Oh, Give Me a Home
The allure of being a homebased entrepreneur is hard to resist, isn't it? And if you read our "No Place Like Home" feature, in which we told you about 10 great businesses to start from home, you've probably got a lot of ideas whirring around--or maybe you've already jumped in. Whether you're deciding on a business or have already started up, these 21 timely tips will guide you through your homebased journey.
Basics to Think About
1. Be wary of shady work-from-home scams promising big bucks. When in doubt, surf the National Fraud Information Center Web site for more information on scam-busting.
2. Don't know what business to start? There are a lot of great Web sites and books detailing the hottest homebased businesses. Check out our Start-Up Kits, Low-Cost Start-Up Idea Center or BizStartUps channel to find ideas on this site. There's also The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century: The Inside Information You Need to Know to Select a Home-Based Business That's Right for You by Paul and Sarah Edwards.
3. Research, research, research. Remember, you're going to be married to this business, so it helps to know everything you can before taking the plunge. Talking to other (noncompeting) homebased entrepreneurs in your industry, reading trade magazines and visiting the library will give you the skinny.
4. Get real about money. Your business won't turn a profit for six months to a year--so don't expect to make $10K your first month. Decide whether you want a part-time or full-time business, figure out your household expenses, and determine how much money you'll need to stay afloat.
Prepare For Your New Business
5. Have a family powwow. Remember that starting a business from home is stressful for the whole family. Sit down and hash out the basics like money expectations, where you'll work and how your new career will affect household duties. The sanity you save may be your own!
6. Cover your assets. Don't fly solo without the proper permits and insurance. Just one mistake, and you open yourself up to costly fines (or worse). Call your county clerk's office, and ask what licenses and permits are required for homebased businesses. Then, call your insurance agent and get any coverage you need. You'll have the peace of mind of knowing you're protected.
7. Consult your advisors. Being an entrepreneur doesn't mean you have to make every decision by yourself. A strong group of financial, legal, marketing and lifestyle advisors can help keep your business on the straight and narrow.
8. Write your business plan. Not only is a business plan a requirement for almost all business financing, but it also gives you a clear roadmap of where your business is and where it's headed. If you need help, the SBA Web site has business plan resources and can link you to free one-on-one consulting.
9. Outfit your home office. Find a corner or a room in your house, and make it yours. Don't skimp on equipment like ergonomically correct office chairs and a desk that fits your body.
10. Open a business checking account. Separating your business and personal funds makes tracking your business expenses much easier and eliminates some stress during tax time.
Marketing and Operations Tips
11. Order business cards--and then get rid of them. They won't do you any good unless you hand them out. Who knows--a casual meeting could turn into your next big sale!
12. Send a press release. A well-written release can often get you more publicity than the most carefully crafted display ad. Read "A Press Release Primer" for some some simple pointers.
13. Network! If you don't tell people you're in business, how will they ever know? If you crave local business, get involved in your local chamber of commerce and leads groups. If networking online is more up your alley, look for active message boards and e-mail discussion lists.
14. Get a real domain name. Image counts on the Net, and your own domain name can mean the difference between looking like a strong dotcom or a newbie. Use your company name if possible.
15. Have a Web site and need a low-cost advertising alternative? Try advertising in e-mail newsletters. They get delivered directly to your prospect's e-mail box, and they cost pennies per reader. "Plus, there are no producing or mailing costs," adds Becky Barnett, whose Decatur, Georgia-based Dot-Dot.com specializes in Internet marketing. "[People] sign up for that [newsletter] because they are interested-it actually gets read."
16. Never stop marketing. Set aside a certain number of hours each week to spread the word--no matter how swamped you feel. Remember, business may be going gangbusters now, but if you don't keep your name in front of prospects, they may forget about you tomorrow. An airtight marketing plan will help you have a constant stream of publicity and will keep you focused. Read "Find Time for Marketing" for six ways to keep up with your marketing tasks.
Keep It Running Smoothly
17. Plan actual working hours--and stick to them. It's easy to get caught up in working 60-plus hours a week because you don't manage your time or, alternately, sleeping in every day because you can "get to it later." Besides, having office hours makes it easier for clients to reach you.
18. Keep good financial records--or hire someone if you don't have the time. Let's face it: Even with the miracles of accounting software, not everyone likes crunching numbers. If you haven't balanced your business checkbook in a couple months and couldn't find a financial report if your life depended on it, hire a professional.
19. Know when to say no. Just because you work from home doesn't mean you're the neighborhood babysitter, taxi driver or shoulder to cry on. Gently tell friends that when you're working, you're working--and you're not available for unscheduled chitchat.
20. Take time for renewal. Celebrate big accounts by giving yourself a special reward. Grab a short walk when the stress levels get unbearable. Take a humor break and read the latest fake headlines at www.theonion.com. Remember, taking care of business means taking care of the boss--you!
21. Have fun! Remember, owning your own business isn't about working endless hours for low wages; it's about living your passion! When it all gets too serious, sit back and remember why you went into business for yourself. Freedom. No bosses. Working in your jammies. Ah, isn't it worth it?