Setting Up Your Cottage Enterprise

When I asked my Facebook pals what they liked most about working for themselves I expected to get answers about no stressful commute, no office politics and other annoyances they had left behind. Instead the replies looked like this:

• “Having customers from around the world; I never realized I could be a global entrepreneur.”

• “Having my cat sitting on my desk inspiring me.”

• “I work when I’m most creative and chill out when I’m not.”

Although the Go Big or Go Home brigade still insists that world domination should be our goal as entrepreneurs, more and more of us have a vision of world headquarters that look more like a cottage than a castle.

The truth is today you can embark on micro-enterprises from your garden shed. Wally and Hazel Mountz moved to Ecuador, where they turned a casita (little house) on their property into a commercial dog kennel so they could make a few extra bucks. Jim Wiemann and his wife, Mariellen, use an outbuilding at their place in Uruguay to make gourmet sausages…and they have a strong demand for them.

These people found niches overseas for activities that they really enjoy…can do from home…and which will create income. We feature these stories, and others about cottage enterprises, on page 6 of this issue. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary the enterprising cottage really is. We pioneering home business owners worked largely undercover. Not only were we not taken very seriously, we also had to be extremely clever about finding ways and means to run our businesses. But our day has come. Technology makes it easier for laptop workers, and consumers now place more value on homemade goods like Jim’s sausages.

I’m not sure when things began to change, but now hardly a day passes when I don’t read about or meet someone who is happily working on their own.

The U.S. Census Bureau shared this affirming information: “In the past, a home-based business was viewed as a side business operated primarily as a hobby or as a source of secondary income. The data contained in this study shows that assertion to be inaccurate. The researcher’s findings demonstrate how the home has become a hub of business activity, entrepreneurship, and business creation.”

Even though the home-based business is no longer the anomaly it was when I started my first one, it remains a rather quiet revolution. Drive down any residential street and you’ll have a hard time picking out the tycoons operating all manner of businesses from the comfort of their homes. These creative folks, who think a one-minute commute is long enough, are turning out handmade products, writing blogs, holding client consultations via Skype, and much more.

Basements, spare bedrooms, and even large closets have also been turned into world headquarters as we bring our businesses home. “Living over the shop” is common practice in many parts of the world…and places which moved away from it, are now returning.

Obviously, technology has made enormous contributions to the growth of cottage enterprises. No longer are we dependent on our immediate area for customers; virtual businesses serve an unlimited marketplace. Neil Thomas Evans sells little rum cakes in Panama—and six Panamanian women are working from home to supply him. He sells them locally but also has an online market of overseas customers. You’ll find his story on page 6 too.

Technology has made it possible for us to set up shop on an island or a remote mountaintop, whatever we choose. City dwellers do have their own version of the enterprising cottage, but those who prefer a quiet village can have the best of both worlds: a lively business in a bucolic setting.

Of course, most of us who are drawn to the entrepreneurial life are also social creatures. Not a problem. Those parts of our business that require a distraction free environment, such as planning and administration, can be conducted in solitude. Getting out and about—perhaps distributing or selling—is another part of our entrepreneurial activity.

Co-working spaces and coffeehouses are popular magnets for laptop workers. And collaboration is replacing competition as an operating method. I’ve always loved the contrast in my business which finds me working quietly at home on writing and creating—and then noisily in seminar spaces with groups of people. Both kinds of activity are rewarding in different ways. That strikes me as healthy.

Comedian Jon Stewart said, “The big break for me was when I decided this is my life.” This new epidemic of self-employment is being driven by an increasing awareness that we can create our own big break. Thoughtful people are seeking fresh options, options that honor their creativity, add meaning and purpose to their lives, and allow them to go as far as their imaginations permit.

Whether that happens to be located in a hobbit village, a houseboat, a corner of an apartment, or the lower level of a large house, as people discover the rewards of working this way, we’ll keep seeing this quiet revolution grow.

When your next door neighbor joins the work-from-home ranks, be sure to welcome them to the tribe.

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