Starting a Home Business

Posted: January 26, 1999 by Chuck Matthews in Planning, Startup

Classic Cincinnati Post column from 1999

The ribbon of headlights and taillights sparkle in the pre-dawn light forming a dazzling luminary landscape. The beauty is fleeting as reality sinks in you are stuck in traffic and you are going to be late for work as the morning rush hour has slid to a slippery halt on the ice encrusted roadway. The single digit temperature is only making matters worse and the gas gauge is hovering near the big red “E” which now stands for “eieeeeeeÉ”

There’s nothing like the sound of ice pelting a window to prompt us to make a change, perhaps starting a home-based business and skipping the drive. After all, a 40-foot commute from your bedroom to your office via the kitchen is infinitely more inviting than the 40 minute bumber-to-bumber commute via the slightly misnomered expressway.

If you have or are thinking of starting a home business, you are not alone. It has been estimated that entrepreneurs operate close to 30 million home-based businesses and that almost 45% of U.S. households support some type of home-based business activity. It is one of the fastest growing segments in the economy, with some estimates as high as 200 home business starts a day. Estimates suggest that 85% of these starts are still going strong after three years.

Here are five tips for getting your home-based business off to a strong start.

Do your homework. While the lure of avoiding the morning marathon is powerful, it is not a sufficient enough reason alone to start a home-based business. You need to do some research on the market size, growth potential, and your ability to deliver your goods and/or services from your home environment before you launch. Hit the library for some market data and contact you local government offices to determine what zoning restrictions may be of concern. Determine what equipment you will need to meet the needs of your customers. Technology, especially computer technology, has enabled even the smallest home business to cast as big a shadow as any Fortune 500 company. Determine how you can use it to your best advantage.

Go to work! The kids are off to school; your spouse has gone the commuter route (mentioning something about wanting to talk to you about co-preneuring); the dog walked; and the kitchen tidied-up. Time to kick back and watch TV. Wrong! It’s time to go to work. Select and protect a location in your home that is exclusively devoted to your business. It doesn’t have to be large, but it should be efficient. Clients may have to visit your “office” so a professional atmosphere is a must. Dress casually, but professionally. Be nice but firm with friends and neighbors that this is your work time. Establish and discuss your work rules with your family. One of the advantages of working from home is being able to spend more time with your family, but there has to be some ground rules on interruptions or chaos will reign.

Focus. This is difficult from two perspectives: the business and the environment. From a business perspective, avoid trying to be all things to all people. While a home-based business may have technology advantage on its side, growth must me managed. Focus your growth on your customer group. Even more distracting, all the things in your home you know you need to do the laundry, repairs, paying bills, running errands, etc. Avoid the temptation to sneak away to do these chores. See number two above. Manage the phone, don’ let it manage you.

Network. Isolation can be a problem for home-business owners. You still need to get out and network with suppliers, customers, and other business owners. Join the local chamber of commerce many have programs geared for small, entrepreneurial, and family owned ventures. Also, develop a professional support network that includes an accountant, lawyer, and banker. Remember, you have a business to run and you will need professional advice when it comes to tax considerations, contracts, and zoning variances if required.

Enjoy! Having family nearby, self-fulfillment, and the personal and financial rewards are yours for the effort. A home-based business isn’ for everyone, but if the idea of creating a work environment that supports your lifestyle is more appealing than a creating a lifestyle that supports your work environment, a home business venture may be in your future.

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