Regional SBA award-winners: working at home not for everyone

For those who think multi-story building with associates scurrying all over the place in a bustling office when the words “public-relations firm” are mentioned, first realize that this is Kaua’i, and then think again.

But bustling office doesn’t necessarily equate to business success.

Take the case of Jenny Fujita and Joy Miura Koerte, together doing business as Fujita & Miura Public Relations (FMPR).

First of all, there is no FMPR office. They both work at home on different sides of the island.

And they are successful.

They are the U.S. Small Business Administration Home-Based Champions of the Year for the island, state, and Western region that includes Hawai’i, California, Arizona and Nevada.

And, although they have already been informed they are not the national winners in the prestigious annual SBA awards program, they are confident they can have an impact on a local, statewide, national and international scale, they said.

“Champions” means not only practicing what they preach, but encouraging others in appropriate professions to consider working at home, and patronizing home-based professionals, they said.

But home-based businesses aren’t for everyone, they said.

“First of all, home-based businesses only work for certain types of careers,” they said.

“Once a business owner develops an appropriate home-based business idea and has an effective plan of action, the biggest challenge is to establish credibility,” they agreed.

“In the past, many assumed that home-based businesses were limited to side-jobs, multi-level marketing, or low-quality operations. Today, it’s a different story,” they said.

And a growing segment of the island, state and nation’s small-business community.

A Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce survey of members in January found that 19 percent of respondents operate home-based businesses, and 32 percent telecommute (work at home and send their work from Kaua’i to another location via computer).

“Since we formed, we have recruited a large team of high-quality associates (and) vendors who are among the best in their fields, and most of whom are home-based businesses,” they said.

These include graphic designers, Web site designers, event planners, Web site hosts, videographers, TV producers, photographers, promotional-product producers, and administrative-support personnel.

Nationally, according to U.S. Census data, 4.2 million Americans worked from home in 2000, a 23-percent increase from the number of home-based workers in 1990.

In May 2004, some 20.7 million people did at least some work at home as part of their primary job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.

These workers, who reported working at home at least once per week, accounted for about 15 percent of total nonagricultural employment in May 2004.

Nearly half of the 17 million small businesses in the United States in 1992 were home-based, according to a 2004 report released by the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau.

A 2004 Report to the President by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy states that, “Home-based businesses make up 53 percent of the small-business population, and have served as the incubators for most successful businesses in existence today.

“The health and dynamism of the sector stems in large part from the entrepreneurial spirit so prevalent in the United States. The importance of small businesses to the economy, including their contributions to gross domestic product and employment, and their resilience in the business cycle, are well known.”

“We would encourage the SBA, U.S. Census Bureau, and any other small-business advocates, to collect more and better local data on home-based businesses,” Fujita and Koerte said.

They love working at home.

“We have been in business for five years and, from the start, made the conscious decision to be a home-based business. With increased traffic and mounting gas and real-estate prices, working at home makes sense,” they explained.

“Homeworkers effectively decrease traffic and pollution, keep our neighborhoods safe during the day, and lead exceptionally high-quality lives,” they continued.

“Not only that, we give superior service to our clients and customers because we can work all hours (and often do), and keep costs down as a result of low overhead.

“Significantly, being a home-based business has afforded us the scheduling flexibility necessary to volunteer for and assume leadership roles with various community organizations, and to spend more time with our families,” they said.

They have also turned not having an office into a professional advantage.

“When meeting with clients face-to-face, we travel to our clients’ work sites, which provides us with invaluable insights about our clients’ operations, challenges and opportunities for PR purposes,” they commented.

With technology evolving as rapidly as it has been, the virtual office is wherever they are.

“We serve clients with a level of quality commonly associated with high-tech office spaces by using state-of-the-art equipment and communications methods,” they said.

“From the perspective of our clients and the public, we are perceived no differently than a business that operates out of a formal office, as we function smoothly and effectively.”

Getting back to the “champions” idea, they said they routinely and regularly encourage those with appropriate professions and passions to consider making their businesses home-based.

“Almost everyone has some kind of business they can do from home if they want to. All it takes is a vision, a plan, some courage, the right equipment, and a little endurance,” they said from experience.

“One of our highest goals is to improve communities and families by teaching those who want to how to work at home,” they said.

Knowing the importance of positive public relations, they said they were “absolutely thrilled” when Leland Kahawai of First Hawaiian Bank’s Lihu’e branch nominated them for the award, and ecstatic when they learned they were award-winners.

“When we found out that we were the state winners, we were absolutely thrilled. Then, when we learned we were the regional winners, we were encouraged that in our own way we were able to increase the exposure and credibility of home-based businesses in a fairly large region of the United States,” they said.

“We are really pleased that we came this far, and we still believe that we can have a national impact.”

Fujita & Miura Public Relations (FMPR) is a full-service PR firm providing the finest communications consulting services to optimize their clients’ good intentions, they said in their mission statement.

They serve clients in a variety of industries worldwide, and are members of the Public Relations Society of America, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce.

They have advised others on how to succeed in and operate a home-based business, and assisted other home-based business operators in securing contract work, they said.

“By supporting other home-based businesses and advocating for this way of working at every opportunity, FMPR has shown that home-based businesses are not only acceptable, but an excellent option for many businesses in this 21st century,” they added.

Both have varied PR backgrounds, and both are active in a number of community organizations, including the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce, Zonta Club of Kauai, Leadership Kaua’i, and Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s Team Tech Kaua’i.

Fujita has a cum laude bachelor’s degree in psychology, with minors in studio art and Asian religions from Bucknell University.

Koerte is a fifth-generation Kaua’i resident. Koerte graduated magna cum laude from Pepperdine University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and an emphasis in business.

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