Look homeward, entrepreneur

Carol Gearhart and her husband had years of experience running their own landscaping business in Pennsylvania. But when they retired and moved to Charleston, S.C., she found it impossible to just sit back and relax.

Not simply a stay-at-home mom: Fully 50 percent of U.S. companies are now home-based. For local entrepreneur Susan Moses, soap making is her work-at-home niche. Photo by Jonathan Welch

"I suppose some people can retire gracefully, but I'm not one of them," she says. "I need something to do that is gratifying."

So, after another move to Asheville, she launched Gearhart Editing out of their home, becoming yet another of the city's burgeoning population of home-based-business owners.

It's a trend that's been on the rise over the past decade-and-a-half. According to a 2009 Business Weekly article, fully 50 percent of U.S. companies are now home-based, thanks in no small measure to the Internet and the increased connectivity the new digital technologies allow.

Other factors are also in play. Working and living under one roof enables low-budget entrepreneurs to dodge rising rent costs, and low overhead makes it easier to try out or grow a business before committing to the kind of investment more traditional startups typically require.

Home-based work, notes Gearhart, also allows a more casual atmosphere. "I ditched the pumps and the business suit for slippers and a nightie, or maybe sweatpants," she says.

But working from home has its drawbacks too. "The downside is, it's isolating," says Gearhart. "You don't get to see the same group of people and share their creativity and enthusiasm."

To counteract the lack of face time, Gearhart joined the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and attends outside functions so she can network. "You need to meet people and pass out business cards," she notes.

Susan Moses also sees both sides of the home-business coin. Six years ago, she quit her job as a hotel manager and launched Mountain Mist, making soap in her home. Moses now produces bath salts, balms and face scrubs as well, selling them at craft shows and online. First, the dining room was converted into a workshop; then the guest bedroom went. But business has been so good that she's now looking at establishing a retail space outside the home.

"It's pretty nice to be your own boss," notes Moses, adding that she took the month of January off, partly because of a seasonal lull in sales and partly because she likes to snowboard.

And echoing Gearhart, Moses joined a soap-makers' guild, affirming, "When you're a home-based business, you have to network."

Another potential pitfall is succumbing to non-work-related distractions. To combat this, Gearhart keeps a separate room for her work so that she concentrates on the task at hand during the work day. "My office is an office: This is my workspace," she says. "I come in here in the morning and I work. I don't read for pleasure in here, and I don't watch TV."

Moses, meanwhile, says that absent a boss to help keep her on track, she writes out a weekly schedule to make sure her attention is focused where it's most needed.

"I could sit around and make soap all day," she explains. "But there's also paperwork. You have to learn to compartmentalize." That includes knowing when to quit for the day. "The difficult part when your work is here is that there's always something that needs doing," says Moses.

Another challenge is the lack of a benefits package equivalent to what a large employer might provide. "Hopefully someday someone will do something about [health] insurance for small businesses," she observes. She and her husband have individual policies, "and that's pretty expensive."

In addition, Moses points to the specific tax rules concerning home-based businesses, which can help or hurt depending on one's knowledge of tax law. "Finding an accountant is really key," she says.

Both women also stress the importance of finding ways to give back to the community. Gearhart, for instance, started a drive to knit scarves for a local homeless shelter, which she finds personally gratifying as well as a way to stay active outside her home.

"I don't know if it's good for business or bad for business, and I don't really care," she declares. "It's good for me."

[Brian Postelle is an Asheville-based communications specialist who works from home.]

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2 thoughts on “Look homeward, entrepreneur

  1. Carrie

    This was a good article, thanks Brian! It really is challenging to find that “balance” you need in life while working at home. I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out! Thanks, again.

  2. One has to be totally obsessed to survive the learning curve of starting a home based business. Certain strengths will make it much easier. One must do well with isolation, and be a self starter. Those three things are crucial in succeeding.

    Low overhead is the secret to getting through the early years. Homebased is about as low overhead as you can get.

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