Home Sweet Office

When your home is your office, hiring employees is a touchy task. Learn how to set boundaries and cover your bases to make this transition smoothly.

Lanny Morton decided it was time to hire an employee after he spent hours packing boxes and writing shipping labels by hand instead of focusing on expanding his growing business. "I needed to be out looking for product and working on marketing-not packaging and labeling orders all day," says Morton, the owner of SportsCloseouts.com, an online sporting goods retailer that launched in 2002.

After just five months in business, 36-year-old Morton began looking for an employee but quickly discovered that when it came to finding the right person, he wasn't sure where to start. "Hiring employees to work in your home is difficult," says Morton, who runs SportsCloseouts.com out of his home in Phoenix. "It's much more personal than hiring someone to work in a retail store."

"Hiring an employee in a homebased business is pretty close to having a roommate," says Barbara Cunningham, business development specialist for the University of Missouri Extension Small Business Development Center in Kansas City. "It is really important to hire the right person."

Finding the Right Match

Unlike many homebased entrepreneurs, Morton didn't have to look far to find his first employee. "I was talking about hiring someone during dinner at a Mexican restaurant," he says. "We had this really great busboy, and I was saying that I wanted to hire someone just like him--so I offered him a job."

Morton was lucky--the employee, hired to manage shipping and receiving, turned out to be a good fit with the company. "He was a really hard worker," says Morton. "Having him there gave me time to focus on other [aspects] of the business." But he concedes the idea was initially a little unsettling: "It was really scary to have a stranger in my home at first. I watched him closely for the first month."

Employers have numerous options when it comes to finding the right employees for their homebased businesses, but Cunningham suggests asking for referrals before placing an ad in the newspaper. "Running an ad for someone to come into your home is risky because you never know who is going to apply," she says. "I would feel better about finding someone through word-of-mouth."

Cunningham advises employers to check references, conduct background and credit checks, and consider drug testing for all employees. "The more you can check into [a prospective employee], the better off you'll be," she says.

Frank Minssieux turned to his Rolodex when the time came to hire an executive vice president for TimingCube, the web-based stock market service he founded in 2001. A former co-worker expressed interest, and Minssieux made him a job offer. "From a skills standpoint, I knew it was a match, but it was also very important to hire someone I could trust," says the 45-year-old CEO, whose business generated $1.6 million in 2004. Today, Minssieux has four employees, each of whom was hired through referral.

Missy Cohen-Fyffe, 44-year-old founder of Babe Ease LLC, a manufacturer of fabric inserts for shopping carts and highchairs, hired her first employee in 2000-but says she was cautious about interviewing prospective employees in her Pelham, New Hampshire, home. "Initially, I only hired friends because I was working from home and wanted to be sure my employees were people I knew and trusted," says Cohen-Fyffe, whose company brought in $1.8 million in sales in 2004.

Eventually, Cohen-Fyffe had to look for employees beyond her circle of friends. "I prescreened applicants before I brought them to my home to be interviewed," she says. "I talked to them a few times over the phone and checked their references. If I was still interested in hiring them, I brought them in for interviews."

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Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. Visit her online at www.jodihelmer.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Home Sweet Office.

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