The Revolution At Home

September 09, 1991|By Michael Pollick

Thursday is "power working day" for Denise Ellis, owner of Fine Line Services Inc. in Laurel. For hours, she cranks out business letters, accounting statements, bills and bidding proposals.

And all the while, she's wearing pajamas and house slippers.

Mrs. Ellis is among the millions of Americans who have given up the daily grind of commuting to work, sitting through boring meetings and dealing with office politics to start a business from home.

Corporate layoffs triggered by the lingering recession have boosted an already growing trend toward home-based business. And that trend should be propelled even further in the next few years.

The reasons: More baby boomers are reaching the age of entrepreneurial liftoff, while computers and other office equipment keep getting better and cheaper.

"I love this job," says Mrs. Ellis, who is self-employed. Three and a half years ago, she traded in a corporate role at an international consulting firm for a home-based brainstorm. Fine Line Services Inc. Her one-woman company helps Laurel-area entrepreneurs set up office systems, and then handles secretarial and bookkeeping chores as they grow. (See accompanying story.)

This year, about 600,000 Americans will join the ranks of stay-at-homes whose main income is self-employment, says Tom Miller, who conducts annual surveys for New York City-based LINK Resources. He figures there are 11.8 million self-employed home-workers, a 5.4 percent increase from 1990.

Growing at an even faster rate are moonlighters, who work part time at home. There are now about 10.5 million of them, up 12 percent from 1990, according to Mr. Miller.

One example: Atlantis Online Information Service, a fledgling Columbia-based computer bulletin board that is the part-time endeavor of computer consultant Jim Maguire. His "business partner," a Compaq 286 computer tied into six telephone lines, welcomes callers to Atlantis all day while he consults. (See accompanying story.)

Add in the telecommuters like Mr. Miller who work for a corporation but do much of their work from home -- and the corporate types who carry a computer disk home from the office each night -- and you get total of 38.4 million home-workers. This group, which has grown nearly 13 percent annually since 1989, accounts for 31 percent of the adult work force, Mr. Miller says.

Corporate and government agency downsizing transformed the modern work-at-home trend beyond traditional home and hobby businesses, says Mr. Miller.

During the recession, many companies have turned to independent contractors to get work done.

Downsizing, a buzzword for cutting the work force through attrition and layoffs, "has hit everybody from banks to telephone companies," Mr. Miller notes. Often, he adds, "The same companies turn around and hire the same workers as contract employees."

When that happens, the companies benefit because they only pay for a contract that has results tied to it. The former corporate worker, meanwhile, is free to get the job done faster and to take on other revenue-generating jobs as well.

When the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, faced with budget constraints, began downsizing a few years ago, ornithologist Jim Ruos was one of the first in line for early retirement.

Fed up with government work and eager to trade in his commute to Washington for a business of his own, he started Caribbean Islands Travel Service, which is now the U.S. representative for 14 Caribbean hotels.

He runs the international business from his home in the woods in Highland in Howard County.

Recently, he got a call from North Pole, Alaska, seeking accommodations on St. Martin for a couple who wanted "to visit someplace warm where they could take off their clothes." (See accompanying story.)

Downsizing is running head-on into an even bigger trend -- the baby boom -- and the two seem to be feeding each other.

Mr. Miller of LINK calls the demographics of the baby boom "home-office fundamental number one." Many people from the generation that began life after the end of World War II are now reaching the phase in their careers at which they could consider self-employment.

The average age for those starting a home office has long hovered between 38 and 40.

That's because it takes at least eight or nine years of job experience "before people have the contacts, skills and confidence to earn their own living as a self-employed business operator," according to Mr. Miller.

Baby boomers "have another two to four years to expand into the prime years for entrepreneurial activity and that is going to help expand this thing right through '95," he says.

The impact of Baby Boomers is mirrored by changes in Home Office Computing, the magazine home-workers swear by.

The New York City-based publication started in 1983 as Family Computing.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.