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HOME-BASED BUSINESS IN AMERICA - A Wake-Up Call to Traditional Businesses
Elizabeth H. Cottrell, M.S.

Have you heard the new buzzwords? Business jargon is now sprinkled with new phrases (or old phrases with new meanings) such as "home-based business", "outsourcing", "downsizing", "networking", "surfing the net", "websites", "spamming", "flaming", "faxing", "broadcasting", "polling"... and the list goes on. And why should you even care to hear from a housewife operating a small business from her country home? This is a wake-up call. There's a revolution in progress - a silent revolution whose soldiers - armed with computers, wireless communications, and various other technologies - are streaming out of corporate America and into small and medium sized home-based businesses all across this nation and the world. And since being tied to a corporate office is no longer a prerequisite to earning a living, millions of folks are making quality of life choices and escaping to areas just like our beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Are you and your business ready to meet the needs of this emerging market niche and take advantage of what could be the opportunity of a lifetime for your business? Or will you let it pass you by?

The statistics are compelling:

** It is estimated that one home-based business starts in the US every 11 seconds and that there are almost 30 million home-based business owners operating either full or part time. Slightly more than half of these are self-employed at home full time, while the others are part time.

** Home-based businesses generate almost $400 billion in revenues and create more than 8,200 new jobs and entrepreneurial positions each day in America; The average home business earns over $50,000 per year, nearly double the national average 95% of home businesses succeed in their first year;

** After three years, 85% are still doing well, compared to a 20% success rate for a conventional small business; Women own 66% of home businesses, though men are catching up.

And what could have spurred such a phenomenon?

In a world spinning out of control for all but the most independently wealthy, the average American is hedging her bets. No longer can the American worker depend on working for the same company for 45 years. No longer can she assume that if she is well educated, well trained, and does a good job, she will have job security. No longer can anyone depend on Social Security to supplement his retirement income. Based on the results of research into child development, thousands of young couples are also choosing to have one parent stay at home when their children are young. Economic pressures, however, push these same families to look for ways to earn money from home.

Consider, also, the lure of the American Dream and these satisfactions of owning your own home-based business:

1) You take control of your earning potential

2) You have the flexibility you want, carving out quality time with your family and being there when they need you

3) You are the boss

4) You enjoy the perks and prestige of business ownership

5) You avoid the corporate grind - being passed over for promotions, office politics, daily commutes, or being misunderstood by the boss

6) You save money - reduced expenses for day care, gasoline, business wardrobe, office rental and overhead - and some household expenses become tax deductible as they pertain to your business;

7) You have the personal satisfaction of knowing you've created something your family can count on and not have to depend on someone else to make it happen.

Clearly, technology has enabled this to take place - someone with a computer, a phone, a fax machine, voicemail, and a beeper - not to mention overnight domestic and international mail delivery services - can "reach out and touch" just about any someone in the world.

So what does this home-based business revolution mean to you if you already have a "bricks and mortar" business? I submit that it poses the most marvelous opportunity for growing your own businesses. The vast majority of small business owners (82% according to a recent Comprehensive Business Services survey) turn to outsourcing many administrative tasks to maximize their productive time. I urge you to spend some time thinking about what a home-based business owner might want or need. What product or service can you sell them that will save them time, help them be more professional, make their life a little easier, improve their own product or service? Can you "re-package" your current products or services to appeal to these business owners?

Our local phone company has done a brilliant job with this. They have trained their sales staff to listen to customers and design cost effective solutions to meet their needs. In my own office besides the home phone line, I have one business line for two businesses - a differentiated ring allows me to answer the phone appropriately. A voicemail system ensures that I don't miss important calls, and when someone leaves a message when I'm not in the office, my beeper is alerted to the fact that I have a message to check so I can return calls promptly. A dedicated fax line allows my customers to be in touch with me day or night, and my internet and e-mail access allow me to inexpensively communicate with folks all over the world. For less than $100 a month, I have the capability that could only have been provided a decade ago by a full time secretary. So how about other businesses?

** Bankers need to offer increasingly creative and flexible financing options for growing businesses with cash flow and capitalization challenges; a small business owner will never forget bootstrapping help when she becomes an even more successful, larger business owner;

** Office supply businesses can stock professional equipment, accessories, and supplies to help the business owner do his job more efficiently and professionally;

** Furniture stores can consider stocking home office furniture and space-saving storage solutions as well as offering office design services to help home business owners make the most out of the space they have available;

** Computer and electronics stores can offer technology solutions for production and communication;

** Convenience service needs abound: dry cleaning, catering, travel agencies, shopping services, transportation services (clients getting to and from the airport, etc.);

** Facilities providers should consider the needs of meeting and seminar planning, rooms, food services, entertainment, etc;

** Creative services such as interior design, graphic artwork, ergonomic and space consultants all will be playing a role for the home-based business owner;

** Beauty and fitness consultants and wellness centers can help small business professionals look and feel their best;

** Insurance companies can customize policies to meet the unique liability and protection needs of home-based entrepreneurs;

** Artists and Gift shop owners can offer gifts appropriate for business and professional giving as well as shopping, wrapping, and mailing services.

** Florists and nurseries can add plants that beautify a small office as well as offering helpful, appropriate floral gifts for business clients or associates.

** Bookstores can carry books and tapes that teach business and marketing skills and provide motivation and inspiration;

** Attorneys and CPA's who are knowledgeable about legal and tax issues facing home-based business owners can provide invaluable service

** Schools need to prepare future entrepreneurs to run a "one man show" with exposure to computer technology, accounting, management, and business planning, as well as oral and written communication skills.

** Local government needs to ask itself if it is user friendly for home-based businesses- are taxes and zoning ordinances structured to encourage these businesses to come and establish themselves here?

You don't have to meet the challenge alone: network and collaborate with other businesses to offer a package of services and products for home-based entrepreneurs. An OEO (remember, that's only executive officer) doesn't have time to run to nearest shopping center for the things she needs.

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Make no mistake: the collective impact of these small entrepreneurial units can be enormous, undergirding our economy and tax base with clean businesses that provide jobs and do not place an onerous burden on the region's infrastructure. In a recent poll, 72% of the nation's small business owners said that they believed that community involvement and charitable donations give them local visibility. This is good news for our schools and non-profit organizations.

Now, I'm not maintaining that you have to have as circuitous a career path as mine to be a typical home-based entrepreneur. I guess that depends on how you measure success, and my own life's work has had a great deal more to do with the development of the two precious young people I brought into this world than with any professional position I will ever hold. But it doesn't take a fortune teller with a crystal ball to predict that the only thing we can count on in this world is change and the need to remain flexible and responsive to those changes as they emerge. I wish you each clear vision and creative thinking as you face the challenges of your own professional future.

As you head back into your work places, I'd like to leave you with a thought for the day:

"Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else."

--James Matthew Barrie


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