How to Start a Business Support Service

Operations

As a solo operator, expect to spend at least one-fourth of your time on general business management and administration, marketing, purchasing and billing. The bigger your business and the more people you have, the more time you'll spend managing them rather than actually doing the work yourself. With four employees, Irvine, California's Cindy P. spends very little of her time working on projects for clients. And Chicago entrepreneur Joann V. hasn't actually transcribed anything herself in years--she has a team of five full-time employees in the office and nearly 50 part-time transcribers who work from their homes.

No matter how small or large your company is, it's critical that you not neglect the administrative side. It won't do you much good if you do the work but never get around to sending out the invoices so you can get paid. Poorly maintained records can get you into trouble with the IRS and other government agencies. And if you aren't marketing on a regular basis, your business will eventually dry up.

Running a business support service takes a lot of energy. It helps if you enjoy people but are also able to work alone or in small groups. You'll need to be able to juggle several projects at the same time, and always make each client feel as though he or she is the most important person to you.

Location

When it comes to the actual site of your business, you have two choices: homebased or a commercial location. A business support services company can be extremely successful in either venue; your decision will depend on your individual resources and goals.

As you consider the issue of location, keep a few things in mind. Depending on the specific services you offer and market you target, you'll possibly be dealing both with the general public, who will need access to your office, along with small-business owners and managers in larger corporations who may also want to visit your facility or have their employees or a messenger pick up and deliver work.

In any business, but especially in this one, a professional image is a critical element of success. Homebased operations are very accepted in today's business world (in fact, many customers prefer dealing with homebased suppliers because they have lower overhead and can therefore charge less), but you still need to present the appearance of being a serious business, even though you choose to work from your house. And if you opt for a commercial location, be sure it's one that is compatible with your goals.

In the mid-1990s, about half the members of the Association of Business Support Services International (ABSSI) were homebased; by the turn of the century, an estimated 70 percent were homebased, one-person operations. "Many of our previously office-based members are simplifying their lives by moving back to a residential location," says Lynette M. Smith, ABSSI's executive director. "They acknowledge that a homebased business is no longer the exception but the norm. In the perception of clients, there no longer is a stigma associated with being homebased."

While conceding that operating from home can make growth challenging, Smith says, "At home, one cannot expand through the traditional means of hiring employees. However, it's becoming more realistic to subcontract out work--especially transcription--to others, so there is still significant profit potential to be expected by replicating one's efforts in this way."

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