Staying Home To Go To Work

by Bonnie J. Hilliard, Class Act Copywriting

There’s been a lot of talk about the tide of home businesses stirring up Akron’s business pool. Home businesses offer new options to meet the need for work flexiblility. The benefits are clearly extensive, reaching the business owner, his or her family and the client who enjoys expertise without hiring full-time.

When it works right, you’ve got a happy societal threesome.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, women start businesses at twice the rate of men, and own 40 percent of all U.S. companies. About 8 million women businesses employ 18.5 million people and contribute $2.3 trillion to the economy. Women business owners in the Akron area will tell you it does not come easily or overnight.

Angela Ziccardi operates AJ Billing, a medical billing software supply and consulting company. She got her start through the Small Business Development Center at Kent State University. Medical professionals need billing software, but aren’t experts in knowing what to choose and how to use it. Ziccardi is. A contract is workable when Ziccardi establishes the need and her solution to the right customer.

"I get called instead of a temp agency because I have the first-hand product knowledge. Big software companies just don’t give personal training and attention. A 1-800 number can’t do what I do," she said. Continual upgrades in computer technology are music to Ziccardi’s ears. "In my line of work this is a great time to have a home based business. Every few years a new program is needed, and busy medical professionals can’t keep track of it all."

Chris Perrow of Perrow Organizational Systems contracts with companies who experience office procedure and organization problems. She’s a "niche marketer," having filled a need that few others offer — corporate seminars that train employees on procedural disconnects, paper pile-ups, filing problems and time management. She follows her own advice. "Tremendous discipline is required. Personal phone calls, housework, yardwork can sabotage effective work habits. But the benefit is, you are able to work at your peak times, not the corporate world’s."

For communicators — writers, artists, designers and others — its not just Akron that is ripe for home businesses. Bonnie Hilliard of Class Act Copywriting uses the Internet to receive and sent writing projects for clients near and far. "Telecommuting" — doing business anywhere in the world via computer — means her client can have a writer do their marketing, advertising and media work without having to hire full-time. Here’s the scenario: The company in Cleveland or magazine in Canada sends an e-mail with instructions; Hilliard researches and writes the requested copy text; then e-mails it back. "Busy professionals don’t have time to fuss. They want it on their desk by the date they need it. I’m an invisible partner helping them succeed."

Sarah Sawaya, owner of Sassafras Design Services has found many clients by referral. They find her services are top quality while cheaper than ad agencies. Sawaya echoes many business women who say Akron fuels success through supportive networking groups. Akron is ahead of many other cities thanks to the Women’s Network, a central hub for networking. Business Coaches like Norma J. Rist CEO Consulting, Inc. are great support for women who need the advice and support of other business owners.

Marketing, reputation building and other annoyances

For parenting consultant Denise Wraley a home business is more work than she thought. "It has tested my personal qualities and convictions," she said. Wraley is like most home business owners, endlessly beating the bushes for clients. What keeps neophytes going during those early years when the phone is silent and the books are done up in red?

For the answer, ask Wraley about family values and children’s problems. Then stand back. There’s enough passion to fill a novel. That’s common in the hearts of many home business owners. They love their jobs, and they know they are valuable to others, and that is what keeps their motors strong.

Like many new home business owners, Wraley will spend hours promoting her business and looking for clients when she’d rather be teaching seminars. But the passion sustains. "Working parents have genuine felt need to be good workers and good parents, both. I believe it’s only a matter of time until companies and their managements realize the benefits of programs like mine," she said.

Besides marketing necessity, there are other annoyances. Some companies might distrust home business credentials, talent or reliability, perceiving the home business as a here-today-gone-tomorrow venture. And that fear is valid. In communications, for example, there are desktop publishers, communications companies and writers. Some offer general desktop publishing but are by no means expert copywriters. Home businesses have to prove themselves and work harder to establish themselves as experts. They don’t have the luxury of a corporate identity to establish their reputations.

Because many people won’t take time to determine the credibility and capabilities of a home business, referrals work best says Donna Zabel, a travel planner and owner of DreamMaker Destinations. "It’s not easy to build trust if you are a non-conventional type of business. People seem to be somewhat suspicious of anyone doing it ‘differently’ outside of the typical corporate setting. Home businesses don’t usually spend the big bucks on advertising and don’t have a storefront you can walk into. Yet the quality of service and personal attention we offer is much better."

Sole proprietors must be the company accountant, marketing pro, secretary, billing expert, systems technologist, production specialist, creative department, PR person and sales person all in one. For new business owners, "In the beginning your commission might look more like 10 cents an hour than a couple of hundred bucks," Zabel said.

Is "having it all" really possible?

According to Human Resources consultant Denise Tarka, home-based businesses are increasing because of technological advancements and basic human need. "People need more flexibility to balance the demands of home and family. Working from home allows them to spend time with children, address child care needs, possibly coordinate schedules with a spouse that works, and still have the career they desire at the income levels they previously sustained," Tarka said.

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"People sometimes perceive that a home business is not quite professional. But, as soon as they use your services they never go back. It’s like the old mom and pop store where they can talk and get special attention, and get that extra quality for their money."

— Sherry Huff, Gal Fridays

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In addition to flexibility, the advantages are legion ... and enticing — less travel time, less cost for gas, clothing, lunch, parking; more time for family; more control over the job; career advancement; new opportunities and so on. Business start-ups save overhead costs by initially practicing from their own homes, Tarka said. "With technology playing such an important role, if the professional sees his/her clients at the client's office then the need for office space if almost non-existent."

Tarka said there’s a strong trend toward virtual office alliances today. "A number of independent professionals will work together in a strategic alliance and each will have a home based business. This offers the benefits of a team with more resources combined than each individual has on his/her own, yet eliminates the overhead costs."

An example of that is Gal Fridays, a "do-everything" office service run by Sherry Huff. Small businesses use Huff’s services routinely as a "Virtual Office Assistant."

"Many of the larger companies are downsizing and looking to outsource more work. Then there are the employees who are victims of downsizing. Instead of looking for another corporate job, they seem to reinvent themselves. When they can’t do it all, that’s where I come in."

Denise Tarka points out the value of home-based businesses

• When an employee leaves the company to start a home-based business, the former employer can still use the former employee’s services

• The company does not pay for benefits, payroll taxes, insurance, training, equipment.

• They fill in for employee leaves of absence.

• They provide immediate, on-call expertise as needed. For example, a company may need a trainer for business writing or office organization. Instead of hiring a full-time, on-site trainer, a company may hire a home based training company. As the overhead is less, the rates for the services rendered tend to be more competitive - also a benefit for the company.

To contact any of the home businesses cited:

Sassafras Design Services 330.677.8020 or sassafras@gwis.com

Class Act Copywriting 330-673-8964 or classcopy@aol.com

Perrow Organizational Systems 330-686-0282 or cperrow@aol.com

AJ Billing 296-8141 or jaz@apk.net

DreamMaker Destinations 330-686-0401 or dz@ald.net

Denise Wraley Parenting Services 330-686-0980 or dwljc@aol.com

Gal Fridays 330-753-8881 or shuff1234@aol.com

Norma J. Rist CEO Consulting, Inc. 330-865-5900 or normarist@aol.com

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