User's Guide

Even a casual reader of this magazine may notice a dichotomy between the focus of this month's cover package -- SOHO entrepreneurs -- and the majority of our readers -- people who run companies that have multiple employees. Why are we focusing only on folks who work out of small offices or home offices?

Exploring the way SOHO entrepreneurs work is an opportunity to examine an issue that affects all of us: personal productivity. Home-based entrepreneurs have limited resources, but they also have nearly unlimited freedom. Who better to look to for advice on designing a work space -- indeed, a work life -- that works for you?

The SOHO concept is certainly not new, but an interesting confluence of factors has made this a fascinating time to look at home-based entrepreneurs. First, and most obvious, a vast array of enabling technologies have increasingly rendered location irrelevant. Second, flexible working arrangements have become part of our national vocabulary, a tenable alternative to suburban commuter hell.

Perhaps what's most notable about the new generation of SOHO ventures is their scope and size. No longer mere income-substitution ploys or boutique service providers, home-based businesses are larger and more diverse than ever. Witness Ken White's $15-million payment-processing company (see " Stay-at-Home CEO Raises Twins,") or Lars Hundley's virtual garden-supply retailer (see " One Man, One Computer, 1,431 Lawn Mowers,"). Surely, managing such ambitious ventures from the comfort of home would have been nearly unthinkable 5 or 10 years ago.

But again, there would be no point in our reporting on these SOHO entrepreneurs if the challenges they encountered and the solutions they devised didn't speak to our readers. Who couldn't benefit from hearing about how to design a work space that meets your needs as well as your company's demands? Who isn't struggling to better balance work and personal lives? I could certainly use some help in those areas, particularly when it comes to personal productivity.

A few months ago I got my own taste of working from home, courtesy of Mother Nature. (Well, not so much working from home. Very little work actually got done.) In early March the local media started issuing ominous warnings of an incoming "nor'easter" that would bury Boston under three feet of snow. The city proceeded to close down, including our offices here on Commercial Wharf. Although my home-office setup may not be as turbocharged as Scott Adams's dream office (see " A World of His Own,"), I have all the basics that a journalist needs: a computer, a phone, and Internet access.

The trouble is, my home is also full of everything I could possibly want to avoid working. I can fault no one but myself, since I have taken great pains to create a distraction-filled living space (and I lack anything even remotely resembling a work ethic). I own a large collection of DVDs. And my condo has any number of cozy corners to curl up in for a good read and a nap. Or just a nap.

Of course, distractions are only distractions if you allow them to distract you, which brings us back to the work-ethic thing. To be fair, I'm not that much of a slouch, but I'm much more productive with people around. I like having someone peer in on me periodically; it goads me into action. My visitors don't realize they're serving that function, of course. But having a ready supply of colleagues who could pop by at any moment to ask a question is usually more than enough to keep me focused.

So I have nothing but respect and admiration for the people in this month's cover package: folks who run their entire business from their converted second bedrooms. As for me, if you ever need to get in touch with me in an official capacity, you should probably check my office on the Wharf. Because if I'm home, I won't be working. -- Christopher Caggiano, executive editor

Please e-mail your comments to