Balancing work, home A home-based business need not be messy

Posted: March 20, 2006

Luckily Rose Fasciocco loves her husband, Jimmy. Because he's making her crazy.

Her husband's lack of organization at their thriving Delaware County plumbing business is turning their house into a mess, causing fights, and leading to serious cash flow problems - most of it avoidable with some attention to detail.

The Fascioccos' problems are typical of home-based entrepreneurs and small-business owners, said organizing consultant Anna Sicalides of Berwyn, who visited the couple Tuesday at their office in the basement of their Springfield Township home.

When The Inquirer asked readers to "confess their mess" in hopes of winning time with a professional organizer, many who sought help had home-based businesses.

"Yes mess!" wrote filmmaker Michael O'Reilly, enclosing photos of his cluttered home office.

Lacking a support staff and often the most basic of business skills, many home-based entrepreneurs find themselves in an organizational crisis, experts say.

Business paperwork oozes out of the office and into the house, swallowing dining room table and kitchen counter. Invoicing is neglected, paper clips run short, and when the copier dies, it's a catastrophe.

Small-business owners, Sicalides said, "are wearing so many hats that it's hard to keep a focus on the business."

Exactly, said Rose Fasciocco, a real estate agent who tries to handle the books for the couple's business - Fosh Plumbing & Heating Inc. The company began in 1996 and now employs eight plumbers and helpers.

"I know that my husband would much rather be the great master plumber that he is, instead of the business manager that we need," she wrote in an e-mail to The Inquirer.

"The billing gets behind, way behind, and the paperwork that the men hand in is less than ideal. There is always a struggle between me and my husband on who should lay down the law on the paperwork and on the money collections," she wrote.

"I hate paperwork," Jimmy Fasciocco said as he, his wife, and Sicalides talked last week.

Because the invoices are late, payments are slow. Jimmy Fasciocco doesn't press for the money - he's too easygoing, though it's a trait that has helped his business. Still, payments to the plumbing supply houses are 60 days past due.

While waiting to receive thousands of dollars in overdue bill payments, they sometimes struggle to pay their employees. When that happens, the Fascioccos don't take their cut.

Since they've got more than enough work, "we should be rolling in dough," Rose Fasciocco said. "Instead I just feel overwhelmed."

In Maple Glen, a real estate and fishing-equipment entrepreneur's business papers are taking over the house. Joel Harnick says he can find everything, but his wife, Tess, said she's almost given up looking for the kitchen table and counter under the clutter, "all of which, in all sincerity, is driving me crazy."

A couple from Northeast Philadelphia sent a similar e-mail. "We have a real-estate management business in our home," Lucyann Hooper wrote.

"As much as [we] try, we seem to wind up with paperwork on our dining room and kitchen table, on the kitchen chairs, in the living room on the couches, on top of the TV in the rec room, and on the washer and dryer leading into our so-called 'office.'

"The other day I was looking for receipts for our 2005 taxes. I happened to go outside and, lo and behold, there were my two receipts, January and March of 2005, sitting in the grass," she wrote.

Why does this happen?

Some home entrepreneurs are refugees from the corporate world - by choice or circumstance - and they underestimate the value of a support staff. Now they have to order the Post-it notes and fix the printer, all the while trying to hustle business. Soon they are overwhelmed.

"It could be that they have a home office, but they don't use it," said Adriane Weinberg, who runs An Organized Approach in Ambler. The attic is hot, the basement is windowless, and the spare bedroom also holds holiday decorations and a broken television.

When it comes to business processes, "they don't have time and they don't know what to do," Sicalides said. "They know how to do graphic arts," or fix toilets, or manage apartments.

Part of the problem, said Maggie Jackson, a workplace author and columnist, is that the line between work and home has blurred, so home is no longer the refuge it was.

Professionals who bring work home, road warriors who rely on their home as a base, and the home entrepreneur all struggle with the issue.

Technology has proven to be both a bane and blessing, said Jackson, who wrote What's Happening to Home: Balancing Work, Life and Refuge in the Information Age in 2002.

"The great thing is that you have freedom and the downside is that it's kind of a muddle." That lack of boundary, in time and space, creates mental and physical clutter.

After a two-hour meeting with Sicalides, the Fascioccos were clearly in less of a muddle.

They decided to review worksheet procedures with the plumbers, as she advised. Jimmy would take the time to approve the sheets so Rose could bill in a timely manner, and she would take a course in Quick Books Pro accounting software for more effective bookkeeping.

"Jim and I spent some quality time with the job and material labor sheets last night," Rose wrote in after the meeting. "I deciphered the plumbing jargon, and with Jimmy's help was able to make sense out of them and turn them into invoices.

"I can't wait to see how this will affect the business."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Confess Your Mess

Share your organizing troubles and tips, or catch up on what's been written. Visit Jane M. Von Bergen's "Digging Out" blog via http://go.philly.com/diggingout

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