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Close to Home

Are you trying to connect with other homebased business owners? You may not have to look too far.

Hanging out your shingle from your home can be a pretty daunting experience, and it helps to know you're not alone. We went hunting for some homebased business associations to help you on your journey. The bad news is that we didn't find many huge, national homebased associations out there. The good news? Experts have a lot of suggestions to help you find (or create) the support you need in your community.

Beverley Williams, named "Home-Based Business Advocate of the Year" by the SBA in 2002, says entrepreneurs should start locally with their chambers of commerce to find homebased groups in their area. It's hard to serve everyone's needs on a national level, she says, because "the needs [of homebased businesses] are so diversified." Try your local Small Business Development Centers and colleges and universities in your community to find other homebased entrepreneurs. Local newspapers often publish information on meetings as well.

In choosing a group to join, see if you can attend meetings before you pony up any membership fees-just to see if it's really for you, says Jeff Zbar, a home-office columnist and consultant. "Make sure the membership isn't just a bunch of consultants," he says. "You want people who are like-minded and who consider [homebased business] a full-time job and a career path." Decide what you want from a group. Do you want camaraderie? Support? Networking contacts? Business leads? Get three to five references on the group, do a Google or a Hoover'ssearch on them, and above all, say experts, trust your instincts.

Do an Internet search for "homebased business," and you'll get a lot of hits-some of them shady. Says Williams, "The primary goal of these [false] associations is to continue to sell you things, so watch [out] for that." Even if a group is on the level, don't expect them to provide all the information and resources you'll need for your business.

If, after all your research, you are unable to find a group in your community, don't abandon hope of finding your homebased business comrades. Experts say to look within other established small-business groups for homebased entities like yours. Kate Koziol, 44, founder of K Squared Communications Inc.and Fusion Marketing and Public Relations in Chicago, found a fellow homebased business owner through her local Women's Business Development Center. A few years after starting her business in 1997, she sought camaraderie and met Kathy Simonik, owner of FusionCreative. They formed a strategic partnership to boost both of their businesses. With a quarter of a million dollars in annual sales, Koziol is glad she made the decision to join the WBDC. "Many people [in these organizations]," she says, "are homebased."

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Close to Home.

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