minimum viable product (or offer). A minimum viable product is like a test product to show people what your business plans to do, and it’s usually a stripped-down, basic version of your flagship product or service. A minimum viable product for a home bakery might be two or three recipes, as opposed to an entire menu. If you want to start a one-stop marketing agency, your minimum viable service might be graphic design and copywriting, with other services provided later as you acquire clients and expand your staff.
An MVP doesn’t even have to be an independent, fully-functioning product. It could simply be a prototype or demo product, demonstrating the major features of your final product or service without actually performing those functions. An example of this would be the first FitBit prototype, made to visually and effectively demonstrate how the product would work to supporters of its Kickstarter project. The prototype was little more than a plastic husk in the basic shape of the final product, but it got its point across so that people knew it was worth supporting.
There are two main reasons why minimum viable products are used by startups: first, because MVPs don’t require nearly as much time or money to produce as fully-realized offers. This means you’ll find out quickly if a business works or not before dedicating two years and your life’s savings to it. Second, it gives you an easy way to implement customer and client feedback in your finished product or service. If you created an entire service business or product line without first testing your ideas on real-life clients and customers, making changes afterwards would be more difficult. By getting user feedback early on, you’ll not only find out whether the idea is worth pursuing in the first place: you’ll also learn exactly what the market wants, all before committing your entire budget to the idea.
Even if your business idea isn’t a new product or software service, coming up with MVP ideas is still an important part of starting a business in your garage. Your business plan should include several different ideas for what form your minimum viable offer might take. Think about what aspects of your product or service are most important to your overall business idea. Ask yourself what functions people are most likely to want to see, and which ones they wouldn’t mind doing without at first.
Your plan for starting a business in your garage should also describe how much money you’ll need to get started; how you’ll market your business and offer; what your major business goals will be; and a basic timeline for reaching those business goals and milestones. If you’ll need to hire employees or outsource certain tasks, define what these jobs are and when it will become necessary to hire help. As a side note, you should try to do as much as you can by yourself until you’ve proven that your offer is a profitable idea.
Making a plan for your business, especially where marketing is concerned, is incredibly important to your success. However, it’s also a subject too vast to properly communicate in a single article. For a comprehensive introduction to entrepreneurship and an effective guide to business planning, read the book The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. If your ultimate goal is to create a company that significantly impacts an industry or aspect of society, you should also pick up the book Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. These two books probably contain the most important information you need to know when you’re starting a business in your garage.
Think About Your Workspace, Security, and Insurance
Of course, we can’t talk about starting a business in your garage without giving some attention to the garage itself. From aluminum components to windows, your garage may need significant attention before it’s safe or secure enough to operate from. Not only that, but you may need an additional insurance policy just for your business, particularly if it involves having customers or clients meet you at your home.
If you’re doing graphic design, welding, or some other work that involves specialized, expensive equipment, the security of your garage should be a major priority. First of all, you should hire a garage door technician to inspect your door to ensure it’s working and in good condition. You should also have your garage door reinforced, or a special heavy-duty door installed, to prevent robbers or vandals from doing damage to your home or expensive equipment. Consumer garage doors are more vulnerable than you might realize, so if you’re storing costly equipment in your garage or letting people know where your business operates, it will probably need some upgrades.
You should also work on the security of your entire garage and home, especially if you’re having customers come to do business in person. Sensors and alarms should be set up in vulnerable places such as windows. Commercial door hardware should be used to reinforce the strength and security of your doors.
While you’re at it, check your home for any storm damage and other areas where repairs are needed.
You should also think about the quality of insulation in your garage. You’re going to need heating and air conditioning contractors to make it climate-controlled, but a good first step is to add additional insulation to the attic and block up any holes.
While you’re thinking about your workspace, consider where you and any employees you have will go for breaks. When and if you have employees, you might not want them tramping into the house for every meal or bathroom break; on the other hand, you may not want to leave the garage if you’re working by yourself. Installing a fridge and kitchen countertops can improve working conditions for you and anyone working for you.
Finally, don’t forget to talk to your insurance agent to find out if you need additional coverage for your business. You may want to work with a different insurance company to cover business-related risks.
Starting a business in your garage is harder than simply getting a job, but it’s immensely rewarding, and before long you’ll be allowed to set your own hours and outsource most of your work to other people. From coming up with your business idea to buying insurance, keep these tips in mind while you’re starting a business in your garage.