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2010 is shaping up to become the year of the “homepreneur” — the term used to describe proprietors of home-based enterprises — and it’s little wonder why. With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering around 9.5 percent, starting up a business and regaining control of one’s destiny sounds mighty appealing these days.
According to data from the Small Business Success Index, there are more than 15 million home-based businesses in the U.S. alone. Perhaps of greater interest to prospective homepreneurs, approximately 6.6 million of these businesses bring in at least half of their owners’ household income.
For all the benefits of running a home-based enterprise (no boss, no commute, setting your own hours, and so on), working and living under the same roof can be a culture shock if you’re used to the brick-and-mortar office environment. Whether you’re thinking of launching a business from home, or you’re already a successful homepreneur, here are some insider tips for surviving and thriving:
1. Define your space. Considering you’re going to be spending the majority of your waking hours there, putting together your actual workspace needs to be a primary consideration. “You need a door that closes — that’s most important,” says Scott Hornstein, who’s run his direct marketing consultancy, Hornstein Associates, out of his Redding, Conn., home for the past 12 years. “Then, for me, a window. I’m not looking anymore to recreate an office environment in a home, but a comfortable living space whose primary purpose is my work productivity.” In addition, you may want to find a room that doesn’t have any flow-through traffic, says Elizabeth Fairleigh, a 15-year homepreneur veteran who owns the Atlanta-based public relations firm thE Connection. “Make sure you have proper lighting, and a quality desk and chair that supports your back,” she adds.
2. Set your priorities. Of course, even the most expertly put-together home office won’t do you much good if it isn’t treated like, well, a real office. When you set your own schedule, time management and maximizing productivity can prove especially challenging. “I use ACT! [contact management software] to keep me on task with to-dos for each day, week and month,” says Fairleigh. “Not everything is high priority. It’s important to be able to determine what needs to be done that day, and what can roll over to tomorrow.” Setting boundaries with family members during working hours can also take some doing. “My two toughest issues were with my kids, when they were very young, and with my dog,” says Hornstein. “You’ve got to loosen up. The kids know that when the door is closed, it is not to be opened. But if something so overwhelmingly wonderful has just happened, or there’s a boo-boo, c’mon in.”
3. Call in the cavalry. As a homepreneur, you may be master of your domain, but that doesn’t always mean you’re an expert in every aspect of running a business. Be it finance, human resources or marketing, there’s bound to be an essential area where you can benefit from outside resources and expertise. “I outsource my payroll to a service,” says Fairleigh. “It’s worth every penny not to have to deal with this end of the business every month, and my records are professional.” On the flip side, you don’t have to hire a design agency to get high-quality marketing materials. You can save a lot of time and money by using the professional templates already on hand. “Creating business cards, letterhead, custom brochures and the like has never been easier,” says Randy Scarborough, vice president of marketing for FedEx Office. “Whether you prefer an in-person or online customer experience, there’s a vast array of design and printing options available at a reasonable price point.”
4. Meet and greet. Face-to-face meetings with clients can be a point of contention for homepreneurs, many of whom worry a home office won’t convey a professional-looking setting. “I almost always meet clients at their facility or at a coffee shop,” says Fairleigh. “I have had clients at my home office, but it’s not my preference.” But Hornstein sees things another way. “I do not hide and don’t make excuses for my home office, and my clients are very welcome,” he says. “I’ve had extremely productive sessions on the porch, in the living room or across the dining room table.”
Jeremy Cohen is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editor and writer. He has more than a decade of experience in consumer and trade magazine publishing, most recently as managing editor of Sales & Marketing Management. Follow him on Twitter @jeremy_cohen.
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