The needs, problems, and questions of a business owner with a one-person office or home office are often different than from those of a larger business, says Linda Dousis, the founder of the SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) special interest group within the Somerset County Business Partnership.
“The record-keeping is often different because there are different tax issues for a person with a home office, but also the need for discipline in separating your work life from your personal life can also be more difficult,” Dousis says. “That’s why I wanted to help start the SOHO group. I found that many of the needs of the home business owner weren’t addressed in other meetings.”
The SOHO group, which had a meeting this Wednesday, July 13, at the Somerset Business Partnership offices in Bridgewater, is “not a networking group or a one-business-only group,” says Dousis. “We accept everyone.” Networking and referrals happen, of course, but the main focus of the group is education and support, she says. For more information, call 908-218-4300.
Because she has owned and managed businesses of all sizes, Dousis has a real understanding of the different issues faced by the smallest of small business owners. Dousis opened her current business, Administrative Services and Consulting in Hillsborough, in 2006. She performs bookkeeping services for about 170 clients.
She also teaches Quickbooks at Raritan Valley Community College and is a counselor with the Small Business Development Center there. As a consultant for the state SBDC, she teaches in the Second Stage Business program and works on special projects such as the Small Business Day organized at Fort Monmouth to help businesses affected by the base closure.
And while much of her work involves traveling to her clients’ offices, her own office is located in her home. The first company Dousis worked with was Rheometrics, a start-up manufacturer of rheological research instruments (instruments that measure viscosity and elasticity) run by a Princeton University graduate. She was hired as the administrative assistant, the company’s fifth employee, when it had just over $100,000 in yearly sales.
Seven years later the company had $10.5 million in sales, 115 employees worldwide, and had filed for an IPO and started a German division of the firm. Dousis’ title was vice president of administration, human resources, finance and systems. She was secretary/treasurer of the corporation and managing director of the German subsidiary and was responsible for special projects, such as purchasing buildings, reviewing leases, renovating facilities, evaluating the underwriters for the IPO, marketing, and hiring and training employees.
She left the company to follow her dream of opening her own business, and “had just gotten through the first growing pains of working as an independent consultant,” when she received an offer from Nametre, a 25-year-old instrument company based in Metuchen that had never grown past $300,000 in sales. Her job was to help it grow.
Dousis began as a consultant and eventually became president of the firm, increasing sales to $4 million. On the death of the owner she negotiated an employee-leveraged buyout from his estate. Subsequently, the company was sold to a Boston firm, but Dousis stayed in Hillsborough and opened her own business.
#b#Freedom with discipline#/b#. One of the best reasons to have a home office is the freedom it gives you to set your own schedule. “A lot of my work for my clients is done at their offices, but there are still also a lot of other things I must do for my business, or work that I do remotely for clients,” Dousis says. “Things I can do whenever I want. If I want to work in my office at 5 a.m., I can easily do that.”
But along with the freedom to choose to work at 5 a.m. or 9 p.m. or to take off on a weekday and work the weekend comes the need for more discipline than is called for by a worker or business owner with a separate office. “Working out of your home is not for everyone,” she says. “You need the discipline not to click on the television, not to go out and weed the garden. You need to act in your home office just as you would in the office of a corporation. While you might click on a television in a corporate office and turn it to a news channel, you would never watch a soap opera.”
#b#Training your friends and family#/b#. Many people who open a home business after years of working in an office have a problem explaining to others that they are still really working. They are not free during the day to go out for a three-hour lunch, babysit the neighbors’ kids, or deal with the many “emergencies” that children, spouses, and friends share during the day.
“You have to explain to everyone that you have a schedule and if you are going to ask your family to stick to it, you need to stick to it also,” says Dousis. “You need to envision yourself going into your office, even if that office is only a corner of a room. Close the door and asked not to be disturbed until you come out.”
#b#Keeping records#/b#. It is important for the small business owner to keep excellent records, right from the start, says Dousis, particularly because many new business owners attempt to do it all themselves without the assistance of a bookkeeper.
If you wait until tax time before showing everything to your accountant, you may no longer have the receipts or records you need to receive credit for legitimate tax deductions. It is much better to give your accountant more information than is needed than not enough. There are several different deductions available to the business owner with a home office, but without the records, you may not be able to take them.
#b#What about employees#/b#? As your business begins to grow, you may decide to take on employees, but there are also different implications for business owners who work out of their homes. “If you have employees or clients coming to your office you may suddenly be in violation of your township’s zoning laws,” she says.
In addition, if you do not have a separate entrance and bathroom facilities for your office, you are giving your employees access to your home. This can create increased insurance liabilities and risks. “Talk to your insurance agent before you take on an employee. Make sure that you are properly covered,” she says.
While working at home is not right for every business owner or every business, it can be the best decision for many others. Before you decide to work out of your home, says Dousis, talk to other business owners, find out the good and bad that they have experienced. Learning from others is the best way to avoid costly mistakes.