A summary of research conducted by COSE.org in 2008 about home based businesses. Some surprising conclusions: home based businesses are not all startups; not all want to grow or move into an office; they have good incomes.
Home Based Business Research: Dispelling the Myths
Home Based Businesses:dispelling tHe mytHs octoBer 2008
“The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) is seeking
to improve our understanding of home based businesses
and their characteristics. In 2008, COSE conducted
its first Small Business and Home Based Business
Survey of Firms.”
In March 2006, the Council of Smaller Enter- Our findings were surprising and revealing.
prises (COSE) launched the Home Business We admit that our anecdotal understanding
Network to support a large segment of of HBB in some ways was based on the myths
our membership – those who run small that exist in popular culture about the HBB
businesses out of their home. As one of the community. Our expectations about their
nation’s largest small business support level of experience, the stability of their opera-
organizations, COSE exists to support the 2.5 tions, the level of their incomes and the nature
million small business owners and employees of their challenges were influenced by that
in Ohio. As the Home Business Network has group think. We are pleased to present our
evolved over the past two years, it has findings and dispel some of the myths
become clear that there is a shortage of solid frequently associated with this sector of the
information about home based businesses, small business community.
their characteristics and their operations.
In fact, we have found that home based
Because solid information about these busi- businesses are as experienced, as profitable,
nesses and their characteristics is hard to as stable and as focused on growth and
find, many myths and preconceived notions success as non-home based businesses in
exist about home based businesses. Many our community. While they do have some
academics and entrepreneurial “thinkers” unique challenges and issues, in general they
have regarded home based businesses with are every bit the contributors to their house-
apathy; dismissing the impact and opportunity holds and to our economy as the broader
that home based businesses represent. base of small businesses in our survey. From
As such, COSE is seeking to improve our household earnings to job creation, this survey
understanding of these companies. In 2008, indicates that home based businesses play
COSE conducted its first Small Business and a large role in our economy. We believe it is
Home Based Business Survey of Firms. important for policy makers, the business
Our goal was to gain a better understanding sector and the community at large to recog-
of the disparities between home based nize and support this segment of entrepre-
businesses (HBB) and non-home based neurship as an important ingredient to the
success of our local economy.
businesses (non-HBB), and the characteristics
of these companies, so that COSE could
both quantify the realities of operating a HBB
and improve its support of the home based
COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises 1
“The resulting sample included 2,134 HBB and 3,206
non-HBB. We conducted an e-mail survey and secured
over 400 responses from each segment.”
Over the last several years, we have been COSE members that were not identified as
struck by the void in primary knowledge HBB in order to compare and contrast the
about the demographics, operating charac- two groups. We further narrowed this list by
teristics and psychographics of the HBB removing those for which no e-mail address
community. Beyond census data, which is existed. The resulting sample included 2,134
difficult to extract and understand, Internet HBB and 3,206 non-HBB. We conducted an
scans of available research turn up very little e-mail survey with a target of receiving a
insight about these firms and their owners. response from 400 businesses in each
Most of the information that can be found is category. We exceeded those numbers
first person accounts of direct experience or slightly resulting in a margin of error of about
subjective advice and interpretation by those 4.7% at a 95% confidence level.
that represent themselves as a resource or
It should be noted that our survey was of
provider to HBBs.
COSE members only. We believe a slight bias
Even the membership associations and may exist as COSE members are likely a
other organizations most often referenced as sub-group of HBB that are more likely to be
resources for HBB tend to focus more on engaged in a sustainable level of business
advice about running the business or infor- activity and more likely to desire or require
mation about various HBB opportunities than health care and other benefits that COSE
providing a profile of the characteristics and provides. Though we will be supplementing
needs of the HBB. this research with findings from a broader
As a result of this lack of information, we population of non-member HBB, that work
embarked on a survey of our own. As part is still underway as of this publication.
of establishing COSE’s Home Business COSE was identified as the survey sponsor
Network, COSE scanned all member data and all surveys were received via e-mail and
and identified firms that our records indicated compiled by Cypress Research Group. The
had a residential address as their primary survey was conducted from August 28, 2008
business address. Those firms became through September 20, 2008.
designated as a HBB. For our survey, we
sampled both COSE HBB members and
2 COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises
“Our research led us to conclude that the broad perceptions that exist about home
based businesses are not necessarily true. We learned several important things
about the home based businesses in our survey that challenged these precon-
ceived notions and dispelled some long held myths about these small businesses.”
Home based businesses are Home based business owners are
born of desire, not desperation. both experienced and capable.
Our survey painted a picture about HBB that though those that started HBBs were more Many imagine the HBB owner as the respond-
was far more optimistic than the one most than twice as likely than the general population er to one of those work at home ads or the
often assumed and portrayed. Indeed, the to have children at home when they started hobbyist that tinkers for spare change; how-
loss of a job is a factor that contributes to the their business. ever, those perceptions were disproved by our
start of a new HBB, but that was a primary survey. In fact, 45% of the HBB owners in our
And starting these businesses required faith
factor for only 21% of our respondents. More survey had more than 11 years of industry
in their ability to make something happen for
often, the birth of a HBB is a result of an experience providing the product or service
their family. As many find out when starting a
employee no longer enjoying working for they now provide from home. Further, only
business, there is no list of free grants or low
someone else (41%), deciding they could do 22% jumped into an opportunity with less
interest loans just waiting for the new HBB.
what they were doing better on their own than one year of experience in their industry.
Sixty-five percent of our HBB respondents
(30%), and with a higher income (28%). While HBB respondents were as educated as their
indicated their entrepreneurial seizure was
18% noted increased flexibility as a part of non-HBB counterparts, with more than 74%
financed by their personal savings. Credit
their decision making process, about 25% holding a college degree or better and a scant
cards and bank loans were also utilized but
noted that they started their company to 10% having not had any college education.
were less typically reported as a financing
provide a product or service that they
tool, by 11% and 7% respectively; and 5% Seventy-four percent of the respondents were
enjoyed. These reasons were similar in rank
tapped friends and family for help. Because married, 93% were homeowners and 58%
and magnitude to the reasons provided
overhead tends to be low and much of the were between the ages of 31 and 50 when they
by non-HBB respondents about the start of
capital for starting a HBB resides between started their HBB—representing a mature,
the ears of the owner, 23% of the respon- stable demographic taking the leap to pursue
Conventional wisdom holds that children and dents indicated that no start-up financing their own thing. Only 14% of the respondents
flexibility to meet their needs is a significant was necessary. were 30 or younger and 28% were age 51 or
factor in the start of a HBB, also known as the older when starting their business.
“Mompreneur” trend. While this was a key And, again refuting the general perception,
factor for 29% of HBB starts, more than half we aren’t talking about “Mompre-
(54%) report that children were not a factor at neurs”—71% of the HBB respondents to our
all in their decision to start their business, even survey were men!
Were children a factor in Why did you start your business?
starting the business? Stopped Enjoying 41% Home-Based
Working for Someone Else 32% Non-Home Based
Decided I Could Do Exactly What 30%
100% I Was Doing Better on My Own 26%
90% Non-Home Based 28%
80% Higher Income 20%
70% 67% Always Wanted to Own 27%
% of Respondents
My Own Business 33%
50% Provide Product/ 25%
Service I Enjoy Providing 20%
30% Lost My Job 11%
20% 16% 17% 17%
Increase Flexibility/ 18%
10% Stay in Market on Own Terms 6%
0% Voluntary Buy Out/ 5%
Yes No Somewhat Severance From Last Job Provided Financing 3%
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
% of Respondents
4 COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises
DISPELLING THE MYTHS
Home based businesses face
specific challenges in balancing
their time and efforts.
A quick Internet search on the challenges of indicated maintaining separation of work and businesses grow. This is slightly less than the
being a HBB will turn up lots of information home life also ranked at the top of their list. In 81% of non-HBB owners that seek growth.
about the issues of isolation and loneliness addition, 23% identified maintaining discipline They, like other businesses, report that access
and the concerns that HBBs have about as a major challenge. The discipline issue to new customers or markets is their biggest
projecting a professional image. While 15% however, tends to decline with the age of the barrier to growth, followed by access to
of HBBs do report those issues as either business, indicating that once HBB owners capital and access to adequate skilled workers
“quite” or “most challenging,” they are by no set their boundaries and establish a routine, to meet demands. Even among HBB owners,
means the issues most frequently reported they create a structure that works for them. access to skilled workers was the biggest
as significantly challenging to HBB. barrier to growth for 12% of the respondents.
We tested a variety of other perceived chal-
By far, the single biggest issue facing HBBs The similarity in the challenges and concerns
lenges of HBBs. Interestingly, the perception
is marketing and sales with 63% of respon- of HBBs and non-HBBs is striking.
that HBBs are concerned with finding profes-
dents reporting that as their most challenging sional meeting space or providers of
issue. Forty-six percent of the non-HBBs business services or have concerns with
Home based business owners are
responding also reported this as the single local ordinances that impact them turned out likely to stay home based business
biggest issue facing their business. to be an important challenge for only 5% to owners—and for good reasons!
15% of the respondents. A common perception by observers of HBBs
More significantly however, when asked
is that their current situation is temporary
about some of the unique challenges they HBB owners also desire growth and face
because they could be tempted by opportu-
face, the HBBs that responded to our survey the same key challenges as other business
nities for “real” employment. Or perhaps they
reported the three most challenging aspects owners to achieve it.
will eventually grow, landing the HBB in a
of running their HBB were all related to man-
While HBBs are more likely to be satisfied traditional office space (outside the home)
aging their time and efforts. Almost half indi-
with the current size of their operation (29% sometime in the future. Our research shows
cated that calling it quits for the day was one
satisfied vs. 18% non-HBB owners), 69% of that neither perception is accurate.
of their most challenging issues, while 38% HBB owners say that they’d like to see their
Year business was started Source of financing for business start-up
90% Non-Home Based 90% Non-Home Based
70% 70% 65%
% of Respondents
% of Respondents
60% 60% 54%
30% 27% 30%
20% 17% 18% 20% 15%
14% 12% 14% 14% 15% 14%
11% 10% 11%
10% 10% 7% 7%
4% 1% 5% 4%
1987 or 1988- 1993- 1998- 2003- 2008 Personal No Start-up Credit Bank Loans Other Bank Loan
before 1992 1997 2002 2007 Savings Financing Cards Loan from with SBA
Necessary Friends or Guarantee
COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises 5
“When asked about the one thing they would change about their home based
business, 34% of HBB owners wrote in “Nothing”—a final indication of their
contentment as HBB owners.”
In fact, it seems the opposite is true. Almost indicate they desire growth in their business, When asked about the one thing they would
70% of those we surveyed have been in their 65% say they are likely to remain a HBB. Only change about their home based business,
HBB for more than five years and over 30% 11% indicated their status as a HBB is 34% of HBB owners wrote in “Nothing”—
had more than 15 years of history running temporary due to their current size; the a final indication of their contentment as
their current business. And, even with that remaining 24% reported being unsure of the HBB owners.
longevity, there seems to be a high degree of longer term status of their business.
satisfaction with their status as a HBB. Challenges related to optimizing and organizing
And, why should they change their status their space accounted for the bulk of the
When asked the most likely reason they when 88% report that their status as a HBB additional responses.
would leave their HBB, the single most has had either a positive or neutral affect on
frequent response was retirement or some their business’ ability to retain or attract new Home based businesses
other exit from the workforce. Only 24% customers? Further, more than half of the
are also creating jobs.
indicate that they might be lured away by a owners have concluded that the fact that
In addition to the owner, we were surprised
new opportunity, but based on the responses, they are home based is not relevant enough
to learn that almost half of all HBBs actually
money doesn’t seem to be the driver as to even bear mention to their clients and
had one or more employees. And, 17%
much as the nature of that opportunity. In customers.
reported having three or more employees.
fact, only 14% of the business owners Why are they so committed? Forty percent Further, possibly shedding some light on why
indicate that an opportunity that pays more report that the freedom and independence those businesses want to optimize their
would be a reason for leaving their current they have as a HBB owner is the most posi- space, 98% of those companies with em-
business, with more than half of those saying tive aspect of doing what they do. By far, ployees have at least one of those employees
that the new opportunity would have to pay freedom and independence are ranked as working alongside them in their home. Even
at least 50% more than their current HBB. the most positive aspect at 40%, with the more surprising, 11% of the respondents with
So even if they enjoy the business, they’ll next highest ranked reason being their ability employees indicated that three or more of
move when they get bigger—right? Wrong! to juggle work and family issues at 15%, those employees are working alongside them
Even though 69% of these business owners followed by 13% who indicated a higher in their home office to support the business.
income as the rationale.
Ability to attract customers Most positive aspect of a home based business
70% 65% 70%
% of Respondents
% of Respondents
20% 20% 15%
10% 10% 8% 8% 9%
0% 0% 2%
Yes, Home Based Not Aware No, Home Based Freedom/ Ability to Higher Ability to Job No Ability to Other
Status Hurts of an Impact Status Helps Independence Juggle Income Explore Security Commute Work Alone
My Ability to Either Way Ability to Attract Work/Family Opportunities
Attract/Retain New Cutomers Issues
6 COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises
DISPELLING THE MYTHS
In many other ways, home based
businesses are not very different
at all from other small businesses.
HBB owners are adopting sophisticated In addition, 77% of HBB owners report their It would also be hard to classify HBBs as
business structures, earning as much business as the primary source of providing “part-time.” In fact, 87% of the HBBs in our
money and working as hard as other small insurance and medical benefits for their survey reported working more than 31 hours
business owners. families—again cementing the role of their HBB per week, with 41% reporting work hours in
in meeting the primary needs of their family. excess of 51 hours per week. This is slightly
Seventy-one percent of HBBs responding
lower than the 47% working 51 hours per
to our survey are organized as either limited Given those results, you would expect these
week or more in non-HBBs. But, flexibility
liability corporations (LLC) (25%), Subchap- businesses to be doing well financially. Our
seems to be more evident in the life of the
ter S Corporations (34%), or C Corporations survey results confirmed that. Seventy-nine
HBB owner with only 32% reporting they
(12%). The biggest difference between percent of those surveyed had company rev-
HBBs and non-HBBs is the propensity of work normal office hours and another 52%
enues in excess of $51,000 per year, with 27%
HBBs to organize as sole proprietors—28% reporting they break up their working time
reporting revenues of more than $251,000
compared to just 6% of non-HBBs. throughout the day, including weekends and
per year. More importantly, in a comparison
evenings, which allows them to meet other
of personal income received from the
Significantly, the owner of a HBB is almost as daytime obligations. Unfortunately, like 22%
business between HBB and non-HBB, HBB
likely to be the primary provider of household of other business owners who report that
fared well with 64% reporting personal
income as the owner of a non-HBB. Seventy- they work “constantly,” 17% of HBB owners
income in excess of $51,000 per year from
four percent of HBB owners reported that also share that characteristic.
their income from the business was the their business. With Ohio’s 2007 per capita
primary source of income for their household. income at $34,509, these business owners HBB owners, like their office based contem-
While this is slightly less than the 85% of are doing much better than the average poraries, do take time off for vacation in
non-HBB owners that play that role in their Ohioan and compare well with their non-HBB similar increments of time, varying from one
household, it indicates the seriousness with counterparts, of whom 80% report personal week to more than four weeks per year. More
which a HBB operates. And, 17% report their income in excess of $51,000 per year from than half of HBB and non-HBB owners take
HBB as a major secondary source of income their business. With only 12% reporting less one to two weeks of vacation per year.
for the household, while only 10% classify than $25,999 in personal income from their Seventeen percent of HBB owners report
their income as a smaller supplemental business, it is clear that HBBs are serious taking no annual vacation, which is a bit
source for their household. endeavors, and not glorified hobbies. higher than the 11% of non-HBB owners
who deny themselves time away each year.
Personal income in 2007 Average hours worked per week
90% Non-Home Based 100%
80% 90% Non-Home Based
% of Respondents
% of Respondents
30% 26% 40% 37%
20%18% 20% 20% 30% 30%
20% 17% 16% 30% 27%
10% 7% 20% 19% 17%
0% 11% 11%
Less than $26,000- $51,000- $76,000- $101,000- More than 5%
1% 0.3% 2% 3%
$25,999 $50,999 $75,999 $100,999 $200,000 $200,000 0%
Less than 11-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 51-60 More than
10 Hours Hours Hours Hours Hours Hours 60 Hours
COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises 7
“COSE is committed to the success of our region’s
home based business community and will use
the data gleaned here and the experience of our
discussions with home based business owners to
articulate and advocate on their behalf.”
What does this mean?
How do we move forward?
What are the implications of this research? and ensure they continue to provide a satisfy-
What can we do to best use this information ing work experience for their employees,
to improve how we support HBBs and especially in knowledge based work forces.
how we better appreciate their impact on Failure to do so could be the launching point
our economy? for a potential competitor.
First, one of the biggest barriers to academics, Fourth, marketers should be more aware of
economists and policy makers in recognizing the opportunity that exists with HBBs.
the value of these businesses is that these Experienced, educated and with incomes
businesses are hard to see. They don’t have significantly in excess of per capita income in
signs in the window, we don’t see them come Ohio, HBB owners and the organizations that
and go to the office and we have few methods support them are “target rich” environments
for culling out their existence and their con- for the promotion of goods and services to
tribution. As such, we believe that a first step these consumers and their households.
to better understand and draw out the value
Fifth, COSE and organizations like it must take
of these businesses is to improve what
the lead on providing support and resources
we do to recognize their existence, their
for these home based business owners.
concerns and their potential contributions by
Though we may never achieve equal footing
involving them in identifying their unique chal- as it relates to the perception and goodwill of
lenges and needs for support. Understanding the general population to this class of job
more about the significance and credibility of creators, we need to improve the awareness
these businesses demands that we improve of how we can help these businesses meet
how they are engaged in our community and their goals and contribute to our economy.
how we support their efforts.
Second, organizations that can find ways to
identify these businesses and then engage COSE is Committed to Supporting
them in the work that they do will find a large the Home Based Business.
army of capable, experienced and successful COSE is committed to the success of our
business owners to draw into their efforts. region’s home based business community
Home based businesses are a very signifi- and will use the data gleaned here and the
cant part of our economy, and the skills of experience of our discussions with HBB
their owners and the contributions of their owners to articulate and advocate on their
businesses are often and easily overlooked. behalf. They are an important constituency
Third, like non-home based businesses, in the growth of our state and our country’s
HBBs are launched when the owner tires of economy. As such, we need to continue to
working for someone else and decides they increase our understanding of these firms. In
can do the same work for higher pay with addition to providing valuable information
more flexibility on their own. With relatively about these small businesses, this research
low barriers to entry and similar take home has also prompted a number of additional
pay, the HBB is a viable alternative for many questions regarding what is beneath their
talented and experienced people in the work- success. As we seek to learn more, this
force. Therefore, employers should take heed knowledge will deepen our ability to better
support these companies and their growth in
our business community.
8 COSE Council of Smaller Enterprises
The COSE Home Business Network provides education, advocacy, networking and resources to a diverse community of Northeast Ohio
business owners who operate out of their homes. The Home Business Network strives to unite home business owners, to highlight the powerful
economic impact of home businesses, to increase their credibility and to celebrate their successes.
COSE | council of smaller enterprises
The Higbee Building, 100 Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 216.592.2222