Welcome to the Custom Apparel Startups podcast, your best source for information, news, tips and tricks to get you off the ground running, and earn success with your custom apparel decorating business. So, get ready to soak up some knowledge!
Now, here are your hosts, Mark and Marc!
Mark S: Hey, everyone! Welcome to episode 40-something of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. We decided that we are now in our 40s, and refuse to talk about our age and that number from now on!
My name is Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.
Marc V: And this is Marc Vila, from Colman and Company. Today we’re here to talk about home-based businesses.
Mark S: Yeah. It’s gotten a lot of press recently. It’s big news on the Custom Apparel Startups Facebook group. Apparently, people run their businesses from home all the time.
Marc V: Yeah, and successfully! So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today, is success tips in custom t-shirts, embroidery and bling, in that home-based business. How are you going to set yourself up for success? How are you going to make sure that you facilitate this great environment in your home, where you can actually run a professional real business that’s not just a hobby?
Mark S: Right. We’re going to do this from a couple of different places, because Marc Vila and I have both run businesses from home. I’ve run two apparel businesses from home, I realized just the other day. And we’ve got so many people on the Facebook group, that just kind of chimed in to the question the other day on can I run an embroidery business from home?
What I didn’t realize, really, is how many people have multi-head embroidery machines, and run it from their house. So, I think there’s a lot of potential for doing a home-based business, in custom apparel in particular. I think we can share some things from a couple of different perspectives, that will help you do it more easily, more smoothly, and maybe avoid some of the mistakes that we’ve seen made out there.
Marc V: Mistakes get made all the time. We see them every day. But I also know that in my history, the first commercial embroidery machine and separately, the first multi-head embroidery machine, were both going into home-based businesses. The first commercial machine was somebody who was brand new.
Mark S: This was from when you were selling embroidery equipment, right?
Marc V: This is from when I was selling embroidery equipment, years ago, and this was a brand new startup business. The multi-head machine was somebody who had had a couple of single-heads, and had space. They had built some space out in their house with money that they had saved up, to make an actual embroidery workshop.
They had put, I think it was a six-head – it may have been a four-head – and their single-heads in that area, and built out an actual workshop. That was their goal. That’s what they wanted to get to, and I got to see them get to that point. I never sold them their original machine, but I got to sell them their first multi-head, which was really cool. So, that stuff happens!
Marc V: That’s awesome. I’m looking on the group, and there’s a bunch of people that have – one lady had an outbuilding built, with power and everything. Somebody else converted a basement, after they kicked their in-laws out, to do their business.
I know that if you look at the ColDesi.com Success Stories tab, I’m just going through it, and Botkin Designs, they retired and started their business from home.
Undercover Bling, I know that lady in Tennessee, even though she doesn’t want to put her name on it, runs a very successful business from a converted back porch, just outside of Memphis, with pro-spangle and embroidery.
I know Benson Designs, Shawn Benson is a great entrepreneur. He runs his business from his basement, with a DTG printer. I’m not sure yet, but he was working on a multi-head embroidery machine.
Crystal Creek Designs, our own Kim Langevin, who used to work here at ColDesi, runs an embroidery and bling business from home.
There are a lot of people. I’d even go so far as to say most ColDesi customers and a lot of Colman and Company customers actually use a spare bedroom, a basement or an outbuilding to run their business.
Marc V: Or they started there.
Mark S: Yeah, and then they move out.
Marc V: Then they move out, which is something that we’ll talk about in this podcast as well, I think. But this is a really cool business to get into from a home-based type of atmosphere, because there are so many cool things that you can do, and there’s so much success that you can have, where you don’t need the storefront.
A place that some people start from is they want to start this business, and they’re thinking about “Okay, well, I need this storefront.” You kind of have to say, are you expecting walk-in business, or are you expecting to have meetings with clients, that you need that? Or are you working off of referral business, and going out and getting it on your own, through all of the other ways we’ve talked about in our podcasts and such?
Mark S: Yeah, and that’s actually kind of rare. I don’t see many retail-based custom apparel businesses, to get started. What usually happens, like in the case of maybe [inaudible 05:41] or some of our other customers here, like I think Graphics and Print, these are folks that started at home, and started to get so much interest and so much traffic that they needed a retail location, so they needed to go out.
The decision that you have to make in the beginning is kind of how you’re going to position your business. Are you going to position yourself to the public as “Hey, my name’s Mark Stephenson. I’ve got a cutter and a direct-to-garment printer. I do custom t-shirts of a couple of different kinds. I do it all from my house, to keep my overhead low, and I’m ready to fill some orders for you. What can we do together?”
Is being a home-based business part of your persona? Or are you kind of a little bit under cover, and you’re trying to avoid advertising the fact that you’re a home-based business, because you want to seem bigger?
Marc V: Yeah, and there’s a debate back and forth. You could probably find a ton online, of using “we” instead of “I” for the business. But is there a reason, for the clientele you’re going after, that being home-based may or may not turn them off or not?
These are all things to consider. It doesn’t matter. If you’re in the bling and rhinestone business and you’re doing a lot of small local business, and sports apparel and things like that, it probably is almost encouraging that you do this from a home-based business.
Mark S: Let’s say you’re the classic soccer/dance mom who starts doing bling and glitter uniforms, and sports mom t-shirts and things like that. Well, all of your customers are just like you. “Yeah, let me have my kids drop it off to your kids, when they go to school tomorrow.” Or “Hey, we’ll meet at Walmart. I’ve got to go there on Saturday morning. Let me just give you the order, or you can stop by the house after school.”
All of that is perfectly appropriate, and maybe make your clientele feel more comfortable.
Marc V: Yeah. They’re happy to give you that money. We’ve discussed in previous podcasts about the small business/local business mentality. It feels good that I’m giving the money that I’ve earned, and buying a product that I feel is worth that money, from somebody who is in turn going to put it back into the community. I’m helping out this person who is not only a business associate, but a friend, in a way.
All of that can really help you out. The home-based track can be so successful in custom apparel.
Mark S: It really can. On the other hand, if I’m going to start a – and because of my personality – if I were to start a business, and Marc Vila knows I’m all business, -.
Marc V: All business, all the time.
Mark S: All business, all the time.
Marc V: Plays board games that are business board games.
Mark S: I’m a business guy, so if I started a commercial embroidery business, for example, or I got a DTG printer or a vinyl cutter, and I wanted to do sports team wear or corporate wear, then what I’m going to do is not let anybody know that I’m from my house.
Because I’m going to go to the University of South Florida or UT, or the city of Tampa, and I’m going to say “Hey, listen. I am a commercial business. I want to provide you with the 500 shirts that you need.” Or “I want to be your apparel supplier for the USF bookstore, for all of your custom apparel.”
That is a business that might look at me and “Okay, I’ve got a business address. I’m a business guy. I’ll take POs.” They’re not going to run by your house to pick up their order. Do you know what I mean? So, it’s kind of a different personality.
And whether or not you run your business from home is a separate question to whether or not you advertise that you’re a home-based business.
Marc V: Because you can say “Let me go back to my shop,” and your shop can be a room or a garage or an outbuilding that you’ve built, all of those things. That can be your shop, so it doesn’t have to be any type of lie or deceit. You just don’t advertise, you don’t put out there “Let me go to my house and do this. Stop by my house.”
It’s “Let me go to my shop and get this. We do delivery on everything, for free.”
Mark S: Is it part of your business’s persona? What does it look like? You can change it later, but when you get started, you’ve kind of got to figure out which one do you want to be?
Marc V: The other thing to think about is, is the home-based business track for you? Are you going to work? Are you going to it?
Mark S: That is a big deal.
Marc V: Are you going to be able to actually do it? It’s a decision that you have to make, because I’m going to say yes, you can do it. I’m not asking you to run a marathon with bad knees, where you physically can’t do it. You can do this, but you have to make the decision to say “I’m going to start a home-based business, which means I’m going to take all of these tips,” that we’re going to go through next.
“I’m going to do all of these things, because this is a decision that I’m making, and this is work. It’s money. It’s income. It’s a business.”
Mark S: Also, I kind of want to differentiate here, and we did this in our last podcast, about whether or not you really want to get into business, or you just want to make a few bucks from your hobby. Because those are two different things, too.
If you want to use your Cricut, or upgrade to a Graphtec cutter even, and just make stuff for your friends and family, of course, that’s the home-based track. Not really a business, but a hobby that pays for itself. That’s awesome!
Mark S: Yeah. That’s not what all of these rules are for. These rules are for those who want a business. You can break 100% of these rules, if this is a hobby that makes you some money and supports itself. You make a few hundred bucks a month, you can break all of these rules, because it doesn’t matter. It’s for fun. It’s a self-sustaining hobby.
If you are in business to make money and make this a career, a family business, whatever it is, let’s start with some of the steps. And if you are just a mid-level hobbyist or a higher end hobbyist, I would continue to listen, but you can figure out for yourself which of these rules you can bend and break. If it’s a real business, you can’t break any of them, I’m saying.
Mark S: Right. Let’s put aside all of the legal stuff. Actually, let’s not put it aside. I’m going to move up our number one.
Marc V: Okay.
Mark S: Is it legal to do the kind of business that you want to do, in your area, from home?
Marc V: Are there any city or county or state ordinances that would prevent you from having any particular type of equipment like that there? Are you allowed to actually run a business, particularly? The fact that you are producing and creating and collecting money, is there anything you need to be concerned about?
Mark S: There are city and county regulations all over the country, and every single one of them is different. There are also community rules, whether or not you decide to abide by them. I know that in the townhouse association that I was part of, it was against the rules to run a business out of your home. And by run a business, collect money and produce goods.
So, is it legal? Also, think about what you’re going to be doing. I know specifically in some places, you can’t run a traditional screen printing business from a residential area inside city limits. So, you need to find out if it’s legal to run a business, period, and if it’s legal to run the specific kind of business you’re going to run.
Mark S: Yes. Are there any chemicals? Like you mentioned screen printing. There are some specific chemicals you might have to use, that just might not be permissible in your residential area.
Mark S: Or they may be permissible, but you can’t put them in the regular garbage. You’ve got waste disposal issues.
Marc V: You have to dispose of it separately, where if you maybe were in an industrial area, that type of disposal would be okay to put in a dumpster.
These are all small examples, and these are things that I don’t think you want to get too freaked out and worried about, but you just want to be sure that you’re not going to put yourself in a situation where everything is up and running.
If you’re in a community that says you can’t run a business, but you say “Well, so-and-so sells insurance.” It’s one of these things where they don’t want customers coming in and out all the time. Maybe that’s a rule that I would bend.
However, if there’s a rule you can’t do that, and I decide to get a six-head embroidery machine.
Mark S: I was just thinking that!
Marc V: And this is going chugga chugga in my garage. My neighbor now is cool with it, but he moves. A new guy moves in, and he hates the noise.
Mark S: Or you just leave the garage door open, and the head of the association just happens to be driving by, while you’ve got a heat press and a DTG printer, and an embroidery machine multi-head running in your garage.
Marc V: And again, the head of that community now might be cool with it, but who’s going to run it next year? Are they going to give you trouble? So, you just want to see, how are you going to do it? Do you need to do things discreetly or not? Is what you are going to put in there, it would be more of a concern if I were going to put screen printing equipment in there, and I legally was not allowed to have that, where the city would put a sticker on my door.
Mark S: Yeah. You could be in trouble. And I think some sublimation is the same way, depending on the chemicals that you use.
Marc V: I guess to end that part of it, what’s the best way, do you think, for somebody to find those rules out? That’s always a hard part.
Mark S: Well, you’re going to start small. I’d start big and get small. I would look at, what does it take to go into business in the state of Florida? You can Google that. There is a SunBiz.org, which is the Florida state website for starting a business. Then, I would look at Hillsborough County in my area, and see what their requirements are.
Normally county, you have to get a license to run a business. Then, I would look at the city that you’re in, or ask the county people “Are there any other regulations?” Then, I would check, if you live in a neighborhood with an association, check that as well.
Marc V: For the most part, you are going to be able to get somebody on the phone, to answer some of these questions. But it might not be easy. Don’t get discouraged by that portion of it. First, you’ll call the state business department. You might be on hold for ten minutes, get somebody on the phone, and they say “Oh, you called the wrong department. You’ve got to call this one.”
That one, you leave a voicemail, and who knows when they’re going to call you back? Just be diligent on it. Write it all down. Create a little checklist of the things you’re concerned about and you want to make sure are good. Continue to make the phone calls. Send the emails in.
Get whatever you can in writing. If somebody says “Oh, yeah. That’s fine.”
Mark S: “Can you send me an email?”
Marc V: Just politely ask.
Mark S: Or “Can you send me a link to where I can find that online?”
Marc V: Yeah. “Is there a statute or some documentation that I can keep on file?” All you’ve done is you’ve helped prepare yourself.
The other thing you could do, by the way, if you want to pay a little bit of money, is talk to an attorney.
Mark S: You could.
Marc V: Especially if you can get an attorney to help, who you pay to actually put some things in writing for you. “Here’s all the things. Boom! Here’s a document for you. Then, if somebody comes up to you, you’ve got all of this documented, and I can represent you.”
Mark S: That’s true.
Marc V: Is it that big of a deal, if you’re going to have a single-head embroidery machine running out of a spare bedroom, that you need to have that?
Mark S: No!
Marc V: No. But again, if you’re going to invest $50,000 in multiple multi-head machines, it’s probably worth it to spend a few hundred dollars and talk to an attorney, if you’re concerned.
Mark S: Yeah. If you’re going to make this your livelihood, do the right stuff up front. You can go to IRS.gov. They’ve got a business section on there that will walk you through some of the steps and some of the things that you need to do for tax purposes, and things like that.
You can also go to the SBA site and score free resources for small businesses, the Small Business Administration.
Marc V: All of those are all there to help you out. I wouldn’t let any of that discourage you or freak you out, or get you concerned about doing it, because so many people do do it. Just do a little bit of homework before you invest a lot of money.
Mark S: I agree. Our next thing, then. After you’ve figured out if you want to advertise the fact that you’re at home, if that’s part of your persona, and you make sure that you’re allowed to have a business wherever you live, are the physical requirements.
What are the physical requirements of the equipment that you’re going to want to use?
Marc V: How much space is it going to take up? What type of electricity is it going to use? That’s part of that.
Mark S: Well, it’s all the same type.
Marc V: Well, no. Is it lightning powered?
Mark S: Lightning! Solar powered embroidery machines!
Marc V: Do you need a specific type of outlet? Do you need a specific breaker?
Mark S: Yeah. Is it 220? A lot of commercial heat presses, even if you were going to start a t-shirt transfer business and just buy transfers that somebody else makes, if you’ve got a really good heat press, those draw a lot of power. You might need to run a dedicated line.
Marc V: It’s getting up to 350 degrees. Imagine that’s like an oven. You’ve put another oven in that room. Just make sure that you have good power requirements for it. You don’t want to plug that in, in the same – because when that heat press kicks on, especially if you live in an older home and that heat press kicks on, you might see some lights dim.
You also need to consider if you have a laser toner printer and a heat press, both of those generate a decent amount of heat. You might look at all the stats and say “Okay, I need it to be 15 amps. I’ve got that. All the math seems fine.”
Then, you plug in a laser printer, and now all of a sudden, when the laser printer kicks in, your heat press temperature goes down.
Mark S: Or you do all of that in a 6 by 8 small back bedroom with bad A/C or no A/C. Then, all of a sudden, the temperature gets too high, and your transfers don’t feel right, because it’s too high.
If you’re running a DTG printer and you’re in North Dakota, you’ll need to work out something with humidity, during the winter months. When you turn on the heat, it sucks all of the moisture out of the air, and anything that uses liquid inks, that ink is going to evaporate and dry very quickly. It’s going to impact the performance of the equipment.
So, physical requirements are really important. Are you going to be able to lay out all of the pieces and parts that you need? If you have a vinyl cutter, is it a 15-inch or a 24-inch? Do you have room for that? Do you have room for your computer? Do you have a table where you can do the peeling and pressing?
Are you going to have a place to store all of your vinyl supplies? Are you going to have a place to store your blank t-shirts? What’s the physical layout in the room, and how are you going to arrange your stuff?
Marc V: For most of this stuff we’re talking about, you don’t need a huge space to do it. But what you want to do, I think, if you agree, Mark, is you want to look at your area and plan it out, maybe by either sketching it or visualizing it in your head, if you’re good at that, and saying “Okay, this is the area where I can keep my laptop, and I can do some table work. This is the area where I’m going to have my embroidery machine. It will fit here.”
“I want to have some space to keep my hoops and backing. I’m going to keep all of that here. There’s a closet in this room. I can put in a bunch of Ikea shelves in here.” Do some simple math. Stack up ten shirts, and see. “Okay, that’s about 12 inches. I could probably fit 100 shirts in here.”
You do all this math in your head, write it down, and just get an idea of it. Then, you can say “This is the space. It’s good. It might be tight now. My goal is to get out of this space.” Or you might be really lucky and have a whole basement. You’ll be like “I don’t even have to worry about space! I’ve got a whole basement that’s empty.”
“The only thing I need to worry about is I don’t have heat down here in the winter. It’s going to get cold to embroider in January, so maybe I need a space heater or whatever.”
Mark S: I will say that embroidery is one of the easiest businesses, if you’re starting with one or two single-heads, to do from home. Because like a 1501C Avance, for example, comes on a cart with wheels, and you can literally just wheel that out of the way.
Marc V: And I think the electricity is close to like a light bulb.
Mark S: It’s minimal. It doesn’t use anything. Of course, the supplies are relatively easy to store. There’s not a lot to them.
Marc V: Yes. You don’t have to worry about if you’re a little bit out of temperature ranges and things like that. You’re not dealing with a lot of liquids.
Mark S: When we talk about physical requirements, we’re talking about physical space for the equipment, for the supplies, and don’t forget that eventually, you’re going to need a place to sit.
When we did a webinar earlier in the year on DTG in a home office, we had a Viper 2, a heat press, and a Spider Mini pretreat machine all in our webinar room, which is roughly 10 by 10. We did everything, including a table where we could fold and things like that. Really, the only thing that we didn’t think about was a place to sit down.
Now, there is one if you rearrange some things, but just realize that you’re going to be working in there all day. So, what are you going to do? Is that where your computer is, as well? Do you need a work computer to do design with? Is it the same one that you’re going to use, to do your accounting with?
Map all of that stuff out. Look at humidity. Is your equipment affected by humidity? Which like I said, direct-to-garment printers are. Even screen printing equipment can be. Is it affected by hot or cold? If you’re in Arizona, where it gets to be 1,000 degrees, will any of your equipment catch fire spontaneously, if it gets that hot?
Marc V: Or if you have a steel building that you’ve built, if you have a decent piece of property. I know some folks, they have that. It’s their garage for their car, or whatever it might be. If you’re going to do it in there, if there’s no heating, does it get cold? If there’s no A/C, does it get hot? What’s your problem to that?
Every single one of these things that we’ve said is completely a completely solvable problem. Mostly, very easily.
Mark S: Yes. It’s just much easier if you solve them before you get your equipment.
Marc V: Yes. Probably of all of these things, the worst case scenario I see in all of this is that you need to get an electrician to come out and give yourself a new electric line somewhere, if that’s even a word.
Mark S: It is. Usually that happens the first time somebody plugs in their heat press, and they wonder why everything in the house went off.
The other thing I would think of is the temperature control. Not for your comfort, although that’s very important, but for the actual operation of the equipment that you pick.
Marc V: We have customers that use window A/C units for temperature control, and space heaters and humidifiers.
Mark S: No bonfires.
Marc V: You can do that.
Mark S: No, it’s not good.
Marc V: I have that in my notes, but I guess I was wrong. But all of these are fairly solvable problems. Just think about it ahead of time, before you get going. Because the most frustrating thing is that you are so stoked to get going, you fire everything up, and then it’s not really working out right.
Mark S: I do want to point out how you used the words “stoked” and “fire.” I like that. That was tying that in. That’s some professionalism there.
I just thought of a great one that’s very important. Will the equipment fit through the door?
Marc V: Oh, yeah. Okay.
Mark S: That is a big deal. Because in your shed, if you’ve just got a regular size door, you may have to make some different arrangements to get a six-head full size or a 12-head full size embroidery machine in there.
Marc V: If you’ve got like a Willy Wonka tiny door.
Mark S: Yeah. If you decided maybe it’s one of the 20-inch mobile home doors or something like that, then you might have an issue getting stuff in and out. You’ve just got to be aware of that.
Marc V: That sounds good. You’ve figured out your space. You know you want to do it. You’ve figured out your persona. You’ve figured out your space. Everything is going to be cool.
Honestly, everything that we’ve done so far, you can do before lunchtime, on the day you decide you want to do this. Most of this stuff is kind of simple, it’s just steps to take.
Mark S: Just think about it.
Marc V: The next one, that’s not too hard, as well, that I have written down, is your work and personal and home life focus.
Mark S: Right. You don’t think that’s a hard one.
Marc V: Yeah, well.
Mark S: I’ve run into that a couple of different times. I used to build video editing systems out of computers, back when it was hard. My office was my dining room. I actually had one of those corner office boxes that you can buy, the steel case things where you build out your desk and things like that. I put it right by the front door, in the dining room.
I had a hard phone line and a hard fax line, back in the day, and I would be on the phone and working on computer stuff all day. No matter what I did, I could not train my elementary school-age daughter, who is a very enthusiastic young lady, from bursting through the door when she got off the bus, and saying “Hey, Daddy! I’m home!”, every single day. No matter what I did, she would do that.
So, what I had to do was I had to put that on my schedule and say “I can’t do anything important around that time period, because this is going to happen, no matter what I do!”
Marc V: That’s part of it. I guess this is something that can be much easier for some than others. If you are single and live alone, then it’s not so much interruptions that are a problem. It’s your own personal focus that is a problem. So, making sure that “My schedule starts at 9:00 AM,” or 11:00 AM or 1:00 AM.
Mark S: Whatever it is. It’s your business.
Marc V: Yeah. It’s your business. That’s why you’re doing it. right? So, “I’m going to start at 9:00 AM. What does that mean? It means that I’m getting up at 8:00. And just because I work from home, it doesn’t mean that I get to do whatever I want until 4:00 in the morning, and then sleep until 3:00,” and not accomplish what you wanted to do.
This is something that I think is, you can do it. Anyone can do it, but you actually have to make the decision to do it.
Mark S: And you’ll be much happier. Here’s what I’ll say. I’ve got a little note here called the no laundry rule. The work/life focus is all about, even if you’re at home, when you’re doing business, when it’s business hours, whatever those are, like Marc said, then that’s what you’re doing.
Your neighbors can’t drop by, because their kids are sick, and they’re bored, and they want to come hang out. You can’t do loads of laundry during the day, because how convenient is that? You don’t have to do it on Saturday! You can’t do chores. You can’t run out to the grocery.
These things may seem very convenient to you, but here’s what happens. Not everything that you are going to do to make your business successful, are going to be things that you really love to do. You may love to do embroidery. You may love to do design. You may love to do the actual physical act of weeding vinyl. Some people love to do that, I’ve heard.
Marc V: Some people like the repetitive tasks.
Mark S: Yeah, the crafts part of the business. Some people like that. Almost no one likes looking for new business, sending out invoices, packing and shipping orders, maintaining your equipment. So, what will happen is you’ll find other things to do, household chore-wise, instead of doing those all important things to keep your business running, that you don’t enjoy.
Marc V: And what you can do, because you do work from home, so now you have these awesome conveniences that you can do, is you can also give yourself a lunch hour. You can give yourself 15-minute breaks. You can say “At noon, I take an hour for lunch, every day. I do laundry, I go to the grocery store to buy some fresh food for dinner.”
You get to do all of those cool things during your lunch hour, and then you come back, and you go back to work. So, you can still have those awesome conveniences, but you do them during a scheduled time. “At 11:00 AM, I have a 15-minute break. I get a quick snack, I get a second cup of coffee, and I put laundry in to dry.”
Mark S: Honestly, you could even have a two-hour break. Let’s say that you are a stay-at-home parent, and your kids get off at 3:30. So, what you do is you take from 3:00 to 5:00 or from 3:00 to 6:00, that’s not a work time for you. Instead, you’re making it up at 8:30 or 9:00 at night, to get that stuff done. Because if you don’t make that time up, what happens is if you find two hours a day to do household stuff during work hours, at the end of that week, you’re missing a day and a half worth of labor spent in making your business successful.
So now, you’re working part-time at home, kind of devoted to the success of your business, instead of “I have a home-based business that I’m going to do.”
Marc V: Yeah, a business.
Mark S: A business.
Marc V: When I worked from home, for years, there was a period where I did a staggered schedule for myself. I would usually start around 8:00. I would work all the way through around 2:00 or 3:00, depending on the day, and there were various reasons why. At that point in time is when I would stop. That would be lunch.
The kid would come home from school. We’d eat some lunch together or a light snack, or something like that, on my lunch break. I would take my break. I would prepare dinner, eat dinner, do some nighttime/evening stuff. And then 8:30, bedtime, I went back into work, and I worked for my other two hours of the day, and I would finish up around 10:30.
That was the schedule I chose for myself. I liked it. I liked doing that. But you have to make that schedule, and you should log your hours. It’s not a bad idea at all, to do that.
Mark S: I was going to say something like that. And be honest with yourself, because what may happen, and this kind of thing tends to happen to me, is you might look back at your day and realize you only actually worked for a couple of hours. You only really hit it hard making phone calls or making t-shirts, or doing the books, for two or three hours in that day. You’re just not going to make it to the next level, working ten hours a week.
Marc V: Another thing to mention is that you’ve got to put on your thick skin, and you have to put on your business cap, and you need to not be offended or worrying about offending people, when you’re at work. What does that mean? It’s okay to just not answer the door.
I would be working, and somebody would knock on the door. Maybe it was my neighbor, and they saw my car, whatever it was. I’m not getting it. I’m working right now. If I were at my office, I would not be able to get it.
Mark S: I wouldn’t hear this. Right.
Marc V: But my office happens to be here. “Well, Joann might get offended, and she’s a really nice old lady. I don’t want to upset her.” Listen. Relax. If you know it was her, even if you saw her through a window, whatever it might be, you can reach out to her later on and say “I was in the middle of doing something for a client. I couldn’t really be interrupted. I was getting ready to be on a phone call in about two minutes.”
Whatever it might be, “I was working. I’m sorry.” It’s okay.
Mark S: “This is what I do.”
Marc V: You might have to deal with that. If you have toddlers or elementary school kids, it’s harder. But with teenagers, you might have to deal with that. With your spouse, you might have to deal with that. Anyone who it is, you’ve got to not be concerned that you are going to offend or upset somebody, because you’re working.
Mark S: Have that conversation in advance.
Marc V: Have it in advance. For me, my rule was when this door was closed, not home. That was kind of my rule. Because I said “Listen. At 3:00, I’m going to spend all afternoon and evening with everybody. We can do everything. If you need me, my phone is right there. You have a phone, too. We’re in the easy technology. Just send me a quick text or call me.”
Then, maybe I can say “Yeah. In ten minutes, I’ll take a break and come help you out.” Of course! That’s why I want to work from home, too. So, you find that balance, and you plan for it.
Mark S: Also, I don’t know if this goes in work/life focus or in physical requirements, but I wanted to talk about computers for a minute, because especially if you have kids, if you only have one computer in the household, I think that’s going to be a mistake. You need to use your computer, maybe for design work, maybe for running your equipment, definitely for keeping track of your customers and for doing invoicing, and answering customer emails.
If that’s the same computer that your kids need to do homework, and your husband needs to do whatever he does on the computer, or your wife needs to do whatever she does on the computer in the evenings or during the day or whenever, then that’s a real problem, for a couple of reasons. It’s not just time.
You know that if you are working on a job, and your kid’s got a project that they didn’t do, and they need to write a paper for tomorrow morning, you’re going to stop working, and let them do that. But it’s also what they may be putting on the computer.
Your son or daughter could download a game that screws up your digitizing software. Your husband could delete something by mistake, because he doesn’t recognize the file extension.
Marc V: Yeah. He’s cleaning up, doing computer maintenance. He doesn’t really pay attention to too much, and “Oh, my gosh! Look at all this stuff!” He was trying to upload the family photos from Disney to there.
Mark S: “There’s a lot of space, so let me delete all of this stuff. What’s a dsg file? I’ve never seen one of those.”
Marc V: Then, you’ve deleted a bunch of designs. Virus issues, especially if you have kids poking around on game sites. Any of these things can happen. Also, if you’re logged into business social media, your teenage daughter comes home and doesn’t realize what account she’s in, and shares something on Facebook real quick. Now, your business is sharing something about teenage makeup tips.
You want to just try to separate.
Mark S: Computers are so cheap. You can do almost anything on a laptop. If you want, get yourself a laptop, anything, but have a separate computer.
Marc V: It’s a great idea. Or maybe the new computer is for the family. Maybe they only need something that’s a $200 Chromebook, because everyone just checks email and Facebook, and that’s it. Then, you take the nice computer for the business, and here’s a family computer. It does everything anyone wants to do, and there you go.
Mark S: Yeah.
Marc V: Think about all of that ahead of time. Also, wear your thick skin on that, too. Because when you talk, “Listen. We’ve already decided that this is my work computer. This is the house one. No. You can’t use it.”
Mark S: You have two kids that need to do projects that night. Well, one of them is going to fail, “Because you can’t use my freaking computer!”
Marc V: Chances are both of them are not projects that need six hours at the computer. What else do we have here?
Mark S: I think one of the big deals with working at home, that you have to work out in advance, I’ve got down here, customer contact procedures. That’s just a really fancy way to say that you’ve got to decide how you and your customers are going to interface with each other; where that’s going to happen and what that’s going to look and sound like.
For example, if you are a home-based business, are your customers going to come to your house? Are they going to come, like the lady in one of our success stories, the Undercover Bling? She did bags every time a local community kids theater did a new production. She would do embroidered bags with the name of the play or the musical on it, and the name of the cast member, and the role.
When those were ready, she’d have 24, 30 teenagers lined up outside her back porch throughout the morning, coming to get their bags, and picking up. Awesome for her. How is that going to work, in your situation?
Marc V: Maybe you don’t want to have customers coming to your house at all. You want to keep that separate. You need to organize. What are your meeting places? Are you doing things at Starbucks or McDonald’s? Are you doing things at a park?
Is there an actual business office space that you have access to? Maybe your wife is an attorney and owns an office, and there’s a room in there you can use for meetings that you can schedule. Use all of your resources, and think them out, of how you actually want to do it.
Also, consider, do you live in a community with a gate and a guard, and you have to call people in ahead of time? How comfortable is that for your clients, that every time they show up, they have to call? You have to call the guard, and the guard has to let them in. It’s all the way in the back of the community. Maybe you don’t want that.
Just consider all of the things. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. And put yourself in your own shoes, in the future, where you’re going to say “Let’s pretend that I’m delivering two deliveries a day. If I’m delivering two things a day, do I care if people are dropping by?” Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.
Mark S: If it’s going to be ten, then you probably do. It’s not just that. For physical locations, there are also places that will rent an office suite by the hour, or they’ll rent a conference room by the hour. I used a service called Intelligent Office for a while, when I worked from home. I was selling video equipment, and I would go meet with prospective clients and talk about their systems and things like that, in a conference room. That worked fine for me. Maybe it will for you, if you need to do those kinds of meetings.
The other thing is not just physical, “Will I deliver? Will people come to the office?” But what are you going to do about the phone? Are you using your home phone? Do you want the potential for your family members to answer the phone? Are you using your cell phone? Is it the same phone that you use personally?
If it’s the one that you use personally, and you’re trying to portray yourself as a bigger business, are you going to answer every call “Hi. It’s Mary, from Mary’s Embroidery. How can I help you?” Or are you going to go “Hi. This is Mary. Go!” What are you going to do?
Marc V: Do you need something more than that? Some folks will get a third party phone service, like RingCentral, 8×8, Grasshopper. There’s a ton of them out there, and you can have a phone number that’s just for the business. You can even get an app for your phone. When your mobile phone rings, it will be a RingCentral app or your 8×8 app ringing.
Mark S: These are all computer or cloud-based, so this is not you running a physical phone line into your home. I just want to say.
Marc V: You can actually have your laptop be your phone. The microphone and the speaker is your phone, or you buy a little headset. That’s what I had for a while. I had a headset that plugged into the side of my computer, and that was actually my phone. It’s what they call a soft phone, for your business.
Mark S: I’ve made at least four or five businesses that were just me, or me and a friend, seem huge, with the kind of 8×8 or RingCentral app where you call, and you record a message that says “Hey, thanks for calling Bob’s Peanut Factory. Press one for sales. Press two for accounting.” All of those departments all went to me, but it sounds really good, when that first customer calls.
Marc V: You could also hire a receptionist type of a service, if you want.
Mark S: Yeah, you can, if you want a live answerer.
Marc V: There’s plenty of services like that, where somebody will answer the phone for you. “Hello, T-shirt shop. How can I help you?” “I want to place an order.” “Okay, hold on. Let me go ahead and get Juan for you.” Then, they call your cell phone. “Hey, this is your answering service. I’ve got somebody looking to talk to you about placing an order.” “Great! Patch them through,” or “No, take a message for me.”
Mark S: All of that is awesome, and may or may not be necessary, depending on the business that you’re building, when you make that first decision. Maybe it’s awesome to have your kids answer the phone. “Oh, you want to talk to mom about ordering one of those cool rhinestone jackets like me and all of my friends wear! That’s great! Hang on.”
You could have that kind of a thing going, or you could go the route where you’re trying to look a little bit bigger, maybe seem a little bit more professional, and use a separate phone, use a phone app, or a phone service.
Marc V: One of my friends is a single guy, and he had his own small business. He used one of the answering services. He didn’t care so much about whether people thought he was big or not, or any of those things. He just did it, because he was always busy with so many things. He didn’t want to have to answer the phone every single time.
But he also was tired of sending people to voicemail nine out of ten times. So, he let the service answer it, and he gave them some rules. “If somebody asks for one of these three things, call my cell phone. And if not, just always take a message.” At least it could keep a little bit of filtering out. When somebody was calling to give him money, he always answered that phone call.
Mark S: That’s a good rule!
Marc V: When somebody was calling up to maybe just whatever it might be, ask for a second copy of their invoice from two months ago, because they lost it, that could go to voicemail, because that could be answered later. Or sometimes, it would be “Email him about that.” You can filter, and push the people to email.
You figure out what’s good for you. All of these things come at a cost. Everything we’ve named, though, is cheaper than your cell phone bill, probably.
Mark S: Yeah, definitely. I will say one other thing about an address, and where having a business address might be a good idea. For all of the businesses that I ran myself, I used the UPS Store or Mailboxes Etc., I think it was called back in the day. Basically, it’s a PO box, but one that will take shipments.
Marc V: Yeah, because a PO box is a great idea, and a lot of businesses have it, except a lot of UPS and FedEx, those things won’t deliver to those addresses.
Mark S: Right, to a PO box.
Marc V: So, you need a physical person that they can hand the package to, or sign for it.
Mark S: And there are always size restrictions. Sometimes, you get a box too big, and they just won’t accept it.
Marc V: If you’re ordering t-shirts, there’s going to be big boxes. You’re going to get three big boxes.
Mark S: What I really liked about working with these guys is it wasn’t too much money. I think the current box that I use is maybe $60 or $80 a month. But I can call them and ask them if I have any packages. I don’t actually have to even go anywhere.
And even if you work from home, maybe you’re not going to always be there. Maybe the UPS truck in your area drops stuff off at 2:00 every day, and that’s when you have to be physically somewhere else.
Marc V: We have people all the time say that they don’t want packages left at their door, or they’ve gotten packages stolen, depending on where you live.
Mark S: I live in a shady neighborhood. I will not have anybody leave a package.
Marc V: So that helps, to do that. The thing is that you can order something from any of these places, including Colman and Company, and you can ask us to put instructions, like “Don’t leave at the door.” The driver might not ever see that.
Mark S: It’s up to them.
Marc V: Yeah. They might not even see that. No matter what you tell us, no matter what we tell them, these are big delivery services. So, that can help.
Another cool thing you mentioned about calling – I remember my father would call up his Mailbox Etc., it was at that time. Now it’s the UPS Store. He would call up and say “Hey, is there a letter in my box from Anheuser Busch? No? Okay.” Then, he’d hang up and he was like “Yeah.”
Mark S: “Throw everything else out!”
Marc V: The reason he was asking was because he knew a check was coming in, and “If there’s a check, I’ll drive down there today and deposit it, and move that money into places. But if there’s no check, I’m not going to make the trip. If there’s no box, I’m not going to make the trip.” So, those are all conveniences.
You also can put that address down on your business card and things like that, so your address isn’t your home address, if you don’t want that on your website or whatever it is. And anybody who is going to mail you anything, it would go to that address.
Oftentimes we have customers that use that for their account with us. They work from home. I don’t even know what their home address is. Their account is their UPS Store.
Mark S: That’s right.
Marc V: That’s very acceptable, and a good idea, if it’s in the budget. Plenty of the things we named here are not that expensive in and of themselves, but they add up. You prioritize.
Mark S: That’s true. The next thing I have, and I think it’s just about the last one that I have, is to decide, are you going to have employees, other than your kids and your spouse? And how is that going to look?
For example, some of our customers that work from home, maybe they’re in a basement office or they have an outbuilding, might have three or four people that come and work for them, doing production, on a regular basis.
They’ve come into a business environment, but are you comfortable with that? Do you have little kids around all the time? Are you going to hire your friends, and they’re not going to work out, and you’re going to have to fire them? Are you going to have people clock in and out, when they come to your house?
Are you going to be able to keep track of their hours? Are you going to let them use your fridge? What are they going to do for lunch? Are they going to participate in your home? If you’re working until 6:00, and your kids come home at 3:00, are they going to help with your kids’ homework?
Employees is a big deal.
Marc V: It’s definitely something to think about. Also, is there going to be a comfort level with them working for you? Not only is it your thought of them, but them even wanting to come work for you. Two of my best friends, they still run a small business, but they ran it for years. When they were very new, they partially partnered up with another guy who did the same thing they did.
They said “If we combine forces and help each other out, we can keep our businesses separate, but we could help each other answer phones and things like that.” So, they were like “Great idea!”
The guy was like “I have this great office setup in my house. You guys should come check it out.” He converted one of this living rooms into an office where four or five employees could actually work, and have desks. They got there, and they left a few hours later, and they were like “There’s no way we want to work there. We don’t want to work in this guy’s house.”
His dogs were running around. One of the guys was allergic to cats, and he had two cats. All of these things to consider, if that’s going to be an issue or not.
But I think it goes into maybe the hiring somebody stage is part of the “when I’m moving out” stage. Maybe your goal is to always have it in your house, and build a giant steel building in the back, that’s going to be your work area in your home. But maybe the goal is to have a storefront or even just an industrial warehouse type of thing. Maybe that’s what you want.
Maybe the goal is “When I get to this amount in sales, I can afford this much in the extra costs for the rent and electricity and insurances,” and whatever else you might need when you move out. “When I get to this number, I can afford that, and then I’m going to move out.” Then, that’s the employee stage of the business.
Mark S: Yeah. I like all of that. I want to go back through a little bit here, again. But first, I want to remind everybody about what we’ve been reading on Custom Apparel Startups, and that’s all of these people that have been running a successful business from their house for 10 years, 11 years, 15 years. Multi-head embroidery machines, direct-to-garment printing, rhinestone machines.
One of our favorite customers, My Rhinestone Transfers, has a commercial operation out of a barn behind their house. There’s a variety of ways to do this. Work from home means something different for everyone, and it is in no way a barrier to you making money.
Marc V: I would say not at all, in the apparel business, not at all. There’s various specific business plans, that it does. If your goal is to sell beach t-shirts to tourists, I don’t know how you’re going to do that from your home, unless you live on the beach. People walk by, and you set up a booth in your front yard.
But otherwise, if you’re talking about doing: custom apparel for sports and small businesses, and youth and schools and all of these things; local groups, charities, all of that, if that’s what your plan is, then where it’s being produced almost doesn’t matter at all. As long as you’re kind of following some of these rules.
Most of this stuff you can do all in the same day. You can literally wake up on a Friday morning and be done with this whole checklist before dinner, for the most part.
Mark S: Yeah, and let’s run through those.
First, you’re going to decide whether or not you want to make being a home-based business part of your business’s personality. So, is that something that you’re going to advertise?
You’re going to take a look at the legal requirements. Are you allowed to do business where you are, the way you want to, and what do you need to do, to accomplish that properly?
You’re going to look at the physical requirements. That’s physical space, temperature, humidity, will it fit through the door? What’s your power? Is the equipment going to fit in your home and fit with the products that you want to produce?
You’re going to work out a little bit of work/life focus. That includes things like making sure you have a computer for business, that you don’t have to share. You’re going to follow Marc’s “no laundry” rule, so you’re going to have set times where you do things for home, because you’re home. As long as you get the right amount of hours put in and work done at the end of the day, you’re going to be great.
And you’re not going to use household activities to avoid doing business activities that you don’t like. That’s a big deal.
You’re going to schedule your hours. You’re going to work out how you want to contact customers, and how you want them to contact you.
Are you going to have a separate phone? Are you going to use a phone app? Are you going to get 8×8 or RingCentral? Are you going to have an answering service?
Are you going to let customers come by your house to meet with you and talk to you, or pick stuff up, or are you going to rent office space by the hour, just for that? Are you going to deliver product, or are they going to come and pick it up? Are you going to use a UPS Store box or a UPS box for deliveries?
What are you going to do about employees when you get them, or when you start with them?
Marc V: And if your family is part of your employees, if your son or daughter or whoever is part of your employees, then work out some of these rules straight up from the bottom to the top with them, for the hours that they’re going to work. They’re not going to answer their cell phone and talk to their friends during business hours, all of these things.
You say “This is the work time,” all of that. You focus it up with the employees you might bring in, including if they’re your family.
Mark S: Agreed. Man, I liked this one!
Marc V: Yeah. What I like about this one is a lot of people are one of two things; either overly enthusiastic about the home-based business, and don’t plan anything, and then get really stressed out really fast, and want to give up. Or they’re so fearful of everything that they never actually pull the trigger. I think those are the two most common things.
The middle ground are the folks who plan a little bit, and pull the trigger when it’s in a safe place. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get stressed out or freak out over some things, over the course of your business. You started a small business. Get ready for it!
But this will help minimize a lot of those things that are very avoidable.
Mark S: I like all of that. Maybe if you’re already in business, you listen to this podcast and you recognize a couple of places where you can make a change that might make your business more successful.
Marc V: Yeah. I would love to know that one thing on this list is something that was kind of a light bulb moment for you. Where you said “You know what? I’ve never logged what hours I work. I’m very curious. I feel like I work a ton. I feel like I work 80 hours.”
Then you log them, and you’ve worked like 30. And then you say “What?”
Mark S: It’s ten hours of Candy Crush! That’s what it is!
Marc V: Great, then! This sounds good. Hopefully, we’ve inspired a couple of people. That’s always my goal at the end, that a few people have been inspired or learned a couple of lessons, and that we can help you out. So, come to the Facebook group, ask some questions, contact us. We’ll be here!
Mark S: Exactly! This has been Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.
Marc V: And Marc Vila, from Colman and Company.
Mark S: You guys have a good business!
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