From the November 1999 issue of Startups

There's a sneaky disease that strikes the best of homebased entrepreneurs: loneliness. It sounds almost trivial compared to cash-flow or customer-service concerns--that is, until you catch yourself staring out the window, fantasizing about hanging out by those long-lost water coolers and kvetching with colleagues. Chatting on the Web is certainly one solution to this dilemma, but less time-consuming are e-mail discussion lists.

Delivered conveniently to your e-mail inbox, discussion lists provide a new network of colleagues, prospects, advisors, partners and friends. "You can still `rub shoulders' with your colleagues, but with e-mail discussion groups, you're doing it virtually," explains Doug Hudiburg, 33, who started an e-mail discussion group when he needed to find freelance professionals for Flatiron Resource Group, his Louisville, Colorado, virtual team-management company that assembles freelance teams to help clients with marketing projects. "The groups can help you get immediate answers to questions, find other homebased entrepreneurs to collaborate with, market your services or products and keep current with what's happening in your industry."

To find a list to join, search http://www.onelist.com or http://www.lsoft.com/lists/listref.html. If you can't find a suitable list, create your own--for free--at ONElist or eGroups (http://www.egroups.com). "Building a strong e-mail community is about adding value," advises Hudiburg, who spends two to three hours per week on his list. "If you see your [list] as providing a service, [your list] community will grow and prosper."

Supporting Roles

Your 500-piece mailing needs to go out by the end of the week? A client proposal needs to be typed and proofread by Monday morning? No problem, just have your assistant--oh, wait a second. Your city's zoning laws don't allow you to hire employees. Even if they did, where would you put one--in the hall closet?

If you don't have enough space or work to invest in an employee, but still have more duties than you can handle, consider turning to business-support services, which provide outside help on an as-needed basis. It's like having employees on call, except you don't have to bother with training, paying for downtime, the complexities of payroll and benefits, or finding room and money for another workstation in your home.

"Why do you want to get bogged down by the grunt work that's involved in running a business--composing this and refining that?" says Lynette Smith, executive director of the Association of Business Support Services International Inc. "There are things you're better at and should be spending your time on. It's helpful to know what you're not very good at and simply subcontract that work out to others."

Business-support services can provide a range of services, from "grunt work," like preparing mailings and word processing, to specialized areas, like graphic design, bookkeeping, event planning or professional writing services. Other services offered include database management, translation, Web research and design, answering services, and computer consulting. For a directory of business-support services, visit http://www.abssi.com

Party Line

You have a fax machine, an Internet connection, a credit-card reader and a regular, old phone line. Where, pray tell, do you plug them all in? You could pay to install four or five phone lines and watch the phone company get rich--or you could hook up to a line-sharing device like Multi-Link's The Stick II.

The two-line call processor, which goes for $259 (street), lets you plug in devices at five ports and automatically processes all calls to the correct device. The call-in/dial-out long-distance saver lets you make long-distance calls through your office phone from remote locations, and the port-to-port communication and data-transfer feature allows you to connect two computers to The Stick II to send data from one to another or the peripheral devices. Visit http://www.multi-link.net or call (800) 535-4651 for more information.

Contact Source

Flatiron Resource Group, (303) 926-8280, http://www.flatironresources.com