As I was reading over blogs in preparation for this article, I found a great article at Freelance Switch on The Top Myths About Working from Home. What I liked the most about this article is that it highlighted some common misconceptions that people have when you work from home. This got me thinking about a slightly different spin: what steps should you take to get your business going.
I heard it said well: when you have a home-based business, you actually have two businesses: one business is what you do as a profession, and the other business is the business of managing a business! I have two primary businesses: Web Design services, and We Hosting Services. Both of these businesses have systems in place that need marketing, accounting, sales, maintenance, and more. In addition to money-making things like setting up hosting accounts for small businesses, or designing websites, I need to manage everything that I have, and make sure that things do not fall through the cracks. Here are my steps to setting up your small business.
1. Set a Schedule
Your schedule is what will keep you from working every hour of every day, or it will keep you working rather than watching ‘just one more episode’ of that television show. Your schedule can be anything that works for you. It should allow rest, periods of breaks, profit-producing activities, and maintenance activities (I will talk more about these in the following points).
Some people are better morning people, and some are not quite so much. As a home-based small business owner, you will need to learn to keep a regular schedule, but also be flexible. You will likely need to meet potential clients for projects which there are two good timeframes to do this: very early in the morning before they really get started on the day, or over lunch appointments. Keep all of this in a calendar.
2. Develop a Marketing Strategy
Business requires a marketing strategy to work. There are two basic ways to market: direct and indirect. Direct marketing is when you specifically seek out a client to sell your services to. In order to successfully do this, you will need to be able to communicate with your prospective clients. If you are meeting face to face, you will want to have a package of information to give to your client to showcase your services. If you do not meet face to face, you will need to have some sort of online presence, portfolio, or at the very least a document to email your portfolio. My direct marketing includes seeking out people that have existing internet sites which could use a makeover, Elance and oDesk bids, and some group meetings where I meet people.
Indirect marketing involves advertisements and other sources of information which go to a wider audience. In my case, I do little in the way of ‘traditional’ marketing like radio, newspaper, or television, but I do a fair amount of indirect marketing. Participation in your local Chamber of Commerce, helping local charities, large business meetings where you can introduce your business are all examples of indirect marketing. For advice on both types of marketing, I would suggest a read through of Guerrilla Marketing.
3. Getting New Clients
Unless you have the local grocery store or items that people need on a regular basis, a marketing plan will not be enough to get new clients. In my particular line of work, I am competing against other web designers where most of us are able to work remotely. All this means that as I get my name in front of new potential clients with one of my marketing strategies, I now have a chance to meet with them, give them reasons to work with me as opposed to other clients, and to basically make sure that I am getting enough new clients to sustain my business.
Once I establish the first connection with a client, there are a few small items that I make sure are habit that helps. First, I keep my meetings on the business level as much as is possible. I do not spend a whole lot of time discussing sports, weather, the pet, etc. I am very busy and so is my client, so I do not want to waste any time. This helps the client feel that I will actually get work done rather than waste time. Next, as I mentioned above, I want to have information to give to them. If this is a face-to-face meeting, I present that at the very beginning of the meeting, open it up and place it on the table with the words so they can read it as I explain all of the materials. If I am meeting on a phone call, I will make sure they receive a professional portfolio. I make sure to answer all of the questions, and then I make suggestions to their design (they may not know what is out there in a web design package).
4. Maintaining Your Client Base
You will tend to make most of your big money on the large products, but do not neglect the small trickle of income from needs that your clients will have to an existing project. These items will likely only take a few minutes or so to complete, but over time they build up. In addition, once you have done great work for a client, they will stop shopping for a new provider, and they will also likely tell their friends.
When I have a request come through for an existing customer, it always moves to the top of my list of projects for the day. The reason is two-fold: 1.) these little requests are usually completed in an hour or less. and 2.) It keeps the lines of communication open, and lets your meet their needs and the needs of their circle of friends. Make sure that you are keeping your clients happy.
5. Keeping the Books
One large organization mistake is not keeping a balanced checkbook, or your accounting in order. Many Americans are not organized in this respect and it leads to a lot of debt in addition to poor financial choices. The same will happen in your business if you do not keep up on it. I have heard stories of people that take every business receipt and place them into a bag, box, or some other container and then once a month of so they take that to a bookkeeper who sorts out the mess. This is a mistake.
What I do is I have a plastic folder on the desk and everything for the week goes in there. On Friday every week I take a few hours to sort out the receipts and invoices and log them into Quickbooks. This way you have the checkbook balanced regularly, you personally can see the financial progress of the business, and you can monitor your budget (Yes, you had better have a budget). Of course if the task of organizing your books goes over a couple of hours, you will probably want to hire a book keeper, but make sure that everything is getting done at least once a week (or every other week) so that your business operations do not slip through the cracks.
Any other startup tips? Let me know!