I had a dreadfully long commute this morning. A pair of thongs dumped directly in my path forced me to divert left, adding a full two steps to my journey from the bedroom to the computer.

Welcome to the world of the ‘home-preneur’, those who have elected to divorce themselves from the traditional workplace environment and establish a home-based business. I’m a very recent addition to this rapidly-growing club and, I must confess, something of a short-timer as I don’t intend to work from the lounge room forever (I find the politics infuriating, for starters!).

With technology enabling high-speed connectivity and peripherals such as printers, scanners and faxes becoming cheaper, there are fewer barriers to entry to starting a home-based business. A phone line and a few power points is all it may take to build your corporate empire (workstation optional).

Home-based businesses make up a very large proportion of the total small business population in Australia. Currently almost three-quarters of all small businesses are home-based, compared to 58.3 percent in 1997, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That accounts for more than a million people doing it at home. Interestingly, 70 percent of all home-based business operators are male. Approximately 60 percent are aged between 30 and 50 years, 30 percent over 50 and 10 percent under 30.

Setting up at home has obvious appeal. Minimal overheads… no attire dictated… no one watching when you clock on and clock off… none of the distractions associated with a busy office environment… the list is endless. It’s not all pyjamas and beanbags, however – being successful as a home-based entrepreneur requires a high level of self-discipline and focus.

“You need to earn the freedom you’re presented with by having the discipline to put your head down when necessary,” says Samantha Leader, editorial director for www.flyingsolo.com.au, a website dedicated to providing useful resources for the solo business operator. “It’s hard work being responsible for all areas of a business. But as it presents you with the ideal opportunity to model your work in a way that suits you entirely, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Speaking from my own experience, it becomes a very different thought process moving from working for a company to working for yourself. Instead of budgets, benchmarks and KPIs being imposed by management, it’s down to the home-based operator to ensure every day is structured toward achieving those goals. Setting clear goals is fundamental – thinking well into the future and planning for contingencies is essential.

Marketers should be well-versed in all of these basic business rules. One of the factors that concerns many marketing professionals who’d love to start a business at their residence is the stigma associated with working from home; however, the advent of technology enabling home offices to be every bit as ‘wired in’ and productive as their corporate counterparts will soon see that apprehension vanish.

Craig Reardon is director of The E Team, an independent e-business solutions provider specialising in affordable off-the-shelf technologies for websites. He has worked from home on and off for 12 years, and has never found it an inhibitor to his business.

“Having been in business once before and suffering the ignominy of paying landlords rather than myself, I decided to set up at home,” he says. “It keeps my overheads and hence my customer prices down, plus clients are now far more accepting of home-based businesses than they once were. Your location or set-up doesn’t usually alter your skills or effectiveness. In fact, I’ve found that sensible clients value the savings of your working from home rather than see it as potentially being unprofessional.”

It’s an inevitable scenario threatening larger agencies and marketing departments – the home-based consultant able to deliver same quality service at far below market rates. Clients need never know that behind the slick façade afforded by flashy branding and a cool website sits a person in PJs tapping out campaigns and strategies at the kitchen table.

Weighing up

The advantages of working from home are self-evident – it offers a level of flexibility and autonomy rarely attainable in the traditional corporate environment.

“If you work alone you have no employer or employee hassles,” says Leader.
“Office politics are a thing of the past and there’s no getting stuck in the rush hour traffic. More importantly, though, you get to shape your entire working identity so it is meaningful to you. You can put work in its proper place, alongside family and friends. Hence theres no need to delineate between work and play.”

Personal satisfaction, success and a sense of fulfilment in delivering work you’re passionate about form the dream for most marketers. It’s attainable, but Leader warns those considering abandoning the office for the home to consider the following.

“You cant just zone out and get on with it as you can in lots of office jobs,” she says. “You must bring a level of consciousness to your work, which means you experience the highs and the lows more intensely.”

According to Leader, there are a couple of classic traps that beset the home-based business owner, notably:

  • the no one does it as well as me trap, that leads to an avoidance of delegation (soloists can delegate, via virtual assistants for example)
  • the being ‘unable to say no to work’ trap – yes, you can, and you should; learn the concept of the ‘ideal client’, and
  • the ‘insufficient boundaries’ trap – being distracted or diverted from the business, whether by customers, family or other activities that drain energy.

Staying focused and self-disciplined when nobody’s watching are vital characteristics of the successful home-based marketer. “You need to consider yourself ‘at work’ even though you are in a study or other area of the house,” says Reardon. “Working at home adds soul to your work life, but you have to get into workplace-like routines to ensure you stay focused. I heard of one person who actually leaves the house with a briefcase at starting time and takes a walk around the block to emulate the commute to work, repeating it at the end of the working day.”

Unless you are a self-taught computer and peripherals genius, the absence of IT support can certainly be cause for concern as a home-based operator. I light incense each morning and pray, pray, pray my laptop will soldier on through another day. Data back-up is critical – there are many companies offering affordable external storage options. Rely on your hard drive at your peril.

Isolation is also one of the key dangers of working from home, especially in a socially-oriented profession such as marketing.

“Make sure regular breaks are taken,” suggests Reardon. “Get out often for a lunch or coffee from time to time to keep up the human contact, and participate in social rituals like footy tipping to replicate the water cooler conversation.”
Networking and communing with your solo colleagues will definitely help to keep isolation at bay, which is where sites like www.flyingsolo.com.au are highly valuable.

Of course, Reardon resolves his potential isolation issues via his (sometimes) silent business partner. “Get a visitor-friendly pet to keep you company,” he advises. “They are great value, even if they can get a bit rambunctious when clients visit!”

Enjoy your next commute.