Home business guru Emma Jones speaks to Working Mums about how to start up your own enterprise and achieve the perfect work/life balance.
If you’ve ever thought about setting up your own business from home, but had a few doubts about the practicalities, you should talk to Emma Jones. She is fast becoming the guru of home businesses. She founded the website Enterprise Nation in 2006 and just two years in has published a very readable guide to setting up your own business from home. Spare Room Start Up is bursting with case studies, advice and links. Within a year, she may be global, have her own tv show and be the world’s leading proponent of home businesses.
Her success is based on knowing how to turn a relatively simple idea into something with a wide appeal. She may even have hit on an idea that will spark a working revolution.
Emma is no novice to starting up a business. Before Enterprise Nation, she set up another home-based company when she was just 27. She had worked for five years for the financial giant Arthur Anderson and had built up a range of contacts. She saw online potential in one of the inward investment projects she was working on and decided to try her luck. She set up Techlocate.com. Within 15 months she had been approached by Tenon, a financial and accountancy business, who bought the company. They gave her the idea for setting up Enterprise Nation.
"Techlocate had been working from homes in London and Manchester and no-one at Tenon said that was unprofessional. In fact, they found it great because we had low overhead costs and our profit margin was good. That started me thinking about the idea for Enterprise Nation," said Emma.
Enterprise Nation is a website which gives advice about and examples of home businesses. Emma developed it while working with Tenon. "I started researching and found there was no information for people setting up a business from home," said Emma.
She is not one to sit on her laurels. A year into setting up the site, she came up with the idea for the book after publishing lots of profiles of home business workers. "People were writing in saying they wanted a start-up guide," she said. She had very definite ideas about the book. It needed not only to have a wide range of case studies and cover all the basics for setting up your own business, but it also had to be written and designed in a way that did not put people off.
The result is a book full of clearly designated chapters on themes like finding the right idea [crucial - it should be something you feel passionately about, says Emma] to balancing work and life commitments.
Working with your kids
The latter includes sections on working with your family and getting the kids to help out with doing mailouts or designing your website. "I think the Government doesn’t give enough recognition to the role home business parents can have in bringing up the next generation of entrepreneurs," says Emma. "Once children see that it is a natural thing to do they are not so afraid of it." Emma should know. She was brought up by a single self-employed parent who worked in the restaurant business. She is very hot on the whole idea of home business being about more than working. It is also a lifestyle issue. This is reflected in the book by sections on finding the right interior decorations, keeping fit while working from home and the focus on juggling home and work life. She says many of the books on setting up your own business are a bit dull and earnest, with graphs and long chapters on writing a business plans. This is the antidote.
Many of the people who visit Enterprise Nation are working parents – you can tell, Emma says, by the spikes in traffic on the site – morning times are busy as is the post-9pm bedtime slot. Increasingly, both parents work from home. In fact, it is becoming so popular that she has added a best couple of the year category to Enterprise Nation’s annual awards this year.
But surely the economic downturn is going to affect home businesses and make people more cautious about striking out on their own? Not so, says Emma. Having a business from home adds on average £25,000 to the
value of your home. Plus you can start it up part-time on the side of another job [she reckons start-up costs can be as low as £500] until it is financially strong and think of the savings on fuel costs as petrol prices rise. "People say it is risky, but it is risky to stay in employment as you are at the mercy of your employer. When you are running your own business you are much more in control of your life."
Freedom from the bosses is a major plus point of setting up your own business. But many people lack confidence about whether they can do all the things needed to run a business - accounting, administration, technical support. Emma says the main questions that are sent into Enterprise Nation are around sales and marketing and finances. She advises anyone setting up a business to do good market research. This may run to testing to the market, for instance, if you want to trade online, trial your product first on e-Bay.
Enterprise Nation has done podcasts on issues like sales and marketing and its first web chat, launched last week, was with a marketing expert. It has an accountant who advises on finance questions.
What are Emma’s top tips for succeeding with a home business? She says there is a Golden Triangle rule: you should balance your time evenly between caring for existing customers, business development and administration. You should also have a definite space or office for your work so you can separate from it physically - a growing number of home starters are working from the garden shed.
Emma has big plans for the future. Next year, she is looking to expand overseas. She is also thinking of developing an annual event around business and lifestyle. You can see the appeal of the idea, particularly as a working parent. She has a sign in her house which says "Inspire". Her six-year-old niece asked her: "Is that what you need to run Enterprise Nation?" It certainly seems that way.