From the June 1998 issue of Startups

For many homebased business owners, vacations seem a distant memory of life in the corporate world where you had people to cover for you when you took a vacation. But when you're running a solo operation, getting away from the business long enough to relax and rejuvenate can be a challenge.

Janie Williams, owner and president of Janie Williams and Associates, a homebased bookkeeping and tax firm in Long Beach, California, offers these tips:

  • Plan ahead. Schedule your vacation in advance so you can plan your workload around your time off.
  • Build a backup network. Line up people you trust to handle work that can't wait while you're gone.
  • Notify your clients. About a week before you leave, tell your clients you'll be unavailable. You may need to tell them sooner if it means rescheduling their work. "Most clients are understanding," says Williams. "They know you need to get away, and they'll usually work with you."
  • Take some of your work with you. Sometimes a change of scenery is worthwhile even if you can't totally escape your business. Use faxes, portable computers and modems to keep up while you enjoy some time at a resort.
  • Consider taking several short breaks instead of one long vacation. "I don't see how anyone who is [homebased] could take a month-long vacation," saysWilliams. But you can take a Friday-through-Monday break without your clients even being aware you were gone.

Whether you believe vacations are valuable or a waste of time, it's a good idea to structure your business so you can take time off if necessary. Williams learned this lesson the hard way when she became ill and was unable to work at the end of the tax season last year. "If something happens and you end up bedridden or in the hospital, who's going to take care of your clients?" she asks. "Not just for vacations, but in case of illness or other emergencies, you need a plan in place."


Jacquelyn Lynn is a freelance business writer in Winter Park, Florida.

Chop, Chop

Just because you're homebased doesn't mean you can afford to be any less cautious about discarding documents. In fact, says Todd Henreckson, director of the Shredder Division at General Binding Corp. (GBC), an office equipment manufacuring company in Northbrook, Illinois, "The garbage generated by a homebased business is just as vulnerable [to fraud and information thieves] as any corporation's."

Although you may think your trash is relatively safe if it goes from your house to the curb to the dump, there are plenty of opportunities for the information it contains to fall into the wrong hands. "The minute you put your garbage out at the curb, it's public domain and it's legal for someone to go through it," Henreckson says. Also, trash bags can tear open, and if you've tossed out financial records, confidential client information or other private documents, they could be spilled and available for anyone to see.

A simple and increasingly affordable solution is to shred documents before discarding them. The price of home office shredders has been dropping steadily. According to GBC, in 1988, a personal shredder cost approximately $250; in 1996, comparable equipment had dropped to about $30. The company estimates that in 1998, the total number of shredders sold will reach 2.5 million.

Today, basic home office shredders start at less than $25 for a style that fits over your wastebasket and shreds documents into strips. For extra security, you can opt for a machine that cuts paper into chips; these models are available for less than $100.

Uncalled For

A common complaint about telemarketers is that they always seem to call in the evening just as you're sitting down to dinner. For the homebased business owner, the problem is compounded because those calls tend to come during the day when you're trying to focus on work. Your chance of getting called by telemarketers increases proportionally with the amount of time you spend in your home office, says Stephen Urbish, president of Don't Annoy Me (DAM) Inc., in Columbus, New Jersey. This increase in calls is no coincidence--telemarketing companies conduct extensive, sophisticated research, and they know who is likely to be at home during the day and who isn't.

"If you're working at home, telemarketing research indicates that you have money, you can be reached during the day at your residential line, and you probably have time to talk to a telemarketer, so you'll be targeted," says Urbish. He knows this because he spent 10 years in the telemarketing industry before creating DAM, a service designed to reduce the number of telemarketing calls to homes.

Of course, you can simply tell each caller to put you on their "do not call" list, and by law, they are required to comply. Some states also have "do not call" registries (details can be found in your telephone directory), but they are typically limited to telemarketers based in that state.

For a fee, DAM will notify each of the more than 1,500 telemarketing companies across the country that are in their database that you do not wish to be called; they'll provide you with documentation so you have recourse if the companies fail to comply. Urbish says you can also reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive by being cautious about releasing personal information and by asking the companies you do business with to refrain from selling your personal data.

DAM's notification service is $19.95 for each residential line (telemarketing laws do not apply to business lines). For Entrepreneur's HomeOffice readers, Urbish is offering a discounted rate of $5 for each additional residential line; call (800) 846-4715 or write to Don't Annoy Me Inc., P.O. Box 442, Columbus, NJ 08022-0442.

Places To Go

Sometimes you need to host a meeting or make a presentation, and your home office just isn't appropriate. In the Washington, DC, area, the Executive Office Club Inc. rents a range of office facilities, including multimedia conference rooms, state-of-the-art communications and computer stations, on an as-needed, hourly basis. "Homebased entrepreneurs have been screaming for a professional place to work when they need something outside the home," says Executive Office Club's president, Mark Wiatrowski.

Wiatrowski suggests that homebased business owners plan ahead to find appropriate facilities. Some options are:

  • Executive suites. Although most executive office suites prefer long-term rentals, some offer daily or hourly rates.
  • Small hotels. Unlike large hotel chains, small hotels may have affordable meeting facilities for small groups.
  • Airline clubs. Call your nearest airport to find out about airline club facilities. These clubs are especially convenient if you're meeting with people who are traveling.

Contact Sources

Executive Office Club Inc., (800) 784-2484, http://www.houroffice.com

GBC, (800) 541-0094, http://www.gbc.com

Janie Williams and Associates, (562) 430-8240, fax: (562) 598-0315.