Q: I am a wedding and event planner. I've been operating my business from my home for two and a half years now, and I've found myself at a standstill. I can't seem to be able to attract anymore customers. I've spoken with other people in my same business, who also work out of their homes, and they all seem to have more success--although I think this may be because they live in more upscale, suburban areas, while I live in the city. Do you think I need to make the transition to a downtown office?
A: There are circumstances where an attractive downtown office may be good for enhancing your image and generating more business, but this is not always the case, and being homebased may not be your biggest problem. There are still many homebased businesses that have become quite successful, regardless of location and neighborhood.
Regardless of where you are located, no business can be confined strictly to the home office or the Web, or even a downtown office, for that matter. Visiting your clients in their homes may be a good idea, but don't stop at that. To get the kind of recognition you want and need, you should get out of your home office whenever possible so you can promote your business and image to the public. There may be a great need for your service in your community, but people have to know about you--whether you work at home or downtown. Get out into the community, engage in some networking and meet people face-to-face. I've never met anyone with a homebased business for whom getting out and moving around in public didn't present some advantages. In any sales-based environment, face-to-face contact does a lot more to create business than a good-looking office does.
Toward that end, you may want to consider making yourself more of a public figure by getting on local radio and television shows, or writing a regular column for your local paper in which you might give tips for planning the perfect event. Having a column like that, even if the newspaper doesn't pay you for it, gives you invaluable exposure and will drive a lot of business your way. Similarly, joining business and civic groups is an excellent way to get your name out there in front of future clients. These kinds of contacts might even lead you to new clients.
Communication should be another essential part of your success. As long as you are accessible to your clients and potential clients, it shouldn't matter that much whether your office is located at home or in a luxurious skyscraper. Make sure to check and answer e-mail and voice mail regularly, and carry a cell phone with you when you go out. Printing your Web URL, e-mail, voice number, fax number and cell number on your business cards and stationery will ensure people know how to find you.
Another common accessibility problem for home offices is that the home office tends to be in a remote part of the house, and you may not be able to hear the doorbell. If a client comes calling, you need to be able to know they're out there, so make sure to install a doorbell extension directly in your office.
Janice Bryant Howroyd is founder, chairman and CEO of Torrance, California-based ACT-1 Group, the largest woman minority-owned employment agency in the United States, with more than 70 offices, 300 full-time employees, 65,000 temporary "stars" and annual revenues exceeding $500 million. Founded in 1978 around Howroyd's personal philosophy of "Keeping the Humanity in Human Resources," ACT-1 is today a multidivision conglomerate serving such clients as Ford Motor Co., Gap Inc. and Sempra Energy and meeting demands for well-educated and well-trained temporary, full-time and contract employees. She has twice been honored by the Star Group as one of 50 Leading Woman Entrepreneurs of the World.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.