Chamber seeks to address needs of home-based business owners

Business owners who work out of a home office or otherwise run a one-person show sometimes have issues that those with employees might not face.

And David Turner, who provides environmental assessments and consulting through his company Turner Environmental LLC, is looking to solve problems that arise for himself.

"I'm not necessarily going to go to some professional marketer or somebody else who literally is looking for me to sub that piece of my business to them," he said. "That's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for a workaround."

Having run a small office for the past eight years, Turner feels he can offer some advice, like on paying taxes or getting involved with SCORE, which offers resources to small businesses.

But he would also love to bounce ideas off others operating a one-man shop, to pose questions in a safe space, to use them as a sounding board.

Turner was one of 14 small business owners and representatives to attend the "SOHO" forum — that's small office/home office — the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut held on Aug. 21.

The industries represented at the event included contracting, retail, travel planning, web design and more. The forum also included representation from the Connecticut Women's Business Development Council and Ignite, a local entity which also assists small businesses.

This fall, the chamber will launch a SOHO business division, which it described as "a standing council that will support the specific interests of small office/home office business owners through focused initiatives and regular meetups."

This will be in addition to the chamber's existing town-based divisions: East Lyme, Fishers Island, Stonington, Groton/Ledyard, Montville, New London, Norwich Area and Waterford.

President and CEO Tony Sheridan said the chamber went down this road about three years ago and he met with the Connecticut secretary of the state, but he found that data about home offices was not broken down by ZIP codes.

"Quite frankly, this is overdue," he said of the chamber's SOHO efforts.

Sheridan noted that some takeaways from the meeting were that home-based business owners would appreciate opportunities to network, and that trying to have professional meetings at home does not always work.

The chamber "heard from quite a few that there's a bit of a perception that if you work out of your home you might not be reputable," Vice President Amanda Ljubicic said. "People might drive into an office park but are a little more cautious to drive up to someone's residence."

Ljubicic cited two aspects of the chamber that have indicated a need for a SOHO division: its Immigrant Resource Center, and its Young Professionals of Eastern Connecticut group.

Ljubicic noted that immigrants are much more likely to start businesses than American-born citizens, and that many start out of their homes.

And young professionals, she said, are often "joining YP because they're networking for something they're trying to start themselves, or they're part of a startup that doesn't feel it has the funds to join the chamber."

The issue is also personal for Ljubicic: In addition to working at Pfizer Inc., her husband runs Ace Overhead Doors out of the home.

Ljubicic said the chamber doesn't have a set definition for "small office," but that it's self-determined by the people it's engaging.

"Just knowing that ears are on the ground and there's someone to talk to makes all the difference in the world," said Scott Garbini, owner of Garbini Education & Career Consulting LLC, in a news release from the chamber. "The Chamber makes it easy as a small business owner to connect with leaders who can help my business grow."

e.moser@theday.com

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