If there is one common mistake entrepreneurs make when starting a home-based business, Janet Pickover would say it is that people think it will all go much easier than trying to start one in a commercial space.
Certainly, there are advantages: no commute, no second landlord, no leases, no fighting with the obligatory person in every office who always needs to have the air conditioner set to polar. But there is one fundamental thing Pickover wants every entrepreneur to keep in mind: “A business is a business is a business,” she says. “You have to treat it that way.”
Pickover, a certified meeting planner and owner of JR Associates at 86 Poe Road, will present “Starting a Home-Based Business,” a free SCORE Princeton workshop, on Tuesday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m. at South Brunswick Library. Visit princeton.score.org.
Pickover started her own business in her basement in 1981. Back then it was almost taboo for anyone to start a serious, corporate-focused business from their own home, she says. Few would take seriously a person who had only a phone, a desk, and a Rolodex. But entrepreneurship was in her blood. Her mother ran a successful dress shop for 36 years and her father owned a meat delivery service, so she was no stranger to hard work on her own.
Pickover earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in reading from Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) and began her career in education before taking the Certified Meeting Professional exam. For 34 years she’s focused on meeting management consulting, training, and lecturing on meeting management issues, such as saving on food, site selection, and risk management (because, she says, meetings will always go wrong if you’re not prepared).
Pickover also has been with SCORE for several years, counseling business owners and would-be entrepreneurs through the basics of setting up and running a business, particularly from home.
Running a business. “People get into business for the wrong reasons,” Pickover says. “People like being in control and they become disillusioned with the layers involved with working at a company.”
But that’s a rather negative-sum reason to go into business. It’s a lot like voting for one candidate simply because you hate the other one. Business, says Pickover, can’t be a lesser-of-two-evils thing. “It had better be something that is a passion,” she says, “because if you think you worked hard before, wait until you work for yourself.”
A lot of entrepreneurs also make the mistake of thinking that their skill sets will be enough, Pickover says. Skill sets are a given. If you start a business, whatever you do, you’re probably already good at the work itself.
What you need is the ability to manage your business well. You need to be able to market yourself, find business, build new relationships, manage money, and supervise employees.
“If you don’t understand business, you’re dead,” she says. Once you realize that, you can start your business wherever it’s best.
Starting from home. The numbers from countless federal agencies and groups and business organizations have been pretty steady for years: almost 70 percent of new businesses begin in a home, whether part-time or full-time; a new home-based business starts every 12 seconds; 10 percent of all workers work from home.
Pickover cites statistics like these to show entrepreneurs that home-based business is a viable path. She likes to highlight the smaller costs of converting a room into an office, the lower overhead, and smaller investment needed to get a business up and running.
She is certainly proof that starting in the basement can work well. But her highlights also serve to remove what can still be a stigma for some people. Remember, in 1981 the idea of running a corporate-focused business from a home office was met with derision. But not anymore. Companies with sales forces, in fact, are more frequently giving their salespeople computers and phones and letting them work from home, she says. And consultants, who are plentiful, especially since the recession, usually openly work from their own homes.
And no one minds — mainly because clients don’t usually visit your office anyway.
“In all the 30-plus years I’ve been in business,” Pickover says, “I’ve only had one client come to my house. People don’t care where you do business. They only want to see the results.”
Home, peculiar home. Though a business is a business, wherever it’s run, home-based businesses do have to deal with some quirks that those in an office park or on Main Street do not. For one thing, you’re home, but you’re not home.
A friend once told Pickover that she was lucky to work from home because she could work on her back deck on a laptop. “I tried that once,” she says. “But that’s where I go on Sunday to relax.”
The thing is, there is something wonderful about leaving work and heading home. When you work in your home, however, you don’t leave it. So you must separate it. Dedicated rooms or floors are a must, and when the day is over, shut the door behind you and go home. But never take your work to the places you relax and feel actually at home in.
Another issue home-based entrepreneurs deal with is isolation. If you come from a busy office and start your own company at home, be prepared for the fact that there is no one there, no water cooler to gather around.
You still need to talk to people, Pickover says. You still need to dress for your business. You still need to leave the house to network and buy supplies and give talks. You still need to keep to a schedule.
One friend of hers gets up every day and leaves the house first before starting work so that he doesn’t just roll out of bed and step directly into his work space. It’s also to remind him that people are out there, which is why he heads to a coffee shop most days, to be around people.
And for those who worry about bringing people home, Pickover admits that many people are uncomfortable with the idea. But home-based entrepreneurs are accepted today, even to the point at which major hotel chains with beautiful lobbies now have meeting room spaces and even suites equipped for business groups; libraries have rooms; business parks have common areas. All these spaces are places to meet clients so you don’t have to let anyone into your home.
For all the advantages and quirks and realities, however, Pickover says it all still comes back to one thing. “For most of the people I’ve counseled who don’t continue in their business,” she says, “the passion’s just not there. You need to be passionate about what you do.”