By: Eric Giltner, Senior Area Manager
Grand Forks Area Office
North Dakota District Office
People often dream of being able to own a business run out of their home. They long for the independence and flexibility offered by being a home-based entrepreneur. They imagine this wonderful, profitable life without long commutes, annoying co-workers, demanding and unreasonable bosses, and the constraints of a “time” card. While a home-based business can eliminate all of the aforementioned and many other distasteful aspects of working for someone else, it does come with unique perils and problem areas. What a successful home-based entrepreneur needs is a plan for success – one separating the elements of living at home from the serious task of running a business.
A home-based business plan should include the following control elements: a time management strategy, the setting of “work” hours, the formulation of a space usage plan, a personal networking plan, and preparing your family to communicate with customers in your absence. Once these areas are addressed the home-based business should have an appropriate framework to compete in the marketplace.
Time Management and Work Hours
Home-based business owners need to acquire and practice sound time management techniques. The bureaucratic structure of a regular business exists for a reason: to ensure business activities are accomplished efficiently, effectively, and on time. Time management techniques create a task structure for the day-to-day requirements of the business. A good starting place is to create and maintain a comprehensive schedule of events so customer needs are met. By keeping an eye on the future needs of the business, the owner will know when to order inventory, when to schedule production runs, when to follow-up with present and potential customers, and when to set aside time to review and record the progress of the business. Good time managers prioritize activities to ensure important tasks are completed. They will also set aside a block of “uninterrupted” time to work on the most difficult tasks. It is important to communicate your “work hours” to family and neighbors to minimize interruptions. Finally, effective time management is enhanced by keeping a neat and organized work area.
Space Usage Plan
A home-based business has to co-exist with the other members of the home: spouses, children, extended family, and even pets. Depending on the nature of the business, the work space needs to be protected from intended or unintended intrusions. Whether it is allowing varnish to dry properly in a secure and dust-free setting or keeping confidential client documents safe from prying eyes, a home-based business owner needs to set boundaries with family members to ensure productivity is maintained. The needs of your family must also be considered, especially if work space is shared for other family functions, such as a monthly den meeting for a son’s Cub Scout group.
Home-based entrepreneurs envision solitude as one of the prized “perks” offered by working at home. However, some find this solitude to be intellectually stifling and they miss the peer relations offered by the regular workplace. Successful home-based business owners maintain a high level of personal contacts outside the social fabric of the family. This is accomplished in a variety of ways ranging from joining service clubs, participating in chamber of commerce activities, or simply developing a network of professional contacts to meet for lunch, coffee, or even a drink after work hours. The old adage “people do business with people they know and trust” is still prevalent. Developing and maintaining a personal network results in the creation of an army of personal references for the business.
Communicating with Customers
Home-based business owners all have a personal horror story regarding the important customer who called at the wrong time and received something other than a professional welcome. I once called a home-based business owner at home and his four-year old child told me very innocently and graphically that dad was having a “bowel movement.” This and other situations such as children arguing noisily in the background, the teenage son who takes messages without writing them down (figuring the caller would eventually call back) or loud music in the background, are known as “Moments of Truth” and can reflect poorly on the hard work invested in building a reputable business. Care needs to be taken to teach proper telephone courtesy to family members. If this is too difficult, simply secure a second phone-line or cell number that goes to voice mail if you are unavailable.
Having a business in your home can be a very rewarding experience, but only if you are careful in creating a well defined separation between home and business. If you are interested in starting a home-based business, please contact your local SCORE or SBDC counselor for assistance.
Eric Giltner has been a Business Development Specialist and the Grand Forks area manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration since 1998, having formerly been assistant to the dean of the UND College of Business and Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.