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Entrepreneurs working from home: the pioneers

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Homeworking is more than convenient. In fact, it can create entirely new business models. At OutSec, homeworkers are transforming the secretarial trade. An army of home-based typists transcribe dictaphone recordings, replacing the in-house approach that has dominated corporate life for 50 years.

Vanessa Phillips worked as a PA to several FTSE chairman, and when she left to have children she earned money by typing up dictaphone tapes in her spare time. “People would post me the tapes and they’d get lost in the mail a lot of the time. I realised technology could make life easier. So I got a client to use a digital dictaphone and email me the sound file. I realised then that this approach could be turned into a business.”

Eight years on, OutSec employs 250 typists, all of whom work from home. “Almost all our rivals have typing pools, so they have no flexibilty. Often they have only one or two salaried typists. We have ultimate flexibility, both for clients and for our typists.”

OutSec typists pick and choose what work they want from an online database. To ensure correct capacity, they must notify OutSec of their availability to work at the start of each week. Each file is downloaded as a standard .wav file so it can be played back on a PC or Mac. When the transcription is complete, it’s sent back to the OutSec file manager, where it is passed to the client.

The homeworking model means OutSec has very low overheads. All workers are self-employed and paid per job. If no work comes in, there are no salaries to pay, apart from the six “department heads” who monitor the work flow. Phillips, herself, is a homeworker. “I run the company from my farmhouse in Norfolk.”

This capacity flexibility can be enjoyed by many other professions. Future Travel is shaking up the travel agency business by using homeworkers to research and book holidays. With 600 homeworkers, it can cope with huge volumes of work, and it benefits from rock-bottom overheads as there is no huge office to maintain. One agent, mum Francesca Barone, sold £1.6m worth of holidays in her first year.

Total Marketing Network is the homeworking leader in below-the-line marketing. Founder Denise Pritchard says: “We tell our clients, ‘You’re not paying for company cars, staff benefits and a flash office. You pay for the work we do’.” By co-ordinating teams of web designers, brand developers and advertising executives, TMN can take on any project, no matter how large or small.

It’s not just service industries that are benefiting from running a business from home. Isobel Davies’s fashion knitware brand, Izzy Lane, employs more than 100 home-knitters. She sends the wool and pattern, they post back the finished product. The alternative – a factory floor stuffed with knitters – would be utterly impractical.

No one’s taken the homeworking concept further than Peter Dunkley’s virtual media agency Depo Consulting. Dunkley has never met most of his 20 employees in real life, but he hangs out with them all day on website Second Life, a 3D “virtual world”. Depo uses it so much it now consults for firms who want to exploit the site. “We built a virtual office for law firm Lovells on Second Life. They hold meetings there.” His conclusion: “This approach makes travelling to meetings in a normal, ‘real-life’ office look pointless.”Read more on successful business run from home:

UK’s 30 top business run from home: 6 to 10

UK’s 30 top business run from home: 11 to 15

UK’s 30 top business run from home: 16 to 20

The pioneers:• OutSecFuture TravelTotal Marketing NetworkIzzy LaneDepo Consulting

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