Start a new business from home

15 May 2014

While there are obvious advantages - no commute and minimal start-up expenses - working from home requires a great deal of self-discipline and staying power to turn a gem of an idea into hard cash.

The report by Axa Business Insurance and small business network Enterprise Nation also found that lower start-up costs and the latest technology were
deciding factors in enabling people to work from home.

Here, we talk to three people - not just women - who have successfully started businesses from the comfort of their own homes.

The baker

Kate Jenkins started baking Gower Cottage Brownies in her kitchen in South Wales seven years ago. A stay-at-home mum, with kids aged two and five at the time, she just wanted to earn a bit of spare cash.

"I thought I'd do it for a little bit of pin money when a village shop opened where I could sell the brownies."

The Gower Peninsula is a tourist area, and Kate found people wanted to order her brownies when they returned home. So Kate started to think about expanding her business. She designed a box and sent it through the post to see if the brownies would survive the journey.

With marketing in mind, Kate entered - and won - various food competitions and was ready to launch her chocolate brownies throughout the UK.

"I put together a press release, designed a prettier box for the brownies and spent £200 on a website," she explains.

"Then I put a press release inside a box of brownies and sent it to the editors of food magazines. I had a lot of positive feedback – people liked the fact that you can see photos of Gower Cottage on the website and they know the provenance of the brownies."

Kate - who now has a turnover of £200,000 - has never advertised her products and relies solely on marketing, social media and word-of-mouth recommendations.

About four years ago, Kate's husband, Rob, who is a project manager, saw the need to step up production. The couple knocked through into the holiday cottage they owned next door and created a commercial kitchen.

"We needed a commercial oven, bigger mixers and melting pots for the butter so he took it to the next level and it's been a real family team effort," says Kate.

"I bake in the afternoons and the brownies are shipped out the next morning. I do work very long and very hard. A girl comes in every day to do the cutting and gift-wrapping, which takes time."

So does Kate have any advice for anyone starting out? "Check there is a need out there for the product you're thinking of selling and don't spend too much money to start off with. Don't go for a flashy website, be real and tell people why you're doing what you do.

"The toughest thing for me was to suddenly turn into a businesswoman," adds Kate. "You need to master all aspects of invoices, VAT returns and credit control. I'm really finicky about keeping my accounts in order. I won't be paying my accountant to sort through my receipts."

The communications consultant

Working from home isn't just a convenient option for mums, it can also be the perfect way to make a fresh start.

Martha Halford set up at home as a communications consultant in north London in 2010 after being made redundant from a leading publisher.

"I thought I've got enough experience and contacts in the media world to set up on my own, building on my reputation," she explains.

As Martha couldn't take any of her existing clients with her, she had to start from scratch building up a client base of publishers specialising in professional, reference, current affairs, and popular science books.

"I was in the office from 9am to 6pm every day pitching for work, writing to all the publishers in the UK. I sent CV after CV to people, non-stop," says Martha.

"I was very disciplined about my hours and networked widely. I belong to professional PR organisations and contacted anyone who could help me, including friends."

Martha was lucky enough to have a room that she could turn into an office and has unlimited phone calls for £5.48 a month with BT, plus line rental, which helps to keep costs down. All she needs is a computer and stationery to send out books to journalists.

"It's been important to find a reliable IT technician. IT problems can make you lose a lot of time; time you can't afford to waste if you're on a deadline."

Her main advice to people starting out at home is not to get distracted. "You can't start a business unless you have regular office hours. You need to send out thousands of pitches to get the business going. You must not get discouraged - building up a business takes time and you need to be patient and stay motivated."

The lighting specialist

Working from home doesn't mean you have to be confined to home. Ben Reynolds, director of Carousel Lights Ltd, is one of a growing band of home workers who has a home office but likes to get out and about with his laptop rather than just stay at home.

He set up the company, which specialises in neon and fairground lights, at the start of 2013 with Dan Lloyd and his sister, Rebecca Reynolds, who also work from home.

"I was lucky enough to have a spare room that I used as storage, so I decided to set up a home office. I get cabin fever, so I like to work in coffee shops out and about in east London as well."

Carousel Lights designs and manufactures all their lights in the UK, which means manufacturing costs are higher than they would be in the East or China.

"It's important to keep costs down and to price products competitively," Ben explains. "We couldn't justify the overheads of an office to ourselves or our customers."

Ben, Dan and Rebecca designed the company's website and have only spent a few hundred pounds on hosting fees and e-commerce.

"Our website is very important to us – it's our showroom and our shop front as we don't have a high-street presence."

Ben's main motivation for working from home is financial. "I genuinely don't think we'd exist as a company if we'd taken office space. Our outgoings would have exceeded our income too early on. It has enabled us to become a sustainable business," he adds.

Jobs you can do from home

  • Become an eBay trader – start by decluttering your home by selling unwanted items on eBay, then move on to buying and selling online.
  • Set up as a tutor – if you're an ex-teacher or postgraduate, there's plenty of demand for home tutors.You can earn as much as £25 an hour teaching secondary schoolchildren.
  • Join a secretarial service – if you have good keyboard skills and are highly organised, you can join an agency or advertise locally.
  • Become a childminder – you'll need to register with Ofsted to look after children under eight and you can join the Early Years Register to childmind children under the age of five. Ofsted will carry out a DBS (formerly CRB) check and inspect your home.
  • If you have a passion for food, you could set up a catering business. Take a City & Guilds course in Hospitality and Catering ( and learn more about professional cookery and food safety. You could start small by catering lunches and supper parties.

Dos and don'ts when working from home

DO: dress professionally– don't slob around in your pyjamas.
DO: keep regular working hours – don't be tempted to meet friends for coffee or watch daytime TV.
DO: set up a dedicated home office rather than using your laptop at the kitchen table. It will make you feel more motivated and there will be lots of taxable allowances you can claim.
DO: be organised about expenses. Don't just shove receipts in an envelope but file them each month and keep records so that your tax return will be easy to fill out.
DO: network - join groups on LinkedIn that relate to your work as well as professional groups in your area of expertise. It's one way to meet new clients and not to feel isolated.
DON'T: be shy about picking up the phone to clients – you can build up more of a rapport than just firing off an email.

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