By Diane M. Aull
- Be wary! Many work at home scams promise big money with no work on your part. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially cautious if they’re asking you for lots of money up front without sending you any tangible product in return. If you have any doubts, check The National Fraud Information Center website.
- Do your homework! Make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Read magazines, visit your local library, and check web sites that focus on the home-based business. I strongly urge you to enroll in the free online course at My Own Business to make sure you’ve covered all the essentials.
Before you take the plunge, ensure there’s a market for your product or service. There’s no point in trying to start a business selling something that no one wants to buy! Your research can be as simple as talking to friends, relatives, and other trusted advisors, or as complex as hiring a research company but you need to do it!
- Be prepared! Your home-based business will likely take considerable time and effort before it turns a profit. If you’re currently working outside the home, consider staying on at your job until you start to see consistent income from the home-based business. Be sure to set aside some money for contingencies (both business and personal). Expect that you will incur unexpected expenses.
- Arrange for child care! If you have preschool-aged children at home, and think you can start and manage a home-based business and take care of your kids at the same time, think again! You need uninterrupted work time, and children are masters at the art of interruption. Consider involving other family members in child care, hiring a babysitter, or taking the kids to daycare during your work hours.
- Follow the rules! There may be legal issues you need to take into account when starting a home-based business. First and foremost, make sure your home is properly zoned to allow the type of business you want to start, and that there are no neighborhood covenants or other restrictions that might stand in your way. Check with your county clerk for permits, insurance, and license requirements.
- Make a plan! Write out your business plan! It will help you organize your thoughts and make sure that you haven’t left out anything important. It’s also important to have a well-written, up-to-date business plan if you go to the bank for a business loan. If you need help writing a business plan, check with the SBA or BPlans.com.
- Set up a work space! You need somewhere to work, to administer your business, and to store your business records. It helps if this area has a working door (possibly even with a lock) in order to minimize interruptions. Do NOT allow your work space to become a store room for household items! It is your work area, and should be treated as such. You wouldn’t keep your kids’ cast-off clothing and toys in an out-of-the-home office, so don’t store them in your in-home office.
- Be professional about money! Open a Business Checking account. Keep good, up-to-date financial records. If you hate working with numbers, hire a bookkeeper (or get a family member who likes that sort of thing to do your bean-counting for you). Get acquainted with a tax accountant, and seek his/her advice before making major business decisions, to avoid adverse tax consequences for both your business and yourself. You’ll have to pay for his/her time, but it will be money well spent in the end.
- Network, network, network! There are all sorts of organizations for home-based businesses, women business owners, and industry-specific groups. Find out what groups have chapters in your area, and become an active member of any that interest you. Join your local Chamber of Commerce.
Get brochures printed describing your product or service. It will pay to have them professionally designed. Have business cards made up, carry them with you at all times, and hand them out at every opportunity. Always be on the lookout for new ways to spread the word about your business!
- Get on line! For a more businesslike appearance, register a domain name for your business and get a professionally-designed web site. If you aren’t a professional web designer (or a very experienced amateur) yourself, consider hiring a designer to at least produce your initial site.
If you’re keen to do it yourself, I suggest an all-in-one service such as Ken Evoy’s Site Build It! Ken gives you all the tools and advice you need to create a professional web site that pulls targeted traffic, all for a very reasonable investment. There’s no point in building a web site that draws no visitors, and there’s little point in drawing visitors who aren’t interested in what you’ve got to offer; make sure you do things the right way from the start.
- Get free or low-cost promotion! Send out press releases announcing any significant developments in your business to your local newspapers. Volunteer to write a column for your community newspaper or newsletter about a topic related to your business (for instance, a veterinarian could write a column about pet care for the local paper).
Contact local professional and civic groups, and let them know you’re available to give a presentation at an upcoming meeting. I know from experience that these groups are always looking for new speakers. Just be sure your presentation doesn’t turn into an extended commercial for your business give the attendees some good, practical information, and let your expertise speak for itself. Save the sales pitch for one-on-one conversations after your presentation (and make sure you have plenty of brochures and business cards on hand!).
- Enjoy yourself! There’s a lot of work involved, but remember it’s supposed to be enjoyable, too. Be sure to step back every so often and take a look at the big picture. Don’t let the time you spend on your business so overwhelm you that you have no time for family, friends, hobbies, and outside interests. Work hard during business hours, but don’t let business take over all your waking hours. And above all, remember that you’re doing this because you want to, and you can stop anytime you want to, as well.
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Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.
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