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Some see advantages in starting a business at home

GRAND FORKS - Boyd Wright is on his third career. The former political science researcher and University of North Dakota legal counsel now makes wood products--kaleidoscopes, pens, wine stoppers, knives and more--on a lathe at his Grand Forks hom...

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Boyd Wright displays the wood products he makes at his Grand Forks home on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Wright, former legal counsel at UND, sells most of his products online under the moniker Wright Made Products. John Hageman / Forum News Service
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GRAND FORKS – Boyd Wright is on his third career.
The former political science researcher and University of North Dakota legal counsel now makes wood products--kaleidoscopes, pens, wine stoppers, knives and more--on a lathe at his Grand Forks home. The arrangement makes for occasional obstacle, like when he's preparing to ship items on the kitchen counter while his wife bakes.
But Wright said he enjoys the job.
"Legal things can drag on a long time," he said from his kitchen this week. "And you sometimes flop around for a while looking for things you can complete quickly. And for some reason, I thought of working with wood."
Wright is one of the millions of business owners operating in their own garages, kitchens and living rooms. A Census report put the number of self-employed home workers at 4.2 million in 2010, representing 45 percent of home workers.
The success of home-based businesses like Wright's has likely been fueled by the proliferation of the Internet and online shopping. Business owners can sell their products on websites like Etsy and more easily market themselves on social media.
Wright, under the business name Wright Made Products, ships his products to countries around the world.
"Just the thought of being able to make some money with something they really like to do is really appealing," said Eric Giltner, senior area manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Grand Forks. "That's usually how it starts."

Working from home

Billie Kellar didn't like how traditional lotions felt greasy on her skin and often got into the wool she was using to knit. So she decided to come up with her own product.
Six years later, she's still making soaps and lotions in her Grand Forks kitchen. About six retailers stock her merchandise, including Amazing Grains and a Valley Dairy convenience store.
"It was supposed to be a one-summer thing," Kellar said. "And it took off and went crazy. And how do you not go with it?"
But Kellar said the business, Billie's Soap and Spa Products, has grown to a point that it makes sense to move out of the house into a retail space or manufacturing facility. Like Wright, she faces some obstacles combining her home life with her workspace. Her father, Dale, is co-owner of the business but sometimes gets frustrated by a lack of kitchen space.
"We've learned that you can make anything work as a home-based business but that it takes a lot of extra work to do that," Kellar said. "And sometimes that's difficult."

'More enjoyable'

Grand Forks city code includes regulations for home-based business, like a ban on equipment that creates noise, fumes or electrical interference "detectable to the normal senses off the lot." Moreover, retail sales aren't allowed from a home and the business use must be "clearly incidental and subordinate" to its residential purposes.
Brad Gengler, the city's director of the Planning and Community Development Department, said any issues with home-based businesses are usually brought to them on a complaint basis.
"I would think, at least in my experience, there's probably only been a very small handful of complaints," he said.
Giltner said businesses that provide personal services in a home, like a hair stylist, must have a separate entry and bathroom for customers.
But beyond the government regulations that come with having a home-based job, Giltner said business owners should practice time management.
"It's important that you set some hours and let the family know that, 'Hey, I am working at home and I'm not just available to do whatever,'" he said. "You kind of have to protect yourself."
Wright said he never had an issue staying on task while working at home, adding it gives him some freedom from work meetings. But it also comes with downsides.
"You don't have the income stability, you don't have the benefits. You have to take care of that stuff yourself," he said. "I work more hours on average in this job than I did at the university. But it's a lot more enjoyable."

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