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Front Page » July 29, 2010 » Business Journal » Working toward home base
Published 1,462 days ago

Working toward home base


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

It's a big decision to spend time working at home. It has its good points and its pitfalls.

There is no one to blame but yourself if things go bad with it. It's not for everybody, but then everyone can succeed if the have the grit to do it.

It, is starting a home based business.

Take it from someone who has failed and succeeded (well to a certain extent) with home based businesses. Startung and maintaining one is not easy, especially if you are going to jump into it full time without any other means of support.

In a sense, starting a full time home business is like jumping in the deep end of the pool without knowing how deep it is and with very few swimming lessons. And, oh yes, with no life preserver in sight.

I thought I was ready when I did it because I had run three part time businesses out of my house. I had a list of clients, a lot of experience doing what I was going to do and had a pretty good business plan.

What I didn't have was much forsight and very little working capital. I knew from the beginning it would be a hand to mouth endeavor with my wifes full time job supplying just enough money to keep us afloat until I could reach the golden clouds. I gave myself two years, it took four. Then after that the job was keeping it going. I got tired at six years; tired of nasty clients, tired of answers from customers that said yes and really meant no; tired of travel, sometimes up to four weeks a month with stretches away from home that lasted as much as 32 days, tired of no sick leave, no vacation, no one to really help me. I finally got so tired I took a job with a company and here I am today.

I wasn't a failure at my business, but I wasn't the success I had envisioned either. Maybe the dream melded into too many trips to Chicago and Boston or maybe the grit wore off so I was left with no protection from the real world of commerce.

For those starting a business, based at home, this may all sound negative. But really it isn't, because I look back on those six years between 1994 and 2000 as a great time in my life. I learned more about myself and others than I ever knew before that. It also gave me greater confidence than I had ever had before. I knew I could survive if I had to. Afterwards I knew I could make a go of it no matter what the odds. While I had not discovered material wealth, I had discovered myself, a person I trusted and liked more than I had before. A person on who I could totally rely.

The pluses being in a home based business are mixed with the negatives. One always seems to beget the other. For instance, spending time with your loved ones when you want to can mean working late into the night or maybe even through the night. Sometimes you get up to work so early that the clocks in the house are asleep.

One of the biggest drawbacks I found was the loneliness. You can only bounce ideas off your 10 year old for so long or bore your work weary spouse who wants to you to succeed until they are crazy. You have no one to sympathize with as you as you did in the regular workforce. You can't gripe about the boss because he (or she) is you.

And family emergencies? They always come up when you have the most important trip of the year planned or a client you have to deal with that is being most difficult. You have no one to cover for you, but you.

And if you think your boss questions your excuses for missing work, an appointment or a meeting, clients are much harder on you, especially if they are paying you for your time. During one stretch in my business, I had a grand son who was born very ill and was in ICU at the University of Utah Hospital for two weeks. Right about the time he was born I had a trip scheduled to do a job for a client in Maine. When I called and explained they seemed fine about the situation. In a few days he was out of the woods, so I flew to Portland and started the job. Unfortunately I worked for them only one time despite years of toiling to get the account. They treated me poorly while I was there and one of the principals that hired me, and had claimed he was a good family man to me time and time again during the sales process, even said to me, "There was no excuse for not showing up on time.You're lucky we had you come at all."

Problem is, when you are in business for yourself and you are trying to build it to the point where it will sustain itself, you need every piece of business you can get, even that from the complainers, nasties and idiots.

If you have already built a reputation in the business you are pursuing while working somewhere else, you can only run the business model so long on that previous construct; sooner or later you need to prove your own enterprise, often time and time again.

You have to do whatever it takes to stay afloat. While your time may be valuable during the building process, detours can and often do occur. If you have other skills or experience, often people will approach you to do other things to make money; temporary jobs that can help pay the bills during the early years. Diversification can be good, but you must also keep your goal in sight because it is easy to get pulled away, to get lured into sure money while you struggle to keep your business dreams above water.

So who does well in a self made business? Successful entrepreneurs seek more than just to be in business for themselves. The motivation to run it doesn't come from someone looking over their shoulder. They also commit to doing anything it takes to succeed. Hard work is second nature to them. Task completion is more important than the hours a person puts in on a project. There will be times when large checks come in and times when expected money does not show up for weeks. It's a two sided coin. Entrepreneurs are cautious and realize tha the good times are temporary and the bad times show up much more often. They keep energy, grit and money in reserve.

Organization becomes key; organized presentations, organized finances, organized habits. A good home based business owner keeps meticulous records. The less good you are at these things, the less chance your business will have at succeeding.

Finally there is the thing that causes so many businesses to fail. A money shortage.

A good business plan should address capitalization. I was under capitalized when I took my part time business full time and I paid a price for it. The price was marketing. In retrospect, I had to limit my marketing dollars so much that it restrained my growth. In the business I was in many of my clients came from word of mouth. But to really grow it to the point of what I thought would be success I needed more than that. Unfortunately I never got there because I couldn't send everyone that was on my purchased contact list materials to let them know about me. The reason? I didn't have the money to print it or the postage to send it out.

Money can also cripple what you can do once you are offered contracts. I was actually offered jobs that required me to put money up front to produce materials, travel and perform my skills with a client. They were always willing to pay for it, but many had rules about up front payments. This restricted me from taking on some very good clients. At one point I was offered a job in London, England, but I needed to front all my expenses. I just couldn't swing it and so lost a wonderful opportunity not only to gain a good client but to travel to Europe as well.

Well there are some of the pitfalls. A cautionary tale from someone who succeed to a point. Advice? Well here is what I learned through both doing things right and wrong.

*In the beginning only spend money on what you actually need to spend money on. If you can work from an old kitchen table in your garage and get away with it, do it. Depending on your business, if you can put on a good public face without a fancy desk or the latest and greatest in electronics, do it. Start out meager and work your way up. I often felt if I couldn't afford to buy it and pay cash, then I wouldn't do it.

*Your commitment to money matters must be extreme. If there is something you really need to make your dream business come true, you may need to sacrifice something you want or even something you already have to get it. I had little money for the full time start up, but needed a good copy machine in the worst way. Consequently, much of my childhood comic book collection was sold off to buy a black and white copier. Sacrifice in the beginning can beget success.

*Your business plan should include room for credit because there may very well be things you need that you can't get by selling the family jewels or grandmas antique sewing machine. If you have lousy credit, consider doing some credit repair before beginning the business. Stay away from high priced finance packages that will indebt you for years to business you know you will work hard to get, but may never attain.

*Have a talk with your family about how things will be. Just because you are home doesn't mean you are always available. Being available may actually be one of the reasons you want a home business, and that is okay, but set parameters. It's easy to get pulled away by things that seem important at the time in your personal life, but add nothing to your business plan.

*Depending on the business, have set hours of work each day. But also understand that there will be days when big or special projects come in that require commitment well beyond those hours. Family members need to understand that too.

*Make sure you have a sound business plan and follow it. Don't make changes to your basic plan to accomodate how you feel one day or another. Set priorities and keep them. If the ovarally business climate changes for some reason, revamp your plan.

*Stick with your core product or service. Get it going well first before you decide to expand to something else. Perfect what you have before moving on to new things.

*Review the business goals that should be in your plan at least monthly. Plan for future goals too. But don't make any of them too steep to climb all at once; take a bite at a time.

*Take advantage of training that is available on how to run a small or start up business. Most of us have ideas, but trust to those that have expertise in the matter. Locally the small business development center can help start up busineses in many ways.

*Set aside a little time for joy each day. While running your own business may be a dream that will free you from a traditional job, that can't be all the motivation for doing it. You need to have a reason to live beyond work, and believe me work in this circumstance can take over your life.

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July 29, 2010
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