Home Free

Attitude Adjustment

Poses claims he was too naive to recognize problems that might have spooked a more sophisticated entrepreneur. Jim McCarthy says the same liberal arts background stymied his back-office business acumen--but not his desire to succeed. The 31-year-old president of McCarthy Communications Inc., a homebased public relations firm in Washington, DC, left a large PR firm and borrowed $5,000 to start one of his own. His first employee was a bookkeeper--a grad student from Georgetown University who interned for experience and a meager paycheck.

McCarthy was also smart enough to realize he needed clients. So the then-27-year-old approached his soon-to-be-former boss and asked if he could take a pair of low-budget American-Indian clients with him. The boss obliged and continued to steer additional work to the fledgling entrepreneur. Today, McCarthy's niche specialty has blossomed: His company now represents 12 American-Indian tribes and interest groups. Three account executives--and his bookkeeper--work from McCarthy's rented home.

McCarthy's pet peeve? The perennial problem of homebased businesses owners: As Rodney Dangerfield would put it, they don't get no respect. First, it was other companies figuring he couldn't be "a real business" because he worked from home. He combated those prejudices by delivering results in a professional manner. Then the condo association refused to let McCarthy receive FedEx packages at his door. The "petty dictatorship" issued a warning for him to cease and desist complaining about their rules.

"I said, `Cease and desist this,' " recalls McCarthy, who's still homebased. "The next week, I rented a house and moved."

Today, McCarthy enjoys a lax dress code; he often goes for days without wearing shoes. Each afternoon he naps for an hour or so while the troops hold down the fort. (He's the boss; he can do these things.) After that, his batteries are recharged and his mind is clear.

He's found success breeds success: The Winnebago tribe of Nebraska spread the word about his business, and McCarthy Communications' sales are set to top $350,000 this year.

For a time before he left his job, McCarthy wondered how he would make a go of it and whether his start-up would be successful. Like some peers who never make the leap, he was fearful of "jumping the wall" and leaving corporate America to go it alone.

"I'm an arts and letters grad from Notre Dame and had utterly no idea how to run a business when I started," McCarthy says. "I've never balanced a checkbook or been able to fill out a tax return. But my salary quadrupled overnight. There's no office politics or corporate ladder. It's just amazing to me the list of things that got markedly better overnight."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Home Free.

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