"All I had was a phone, a laptop and my determination." Sound
familiar? For most start-ups, the kitchen table is the jumping off
point, the first step on the road to serviced office, multiple
staff and glass-fronted boardroom. But how many entrepreneurs
grow their businesses to any real scale from home? How many become
Far more than you would think, actually. Some entrepreneurs hit
the headlines with their money-making home ventures. Remember Alex
Tew, who founded his Million Dollar Homepage in 2005 at the tender
age of 21? Launched from his kitchen table in Cricklade, Wiltshire,
this venture chalked up a massive $1,037,100 gross revenue in one
year. Others, however, stay firmly below the radar.
Barry Garner is a serial entrepreneur and innovator. In 1996,
before most brand owners had realised the power of the internet, he
had a brainwave. "I realised that loads of companies didn't have
the domains for their company name or products," he says. "So I
started buying them up: everything from Channel 4 to Alliance &
Leicester, then I would sell them back to the corporations."
Business was lucrative but the real money-spinner was Garner's
home-run domain parking venture, Traffic Parking International. "I
developed a parking platform for all of my domains," explains
Garner. "I could create an instant website in five seconds. It
plugged into the web and created categories and sub-categories with
advertising links, without the need for unique content." The
platform was based on an early version of the pay-per-click model,
with domain owners earning 50 per cent of all advertising revenue.
This kind of holding page is now the industry standard for unused
"The service went live in 2003," says Garner. "At one point, we
were generating £250,000 profit a month". In 2008, Garner sold 80
per cent of the business to Webfusion, one of the UK's largest
domain companies, for "a multimillion pound sum."
But the story does not end there. Garner still owns an enviable
roster of just under 10,000 domain names. "I scour the internet,
reading news, tech blogs and industry tweets looking for good
business opportunities," he says. "If I spot a good lead, I
register the domain name."
The jewel in his crown is gold.co.uk. "I saw all the 'Cash for
gold' adverts earlier in the year, so I decide to acquire the
domain," he says. "I ended up snagging it for £42,000. Three days
later, I got an offer for £250,000. But I'm not ready to sell at
that price - I'd be happy for a round million"
It's not just the domain entrepreneurs and affiliate marketing
gurus making money from home. Wendy Shand, founder of Tots To
Travel, founded her home business in 2006. Her travel company
scouts out child-friendly holiday destinations and matches them to
families in need of a well deserved break.
Shand keeps overheads down by using a supplier model for her
business. "I used to check out every single destination myself,"
explains Shand. "But now I have 15-20 people trained in child
accident prevention that act on my behalf. These agents work on a
freelancer basis. They are based all over Europe and beyond and are
all managed via the web, through teleconferencing, online training
tools and mentoring."
Shand always intended for her business to be portable. Her
husband is in the RAF and the family has moved three times in as
many years. Nevertheless, Tots To Travel has sold over £1.6 million
in holidays to date - the business currently operates out of the
Doug Richard is a self-confessed 'disciple of the ultra-light
start-up'. The Dragons' Den star and founder of social
enterprise School for Startups says: "If you don't need offices,
don't have offices. If you don't need another employee, don't hire
them. You can run a business on very few pounds and do so
effectively with less and less compromise."
Broadband and mobile internet has been a real life-saver for
small businesses. Entrepreneurs can respond to queries, update
their websites and process orders from just about anywhere. Lindsay
Drabwell, founder of kids clothing e-tailer DaisyChainBaby, manages
her business from home. "Because we're an online retailer, we don't
have to invest in premises," she says.
Home working can lead to unorthodox working patterns. "I start
work at 9am, then I stop at 3pm to be with my children," says Tots
To Travel's Shand. "I usually start again at around seven and I try
to stop around 9pm. It's amazing how productive you can be with a
flexible work day."
Tots to Travel grew a whopping 97 per cent last year. The firm
is on course for a £600,000 turnover this year, and will hit the
million-pound mark in 2011. By 2015, this home-run travel firm is
expected to have a turnover exceeding £6 million and over 650
properties on its books.
However, Shand admits that homeworking can have its downsides.
"It is a bit frustrating when I'm playing with my children in the
garden and I get interrupted," she says. "But then, I also get some
of my best ideas in those kinds of moments. It's just important to
draw boundaries: personal rules about when you work and when you
David Brackin founded eBay business Stuff U Sell with Fraser
Pearce in 2004. The business proposition is simple: if you
have any unwanted stuff, you can give it to these guys and they'll
photograph it, create the Bay listing and sell it for you. Simple,
but incredibly effective: StuffUSell has doubled in size every year
since inception and is now selling as much in one month as they did
in their whole first year in business.
Brackin started out operating from home, but when his firm began
processing £1,000,000 worth of goods per year, he was forced to
relocate to a warehouse facility. "Ultimately, when it's a home,
you want it to be your home," he says. "Not to be full of bubble
wrap and boxes. We worked from the spare bedroom for a little under
two years. Who wants a windsurfer sat in their hallway waiting for
the auction to end?"
But Brackin does miss the homeworking lifestyle. "Time," he
sighs. "You don't commute and you start working as soon as you've
made your morning coffee. You can take an hour off to do some
gardening mid-morning, but you're still going at 6pm. Your
time is yours to dedicate to what you need: you are no longer
constrained by a traditional view of working solidly between 9 and
The low capital requirement was also a big incentive when
Brackin first launched his business from home. "Homes are
spectacularly cheap compared with offices," he says wistfully.
"Commercial rent, business rates, business prices on insurance,
phone rental, etcetera etcetera," he says. "These are all expenses
which you don't need to incur when you are piggy-backing off your
home expenditure. Using the internet, and eBay in particular, means
that you don't need the expense of a retail outlet any more."
And here's a handy hint: having a home or garden office can
actually make you richer. Latest stats show that homeworkers
actually increase the value of their homes by around £25,000.
Brackin does believe that working from a home address can carry
a stigma in some sectors, however. "There's a real benefit to being
able to tell customers your warehouse address and hours of opening:
it projects an image of stability, and I think customers do like
knowing there's a place they can go to," he says.
There are currently 2.8 million home businesses in the UK,
contributing a combined £284bn to the economy. Some 60% of small
businesses started in the UK are started at home - there is no
doubt that homeworked businesses are here to stay.
But beyond the facts and figures, the entrepreneurs who build
their businesses at home are unanimously positive, almost
evangelical, about the benefits to business, lifestyle and quality
of life. Barry Garner laughs off any suggestion he would relocate
to an office. "My business feels more like my hobby," he says. "And
my business partner works from a penthouse suite in a hotel in
Argentina! We're living the good life."
Ten successful entrepreneurs share their experiences of
homeworking. Watch the video now.
Words by Rebecca Burn-Callander
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