Business in Ireland: Gateway to the EU

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Bart Jackson were

prepared for the May 22, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

Masking a Home-Based Business

Entrepreneur or employee? So many people wrestle with

the choice, some flipping back and forth between the two work styles.

That was the case with Sue Johnson. Now regional director of

the Small Business Development Center at Raritan Valley Community

College, she has been a business owner, a corporate employee, and

is now heading up a start-up branch of a non-profit. Her current

career

combines the initiative, creativity, and multitasking associated with

the entrepreneurial life with the regular hours and limited

responsibility

associated with the life of a wage slave.

For Johnson, for now, it is the perfect choice. Before she accepted

the position with the SBDC she had been through a life-changing event.

"I had a life threatening disease, cancer," she says. "I

was in bed for a year." Now her priority is lots of time with

her family, a luxury many business owners have to curtail, especially,

she says, if growing the business is on the agenda.

Johnson takes part in Small Business Day on Thursday, May 23, at 9:30

a.m. at First Union bank in Flemington. Sponsored by the SBDC at

Raritan

Valley Community College, the free event includes one-on-one

counseling

as well as a number of sessions and programs, including "Home

Based Consulting Business." Call 908-526-1200.

Johnson grew up in Somerset and Hunterdon counties, graduated from

Seton Hall (Class of 1979) with a degree in accounting and computer

science, earned an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson — and, "every

year faithfully" returns to Seaside Park for her summer vacations.

She worked as a home-based computer consultant from 1985 through 1992

and then again from 1998 through 2000. During her first stint as a

consultant she did a lot of computer training. Personal computers

were just making an appearance on desks, and many office workers were

still afraid the things would explode if they pressed the wrong key.

By 1998, however, she found "major software overload." There

was so much to choose from that paralysis had set in. Her consulting

then often came down to "finding out business requirements and

matching them with the best software fit." The job was an analysis

that involved the whole company and all of its functions.

Through both periods, Johnson dealt not only with her clients’

changing

needs, but also with the challenges of operating a business from her

home. She has some definite opinions on the right way — and the

wrong way — to run a successful home-based business:

Don’t let clients know you are working in a spare bedroom.

"Clients still perceive a home office as a negative," says

Johnson. Yes, home-based businesses have been around for a long time,

and yes, many have prospered while proclaiming to the world that desks

are lined up next to the washing machine. Nevertheless, Johnson says

it is risky to be too upfront about operating from a family room or

a corner in the bedroom. Once relationships with clients are

established

and your work is sought after, okay, but don’t let potential clients

in on the secret.

Create a front. There are a number of companies that

specialize

in creating an office presence for home-based businesses — without

actually giving them an office. Some have receptionists to answer

phones, office park addresses to which business mail can be sent,

desks available by reservation, and conference rooms to rent by the

hour. Find such a quasi-office, says Johnson, and never, ever even

think of inviting a potential client to a confab at the dining room

table.

Get a business phone line. It’s a definite "no

no,"

but a surprising number of home-based companies use the same phone

line for general household calls — from grandma and the kids’

school chums — and for business calls. Do not do this, says

Johnson.

Get a separate phone line for the business, and use any threats

necessary

to keep other members of the family, especially those under 10, from

ever picking up that phone.

Move away from the action. A home-based business should

not be headquartered anywhere in the flyway between, say, the

refrigerator

and the television, or the family room and the deck. "Be as

secluded

as possible," says Johnson. Then, she adds, "forbid the family

to go into the room. Period."

Be creative with communications. Families must be trained

not to interrupt unless it is an emergency. An empty container of

chocolate ice cream, it must be explained, does not fall into the

emergency category. Still, Johnson admits, there are times when

communications

that fall short of a request for transport to the emergency room do

need to get through. Her office had glass doors and her kids got into

the habit of holding up signs. Things like "Can I go play at

Connie’s

house?" This worked for her, she says. Others might find the signs

a tad distracting. If so, something like E-mail or Instant Messaging

might do the trick.

Eliminate barking and crying. If the family pet barks

every time a squirrel passes in front of a window, it needs to be

sequestered far from the home office. Clients, says Johnson, do not

want to hear barking when they call to check on a project. The same

goes for crying, or for the gut-wrenching screams that tend to

accompany

an intense scuffle between two toddlers intent on playing with the

same dump truck. Get a sitter, is Johnson’s advice here. No serious

business person can field client calls while feeding an infant or

separating combatant pre-schoolers.

Get a website. On the Internet, Johnson points out, size

does not matter. In cyberspace, a one-person business operating from

a cubby in the dining room can appear just as big as a multi-national

in cyberspace. Build a professional, full-featured website.

Keep a suit pressed. The business may be at home, but

the businessperson needs to get out. Selling is a part of every

business,

and some of it needs to be done in person. Networking is important

too, and Johnson encourages home-based business owners to attend

chamber

of commerce, association, and trade meetings.

Keep good records. Many home office expenses are tax

deductible.

Keep records for the IRS, but perhaps more importantly, says Johnson,

keep them to project cash flow, to track operations, and to build

business success.

The SBDC is seeing many individuals interested in starting

home-based

businesses right now. Many are downsized executives who have always

had a bit of the entrepreneurial itch. The SBDC offers free counseling

to anyone thinking of scratching that itch, and to anyone who is

already

in business, but could use a little help in getting to the next level.

All would do well to keep Johnson’s experience in mind. Running a

home-based business is full of rewards, but it does take a substantial

commitment. "It’s time consuming," she says. "You’re the

person doing it all."

Top Of Page
Business in Ireland: Gateway to the EU

She remains ever an island, off an island. And while

her lush, emerald shores may embrace 3.8 million warm and friendly

souls, ’tis Ireland’s location that determines the jobs and business

opportunities for her 1.82 million work force.

This willing and efficient portal into the European Union will be

the focus of the Global Business Center’s breakfast seminar on

Thursday,

May 23, at 8 a.m. at the West Windsor campus of Mercer Community

College.

Cost: $25. Call 609-586-4800, ext. 3639. Speakers include Paul

Cronin, vice president of Investment and Development Agency:

Ireland,

and George Lee of Red Devil Inc. They discuss the potential

for both industrial partnerships and distribution connections for

small to larger New Jersey-based businesses.

The Center for Global Business at MCCC runs an ongoing seminar series

of monthly workshops for firms and investors seeking to expand abroad.

In addition, its Action Group program serves the needs of Garden State

enterprises with a specific nation focus. Group members swap

information

on customs problems, finding a good bank, an able attorney — every

aspect of doing business on that nation’s soil.

Historically, sharp Western hemisphere traders have used Ireland as

a swifter and more amenable back door for distributing goods

throughout

Europe. Now as the E.U. continues to standardize and inter-connect,

this gateway role has grown more important. Of her $81.9 billion GNP,

an impressive 95 per cent is exported — and two thirds of that

floods into the Common Market. For the past 25 years, seminar speaker

Cronin has been involved in this growing import/export process. A

native of Dublin, he took his degrees at Trinity College, majoring

in economics and political science. Since 1977 he has served two

six-year

stints in New York as American/Irish liaison for the Investment and

Development Agency.

"Particularly during this last decade," Cronin says,

"Ireland

has labored very strategically and successfully to handle the

expansion

of Western hemisphere business throughout Europe’s markets." And

the benefits are several:

Logistical convenience. Of course, the Emerald Isle lies

comparatively closer to major U.S. shipping ports. But being the first

stop across the pond no longer provides an absolute trade advantage.

Also, while the unification of European markets increasingly lures

foreign investment, all tariffs, value-added taxes, and other customs

fees are standardized, allowing no specific nation any price

advantage.

"Instead, Ireland’s real competitive edge must and does come from

our greater logistical ease — both in distribution and in

industry,"

Cronin says. All business is personal, it’s just a little more so

in Ireland. The old joke claims that in Germany and France you deal

with companies, in England you deal with representatives, but in

Ireland

you talk with people. Seminar speaker Lee, of Red Devil, says that

a can-do atmosphere prevails.

Labor restructuring. Nationally, Ireland has worked to

retrain its labor force with what Cronin terms "more relevant

skills." The country’s leaders have worked to initiate a spiral

of better education that leads to higher wages and to higher

productivity.

"And for the past five years, this cycle seems to have impressed

foreign firms. Those seeking to industrialize here, have perceived

it as well worth their investment," says Cronin.

Where marriages are made. From parts, to product, to

packaging,

fewer and fewer items are totally manufactured and shipped from a

single home plant. More typically, a New Jersey enterprise may gather

pieces from Brazil and Thailand to be assembled and then placed in

packaging shipped in from Wisconsin.

Increasingly, Ireland’s industry is establishing such marrying

capabilities.

A growing list of companies exist solely to unite and reconfigure

all the product elements and ship the finished item out to markets

abroad. While the cost and time saving in this process are obvious,

there is one caveat. As your product slips further from your immediate

oversight, more diligence must be taken to maintain control.

Beyond Europe. American firms in general are clueless

about all of Africa. Our news media and trade sources still treat

it terra incognita, proffering little more than occasional snippets

from the Associated Press or from World Bank reports. Rooted in a

long missionary history, Ireland retains a strong trade through many

African nations, with representatives who know their way around the

ports, distribution networks, and regulations. They provide many

Western

hemisphere firms with an experienced launching point. These same

advantages

apply to both the Middle East and to the burgeoning markets of Eastern

Europe.

Emerald Isle and the Garden State. While the Irish Gateway

is convenient and swift, it is definitely limited. "High profit

margin, low weight products," says Cronin, "are what we most

specifically seek. In fact, it’s all we can handle." A glance

at a map would quickly discourage the selection of this small isle

as a site for livestock or large truck transfer. The New Jersey-based

pharmacology/health industries, however, find Ireland an ideal match

for both distribution and product reconfiguration. "Also, as

electronics

shifts to phototronics," Cronin says, "we stand ready to

convert."

Not only is the labor properly skilled for such work, but Ireland’s

flat, 12.5 percent corporate tax rate makes the country more enticing.

So, while economic indicators at home are still in a wee bit

of a slump, it may be time to look across the waters to greener

shores.

For the right business, a profitable gateway with a friendly pub

awaits.

Bart Jackson


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