Home-Based and Self-Employment Guide for MRC Consumers
A Discussion for People who use the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
This guide represents the work of the Statewide Rehabilitation Council's TASK FORCE ON HOME-BASED AND SELF-EMPLOYMENT, a working group of members of the SRC, consumers, service providers and MRC staff. We gratefully acknowledge the efforts and input of the following task force members without whom this guide couldn't have been written.
Owen Doonan - Task Force Chairman, SRC Statutory Member
Zary Amerhosseini, Member
William Corbett, Member
Mark Cowell, Statewide Employment Services
Larry Espling, Statewide Employment Services
Andrew Forman, Member
James Fratolillo, Director, Statewide Employment Services
Gary Hale, Director, Lawrence Area Office
James Hanna, Member
Warren Magee, Member
Edward Mello, Director, Plymouth Area Office
Kathy Mooney, Member
Emeka Nwokeji, Director,
William Parks, Member
Ann Marie Paulson, Member
This booklet was developed by The Home-Based and Self-Employment Task Force of the State Rehabilitation Council of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). Our objective is to support and nurture the development of home-based and self-employment career alternatives for MRC consumers. State Rehabilitation Council members, appointed by the Governor, are charged by federal regulation to advocate for the consumers' best interest in the vocational rehabilitation process. As such, the Council provides advice in partnership with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission on consumer issues. All MRC consumers, their families and guardians are extended an open invitation to attend State Rehabilitation Council general meetings which are held throughout the state. For further information, contact the Office of Consumer Involvement at 617-204-3665.
This booklet explores home-based and self-employment (or entrepreneurship) as career choices for MRC consumers. We hope this information accurately describes these alternative employment options as they exist in the real world today. It is not our intention to persuade or dissuade your decision, but only to present a realistic picture of these potential career choices. With this information, it is our objective to assist you in making a satisfactory, well-informed career decision.
Vocational rehabilitation services assist people with significant disabilities to return to or start a meaningful career. In assessing abilities, experiences and training, a certified Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor will help you make an informed choice of career goal. You and your counselor may also consider training and any assistive technologies needed to support your chosen career objectives. Your decisions are written into an individualized plan for employment (IPE.) The IPE forms an agreement between you as a consumer of vocational rehabilitation services, and the MRC as a provider of those services.
In formalizing the IPE, the objective is to fully inform you as to the process and options available for reaching your personal goal of gainful, satisfactory employment. This booklet explains two of the employment options open to all consumers, either self-employment or home-based employment. We hope it provides you with the essential information needed to make such an informed vocational choice.
What is the Difference Between Home-Based and Self-Employment?
Home-based employment means working for an employer from your home. This arrangement takes place upon the mutual agreement of the employer and employee; and includes provisions typically found in the workplace. These may include benefits, supervision, time requirements, output requirements, equipment or procedure requirements, etc. Examples of home-based employment include "help-desk" staff, call center work, word processing, reservations agent, computer operator, medical and legal transcription, programming, and/or professional, advisory and managerial work, etc.
Self-employment means owning a business and working for oneself. Some examples of such business opportunities are manufacturing, distribution, retailing, sales, marketing, advertising, publishing and franchising. Other options might be providing business services, such as computer work or consulting as an independent entrepreneur. As a business owner, you may have the option of working from home, a store or at some other location. The key difference from home-based employment is that you are not an employee of someone else. An interesting option is to provide paid services in your vocational field [professional, managerial, executive] to business and government agencies with an objective of future employment by demonstrating your capabilities as a consultant or contractor.
An alternative definition of self-employment is: "To be self-employed means controlling your own work; To earn ones living by working independently of an employer, either by freelance or by running a business."
MORE ABOUT HOME-BASED EMPLOYMENT
Working at home for an employer is not the same as being self employed. It is like working in an office, but you need to be your own supervisor and maintain the same work ethic and schedule. You will not have the same support system that a traditional office has:
• No secretaries to answer phones, take notes or schedule meetings.
• No file clerks or typists to cover those details.
• No associates to socialize with in an office setting.
• No manager on-site.
A typical home office is set up in a quiet, private area to minimize home distractions. Usually a computer is connected to the central office of the employer by a telephone or cable modem. Much thought and planning needs to go into the design and implementation of a professional home-based office. Computers are utilized to not only accommodate some disabilities, but also provide an efficient means of collaborating with your peers and management. Many employers will insist on an assessment of your work space for safety, correct furnishings and equipment.
Training may be in order to efficiently work from home. Also, employment opportunities are not yet abundant for such work. Home-based employment is just starting to develop as an alternative and most such opportunities are offered as rewards to trusted long term employees. This being the case, it may be difficult to find a suitable job working for an employer; yet there have been some signs of increased use of this by corporations.
There are opportunities other than office services for home-based employment such as component assembly, skill work that involves artistry, evaluation and sorting of returned merchandise, mystery shopping, disability evaluation, shopping, custom mailing services and pack & ship services for small businesses. These opportunities often require sufficient room and specialized equipment to work efficiently.
MORE ABOUT SELF-EMPLOYMENT
Whether working from home, rental property, an office or from a vehicle, an entrepreneur is his or her own boss. Working from home usually presents the lowest level of risk simply because expenses are low, less investment capital is required and less income is needed to break even and make a profit. Rental of business property usually requires extensive capital to prepare and outfit the premises. A lot of money is needed to sustain operations until sufficient sales volume can meet overhead costs.
An alternative is to purchase either a franchise or a successful operating business. Although these are usually the most expensive methods of starting a business, they may offer structured financing to reduce your initial capital needs. A high degree of sophisticated "due diligence" (study and investigation) must be done before purchasing a franchise or operating business, but the result in some instances can be substantially better than starting a new business from the idea stage.
An entrepreneur must decide on a business venture and develop a business plan for review by the vocational rehabilitation counselor. However, assistance with the decision making process and/or business plan writing is available through the MRC. Often, the vocational rehabilitation counselor will seek assistance from business development consultants to assist the entrepreneur. Self-employment is a significant process for both the entrepreneur and the vocational rehabilitation agency. It takes time, planning, assessment and a good deal of counseling to develop and launch a business. To succeed, an entrepreneur needs to be focused, committed and tenacious.
Starting a business requires many varied skill sets. Employees normally have those components provided for them by the companies they work for. Ultimately, small business owners strive to grow to the point where they can afford to hire or engage specialists to fill in the "weak spots" in their own abilities. It is important to identify and develop supports to address these weak spots early on, whether or not they are disability related. As weaknesses are different for everyone, the supports have to be custom built into a support plan that follows the entrepreneur through all phases until the business is deemed to be stable and profitable. Areas where individualized supports may be needed include:
• Creative development, planning and launch
• Finance, Accounting, Legal Services
• Sales & Marketing
• Research & Development
• Quality Control
• Executive Mentoring
MORE ABOUT BUSINESS PLANS
- If you want to start any business you will have to write a business plan. This document is vital and can open or close doors in the world of business. It is necessary for many reasons:
- You will need this plan to apply for loans, including SBA loans and micro-loans.
- It is required by the MRC because it helps you develop a sharp focus and it helps the MRC make fair, responsible decisions about vocational services and supports.
- You will have a constant point of reference as your business moves forward that you can use to measure progress, make adjustments and stay on target.
- Your business plan can help you become established with trade groups, chambers of commerce, state and local business development resources and the like.
- A typical business plan usually includes the following parts. However, check with your VR Counselor to see what your plan might require:
- An executive summary - This is a one page summary that describes your business idea, organization, market niche and start-up and growth plan. Although it appears at the beginning of the business plan, it is usually written last.
- Research and market analysis - Here is where you convince a reader you have done your homework. You have a good idea, facts back-up your idea, and you have identified a target market that exists and needs what your business has to offer.
- Competition summary - Here you identify all known competitors, who they are, what they do and your strategy for competing against them.
- Financial statement - This segment contains all necessary financial assumptions and income and profit plans. It must be presented in a specific business/accounting format.
- Operating procedures - This statement provides a comprehensive overview of the physical operational needs and procedures necessary to successfully assemble, launch and operate your business.
- Personnel - This section provides a summary of the personnel who will work for the company, and the advisors who will provide professional guidance. It includes short, to the point biographic resumes and outlines each person's function and responsibilities.
- Supporting documentation - This part contains important data to back up your ideas and plans. Examples might include articles from respected business journals, statistical abstracts about your market area or target audience, data from trade associations, or documents from the chamber of commerce or Small Business Association that support your plan. Also include: equipment and inventory lists and brochures; personal financial statements and tax returns for all principal owners for the last three years; proposed lease or purchase agreement for building space, if applicable; licenses and other legal documents; resumes of all principals; and letters of intent from suppliers, etc.
- For franchised businesses, also supply: a copy of franchise contract and any supporting franchise documents. For existing businesses to be purchased, provide copies of all historic business documents, copy of the purchase and sales contract as well as all supporting documentation.
- Many folks are overwhelmed at the thought of writing a business plan. Don't Worry!! The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission has many resources that can provide you with lots of assistance. These might include your counselor, peer groups, private consultants who work directly with you, classes or seminars, community colleges or adult education, online exploration, or working with the SBA. Just remember two important things:
- Your VR counselor is the best resource to get the help you need to write your business plan and reach your employment goal.
- If other people or groups help you with the plan, be sure you feel comfortable with the final document. Remember, this is your business plan.
An excellent format for a business plan is available from the US Small Business Administration at http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business Another resource has been put online by the Western Mass. Business Development Center at http://www.msbdc.org/wmass/guidelines.html
WHAT CAN THE MRC DO FOR ME?
The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) has a Public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program for individuals with disabilities who want to go to work. Self-employment is one of the options for consumers seeking employment services through the MRC.
The MRC may provide the following as part of its VR service to you:
• Counseling & Guidance
• Diagnostic Evaluations
• Interest and Aptitude Testing
• College or Vocational Training
• Skills Training
The MRC also has contracts with outside sources to provide you with other services, if appropriate such as:
- Professional consultation to assist you to evaluate the feasibility of your business idea.
- Professional consultation to help you prepare your Business Plan.
- Specialized training services to help you in developing basic entrepreneurial skills.
- Assistance to explore funding sources.
- Financial support, subject to regulations, for equipment and initial stocks and supplies.
- Follow-up (post-employment) services to assure the business venture stays on track.
- Other appropriate goods and services; for example, developing and implementing marketing plans.
For further information about these and other MRC programs, be sure to read the MRC Consumer Handbook available free from any area office or VR counselor.
HOW MUCH MONEY WILL THE MRC PROVIDE, AND FOR WHAT?
All traditional or specialized services pertaining to reaching your goal, that are identified in your Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) are provided to you at no cost. In addition, the MRC may pay a maximum allowable amount of $3000 of "start up costs" to provide you with equipment and initial stocks and supplies. In the event this is inadequate to cover start-up costs, you may request a waiver of the maximum allowable amount through your counselor in order to start your business. Waivers are issued based on the merit of your request on a case by case basis.
The MRC should not be considered the only source for financial assistance. The MRC can also help you explore other resources such as the Small Business Administration, venture capital firms, and micro-loans.
The MRC may encourage, but may not require, an individual being financially assisted by the Commission to take out a loan to establish self-employment. Also, the MRC can explore other options by providing you with benefit counseling services in order to assist you in looking at the feasibility of establishing a Plan for Achieving Self Support, or utilizing other Social Security Program work incentives.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
1. The first thing to think about is the responsibility of owning a business. Being your own boss may sound good in theory but it involves a lot of hard work and a considerable investment of time and energy. Are you willing to assume 100% of the responsibility for the operation of your business? Are you prepared to be paid based on results rather than on the number of hours worked?
Successful entrepreneurs tend to be energetic, creative and flexible individuals who are willing to take risks. Do you possess these same characteristics? It's important for you to evaluate whether or not the demands and challenges of business ownership are compatible with your personal lifestyle.
2. Inform your VR counselor of your interest in self-employment.
The initial meeting with your counselor may be a good time to bring up your interest in self-employment or home-based employment, but it can also be discussed at any time during the development or amendment of your employment plan. Some people only develop an interest in the self-employment or home-based options after some counseling sessions, or as the result of aptitude tests and other career exploration strategies.
3. You will need a business idea. Such an idea will incorporate your interests, skills and networking potential. Don't have an idea? Talk to your VR Counselor about resources that are available to help you evaluate business opportunities that are best suited to your qualifications.
4. Your business idea will need to be incorporated into a planning document. Your individual plan for employment (IPE) will show your business goal and how to reach it. But other documents will also be needed. These may include an initial feasibility study to determine the potential profitability of your business. To be considered for financial assistance from the MRC (and other funding sources) you may also need to submit a business plan.
Developing planning document(s) is an important and necessary step to take in preparation for self-employment. Some people may require assistance with this process. Discuss your concerns and needs with your VR Counselor to determine what resources may be available to you.
The Home-Based and Self-Employment Task Force of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Council hopes this brief guide has been a useful tool for you. The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program supports people who want to explore the options of home-based employment or self-employment. Whether you decide to pursue these kinds of opportunities, or some other goal, is a matter for careful, thoughtful consideration. Sometimes, great opportunities are found where you least expect them. Be assured the MRC has had success and experience in helping folks like you consider, explore and operate successful businesses. Whatever your ultimate choice, we wish you great success.
The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
600 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111
MRC Main Information numbers: 1-800-245-6543 (Voice/TDD) or (617) 204-3600
Fax (617) 727-1354
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.