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Becoming a 'Bathrobe Businessperson'

By Cliff Ennico

Last week, I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at the New York State Bar Association's "Starting a Solo Practice" series, on the topic of "Becoming a 'Bathrobe Lawyer': Building a Successful Solo Law Practice Out of a Home Office."  

When we think of lawyers, accountants, architects, and other professionals, we think of them first and foremost as professionals.

Yet, when a professional is working solo out of a home office, he or she is an entrepreneur or small business owner just like any other.  And the challenges they face are exactly the same as all home-based entrepreneurs.

Here are five key points I mentioned in my talk:

Tip #1:  Don't See Clients in Your Home 
These days, most clients are happy to work with you via phone, email, Skype, and other Internet media.  If they insist on meeting with you "live," you can meet them in their offices or at a local diner (I prefer diners generally because you usually can get any kind of food you want, and if you schedule your meeting between major mealtimes, they usually will leave you alone without rushing you).

Meeting clients in your home increases the odds of an angry spouse, and also makes it more likely that you will have issues with your local zoning authority (see below). 

Tip #2:  Use a UPS Store Private Mailbox Address
Don't use your home address as an office or mailing address.  Open a "private mailbox" at your local UPS Store (the cost is about $200 to $300 a year), and have all your mail go there.  That way, you will have an excuse to get out of the house at least once each day.

Tip #3:  Keep a Low Profile
If your home-based business is too visible (for example, there are clients sitting on your lawn waiting for a meeting, or the local kids can't play basketball in the street because they're too busy dodging FedEx trucks going to your house), your neighbors will turn you in to your local zoning authority.

Keep in mind that all home-based businesses (roughly 18 million of them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) are technically illegal because you are operating a business in a part of your community that is zoned "residential."  As long as you don't upset or anger your neighbors, however, you usually won't have any problem with them.  After all, they're probably working from home too.

Tip #4:  Market the Heck Out of Your Business
If you are not spending at least 20 percent of your total time on marketing-related activities, you are not "getting the word out there" and letting people know you exist.

Oh, and remember to send your clients an email newsletter every couple of weeks.  They probably won't read them, but at least you are getting your name in front of them on a regular basis so they don't forget about you.

Tip #5:  Take Care of Yourself 
Running a business out of a home office can be a lonely life, and it's easy to let yourself go.  Find time to visit the gym frequently, and (men) don't forget to shave.  Keep the refrigerator as empty as possible because nobody wants a 400-pound spouse.

To view my talk online, go to

Cliff Ennico
(, a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of Small Business Survival Guide, The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book, and 15 other books.  COPYRIGHT 2013 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  Permission granted for use on
Tags: At-Home Business, Budget, Cliff Ennico, Spouse, Stay-at-Home Mom,, Work from Home
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