Working at home: It helps many and has spawned a network


Think of it: no commute to work. The children, pets and house get 24-hour care. When work-related inspiration strikes, no matter the hour of day, you can go to work, for as long or little as you like.

Many Americans work like this. According to published sources, an estimated 35 percent of U.S. workers generate some or all of their income from home.

Carroll County is no exception. In January, Carol J. Fertitta founded the Home-Based Workers Network from her house in Millers. Within seven months, nearly 300 home businesses have joined.

About half of the businesses are information and service professionals, such as financial consultants, graphic artists and computer consultants. The other half are those who create products, such as craftspeople and antiques dealers.

For a $50 membership fee, any home business gets listed on the network database and receives a monthly newsletter. It also gets Mrs. Fertitta's active promotion.

"Since we're new, I network to meet lots of people. Then I call my network people to give referrals," said Mrs. Fertitta. "Right now, I know everyone in the network and what they do."

The network newsletter publishes news about new products and services of members and features written by network members and outside experts. It is distributed through the Carroll County public libraries and the network mailing list.

"The newsletter gives advice, such as how to decide what type of home business to start," said Mrs. Fertitta. "We also discuss zoning and legal issues."

The focus of the current issue is on products made at home and sold elsewhere, from crafts to flea markets. Next month, multi-level marketing plans will be discussed.

In September, professionals who give services at home, from accountant to psychologist, will be highlighted. A future issue will feature the technology of home-based business.

The latest benefit of the Home-Based Workers Network, which Mrs. Fertitta dubs "team meetings," is planned as a way for members to share expertise.

"Since home workers are generally isolated, and businesses have no board of directors or partners to bounce ideas off of, I plan to form about 10 people into a group to act like a board of directors and referral source," said Mrs. Fertitta.

"These people are in different fields, such as accountant, lawyer, graphic artist, writer, so each can bring expertise to help each other. A graphic artist might advise how to set up a nice brochure, without competing with another artist. For advice from an accountant, you'd just call them, without worry about paying for everything."

Mrs. Fertitta has about 20 years of home-business experience. She sold Amway products, gave tennis lessons and held a newspaper distributorship while employed as the women's athletic director at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

She's currently a consultant for the Women's Development Center in Towson, where she organizes training and lecture sessions dealing with women's issues, from sexual harassment to leisure arts. To learn more about working from home, she enrolled in courses at Carroll Community College, and she discovered the courses were always full. She decided to form a county network, and began with a file cabinet and computer installed in her log house.

Her best example of flourishing home-based businesses was in neighboring Montgomery County.

"Montgomery is the leading county in the country, with a very strong home-based business association," she said. "It has received state and federal money to promote home business.

"The county has changed zoning and has a special financing program in which small businesses can approach 20 banks.

"Communities with home businesses receive a lot of social benefits. Neighborhoods are not empty, so it's less likely that vandalism or robbery will happen. When the children come home, someone is there."

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