One of the common complaints of some homeworkers is isolation, but a new social networking site is starting up to link up homeworkers, freelancers and those running their business from home and allow them to support each other, socialise when they want to and swap services and advice.
IHubbub went live in December, but will be officially launched in March.
It provides forums for people to talk about issues that affect them and offer their services to other members who may have expertise in another area that they can provide in return. For instance, a website designer may be able to design a marketing manager's site in return for a marketing person designing a brochure for them.
The idea for the site came from Paula Wynne, author of two books on creating a website and using social media, and her partner Ken Sheridan. Both are veterans of homeworking, having set up a remote working site several years ago. Paula has also worked from home for many years as a freelance PR expert until she got divorced and, as a single mum to her son, now aged 22, she needed the security of regular employment. Ken's background is in brand management. “He has all the corporate expertise and I have the freelance knowledge so we complement each other perfectly,” says Paula.
She is cutting down on her PR work now to focus her energies on iHubbub. She and Ken thought of the idea for the site several years ago and, while she was researching it, Paula found that there were no books which gave a step by step guide to how to set up your own business website in a way that meant you didn't have to outsource for things like search engine optimisation. She put together a book proposal, took it to the London Book Fair and was commissioned to write Create a Successful Website. Pimp my Site, which is about using social media, was published last year.
The plans for iHubbub went on hold for a while after Paula suffered complications following a minor operation on her shoulder and had to have it reconstructed with metal plates. She says she was in such pain that she couldn't sleep and was put on sleeping pills. However, she became addicted and eventually managed to wean herself off sleeping pills and onto painkillers. “It was an awful time,” she says. “I was not functioning at my full capacity as I wasn't sleeping.”
During this time she was made redundant and won a competition to have a business mentor. She worked with the mentor, entrepreneur Karen Darby, on iHubbub. She describes it as “an ecosystem for homeworking” and says she spent a lot of time researching what homeworkers wanted.
The site has also been building partnerships with businesses such as T-Mobile and is hoping to lobby big companies to be champions of home start-ups by making new home office equipment available to them at an affordable price.
Paula says a lot of homeworkers love the lifestyle of working from home as it allows them to fit work around their caring responsibilities or, in the case of disabled homeworkers, to access work more easily. However, she says many cannot afford to go freelance or set up their own business full-time and have to manage building it around doing another flexible job.
She sees this as a big growth area, particularly with all the technological advancements which make it possible to work from home with just a laptop, a broadband connection and a mobile phone, plus plenty of passion and energy. “We want to help these people to grow their businesses and we realise that, as a start-up, it can be expensive to get PR, marketing and other expertise. The aim of our site is to encourage people to swap skills and services. They can also sell their products,” says Paula.
The tone of the site is “family like” and fun in keeping with family-centred home businesses. Plans for future developments on the site include training webinars on issues such as how to use social media to promote your business and giving greater access for small companies to the bigger brands.