Since the Global Financial Collapse (GFC) in 2008, many stay at home mums have jumped on the work at home bandwagon.
Home based businesses account for 67.5% of all small businesses in Australia, making them the largest and fastest growing business sector in the economy1 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005). In the UK and Canada approximately nine percent of businesses are home based and in the US about 66% of all small businesses are home based2-5.
On the surface, it appears micro craft business is thriving when you look at the number of creative businesses on Etsy and Facebook, but appearances can be deceiving. The reality is that relatively few of these will make a profit or turn into long term ventures. The US Small Business Administration states that more than 50% of all small businesses will fail in the first year6.
Fledgling creative entrepreneurs quickly discover it takes more than a Facebook Page or Etsy shop to turn your business into a viable and sustainable enterprise.
Studies show that your reasons for wanting to work from home can shape the path your business takes and determine whether or not it will be a successful economic venture. People who are “pushed” into working from home are more likely to give up than people who are “pulled” towards working from home. The same studies also show that the majority of people who work from home are women and that the primary motivation for establishing a home based enterprise is not financial, but rather driven by an internal desire for a change in lifestyle, or to follow a passion or dream.
A US report7 published in 2011 showed that while the number of women’s enterprises grew by more than 50% between1997 and 2011, in economic terms (revenue and employment) they have not changed significantly. So, have the goal posts shifted or are women undervaluing themselves and their earning potential?
Elizabeth Sonter, a pattern maker and grader based in Western Australia, has worked from home for 17 years. She says: “I can work around my kids. I have the flexibility to work the hours I choose and when. The first few years were difficult and sometimes quite lean, but if you’re happy to balance this and motherhood combined, it can work quite well.”
Mum, Jess Breer also chose to work at home so she could work around her growing family.
“I chose to find something that would allow me to work from home because I have 3 children. It started with hair accessories and then recently to soap. Some months I may not make a lot depending on how many markets I’m at but I really enjoy doing it and I think that’s what keeps the drive to make it bigger and better,” says Jess.
Even though many people choose the work at home lifestyle to change pace, establishing a new business from home can be time-consuming and it can be difficult to clarify the boundaries between work life from home life.
“The pitfall is that work is always there at home. With my two youngest kids, I worked right up to the day before I gave birth and then only had one week off before going back to work. I also often work late at night until two or three in the morning if I need to get a job out the next day, or I start work at 4am sometimes. Customers don’t understand when you’re sick. The phone doesn’t stop, and there’s no sick pay. You’ve got to be prepared to do everything in the business, book work, debt collecting, etc,” says Sonter
Graphic designer Amanda Lapthorne agrees that separating work time from family time can be a challenge. “I don’t like the fact that you can’t just switch off, in my previous job (as a flight attendant) when I got off the aircraft that was it,” she says.
For the truly dedicated, though, working from home can be rewarding and it is possible to set boundaries and overcome the isolation. It just takes effort.
Author and public speaker Sally Thibault says she found working at home really lonely in the beginning.
“I had previously worked in a very busy environment and I missed the personal interaction with people. As much as I love what I do, I also needed to connect with people regularly. Understanding my personal and emotional energy and where I gained them from was important. So it was important for me to be involved with many networking events, even if it wasn’t necessarily for my business, it gave me energy just to connect with others. Social media became my ‘let’s stop for coffee break’, and that helped as well,” Says Sally.
So what are the key elements to surviving as a home based creative entrepreneur?
Here are 10 top tips to get you started.
- Start writing down your business goals to keep your little business on track.
- Don’t just jump on the bandwagon with the latest trend because you see another business is enjoying success with a particular product or service. Stand out from the crowd and do something unique and original.
- Don’t assume you have to fund your business idea by yourself. More and more governments, venture capitalists and larger businesses are sponsoring and funding creative entrepreneurs. Other forms of funding include crowdsourcing through sites such as Kickstarter and Angel funding through websites like www.gobignetwork.com.
- Set yourself hours and leave time and make sure you stick to them. Set vacation autoresponders so people know when you’re not available.Let family and friends know when you are on Facebook to work, and turn off the chat button. People may not realize you’re in the middle of updating your online shop when you’re on Facebook.
- Value yourself and your time. Factor your time-costs into your pricing. Most people don’t buy handcrafted goods on price, they buy on emotional value and perceived quality.
- Subscribe to useful home based business and entrepreneur blogs so you can stay on top of news and learn from industry leaders.
- Join online and in-real-life networking groups and forums to start building relationships with other businesses. Make an effort to get out of the house to networking events in your local area or create a networking group yourself.
- Keep re-assessing your priorities and your productivity. What tools can you use to make better use of your time? For example, if you want to post on Twitter throughout the day you can schedule tweets through bufferapp.com or Hootsuite. If you’re finding markets aren’t as profitable, look into selling on consignment in creative collective stores or better yet, sharing your knowledge and expertise online by teaching others your craft.
- Find an accountability buddy, someone to help you stay on track each week. You can Skype or talk in a Google+ Hangout each week to see how you are both going with your goals.
- Be on the look out for useful webinars and events to help hone your business building skills. There are many free webinars online and some that are worth forking out a few bucks for. There are also ebooks and ecourses that share rich knowledge bases.
Whatever your reasons for working from home and starting a creative business, you can turn it into a successful long-term venture. Here’s to your business success in 2012.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005). Characteristics of Small Businesses, 2004. Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra.
- Beale, H. (2004). Home–Based Business and Government Regulation. Report to the Small Business Administration. Washington, D.C.: Office of Advocacy, US Government. In “Wang, C., Walker, E.A., Redmond, J., and Breen, J. (2008). Home-based businesses: Australia’s hidden economic engine. Monash Business Review 4(2).”
- Dwelly, T., Maguire, K., and Truscott, F. (2005). Under the Radar: Tracking and Supporting Rural Home Based Business. A Report for the Commission for Rural Communities from Live Work Network. London. In “Wang, C., Walker, E.A., Redmond, J., and Breen, J. (2008). Home-based businesses: Australia’s hidden economic engine. Monash Business Review 4(2).”
- Federal Government of Canada (2002). Starting a Home–Based Business: A Manuel for Success. In “Solutions for small business: Western Economic Diversification and B.C. Ministry of Competition, Science and Enterprise”. In “Wang, C., Walker, E.A., Redmond, J., and Breen, J. (2008). Home-based businesses: Australia’s hidden economic engine. Monash Business Review 4(2).”
- Pratt, J. (2000). Homebased Business: The Hidden Economy. In Small Business Research Summary No.194. Dallas, Texas: United States Small Business Administration. Pratt 2000). In “Wang, C., Walker, E.A., Redmond, J., and Breen, J. (2008). Home-based businesses: Australia’s hidden economic engine. Monash Business Review 4(2).”
- Small Business Administration, USA: www.sba.gov and http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/smallbusiness/a/whybusfail.htm.
- The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report A Summary of Important Trends, 1997–2011.