It’s predicted that more than half the UK’s working population will work from home by 2010. The demise of manufacturing, increase in service industries and wider availability of tools that enable us to operate ‘virtually’ have all contributed to the situation. It is now normal for large corporations to operate flexible work practices allowing employees to connect seamlessly into the corporate IT network from their lounge and to hot desk when they need to visit the work premises. But it is particularly amongst small businesses that a home-office base has become the obvious solution.
There are clear benefits – no premises to pay for and no commute for instance – but there are several aspects that are worth considering to ensure it becomes a successful business proposition.
Apart from saving premises rental, some of the household costs might be considered legitimate business expenses for tax purposes. A word of caution though. Be sure that you apportion these realistically and avoid, if possible, claiming for sole use of a room or area of the house for business purposes as this could impact on household insurance, incur business rates and even have Capital Gains Tax implications. Your accountant can help you assess what’s reasonable.
Whilst financial benefits are not too difficult to imagine, the impacts on you and the rest of your household can be more difficult to foresee. How will the business encroach on the rest of the house? Will there be paperwork left lying around everywhere and how will the family feel about it? Storing business documents digitally wherever possible could help. It will also make information retrieval easier.
Will you be able to work effectively with the children around? Agree some ground rules if you will often work with others in the house. Don’t forget to allow time and space for them though. Your business may be high on your priorities but not everyone may have the same passion. Perhaps the opposite applies – hours of uninterrupted productivity whilst the others are out at work. Whilst this might seem attractive if you are used to working in a busy open plan office, there are consequences of working alone for long periods such as a lack of stimulation and motivation. Vary your day by planning in time for exercise, a change of activity or even working elsewhere in the house. Good time management tips can be found on websites like www.mindtools.com and www.businessballs.com.
Finally, don’t forget that, generally, we are sociable by nature and need interaction with other people. If your business doesn’t naturally lend itself to that on a regular basis, then you might have to go and find it. Networking groups are a great way to meet like-minded folk as well as a good way to find out more about the local business scene and, of course, maybe pick up custom! There are more than a dozen groups active in Harlow and surrounding area.
Running the business from home is the perfect choice for many small enterprises – you just need to work at it!First published in 2008
‘We need to do some marketing’ is a phrase often heard in small businesses when sales are not forthcoming or the competition seems particularly active. In fact what many people refer to as marketing is really some form of promotion, such as advertising or producing a brochure.
Marketing is more than that. It’s the whole process of understanding who your customers are, what their needs are and how you can satisfy those needs with your product or service. Promotion is about getting your customer’s attention and positioning your product in a way that they might find enticing enough to buy. It’s a part of the overall marketing plan of course but it comes as a consequence of doing some research into your target market and really understanding what your business is about.
A technicality some might say, surely the main thing is to let people know you’re there and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Well not really, promotion without first understanding your target market, who your competitors are and what your customers really value, can lead to valuable resources being devoted to promotional activities that have no realistic hope of bearing fruit. It’s the scattergun approach.
The foundation to any business idea is to make sure your research is sound by finding out as much as you can about your market and who else is in it using the internet, newspaper reports, magazines and trying to get as much information as possible from people who might buy from you.
As well as understanding your market it’s vital to decide what your business is about, and also what it’s not. Unless you aspire to be Del Boy’s successor dealing in ‘this ‘n’ that’ your business will need to follow the example of all successful enterprises by concentrating on a core purpose that builds on your strengths and fills a clear gap in the market.
To help you get better focussed, try imagining yourself as your customer. What sort of person or organisation would want your product or service and what might be important to you if you were them – it’s likely to be more than just the product features and the price. Qualities such as customer service, responsiveness, honesty, trustworthiness, ethics and shared values usually play a part in helping us decide who gets our hard-earned cash. Reflect the things that are likely to be important to your target in your promotional material and they will sense that you are talking to them.
The world’s big brands devote substantial amounts of money to their marketing process because they recognise that the return is well worth the investment in time and money, but the principles of marketing are relevant to any business, from a single self-employed person upwards. It’s just the scale that differs.
So, ‘We need to do some marketing’ might become ‘What does our marketing tell us we need to do to become more profitable?’First published in 2008