Paper Trail

Got a problem? Let homebased business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards solve it.
7 min read

This story appears in the August 1998 issue of Subscribe »

Q: Before I start work each morning, I like to read the newspaper over breakfast. I find this routine both relaxing and motivating, as I am able to scan the articles for ideas, leads, general inspiration or information. Unfortunately, I only have time to read one paper before work beckons. Which do you think offers more relevant information for a homebased business owner: a local newspaper or a national newspaper such as USA Today or The Wall Street Journal?
Name withheld

A: The answer depends on the nature of your business and your clientele. If your clients are primarily corporate, your best bet is The Wall Street Journal. When we survey owners of very small businesses, this is the newspaper they read most frequently. If your business serves local clients, however, your local newspaper is almost always the best bet. Either way, consider subscribing to your local business journal, particularly if the business coverage in your local paper is thin.

If your business addresses a broad consumer market, a national paper such as The New York Times or USA Today will better help you keep on the pulse of popular consumer issues and tastes.

Once you've chosen the paper you'll read every morning, you can use the following tips to help you save time and stay in the know:

  • If you don't read The Wall Street Journal, we recommend subscribing to a weekly business news magazine like Business Week.
  • Most newspapers now provide a significant portion of their content online, so you can periodically peruse the topics of the newspapers you don't subscribe to. This is a great way to keep up with the news in an industry-specific town. If you're in the computer industry, for example, you could periodically scan the San Jose Mercury News site ( If you deal with government, you could pop over to If you're in the entertainment business, try Current Los Angeles Times articles are free; for archived articles, you pay $1.50 each. Such Web visits can be a great way to take a work break.
  • To squeeze more news into your day without extending your breakfast reading time, consider having an electronic newspaper tailored to feature key developments you want to track. You can use a Web service such as PointCast Network, which provides continuous updates on any subject you specify. For more information, visit

Q: Once when my neighbor was in a jam, I offered to pick up her son from preschool. She has since asked me to repeat this favor several times. How can I explain to her without damaging our friendly relationship that just because I'm working at home doesn't mean I'm not working as hard as her corporate acquaintances?
Name withheld

A:You don't need to explain. The way to let her know you're working as hard as corporate acquaintances is to tell her that although you'd like to help, you can't pick up her son because you're working. Be warm. Be sincere. But be clear and definite that your business no longer allows you the privilege of taking time off during working hours. She'll probably be disappointed, as she has come to rely on you. But if you want her to take you off her emergency help list, you may need to reinforce your message several times, repeating that you're sorry and wish you could help but, because of your work, you simply can't. She may call you several more times, just to be sure. If you continue to be clear that you'd like to help but can't, she'll find new resources.

Q: I have a homebased medical billing business, and I'm ready to hire employees. Since I didn't want to hassle with payroll, workers' comp, etc., I called several employee-leasing companies, but none would provide me with employees because I'm homebased. What should I do?
Via e-mail

Q: We're surprised and appalled to learn that some employee-leasing companies are discriminating against homebased businesses! Like many homebased companies, we use employee leasing. We've worked with two different companies now over a period of four years. So we recommend that you keep looking to find more enlightened companies.

Are you actually contacting employee-leasing companies or are you calling temporary help agencies? Temporary help agencies recruit, interview and train employees who they send out to work with companies on a short or long-term basis. In contrast, professional employer organizations, as employee-leasing firms are often called, carry out the administrative functions of maintaining a staff. You recruit the personnel, interview them and select them. When you're ready to put them to work, you contact the leasing company who puts them on the payroll and handles all aspects of their employment for you.

For many years, we've been aware that some temporary agencies will not place their temps in home offices. But Bruce Steinberg, director of research and public relations for the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, assures us there are temp agencies that will. If you have an employee in mind or wish to find someone yourself, he recommends working with an employee leasing company. If you want an agency to find and place someone to work in your business, contact a temporary help agency. To locate such companies, contact:

  • National Association of Professional Employer Organizations, 901 North Pitt St., #150, Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 836-0466,
  • National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, 119 S. St. Asaph St., Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 549-6287,

Q: I own a homebased mail order company that sells computer and electronic equipment, and I buy from manufacturers that ship products directly to my customers. To increase business, I've tried to get a merchant account so I can accept credit card payments. My average ticket will be about $3,000, and should be $º20,000 monthly. The problem is that the banks want to hold 50 percent of the credit card payments for a month. That would put me out of business. Is there a way around this?
Bill Lane
Long Beach, California

A: If you can't find a bank that will work with you, consider using an independent sales organization (ISO). ISOs act as intermediaries between small businesses and banks, and are becoming popular with business owners.

You'll probably pay more using an ISO since these companies derive their income from fees and surcharges. Extra costs may include application fees, transaction charges, statement fees and leasing costs for card-swipe machines. ISO fees vary considerably, so be sure to read the contract carefully for hidden charges and requirements.

Some companies falsely represent themselves as ISOs, and eager merchants have gotten swindled. To find out if the ISO you're considering is legit, ask for the name of the bank with which the ISO is affiliated, and contact the bank to verify the ISO's status.

You can also check with your local Better Business Bureau. For a list of ISOs, visit our Web site at or check the Yellow Pages under "Credit Card Terminal Systems" for local ISO representatives.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are homebased business experts and co-authors of several books, including Finding Your Perfect Work and Secrets of Self-Employment (both Tarch/Putnam). If you have a question for Paul and Sarah Edwards regarding a homebased business issue, send it to "House Calls," Entrepreneur's HomeOffice, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

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