Studies relating to home-based businesses found a general preference amongst operators to improve and expand their business, however, majority of operators indicated a preference to stay small and manageable. Operators were cautious about growth in size and there was a recognition that the business was generally centred around the owner and his or her capacity to take on more work. Some businesses were clearly growth oriented. The following are a sample of responses indicating that operators saw the business as having potential beyond their present home-based situation:
“I currently operate from a detached office setup at the rear of my home. This has worked well so far but for future growth I am considering appropriate premises in the business area.”
“Business of this type is best conducted from a shop-front. When clients come for services to the home or find out that business is run from home, they tend to get the wrong impression. It would be good to have a shared space within the town for businesses like this to use.”
“The business has grown mainly through word-of-mouth and now I can get as much business as I can handle.”
There were 20% of HBBs that regarded a move to commercial premises a possibility; 12% were currently involved in exporting / importing; 15% saw export potential for their business and 38% were open to employing others in the future.The HBB operators were generally very positive about their businesses and confident about the specific skills they were able to bring to the business arena. There was an overwhelming desire to continue operating from home and to work on increasing turnover (78%), while just over a third had intentions to remain at home, invest more on equipment and/or employ others.
Interviews indicated a commitment amongst the operators to be successful and to achieve business goals rather than to simply continue in a survival mode.
“I am very client focussed and this is the only way to improve the business.”
“I devote many hours to this business and clients depend on me.”
“Because overheads are low I can put more resources into the business. I want to turn this into a successful business.”
“I am really enjoying the work and business is growing every year.”
On the downside, however, there was also a small proportion of businesses (11%) that were anticipating returning to paid employment.
On business planning, while more than one third of businesses (38%) declared that they have never had a written business plan, 30% believed that their business would benefit from the development of a plan for the future. This may be one area where a targeted support program could return positive outcomes by helping businesses to review their business objectives, resources and market opportunities.
Support needs identified by operators: The study found most of the HBB operations are not “part-time or hobby related” but are serious income earning endeavours, providing employment for household members and also in some cases employing others. There was a high degree of interest in developing and growing the business and to access appropriate support that would facilitate this. There were 52% of operators looking to access external support to help grow their business and 60% were anticipating acquiring appropriate skills that would assist in business expansion.
A significant proportion of operators reported that their needs for support remain unmet. Interviews found that there is a lack of awareness of the types of support that may be available or how such support might be accessed. Only 15% regularly accessed government websites for business related information, 65% reported being unable to access relevant support to assist the business, 40% faced difficulty accessing information about training and other support, 70% were unaware of government support services and policies relating to small business.
Types of support required:
- Support with marketing and promotion (69%)
- Ways to grow and improve the business (65%)
- Ways of finding out about other local home businesses (56%), with a view to sharing ideas
Interviews with operators highlighted two aspects of marketing that were in need of support. These were, firstly, how to attract new clients, and secondly, to increase the general awareness and legitimacy of home based occupations. Some comments from the interviews regarding information needs are as follows:
“With a shop, people would just walk in and this does not happen with home operations. I need to promote more. I really need help in this area.”
“I need to kick-start this business and get more clients. We need to have a home-based business expo which showcases businesses.”
“You can’t just do one thing like an annual expo. You need to also have newsletters, newspaper articles and websites that promote the home businesses.”
“I have operated from home for over three years and have not met anyone else who runs from home. I would like to know what others are doing and issues they are facing.”
“Networking is very important if you want to be successful in business. There is no group in Sunbury, but I belong to a group in Melton.”
Types of information that were identified by operators as needed:
- Marketing related information (65%)
- About HBB and small business networks (52%)
- About business related services provided by government agencies (37%)
- Training related information (36%)
- Finance related information (24%)
- About business regulations (24%)
Two-thirds of the operators had TAFE or university qualifications and over 60% had undertaken some training in how to run a business. Generally, there was a heavy reliance on computers with 91% of respondents using the Internet for business purposes. One third of the HBBs (32%) had a business related websites.
The majority of respondents (60%) were interested in acquiring skills that would assist in the expansion of their business and 40% reported that they had difficulty in accessing information about training and other support. The need for support with marketing and promotion was high (70%) and those interviewed indicated that this mainly related to attracting new clients and increasing awareness of the business. Two thirds of the HBB respondents were interested in finding out about other HBBs. Their suggestions included an e-newsletter and a central website that showcases successful HBB operations. Discussions with operators indicated that there was an urgent need for a networking opportunity for HBBs. Most operators identified networks as being important in conducting a business.
The study found support for a home-based business expo in the region to showcase a range of HBB activities as a means of promoting the businesses and providing information for potential and prospective HBB operators. Such expos have been identified as good practice activities for local councils in the area of encouraging and supporting home-based business enterprises . It also provides a mechanism for legitimising and giving due community recognition for this growing business sector.
There was a high level of demand for HBB specific training, and related business support services information. Interviews indicated that there was a need for mentoring and coaching that could help move the business to a new level of operation. This included advice on opportunity identification and strategic business analysis. Study participants generally displayed keen interest in the sharing of ideas and in learning from others.