Etsy didn’t start a revolution, but it sure as hell capitalized on an emerging market. Today, makers and creators of everything from sustainably sourced jewelry to calligraphy-laced invitations can call themselves true entrepreneurs. And Etsy is collecting millions in the process — especially with big names like the singer Adele announcing that they’re jumping in to scratch an entrepreneurial itch.
As all these hustles move from the sidelines to the front lines, innovators everywhere are discovering the beauty of being their own bosses from the comforts of their own kitchen table (or couch, patio or bedroom). Having a home-based businesses may not have been the dream of past generations, but it’s quickly become a reality for up-and-coming workers.
It all makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to avoid traffic frustrations, clock-punching and feeling as though they’re earning for someone else? Yet, despite your excitement at getting started, it’s important — especially if you’ve never run a company — to carefully prepare for this adventure of a lifetime. Otherwise, they could find yourself knee-deep in debt and confusion.
For every at-home challenge, a solution awaits
Inventors and producers who have turned themselves into home-based entrepreneurs understand the innate challenges of working from home, such as barking dogs, ringing doorbells and impatient toddlers. Such nagging distractions can make your days more chaotic than angelic.
But those issues are to be expected. Less talked about are the bigger woes many people face in adjusting to a merged home-work lifestyle. Fortunately, even the toughest of these have smart fixes:
Problem 1: Getting goods from here to there
Residential life affords only so many delivery and transportation opportunities, which limits many entrepreneurs’ reach. Thankfully, easier, faster and better options are available. Consider the case of Cleveland-based entrepreneur Fred DuBois. DuBois struggled to meet free shipping demands via FedEx ground, with daily costs soaring upwards of $500 and destroying his bottom line.
However, the solution of diversifying with multiple carriers (depending on the customer’s location) allowed him to cut his overhead cost in half.
By comparison-shopping the carriers available, you can significantly lower costs. Even small-scale businesses have the power to create bidding wars among vendors that will help keep these expenses to a minimum. Additionally, driverless cars and, eventually, drones, will soon allow home-based entrepreneurs to do more. Services like Uber and the fractional use of delivery trucks and off-site storage facilities, meanwhile, can provide further reasonable options to this genuine issue.
Problem 2: Tracking business performance
Every business owner needs to track data, and the best way to do that is with a strong software package focused on analytics. Still, KPMG International reports that only 51 percent of C-suite executives actually support data and analytics at their organizations, according to their subordinates responding to the survey.
How could a home-based entrepreneur hope to have any better success?
The trick is to find an intuitive platform that won’t break the bank. Systems such as the Google Analytics Application Gallery are completely free to use and offer a wealth of information that solo entrepreneurs could never gather themselves. Artificial intelligence-based platforms are starting to allow entrepreneurs to better gauge how their small businesses are operating; and these products are getting more economical all the time, making them reasonable choices even for solo founders.
Problem 3: No direction
Did your Etsy business spring up overnight? Have you hit the ground running, only to realize you’re barefoot with no shoes in sight? The answer is a plan. A formal business plan would be best, but if you don’t have the expertise, time, patience or desire for one, you should at least have an informal written document outlining where you were, where you are and where you want to go.
A study by Startup Genome determined that many failed businesses it studied had attempted to scale too quickly, proving that a sensible, conservative growth plan is essential. The more work you put into the plan, the better. Consider your competition today and tomorrow, and frequently check in with your plan to see how you are progressing.
Related: Growth-Hacking 101
Problem 4: Wrangling taxes and payments
Did you know that your business should ideally have an identity separate from your own that is registered with your state and possibly your city? You’ll also need to contact the IRS to get a federal ID number so you don’t have to use your personal Social Security number. That way, you can more easily navigate tax time.
Oh, and remember to set up quarterly tax payments with the IRS so you aren’t shocked when April 15 rolls around. The New York Times reported that unpaid taxes nationwide reached $458 billion in 2016; the paper also noted that the tax agency is on the lookout for violators, via audits and enforcement actions to regain lost cash flow; and the IRS often turns to entrepreneurs for those missing funds.
Next, there’s the daunting task of paying employees. Your friend can supply you with services, but he or she will need to be listed as an employee or independent contractor. Neither type is innately better or worse, but you — with or without the assistance of an accountant — will have to produce proper W2s and 1099s for taxes.
Problem 5: Broadband issues
When the broadband goes out, what will you do? Will you simply hope that your iPhone’s personal hotspot saves the day? Don’t count on fulfilling your responsibilities if you don’t have great broadband at your fingertips. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 99 percent of the businesses the association surveyed saw reliable broadband as essential, yet one-fifth of those businesses found their connections to be unreliable.
As a solution, consider paying for two broadband providers, such as Verizon Fios and Comcast. Yes, this is costlier in the short term, but it can keep your business afloat and hone a professional image for the long haul. No more worrying about problems with audio, video, screen-sharing or keeping up with social media management because of dropped service.
Problem 6: All those phone calls
Do you give clients your cell phone number? Your home number? Many entrepreneurs feel squeamish at the thought, and for good reason: It’s simply wise to keep the personal and work separate. Plus, if you build a team of employees, you might be better off with a cloud-based phone service that keeps team members unified on one business phone-service account. Never underestimate the power of a first impression: Having a reliable phone system grounded by technology gives you an image of success.
The acceptance of home-based businesses is on the rise, but that doesn’t mean you should relax your standards as an entrepreneur. Sure, it’s fine to be transparent with clients, but commit to showcasing an unwavering level of discipline, regardless of whether you’re home in your pajamas.