From the January 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Ask the same question of 100 people, and you'll get 100 different answers. With that in mind, Entrepreneur has assembled a cross-section of homebased entrepreneurs--owning a variety of businesses nationwide--who provide advice to help you have a more successful and profitable 1997. Here's what they have to say:

Robert Bougeon

Robert Bougeon Creative Design and Consulting

Chatsworth, California

Business established: 1992

Advice: Find a way to expand your niche.

Initially, this former graphic designer for the Los Angeles Times handled only the graphic side of a project, but increasing customer demand helped him quickly recognize the value of overseeing the entire job from start to finish.

"Now, as production coordinator, I'll recommend certain printers and techniques. I'll even do pre-press checks," explains Robert Bougeon. "The point of this extra service is not to tack on an extra charge and make myself a million. It's to free the client--who is generally quite busy--from the mundane aspects of a job."

And as everybody knows, time is the most valuable commodity a busy person has.

Lesley Sager Levine

Pet-Estrian Services

Belmont, Massachusetts

Business established: 1987

Advice: Be a good neighbor.

Running 45-minute play groups for dogs could provide Lesley Sager Levine's neighbors plenty of ammunition to howl about her business. After all, there's a high potential for noise (and nose) pollution. But recognizing this, Levine, who used her love of animals to move from banking to pet sitting, took preventive measures at the start.

"I talked to [neighbors] before I started my business and told them if they ever had any concerns to talk with me," Levine says. In addition, she makes sure participants in her play groups never run loose in the neighborhood, and when she walks her canine clients, she always cleans up after them.

Beyond her own block, Levine acts as a good neighbor by dispensing health and pet-care information to people and by taking her dogs to visit senior residents in nursing homes. In short, Levine treats people as she wants to be treated. So far, it's working, and there have been no ruffled feathers to smooth.

David Forman

Pour Masters Custom Bar Catering

Phoenix

Business established: 1991

Advice: Stay on top in your industry, and use unique marketing to

do it.

Imagine throwing a six-hour party for 500 people complete with three open bars, catered food, virtual reality entertainment, a seven-piece Caribbean band and valet parking . . . all for a grand total of $180.

That's exactly what David Forman of Pour Masters did in 1995--and he'll do it again this year. "Every year we throw a party for the entire industry--caterers, event planners and anybody who needs to know about my business," explains Forman, who supplies beverages for events ranging from open houses and festivals to bachelorette parties.

Forman achieves this entertainment feat by getting every business that participates to donate their services in exchange for a copy of the event's mailing list and the opportunity to put their marketing materials in a goodie bag that's given to everyone who attends.

"I wanted everybody to know who we were--and that's what I mean by marketing," adds the Arizona entrepreneur, who says none of his competitors do anything remotely like this.

Jim Lowe

Midwest MicroSystems

Ainsworth, Nebraska

Business established: 1987

Advice: Realize success doesn't happen overnight. It takes faith and the ability to stick it out no matter how rough the going gets.

Cattle and computers were the unlikely combination that put Jim Lowe on the road to entrepreneurship.

"When I started back in 1984, I was really an odd duck," recalls Lowe, who created a computer software program to help evaluate and cull his cow herd. After using the product himself for a while, Lowe slowly began providing programs to others. Although traditional ranchers were initially slow to accept this high-tech innovation, the former cattleman hung in there and eventually sold his ranch in 1994 to run the computer business full time.

"You've got to stick to it and have faith in your business because it's not going to happen overnight," says Lowe. "I'm not saying every idea is going to work. But if you have a good idea and skills, it will happen. Too often people get discouraged and throw up their hands. It takes faith and hard work over the long run to make a business work."

Michelle J. Bloom

Creative Business Consulting

Minneapolis

Business established: 1986

Advice: Maintain a balance between work and home.

Balance is important, especially for a homebased entrepreneur. But balance is not 50/50," says Michelle Bloom, who teaches time-management skills to emerging homebased and small businesses to help them cope with the challenges of starting and operating a business. "The first three years of my business I chose to spend about 75 percent of my time on the business and 25 percent on [the other activities] that balanced me."

Bloom says you must consciously work toward balance and that it will change at different times during your business's life. She defines balance as taking time on the weekends to do the opposite of what you do Monday through Friday. Consequently, "when you come back on Monday, you've got energy," says Bloom, who advocates establishing a routine that gives you time away from your business.

While this may seem like a frivolous waste of time to some, Bloom is confident that in the long term, the proper balance helps you maintain enthusiasm about your business.

Tricia Molloy

Molloy Communications

Marietta, Georgia

Business established: 1988

Advice: Incorporate the principles of Feng Shui into your business.

For Tricia Molloy, environment is vital to getting in the mood for business. After a friend introduced her to Feng Shui, an Oriental philosophy of interior design that incorporates nature to help create positive energy flow, Molloy embraced the concept.

Inside her office, she installed an aquarium near the computer so each time she looks up, she sees the stress-reducing, gentle movement of flowing water and the affirmation of an entire ecosystem thriving before her eyes.

Outside, the music of wind chimes masks intrusive background noises and further soothes her psyche. "I also repositioned my desk so it faces the door. That's a power position and makes you aware of everyone who comes in and out," explains the entrepreneur.

Feng Shui was definitely a power move for Molloy, who says the changes she made, both inside and outside her office, have reduced her level of stress and increased her productivity and income--a most revered result.

Charles Thibeau

The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint

Co. Inc.

Groton, Massachussetts

Business established: 1973

Advice: Go that extra mile to

make sure every customer leaves happy.

After 23 years in business, Charles Thibeau could write his own advice book. If he were to ever take that step, he'd have to devote an entire chapter to the lengths to which he goes to satisfy his customers.

"The customer is everything. The product is secondary, if that. You can have the best product in the world, but if you don't have customers, you don't have a business," says Thibeau, whose company manufactures and sells worldwide the oldest form of paint known to man--a milk-based substance.

If his customers are upset with the paint, even if they created the problem themselves, they still ended up having a bad experience, Thibeau says. "So if someone calls and says, `This color isn't what I expected,' I'll supply enough paint for a whole new room--at no charge," says the entrepreneur.

Sound costly? Perhaps, but it hasn't hurt Thibeau's business. He says he's had some of the same customers for more than 20 years, and that even though he advertises very little, people always seem to find his family-run company.