Some suggestions on how to run a business from your home

Staying Ahead

July 22, 1996|By JANE BRYANT QUINN

NEW YORK -- Are you thinking of starting a business at home? You'll find out fast that making money is your second-biggest challenge. No. 1 is learning how to run a professional shop that customers and clients will respect. That means no barking dogs when clients call, no crying children, no jumping up to take a meatloaf out of the oven.

"You have to approach a home business as you would an office job," says Sarah Edwards, co-author with her husband, Paul, of "Working From Home" (Tarcher/Putnam, $16.95).

"Keep strict working hours, whether the business is full time or part time, have a separate work space and get your family to leave you alone to focus on selling your product or service," she says.

If your husband is home, and wants you to help him find his brown socks, throw a plant at him. Tell your wife not to interrupt you unless the house is on fire.

A lot of women start a business at home so that they can be with their children.

"Then they find that they don't have as much time as they thought and it's guilt, guilt, guilt," says Barbara Brabec, author of "Homemade Money" (Betterway Books, $19.99).

But there's no way you're going to get everything done, including housework, so don't beat up on yourself about it. Home workers often need child care, just as office workers do.

To succeed, Edwards says, you need to pick a business you like and are good at, and where you can make the professional contacts you're going to need. Then establish yourself as someone with a specialty.

For example, don't be just a photographer -- be a photographer who goes to dog shows and takes pictures of winners.

Don't be a general commercial writer -- offer a resume service to college students or downsized executives. When you present yourself as an expert, you're easier to remember and more business comes your way.

To enhance your credentials, prepare a free information brochure with an ad for your service tucked in at the bottom. A dog photographer, for example, might list five ways of getting a dog to pose.

"When I hear that a business is struggling, there usually wasn't enough advertising and marketing," Edwards says. If your phone isn't ringing, you might think nothing's happening and turn to housework or errands.

Instead, you should stay at your desk and dream up marketing plans. In the beginning, that may take 80 or 90 percent of your time.

Before you start, read some books on home businesses. Talk to some successful home-business people.

Figure out your start-up costs. Line up an accountant who can tell you how to keep your books and what's tax-deductible. For more on taxes, call the IRS at 800-TAX-FORM for the free publication No. 587, "Business Use of Your Home."

Get a vendor number from your state (in most cases, you apply to your state's retail sales tax division). That enables you to buy supplies wholesale instead of retail, which is a huge money-saver.

Check your local zoning. Some residential areas don't allow home businesses, although you should be all right if your neighbors don't report you. Other areas bar businesses that hire employees or bring traffic into the neighborhood.

Apply for a merchant card. That allows you to take credit cards from your customers and can greatly increase sales.

Banks don't give merchant cards to young home-based businesses.

But you may be able to qualify after a year or two through membership in a home-business organization. For a list of such organizations and the services they provide, send $6 to Brabec at P.O. Box 2137, Naperville, Ill. 60567.

Talk to your insurance agent about covering your inventory and business equipment, and your liability if a client is injured on your property or by using your product.

For a craft business, your basic homeowner's policy may be enough. You might add a rider to cover more equipment. There are separate policies for more elaborate business needs.

If you don't have health insurance through a spouse, and can't find an individual policy you can afford, Brabec has a $6 list of small-business organizations through which you might be able to buy coverage.

Finally, don't put your office in your bedroom.

"I made that mistake once and found that I had no personal space," Edwards says. "You can't even get sick without your business staring you in the face." You have to be able to leave the office and return to family life.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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