The Whole Truth

We asked; you answered. Homebased entrepreneurs tell all in our premier reader survey.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Subscribe »

tatistically speaking, the average homebased business owner is a 43-year-old man living (and working, of course) in California, married, with two kids and two dogs. But as we realized when reviewing your responses to our "Do You Work In The Nude?" survey, homebased business owners are anything but average. Our respondents were young (21) and old (69), rich (sales of $15 million) and poor (sales of zilch), well-dressed and terminally under-dressed. Still, what was most astounding to us was the bewildering array of businesses being run out of America's home offices, everything from a company that conducts guided adventure trips for women and a home delivery service for premium pet food to a writer of steamy poetry. Although this was not a scientific survey by any means, for your enlightenment and enjoyment, we've broken down the responses we received and highlighted some of the more interesting replies.

The Basics

Average number of workers employed: 7.3

Average 1997 sales: $365,000

Average length of time in business: 51¦2 years

How You Work

Workaholics anonymous: The average homebased business owner works 48 hours per week, and more than half said sleep takes a back seat to work when deadlines loom.

Scrooge would be proud: Exactly half of you admit to working on national holidays.

Did somebody say lunch time? An overwhelming majority of homebased business owners avoid spilling on important papers by breaking for lunch and dinner.

The runaround: Nearly all respondents leave their home offices to do errands during the day. After all, you have to go out sometime.

Oprah's on! But you're not watching her. Sixty-six percent of you leave the television off during the workday.

Success the first time around: Fewer than 20 percent of you have previously owned a business that's failed. What's your secret?

No (wo)man is an island: A little more than half of you meet with customers in your homes, while only
44 percent of you network with other homebased business owners.

Tech talk: Only 20 percent of our respondents admitted they were technophobes. Everyone else averaged three telephone lines, three computers (two for business use and one for personal use), two printers and one fax machine.

Surf city: Our respondents spent an average of eight hours per week online for business use, compared to four hours for personal use. Seventy-two percent use e-mail to communicate with customers or suppliers, while 63 percent have Web sites.

All Work And No Play . . . You Know The Rest
Can't remember the last time you took a vacation? Neither can Nancy Christie, a freelance writer in Youngstown, Ohio, who last saw the light of day in 1991 on a short jaunt to Florida. Christie has trouble justifying any R&R that takes her away from her business, Professional Writing Services. "You can't take a vacation when you have your own business," she says. "If you take a vacation, it's not paid, so how do you dare take time off when you should be making money?" At press time, however, Christie was planning another trip to Florida for a working vacation.

The Good, The Bad And The Really Messy
When it comes to home office hygiene, the responses were evenly divided between "cleanliness is next to godliness" and "it's the maid's day off." There is, however, a small, elite force of homebased business owners who have embraced the concept of chaos and learned to live with it. One master of disaster is Sarah Miller, a freelance writer from Des Peres, Missouri.

Over the past 12 years of self-employment, Miller admits she's let her office get into a "rather lamentable state of disarray." She writes articles about classical music for various publications and stays organized with her own system. "As long as I know which heap a paper is in, I can find it--if nobody messes with my heaps," says Miller.

Recently, however, she's sworn a "solemn blood oath" to clean up her act. After building some bookshelves and filling three trash bags full of ancient press releases, she can now enter her workspace without wearing a hard hat.

Shaping Up!

The majority of homebased business owners are decorated veterans of the battle of the bulge: Nearly 70 percent of you exercise an average of five hours a week. For some, working out is a full-time job in and of itself. Sixty hours per week, personal trainer Sharyn Pak and her husband, Maurice Richard, co-founders of Rockledge, Pennsylvania-based Bringing Fitness To You, get up at 4 a.m., jump in a van full of exercise equipment, and travel to appointments around Philadelphia. Despite the profuse amount of sweat involved, the couple swears they love what they do--and enjoy the fact they never have to punch a time clock.

Out Of The Rat Race

One survey question asked whether readers ever longed for the stability and social support of an office environment. While more than 80 percent said they most certainly did not, one respondent seemed especially adamant about his answer, writing "NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!" in the margin in inch-high letters. When asked what all the nevers were about, Lak Vohra answered, "I have had many jobs, and there was always some kind of office politics going on. Putting up with people in a hostile work environment is difficult. It was really hard for me to enjoy myself and feel comfortable. Also, [it] tended to impact my productivity."

Three years ago, Vohra became the self-proclaimed "party guru" of Washington, DC, compiling detailed listings of business and social networking events around the city and turning them into Party Digest, a monthly newsletter he publishes from his Springfield, Virginia, home. Vohra works 75 hours per week, producing Party Digest during the day and networking 'til the wee hours. Still, he's very pleased with the freedom his homebased business allows: "I use that extra hour I used to spend commuting to sleep."

Naked Eyes

While pajamas, bathrobes and bunny slippers are the chic ensemble of choice for a significant number of homebased business owners, 38 percent of you claim to attend to important business in your birthday suits. One respondent from Rockwood, Tennessee, was more than willing to bare her soul--as long as we didn't mention her name. "I would hate for clients to think I'm working in the nude when I'm talking to them on the phone," she says. "It's not that I'm a nudist or anything like that, but when you have an office in your home, sometimes you go straight from bed right to the computer or telephone, and then you take a shower and come right back into the office. I get so busy and involved in my work, I sometimes forget to get dressed." Sound familiar?

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