Going Soho

Going Soho

The Pleasures and Perils of a Home-based Business

By Kara Stefan

kara_stefanTwo years ago, I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, which worked out perfectly for my home-based job. That’s because I still live on West Coast time.

And that’s why you’ll find me turning off the TV after “Law & Order” on Wednesday nights to sit at my desk and knock out another 3 or 4 hours of writing. For me, that’s the most peaceful, fruitful time of the day. My son is asleep. My neighbors are asleep. My neighbors’ barking dogs are asleep. And the obnoxious lawn mowers that crank up at 8 a.m. are also, thankfully, asleep.

Only my cat, Huckleberry, is up and bounding around the house, keeping me company and swatting at papers as they’re spit out of my printer.

First: The Pleasures
You could pretty much cast me in one of those TV commercials where I’m interviewing top CEOs and company presidents while still in my robe and pajamas at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

I love nothing better in life than sleeping late. And finally, after years of school, normal jobs, and the baby, toddler, and elementary years, I can. My son has learned to get up, make his breakfast, pack his lunch, and get outside for the school bus by 7:15 a.m. all on his own. He wakes me for the requisite morning kiss. Then I’m back out like a light.

Flexible hours, flexible location, and low overhead. Life is good.

Then: The Perils

  • Marketing: Perhaps the dreariest task of all. For years I had to network with people in the business world that I never respected in the first place. Rewriting pieces over and over again because each person up the food chain wanted a different approach. Don’t these people ever communicate with each other at work? Oh, that’s right–corporate America. They don’t.
  • Accounts Receivable: Now here’s a fun job: Call up clients (or rather, soon-to-be ex-clients) and ask them the payment status on a 3-month-old invoice. I typically (and diplomatically) suggest that perhaps it got “lost in the shuffle” and offer to send them a new one.
  • Stockpiling: This is the feast or famine syndrome. You either need a spouse who’s pulling down a steady paycheck or a stomach of steel. You never know where your next paycheck’s coming from, when it’s coming, or even if it’s coming. You end up having to stockpile cash–like a squirrel hoarding for the winter–because there are often long periods of time before work picks up again.
  • When It Rains: And when work does come, it comes in droves. I’m convinced my clients get together, rub their hands maliciously in union and say, “let’s kill her beach trip plans.” Then again, who can turn down the money, thereby risking the chance that they may never call again?
  • The Child Factor: I’m on a phone interview with America’s leading expert on ferrets (or whatever), and my son comes home from school, slams the front door, and in his best Ricky Ricardo voice screams out, “Honey, I’m home!” Or how about when he shoves a scribbled note in front of me that reads, “I’ll be at Denny’s or Blake’s or Ryan’s or Patrick’s or….” –you get the point. Oh, and lest we not forget the phase he went through where he answered potential client phone calls with the salutation, “Yeahhh, baaabbby!”

All in all, is a home-based business really a good idea? Are you kidding; I’ll never go back to a corporate job again. And so say all those in my home-based business network, and we’re a strong, growing lot.

In fact, there’s over 25.5 million SOHOs (small office/home office businesses) in America. That’s 1 in every 4 households.

If you’re thinking about striking it out on your own, let me offer my heartiest recommendation. Plus, here are a few pearls of wisdom to help you get started:

  • Stockpile a year’s worth of income, or at least 6 months.
  • Get rid of credit card debt.
  • Line up affordable health insurance alternatives.
  • If you’re going to buy a house, apply for the mortgage before you give up that steady paycheck. You may even want to apply for a home equity loan in case you get strapped for cash down the road.
  • Develop a circle of midday friends you can call to discuss, say, last night’s episode of “Will & Grace,” since solo operations can be, well…solo. Experts call this syndrome the “water cooler effect.”
  • Create a network of other home-based workers who understand your unique situation because when you complain about work to people with “normal” jobs, they just think you’re whining.