John Kirwan, Royal Alliance Associates, Matthews, N.C.

In 1994, John Kirwan decided he'd finally had enough of the hour-long commute from his home in Matthews, N.C., to Shelby Savings Bank, some 56 miles away.As manager of the bank's investment sales division, Kirwan knew that other financial services professionals around him were enjoying an independence that he wanted. So Kirwan joined Royal Alliance Associates, trading the daily grind for a laptop

In 1994, John Kirwan decided he'd finally had enough of the hour-long commute from his home in Matthews, N.C., to Shelby Savings Bank, some 56 miles away.

As manager of the bank's investment sales division, Kirwan knew that other financial services professionals around him were enjoying an independence that he wanted. So Kirwan joined Royal Alliance Associates, trading the daily grind for a laptop computer, cellular phone and an office in the living room.

A book titled "Jumping the Job Track" by Peter C. Brown provided him with some fundamentals about launching a home business. And although the first years were lean, Kirwan expects to net an income in the six-figure range this year. More importantly, he says, he now has the freedom and flexibility in his schedule to spend some quality time with his young son, Riley, and to circulate in his community.

"Where most brokers are spending all their time in an office, I spend three or four hours a day at the chamber of commerce offices or at a Rotary meeting, schmoozing," Kirwan says. Although there are distractions, and he sometimes yearns for "the interaction with fellow employees," there are also plenty of distractions in the traditional corporate environment, he says.

And the greatest blessing of working from home--around-the-clock accessibility for clients--can also be a curse. "You always see your office," Kirwan says. "Every spare moment I have, I'm in here tinkering."

As an independent contractor, Kirwan figures out for himself what kind of overhead he needs. "I don't have some corporate office somewhere saying, 'This month we're going to charge you 5,000 for a computer system.' I spend the money when I see fit," he says. And he tries to pass the savings along to customers.

Kirwan's home office is one of about 60 locations that report to Royal's office of supervisory jurisdiction in Forest City, N.C. And his home is registered as a Royal Alliance branch office. Adhering to compliance requirements isn't all that difficult, thanks to the fax machine, e-mail and the firm's new workstation, which is connected via the Internet.

"Technology today creates a situation where you can really have a home office with supervisory coverage," Kirwan says. "This is the future. Other than image, which is fleeting, why do you need the bricks and mortar of a corporate office?"

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