From the July 2002 issue of Startups

Q: I am a seamstress, and eventually I will also offer custom-designed photo transfers for T-shirts and other items. The problem is, I was told that while I can sew from my home, I cannot keep any inventory. I would be mailing everything from the post office up the street from where I live. Also, do you recommend I set up a Web site?

A: Apparently your community's residential zoning allows you to operate at home but restricts keeping inventory in a home. If you probe deeper, you may find some wiggle room to allow you to do what you want. Inventory is not an exact term, though it's usually thought of as being merchandise, stock-in-trade or commodities. It can also be defined to cover materials and supplies. But creating custom-designed items arguably puts you in the category of an artist. Most artists create their works at home. They have materials and create original products as you plan to do. Artists are often favored as a home occupation in zoning ordinances and, even when not, are generally allowed to do their thing.

Sometimes what this kind of zoning restriction seeks to accomplish is preventing residents from using their garages to store merchandise and thereby having to park their vehicles in the driveway or on the street. Still other ordinances are intended to prevent manufacturing, retail sales and commercial repair services on the premises. Since none of these applies to you, your community might not resist your using a spare bedroom or basement space for your materials and creations. If, through talking with the zoning officials, you learn what you want to do is OK, ask for a letter confirming that.

LEARN MORE
Find out more about dealing with restrictions on the business use of your home with our zoning guide.

But what if you aren't able to keep what you create on your premises? Self-storage facilities dot communities across the country. When we had one blocks from us in Santa Monica, California--which is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the nation--the monthly cost for a storage unit was less than $100 a month. While you might not welcome that additional overhead, you may be easily able to afford it if you have a sufficient volume of business.

Sheltered workshops are another option. They provide employment to physically and mentally challenged people and will not only store your merchandise, but also ship for you, generally at a reasonable cost.

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from having a Web site. Many people use the Web instead of the Yellow Pages to find products and services today. So if you want customers to be able to find you, you need a Web site.


Paul and Sarah Edwards are the authors of several homebased business books, including Working From Home. Their latest book is The Entrepreneurial Parent.