Surviving Your First Year

Attracting Your First Clients

Another way to bite it in your first year: Spend way too much money on ill-fated marketing campaigns that yield no customers. How can you avoid that? Again, research and starting small.

"Spend some time really defining your market," advises Denise O'Berry, a small-business consultant who works with clients on strategy and operations issues. "I see way too many business owners using the 'splat' approach-just hoping that something will stick. They end up wasting time and money."

Angela and Michael Trott didn't exactly use the "splat" approach, but they did lose out with an unsuccessful marketing campaign. When they first launched, they did a series of local radio commercials for Valentine's Day, which proved to be a success. So for Mother's and Father's Day, they did the same thing, plus a cable commercial. But this time, neither one worked. "There wasn't a specific call to action," says Angela. "We really lost big on Mother's Day and Father's Day."

Expect the Unexpected
"There's fear associated with having your own small business, and it's absolutely appropriate because one of the responsibilities you've taken on is survival, of providing for yourself. On the other side of the coin, many people love the sense of freedom they get and more than willingly pay the price of fear for the enhanced sense of being alive. And then, when you make it, there's a sense of 'Gosh, I can hardly believe it. I've got this little secret, and I'm afraid to tell anybody. This thing really works.' And it's a wonderfully liberating feeling." -Walt Sutton

So what did work? "We had to figure out the best way to market our Internet product, and lo and behold, it was the Internet," says Angela. They began advertising on sites where their romantic gifts would feel at home-LovingYou.com and The Romantic's Guide-and saw their site traffic soar.

Julee Wasserman found one of her best marketing tactics-local trade shows geared to corporate event planners-through research. After visiting the shows, she then calls new contacts to ask if she can give a 10-minute presentation. "If I hadn't done those presentations, I wouldn't have had any business at all. But I was going there, putting a face to the business, being really personalized and selling them on it." She also obtains new clients through referrals, and some trickle in to her Web site.

Attard offers these other ways to market your new business without spending too much money:

  • Call your friends and see if they know anyone who might need your service.
  • Keep in touch with former employers who may be potential clients.
  • Network in your community.
  • Read your newspaper to find out who's doing what and who might need your services, then send individual letters to them.
  • Partner with other business.

Surviving the Change

Finally, you've got to deal with a whole new mind-set. You are the master of your own fate, and that's a heck of a lot of responsibility. And since you've decided to start this business in your own home, you've also got to deal with many of these new issues alone.

Expect the Unexpected
"What I hear from new business owners is, 'You mean I actually have to sell this to people?' Most don't go into business because they like to do the tasks that are related to providing their product or service. They think that people are going to form a line at the door to buy what they have to offer as soon as they hang out the shingle. It just doesn't happen." -Denise O'Berry

Peers are an oft-forgotten but essential part of work-even when you're a solo flier. "You need to create some society in your work life that you weren't required to create before," says Sutton. "And there's a lot of richness if you recognize this and then go out and do it. I know people who have put together the equivalent of informal coffeehouse support groups for themselves."

Another homebased trap to watch out for: working too much. Trott enjoys working at home (though she's not alone, with her husband as a partner and her brother-in-law as a full-time employee), but "it can be very tiresome because I'm a workaholic," she says. "I'm like, 'If I could only get this one more thing done,' and the next thing I know it's 11 o'clock at night."

So how do you know when to say when on your work day? "There is so much to do. It can truly be overwhelming," says O'Berry. "Break it down into bite-sized pieces, tackle those things that will help grow the business, and outsource the rest. Set business hours, communicate those hours to customers, and live by what you have set up."

Getting Help
  • Freebies from the government. The SBA and its programs can be a godsend to new entrepreneurs. Check out SCORE, SBDCs and your local SBA offices for more information.
  • Trade and business associations. Trade associations are essential for industry-specific information like licensing requirements, market research and suppliers. Find yours through the World Directory of Trade and Business Associations (Gale Group) at your local library.
  • Mentors. Both Wasserman and Trott swear by their mentors. Wasserman found hers through a community college course, and Trott's is her husband's former military supervisor, who is also an entrepreneur.
  • Community organizations. The chamber of commerce, the Better Business Bureau and other like organizations can provide networking opportunities, the chance to find mentors and more.
  • Local colleges and universities. You can find information on executive education programs here, or inquire at your local college to find out what programs and courses they offer.
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