By Amanda Hickey The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
Whitney Baker has little overhead for her embroidery and custom children's clothing company.
The 26-year-old Onslow County resident is the owner of Inkie Binkie Boutique, which she runs out of a home office.
"It's amazing. The overhead is very low, and that's one of the big things of starting a business," she said. "I knew we couldn't just go right in and rent a building in town and the main objective was to stay home with my baby so if we were in town I wouldn't be able to take her. I love working from home."
Baker, who began her business with a $300 sewing machine and $100 worth of fabric, is one of several in the area who operate a legal home-based business.
Onslow County requires businesses such as amusements -- including public skating rinks or swimming pools -- circus and animal shows, auto accessories, auto garage, a bowling alley, electronic video games, sprinkler systems, motor vehicle or motorcycle dealers, pawnbroker, palm readers, pool tables, service stations, weapons dealers, check cashing businesses and more to obtain a privilege license.
However, if they are not opening a business specified as needing a business license, Tax Administrator Harry Smith said the county does not require them to obtain one. However, the business owner must list all equipment for property taxes the January after the business began, Smith said. Equipment, office furniture and fixtures are among the items that must be listed through the Tax Office's listing division.
The county also requires a zoning permit for home occupations, according to information from the county. The county then requires that products not be visible from the street, less than 40 percent of the home be used for the business, and that signage identifying the business be limited to a single four square feet sign, among other things.
If the proposed business would involve food sales, Onslow County Environmental Health cannot authorize it. However, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer services can authorize domestic kitchens for food sales, such as bakery items, jams or jellies.
According to the Department of Agriculture, those interested in starting a home-based food business have several steps to take before they can complete their application for home processing inspection.
Those steps include verifying that the product can be made at home, that the home kitchen can be used to do so, learning how to make the product safely or having the product analyzed for risk, checking with local authorities for licensing and zoning information, providing a municipal water bill or having well water analyzed for coliform bacteria, developing a business plan and labeling the product correctly.
Once the seven steps are complete, the business owner applies for home processing inspection and within two weeks of the application being received, a food regulatory specialist will contact the owner to arrange for the inspection.
Once the product has been evaluated for risk and the kitchen has met inspection standards, the business owner is able to begin producing and selling the product.
Among the items that will disqualify a potential home-business owner from being able to process food from their home is having a pet in the house, according to the department.
In Jacksonville, home business owners must have a home occupancy permit, which would be obtained from the planning and zoning office. Once the permit is acquired, the business owner would register its name and apply for a business license at City Hall, according to city staff.
Rules for home-based businesses in Jacksonville include not changing the outside appearance of a residence; must be the secondary use of the property; cannot have an outdoor display or store goods or equipment, excluding motor vehicles, outside; and cannot employ anyone outside of the residents; sell only products related to the services by the home occupation on site; cannot significantly increase traffic within the neighborhood; and more, according to information from the city.
The city also does not permit signs for home-based businesses.
Bob Williams, owner of Bob's Graphics, operates his landscape and portrait photography business out of a spare room in his home. Williams said he applied for his business license in 2009 and believes that many do not make their businesses legal due to the taxes and fees that are required.
"It puts the people who follow the rules at a competitive disadvantage because if you are going to follow the rules, then you have to pay the taxes on whatever you do ... Those people that aren't following the rules, that don't license their businesses don't have to pay the additional money so their overhead is less," he said.
Within Jacksonville, violations are reported to the zoning enforcement officer while in Onslow County, privilege license violations can be reported to the tax office.
For home-based businesses that wish to operate aboard local bases, Marine Capt. Joshua Smith, the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Installations East, said that entrepreneurs are responsible for complying with all local, state and federal licensing, business and tax laws just as they would be if they were operating off base. Per base orders, the business must first receive authorization from the base to operate by contacting their respective community housing office, which will either be Atlantic Marine Corps Communities or Lincoln Military Housing. Lastly, the proposed business is preferred to not be in conflict with any business currently authorized to operate aboard the installation. Inkie Binkie Boutique's Baker said she would recommend that others in the area who are interested in starting a business look into if it is one they can do from home.
"I knew that working night shift was not for me. I enjoyed my job .... but I knew my passion was sewing and children, and I wanted to stay home with my children," she said. "People can take $50, $100 and they can turn it into a dream; and I feel like that's what I've done and I hope maybe in one or two years to have a storefront but it takes that long.
"You have to crawl before you walk. And I sure couldn't have done it without my husband, you have to have that support system."