Under One Woof
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Q: My dog occasionally barks when I'm on important phone calls. What can I do to control this problem?
A: Boy, do we know about this problem! We have two little barkers lying at our feet right now.
First, make sure the phone in your office has a mute button, so you can discipline your dog without interrupting your phone conversations. Second, you can train your dog not to bark, but this will take time and energy. If you're willing to make this investment, we suggest professional trainer Bob Margolis' video "Love Your Dog Problem Solving" or his book When Good Dogs Do Bad Things (Little Brown & Co.); call (800) 334-3647 or visit http://www.matthewmargolis.com for more information. Another option: Use a headset like ACS's, with a microphone that filters out room noise (800-995-5500).
Or, since your dog only barks occasionally, assess whether you need to take action at all. Unless it really drives you crazy, just relax, and if the barking is quite audible, jokingly apologize to your caller for the enthusiasm of your home office mascot.
Q: I'm embarrassed to say I've gained some weight since I began working at home. I think part of the problem is that I eat because of stress, and the refrigerator is just a few steps away from my desk. Any suggestions on how I might moderate my eating habits?
A: You're not the only one who's gained weight because of the comforts of working from home. But while you have more access to excess at home, you also have more control over what you do and how you do it.
The best way to beat this problem is to find new ways to de-stress. Take a walk. Call a friend. Lean back and listen to some of your favorite music . . . do anything, other than eating, that helps you relax. It may take a while to find things that will satisfy you more than food, but on your way to the kitchen, take a deep breath and think of what else you might enjoy.
It also helps to stock your fridge and kitchen cabinets with lots of low-calorie, low-fat, healthy--but filling--foods that aren't addictive. Get rid of the chips and cookies, and stock up on apples and rice cakes.
We find that eating small, balanced snacks can also help keep overeating in check. You might have half an apple with an ounce of cheese and a couple of almonds or a teaspoon of almond butter. This kind of healthy snacking shouldn't add pounds. You can also make the kitchen off-limits between meals by keeping beverages and fat-free snacks in your office.
Q: I'm a photographer and sell most of my work through art fairs. Lately, more people have been asking me if I have a Web site. I don't, but I'm starting to wonder if I should. What would the advantages be, and would they be worth my time and money?
A: Many homebased business owners are asking themselves this question. When Yankelovich Partners conducted a poll of small businesses for IBM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year, they found that 24 percent of small businesses have a Web site. Most of them use it to increase visibility, find new customers and give customers information. Forty-six percent said having the site was worth their time and energy, 37 percent weren't sure it was worth it, and only 6 percent said it wasn't worth it.
One way to decide whether you should create a site is to think of it as an ad in the Yellow Pages: It's a wise investment if your customers look there.
We think having a Web site is becoming more like having a telephone or fax machine--people expect every business to have one. So the question becomes not whether to have a Web presence but what type of presence to have. You can create a simple and inexpensive one-page, do-it-yourself site for several hundred dollars using software like Adobe's PageMill or Microsoft's FrontPage. You can also set up a page on an Internet mall like iMall at little cost. Or you can have an extravagant multipage, professionally designed site created for anywhere from several thousand dollars to upwards of $35,000.
We suggest visiting the sites of other photographers and talking with them about their experiences with the Web. Nature photographer Ernest Hori has a site at http://www.horizenfoto.com, and portrait photographer Mary Ann Halpin has a site at http://www.goddesshood.com These entrepreneurs may be able to offer valuable advice.
Q: I do carpentry and household repairs, and although I generate some business, it's just not enough. I don't have the money to do the kind of advertising I know I should do, and I'm not much of a salesperson. Is my business doomed, or is there hope?
A: Yes, there's hope. You're not doomed. Many of us lacked sales and marketing experience going into our first homebased business, and the relentless chore of getting business can be overwhelming. Surveys tell us generating business remains the number-one concern of small- and homebased business owners year after year.
Advertising is expensive, because, to be effective, it must appear repeatedly in media your target customers are seeing or hearing. So, until you have more income, actively market yourself through whatever low-cost methods of promotion are available.
For a business like yours, we advise getting a Yellow Pages listing, if you can afford it. Otherwise, we suggest you devote every spare hour of your workday to pursuing the following activities to help increase business:
1. Build a list of all possible contacts who regularly interact with consumers who need your service. For example, how about real estate agents who've just sold new homes or who have clients seeking to make improvements before selling their homes? Tell them about your service. You aren't selling when you contact them--you're just getting acquainted and making sure they know how to reach you.
2. Add these people to your database, and send them something monthly, like a tips newsletter, a postcard about a special offer, or a news clipping related to home improvement that might interest them.
3. Offer to conduct miniworkshops or seminars on do-it-yourself home improvements at local hardware stores. You'd be surprised how many people realize they need help when they learn about what they can do themselves. Arrange to leave your booklet or newsletter at these stores.
There are marketing strategies suited to every personality and every business. While you're certainly not doomed, you must get active. You can review a wealth of options in the new edition of our book Getting Business to Come to You, which provides marketing ideas that are both enjoyable and affordable. Initiate and follow through on at least one marketing strategy every day.
Paul and Sarah Edwards are homebased business experts and co-authors of several books, including their recently released second edition of Getting Business To Come To You (Tarcher). If you have a question for Paul and Sarah regarding a homebased business issue, contact them at http://www.paulandsarah.com or send it to "House Calls," Entrepreneur's HomeOffice, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.