Home business - the primary school for bigger business?

By Heather Douglas

A child's primary schooling lays the foundation for the rest of his life. Experiences at this formative stage influence personality, interests and responses to situations later on.

The standard of education and the way the child is taught to think, work and interact determine to a large extent what further education they undertake, the career they choose, their success and even, often, the extent of their personal job satisfaction.

Many a first foray into self-employment is undertaken from the relatively safe environment of a home-based business. Like primary school, the business's home base provides a sense of security with the business owner not having to commit to ongoing costs such as an office lease or salaried staff.

Nurturing the business in this forgiving environment allows it to grow revenues and a customer base before heading for the wide, cruel world.

Not every home business is established with the intent to "graduate" to something bigger. Many home business operators are committed to integrating their lifestyle needs with the ability to generate sufficient income to achieve the standard of living they choose.

Many others found their home businesses on hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations that reach far beyond the four walls of their first home office.

Irrespective of which category they fall into, it's a sad fact that many would-be business operators in this important sector of New Zealand's economy never get off the starting block.

Only one in two small businesses survive more than two years. Some go belly up, some mutate (i.e. the owner changes the business name and focus), and some simply vanish with the owner giving up and taking refuge in paid employment. Many potentially successful business owners are thus lost to the New Zealand economy forever.

So what can make a difference? If their "primary schooling" is successful, the home business operator will learn the three Rs - revenues, relationships, and reporting. Add to that resource management, recruitment and returns, not to mention a whole host of other skills (most of which don't start with "r"!).

Once they've established a sound knowledge of these basics, the home business operator is ready to "graduate". For some, this means simply running their home business more effectively, increasing returns and enjoying more time for themselves. For others, it means moving on to bigger businesses, armed with the skills they have acquired.

But let's take a closer look. Who are the teachers in this "primary school"? Perhaps herein lies the rub! It seems in many cases that pupil and teacher are the same individual. How effectively would our five-year-olds learn to read and write if they had only themselves and perhaps their peers to teach them? Where else can home businesses look for guidance?

The responsibility for ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge lies with the home business operator. It is up to each of them to identify the information and training they lack, to find out where they can get it, and to invest time and/or money obtaining it.

Home Business New Zealand applauds the a variety of excellent sources of knowledge and advice close at hand - many of which don't even cost the business owner a cent. The Government's BIZ Programme provides thorough coverage of a range of important basics, and the opportunity for tailored advice, a number of websites, (including homebizbuzz.co.nz and bzone) offer free information, advice and resources for businesses, Business in the Community supplies free mentoring to those who qualify for it, a number of other free and nearly free (corporate funded) seminars exist, and a variety of worthwhile small business publications are available.

Home business operators also need to see the value of - and commit to - investing in their own education. This means assigning time and budget to upskilling themselves and preparing themselves for whatever role they will assume as they grow or maintain their businesses.

On the other hand, there is a need for greater recognition of home businesses as "genuine" businesses - albeit businesses with unique needs.

Without acknowledgement, encouragement, mentoring, support, and access to tailored services, the novice business owner may simply join the numbers of would-be entrepreneurs who quietly give up and return to paid employment, or who struggle on without the knowledge and skills required to grow their businesses to the next level.

If just a small portion of home business owners graduate from their "primary" education with the desire and ability to grow high-revenue, sometimes-international businesses, the impact on New Zealand's economy could be staggering.

But before we can expect these would-be entrepreneurs to emerge as significant contributors within the small to medium business sector, or even grow beyond that, we need to help them as they take their first steps into home-based self-employment.

It demands an investment in terms of time, resources and money by the individual themselves as well as those channels dedicated to fostering small business - but the return on investment is significant. Just ask any high school teacher how successfully they can teach students who don't get a proper primary education!

* Article supplied by Home Business New Zealand at homebizbuzz.co.nz

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