Laura Newman, a 34-year-old divorced mother of four, is among an estimated 9.5 million Americans who run businesses from their homes. A year ago she founded Zable’s Business Services in Kingston, N.Y., to assist local real estate agents and lawyers. Newman was the sole employee, and her office resources came to little more than a telephone and a typewriter.
This arrangement, Newman soon found, had its good and bad points. By working at home, she could care for her three youngest children, the twins Alexis and Zeberiah, 7, and Robbie, 5. (Another child, Elizabeth, 9, lives with Laura’s ex-husband.) But kids will be kids, even in an office, and while Newman tried to conduct her business by phone, callers were apt to hear youthful squeals or the TV noises of Sesame Street in the background.
It all seemed so unprofessional. “What I need is a background of office sounds,” Newman thought to herself—and if she needed it, other home offices might also. After raising $5,000 in capital from family and friends, she hauled some office equipment to a recording studio and got to work. Result: a cassette called Office Chatter ($14.95), which contains 60 minutes of ringing phones, clacking typewriters and sliding file drawers. A female voice—Newman’s—occasionally murmurs, “May I help you?” Anyone calling in and hearing the tape would swear he had reached a busy, fully staffed office.
With a publicity boost from an unexpected source—”the New York Times mentioned it twice in one week,” Newman says—Office Chatter began making real cash-jangling noises. It sold 3,000 copies in the first two weeks following its release in October, and orders keep rolling in. Newman pooh-poohs any notion that her little device is a sneaky deception. “It enhances your image over the phone,” she insists. “It’s no more deceptive than trying to look your best by wearing a suit to work.” Sounds convincing.