Before Jim McCarthy launched McCarthy Communications in Washington, DC, he checked with district code officials to see if having employees and client visits would be tolerated. It would, they told him. Ditto for Sarah Steinman, who runs Casco Bay Herb Co. from her home in Cumberland, Maine.
Both entrepreneurs benefited from local governments attuned to the needs of the modern working family, they say. In fact, with DC in dire financial straits, Congress created dual-use or enterprise zones to keep white-collar workers in the city. "I'm located in one of these, so zoning hasn't been a problem," says McCarthy.
Many cities nationwide allow homebased businesses--with a few caveats. In the most restrictive areas, expect bans on signage, customer visits, manufacturing or storage of goods on-site--or anything else deemed to negatively impact a residential neighborhood. Your first call should be to the county or city code enforcement office to learn how your neighborhood is zoned and whether--or what type of--home offices are allowed. If your city prohibits homebased businesses--or your type of business specifically--you can appeal to the zoning board or city commission. Create an argument that outlines how your business will benefit the neighborhood and what little negative impact it will have.
If homebased businesses are allowed in your area, expect to pay for an occupational or business license from both the county and municipality. Hiding out to save on license fees isn't wise, warns Trina Pulliam, founder of SOHO Station, an association for people who work at home. "You're setting yourself up for a fine," she says. License fees vary widely, from $10 to a few hundred dollars annually. Whatever the cost, it's a small price to pay for staying on the right side of the law.