The SOHO as an Online Business Model for the Small Business Entrepreneur of the Future

Sometimes to understand the future we have to have some historical perspective.

We often forgot that before the 19th century, and prior to the industrial revolution, nearly all offices were small offices and/or home offices, with very few exceptions. Now that small business and the self-employed represent the backbone of the current economy, it seems that history does indeed repeat itself.

The US economy no longer is dominated by giant corporations. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that fully 99% of all independent enterprises employ fewer than 500 people. This accounts for 52% of the US workforce according to the SBA.

Additionally by the end of 1999, the service sector had grown to 104.3 million jobs, representing 81% of non-farm employment, and the goods-producing sector, which includes manufacturing, construction, and mining represented 25.2 million jobs, or only 19% of non-farm employment.

I do not know how many farm related jobs there are, but I do know that 81% and 19% add up to 100%.

This tells me that since at least the year 2000 probably over 80% of jobs are now service related and less than 20% of us are now employed in manufacturing. That means as a nation we do not really manufacture much any more. Can you say trade deficit?

We no longer have an industrial economy, just like we will never again have an economy based on agriculture.

The advent of the personal computer in the mid 1990s, along with breakthroughs in voice and data communication, created opportunities for businesses to decentralize and allowed for a return to the trend of the small office concept.

Since the end of the 20th century the term “SOHO”, an acronym for “Small Office/Home Office” has come to be used to define this important business niche.

New technologies will continue to create a demand for individuals who work from home or in a virtual office. Many people are now employed as consultants, independent contractors, or organized as small business entities with very specialized services designed for the project outsourcing of larger companies, often not even industry or country specific.

The SOHO or online virtual office is not just for consultants and independent contractors any longer. The members of many other occupational ranks, and especially online business owners now help comprise this diverse sector.

A large array of products and services also are designed specifically for the “SOHO” market. Many books are published specifically targeted to this business model, everything from general business advice to guides on setting up fairly sophisticated computer systems, telecom systems, and Internet and Intranet systems.

The small business entrepreneur generally has demanded and usually has always benefited from high technology, allowing small business to be competitive.

So, if you do not own a farm, chances are that in the future you will be working in the service sector and quite possibly from your home office. This probably holds true in most other developed countries as well, due to an increasingly underemployed labor force and shrinking job markets.

The online virtual office is here to stay and is for anyone that seldom needs an office. If you own a laptop with wireless connectivity you may be lucky enough to work pretty much anywhere, if you have access to the Internet.

But let’s take it one step further for those who would dream of living where they wish, and working online from wherever they are. Work is no longer necessarily site specific.

Is it really just a dream? Not any more.

More and more people are finding that with increasingly more affordable technology, VoIP services, videoconferencing, and reliable worldwide courier services, they at one time or another may find themselves working from a beach, or a mountain top…and in some cases may rarely have to make an appearance at the traditional office again.

Allocating Time for New Business Development: Just One of The Challenges Facing Busy Entrepreneurs

How do you allocate time for new business development? It’s the bane of many entrepreneurs and small business people. “I am so busy with my current projects that I don’t have time to drum up new business.” I know exactly what they’re talking about. I remember a period where I had so many writing projects on the go that I did no marketing. I just waited for the business to come in. The problem is that unless you market yourself, the business can slow to a trickle, regardless of the previous complaints that you have:

  • Too much work already
  • Not enough time to do anything else
  • Not enough money to spend on proposals that may not pay off

I completely understand. Understanding, however, doesn’t get you anywhere, so let me make some suggestions to keep the business coming.

The first suggestion is that you dedicate some time to new business every day. It need only be half an hour, but whatever time segment you decide on, lock it in. Just put everything aside, hold your phone calls, shut down the cell and leave your e-mail alone. Next, do the following. Get yourself one of those small digital timers, punch in the time segment you’ve chosen, then, turn the timer away from you so you can’t see it. Now, focus on the work at hand.

During this time segment consider what new business you want to get into, or actually work on a new business proposal. What you might also do, and this will impact your own staff, is get the staff to join you in your sessions; and plan a session at least once a week, and brainstorm new ideas. Who better than your own staff to carry out this activity in search of new business? And encourage them to look for business opportunities that you may be unaware of through networking, or contacts they have with friends and associates. Even submit a speculative or unsolicited proposal to a client.

Here’s an idea I really like. It comes from Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelles Inc, an executive education firm. Verne suggests that you should stop eating alone. Verne’s experience is that in one year, living in Barcelona, he built deeper business, social, and political connections than in ten years living and working in Washington DC. What could you do if you were to meet someone different even a couple of days a week? You might not generate new business immediately, but the payoff down the line could be substantial.

I understand that cash flow can get in the way of such activities. I appreciate that the current projects you’re working on have stringent timelines. In fact you’re probably working a 60-hour week. But don’t let that get in the way of allocating time for new business by pursuing practical ways to make it happen, even on your busy schedule.

Abstract: Busy people often get too busy and fail to continue marketing themselves. Small businesses, like consultants and training companies, often find themselves in this situation. This article looks at the issue and suggests some practical solutions. It’s up to you to follow up on them.

Tip #1 – Home Business Entrepreneurs Are Organized

If you’ve tuned in to our video series on home business tips, you will have seen Jani discuss the topic of being organized. While this tip might seem obvious because organization applies to so many things we do on an everyday basis. But the question here should be why is it so important to mention it when it pertains to having our own home based business opportunity.

When we work for an employer in an office environment outside our home for example, very often we step into an environment that got organized and systemized for us and we just have to follow the established work rules in place. Because we work for an “organization”, they will have organized everything for us. When we work from home and work for ourselves, it then becomes logical and important to establish the organized work environment for ourselves.

While one of the reasons an individual wants to become a home based business entrepreneur is because of the freedom the home environment procures, it is also that same environment that can distract you and deter your focus from business related activities.

Having an office is a good idea and we will talk about that later in the series but you don’t want to be sequestered to an office so you may want to make yourself wireless enabled. Having a laptop, wireless Internet, and cordless phones is all you need to be mobile within your own home. It allows you to take calls from anywhere in the house and tap into any online resources you need. Most wireless phones have speaker phone capabilities which is great to keep your hands free should you need to access your laptop at the same time. An even better way to be hands free is to plug a microphone headset to your wireless phone which provides even clearer communication.

It doesn’t take much hardware to be in business from home but what else will help you stay organized? One of the things you can use your laptop for to stay organized is to establish a schedule. Making up a schedule and sticking to it is one of the organization tools that will keep you most efficient and give you back time you didn’t realize you had. When I first established a schedule for myself (reluctantly) I was most amazed at how much time I had for myself. By categorizing everything you do, from business to personal items, you actually end up having more time than without a schedule. That is because there are several small blocks of time (5-15 min) scattered throughout the day that are wasted and when taking them all into account by making them part of the schedule, you eliminate the waste and therefore end up with time you did not realize you had. What you do with that time is up to you!

There are several softwares out there that allow you to keep a schedule, from very expensive to totally free. I use the MAC system because it incorporates the management of scheduling, communication and marketing all in one. And it does it from an online platform which means that all this is available to me whether I’m at home or away as long as I have access to the Internet. There is a monthly cost to the MAC system which is well worth it given all it does but there are other alternatives out there which we happily provide in our training.

Jani, being a single mom, quickly adopted flylady.net to develop her schedule. It’s one thing to have a software to hold a schedule but it’s another thing all together to know what to put in your schedule in order to fit everything in given the “rat race” we sometimes perceive to live in. You might find flylady handy for you; don’t worry, being a single mom is not a pre-requisite to use the site.

Schedules, time management and organization is a topic that can branch into finer details and therefore a topic I could expand on as I do with my team, but since I’m writing an article and not a book, we will have to stop here. I hope that our first business tip has been of value to you and you are welcome to come back for more as we build our home business tip series for the individuals looking at starting a home business or the entrepreneurs actively operating one. Here’s an idea, how about you make a point of visiting our blog on a regular basis by marking it in your schedule – are you ready to pencil it in?