From the February 1996 issue of Startups

Having operated their Largo, Florida, desktop publishing business, The TomCat Connection Inc., together for nine years, neither Tom, 58, nor Cat Volkmann, 53, can think of a downside. Their homebased company is flourishing and so is their marriage. Business Start-Ups asked the Volkmanns what it takes to work together successfully from their home office.

1. Identify Your Roles. The Volkmanns recommend identifying roles and allowing each other to do his or her job without interference. "We each have our strengths and our own areas of responsibility," explains Tom. "Cat is the outgoing, up-front person, and I'm the behind-the-scenes person. We don't compete with each other."

2. Set Common Goals. Spend time setting mutually-agreeable goals for your business. "You can't haphazardly fumble your way through, day after day," says Cat. "We set out goals and work together to accomplish those goals."

3. Separate Your Offices. Although the Volkmanns began with a shared office, they soon discovered a need for separate work areas. "I'd be doing data entry for the newsletter and Tom would be thinking about how to do a layout and design for an advertiser," says Cat. "I would be typing and he'd be staring into space, and we would wonder if the other person was working. So we separated our offices."

4. Communicate Skillfully. Sometimes, one partner is having a bad day and needs to be left alone. The Volkmanns have learned to communicate their needs and respect each other's emotions. When problems arise, they talk about them. "Working together entails using the communications skills you would in any job," says Cat. "If there is a problem, you have to talk about it."

5. Act Professionally. The Volkmanns advise that a couple run their office as professionally as possible. "A person in an office setting isn't going to argue and fight with his co-workers, because they're professionals," explains Tom. "You have to treat your spouse the same way. They're an individual and a professional. Just because you have a personal relationship doesn't mean you can yell and scream at each other."

6. Take Time Off. Don't spend all your time working. "A lot of people get so involved in their work they forget to have fun together," observes Cat. "Sundays we spend our own time together. We play Scrabble, go for walks and go to the beach. You have to set your time limits and define when it is work time and when it is not."

Worth Reading

Have you ever dreamed of opening a writing or desktop publishing business? If you have, but aren't sure where to begin, then How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business, by Lucy V. Parker (The Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), is the book for you.

This practical, informative guide covers every aspect of starting up a homebased writing business. Topics include evaluating your skills, finding writing assignments and marketing and selling your work. From setting up your home office to pricing your service, from producing graphics yourself to working with an outside graphics operation, it is a comprehensive guide that explores every apect of a business that combines writing and desktop publishing. Parker also covers many issues that are applicable to the start-up of all businesses, such as how to set up your company, how to choose hardware and software and how to figure out how much to charge clients for your services.

An added feature of the book is the helpful 19 "Business Success Worksheets." You can implement the information you provide in your answers to develop your own business plan.

How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business includes many of Parker's suggestions, drawn from her experience as a homebased writer. She recommends combining desktop publishing with writing to offer customers the convenience of "one-stop shopping," and to bring in more business for you.

Home Alone?

You may be running a business by yourself, but you're not alone.

In Tax Planning For The One Person Business (Wavemaker Productions, $14.95 paper), CPA and one-person business owner James Bucheister details the tax tricks to the solo trade. "The book will take you on a journey," explains Bucheister in his introduction, "through the enormously complex federal income tax rules and regulations as they apply to one-person businesses."

For many business owners working alone, this is often an intimidating journey-one most easily taken with the guided advice of an experienced entrepreneur. By providing 144 pages of helpful strategies for charting your business's tax course through waters that are often murky with tax laws and unfamiliar jargon, this book seeks to do just that. However, this book is not intended to replace an accountant. You may very well still need one, but rather to help you plan which steps you'll need help with and which ones you can accomplish on your own.

Included are tips for maintaining effective and accurate bookkeeping records, both to gauge profits and losses and as proof of business activity for the IRS. Also listed are important deadlines for such items as individual estimated tax deposits and 1099 independent contractor information statements, to help keep busy entrepreneurs current with their required payments and paperwork.

Chapter 12 offers strategies and legal examples for deducting your home office, citing IRS Section 280A, which details the specific parameters of what is and isn't considered by tax laws to be a deductible home office. Each homebased business operates differently, so if you're planning on deducting yours, it's important to consult Section 280A for specific requirements as they pertain to your unique circumstances.

Tax planning can be confusing and time consuming, especially when you're busy with your new business. So if you're a lone entrepreneur seeking business guidance, Bucheister's Tax Planning For The One Person Business may be just the road map your business needs as it embarks on new tax ground. -Karin Moeller