"They always say it's dangerous to go into business with a friend--just like it's dangerous to live with a friend," laughs Lance Brown. But Brown and his business partner/friend/roommate, Edie Lerman, have bucked traditional advice as much as possible in creating an idyllic rural home office for their Internet company, PeoplesForum.com.
Close enough to travel to Silicon Valley for investor meetings, yet far away from nonbusiness distractions, their location in the mountain town of Nevada City, California, gives the business partners the intensity (read: 18-hour days with no distractions) they feel they need to realize their business dream. And, of course, rooming and working in the same space saves them precious rent money. But all these positive aspects of sharing a home office have to have a twist, and for Brown and Lerman, it's in the delicate mix of the complex relationships of business partners, roommates and friends.
"The proper balancing of these roles is probably the greatest challenge of this whole grand experiment," says Brown, 27, who founded PeoplesForum.com, a site devoted to public opinions, debate and conversation, with Lerman, 26, early last year.
Author Azriela Jaffe spoke with several business partners/roommates while researching her book, Let's Go Into Business Together: Eight Secrets to Successful Business Partnering (AvonBooks, $12.50, 800-223-0690), and found many have difficulty separating the personal stuff from the business. "If you give yourself the illusion you're going to have privacy, you're going to be sorry," says Jaffe. To avoid problems, she advises partners develop a social life away from their business partner and establish "no work" boundaries in time or space (as in, no work talk after 8 p.m. or at the dinner table).
Brown advises roommates/entrepreneurs to make sure their relationship can handle the pressure. "[We know] no matter what happens--if we stop being housemates and the business falls apart--we're still going to be friends," he says. "It makes you know that these aren't make-or-break issues. They're just part of the bigger process."
Among the few joys of working for someone else are benefits and free office supplies. As a homebased entrepreneur, your days of free pens and dental plans may be over, but you can still find decent discounts by joining organizations that offer members price breaks on products and services. Companies to check out:
- CorpHQ offers a free general membership that lets you take advantage of group discounts on everything from telephone and Internet service to travel and insurance. If you want to buy a product CorpHQ doesn't offer, make a request, and CorpHQ will ask other members if they're interested in buying the same product. If enough people are interested, CorpHQ negotiates a group discount.
- For $96 annually, SOHO America offers members discounts on paging and long-distance services, printing, office supplies, software, financial advice, travel and health insurance, among other things.
- You don't have to be a woman to join Women's Consumer Network, which provides discounts in four areas: Money Matters, To Your Health, On The Job and Everyday Solutions. Of interest to homebased business owners: a comprehensive health package, discounts on office supplies and low-cost financial services. Membership costs $21.95 annually.
If Santa brings me Amisco's Helsinki desk unit for Christmas, I vow to drink my coffee through a silly straw, converse in Seussian rhyme one day a week and celebrate all things curvy. This multiple-unit furniture collection eschews straight lines for gracefully curved steel, and is available in a variety of metal and wood finishes. The centerpiece Work Table ($260) includes a hutch and keyboard drawer. If you need more storage, you can add the 5-Shelf Unit ($188), 2-shelf Desk Return ($140), Mobile File ($88), and Connecting Corner ($50). Visit http://www.amisco.com or call (800) 361-6360 for details.
PeoplesForum.com, (530) 292-1516