A recent comment from a reader on a blog I wrote about home-based businesses brought up a terrific point. The reader mentioned the various hats that you have to wear if you decide to start up your own home-based business.
When I began working from home, I envisioned doing what it was that I really wanted to do. I saw myself sitting down with pen and paper and designing a functional and fashionable diaper bag. I saw myself scouring through fabrics, choosing fun prints, and wrapping the final product in pretty tissue paper and perfect white boxes before shipping them out to the customer.
In reality, a quarter of my time is spent doing the abovementioned things and three quarters of my time is spent taking care of all of the tasks that go along with owning a business.
I have become a Jill of all trades.
Think of the numerous jobs that keep a business afloat: bookkeeper, secretary, advertising rep, computer expert, and web page designer, just to name a few. In many businesses, one person is hired per task. In a home-based business, you become all of these people rolled into one.
As a secretary you will handle all phone calls. This can be quite impossible to do, especially if you have a young child at home. I have to return calls when my daughter naps or when we are driving around in the car, because she´s at that age when she doesn´t want me on the phone and, actually, I don´t like talking on the phone when I am spending time with her. However, this leaves a very narrow margin of time for returning business-related calls.
As secretary you will also keep track of all of your deadlines, appointments, and other commitments. My tip: Purchase a small daily planner and keep it on you at all times. Make sure that you write in your family appointments as well so that you don´t double- book yourself when it comes to business and personal matters.
As the bookkeeper you will be responsible for keeping track of all of your incoming profits and outgoing payments. You´ll need to develop a plan that shows how much you are spending on the business on a weekly or monthly basis. Before beginning the business, make a list of all that you will need for start-up costs. Don´t forget about home-based business licenses, filing fees for a fictitious name, and all of the "little things,´ such as business cards and letterheads and a post office box, that really add up. Also create a list of your projected monthly expenditures.
My tip: Learn Excel, if you haven´t already. This spreadsheet program is phenomenal for keeping track of business related expenses. You´ll also need to save your receipts and log your mileage if you are traveling for work-related reasons. Keep a small notebook in your car for your mileage so that it is on hand when you need to jot down the information.
Advertising is a huge component of owning a business. In order to succeed, you need customers. In order to get customers, you need to advertise, at least on some level, whether it is handing out flyers in your community or placing an ad in the yellow pages. You become the spokesperson, so you´ll need to swallow any shyness and get out there and sell your business. Understand why your company is important and then make sure that everyone else understands this as well. And do it all without being pushy or arrogant. Oh, and make sure you smile!
My tips: Check into local businesses that sell products or services related to yours and then swap advertising. My friend has done this with her party planning business and the florist that she uses: They recommend her if someone asks about a party planning event and she recommends them when she throws parties. If you are selling a product, you might also contact local stores, boutiques, or online shops that sell related products and place yours with them. Also, set up a booth at a trade show tailored to your product. This way you can be assured that those people attending will be the audience you hope to attract.
I suppose you could run a home-based business with little to no computer experience, but I can´t imagine that it would be easy. So much can be done by computer. You can research products and services. You can read articles about current trends. You can check out your competition, reviews their products, and locate their price list. You can create spreadsheets and aids to help with the book keeping aspect. I have chosen most of my fabric for the diaper bags on line, and I go to the store only when I know what it is that I am hoping to purchase. This saves considerable time that I might be wasting sitting in the car on the LA freeways.
If you are running a home-based business, you should learn a little about web design, even if you hire a design company. It´s important to understand what drives consumers to your website if you are setting up a shop online. Spend some time reading about search engine optimization. Check out web pages that sell related products and see why they are either friendly-user or difficult to browse. I´ve been working in FrontPage, which is a web design program from Microsoft. I´ve also been using Photoshop for the picture that will be the front page of my diaper bag website. Today I learned how to take a color photograph, turn it black and white, and then go back and turn just a few items in the photograph back to color. It was time consuming, but I know how I want my front page to look and so I have to make sure I can do this on my own, in case I am not able to afford a web site designer along with my other startup fees.
Some people say that they don´t want to spend the time learning all of these skills just to run a small business from their home. However, I feel the more that you know and are involved with in your business, the more you will feel compelled to make sure that your business succeeds. If you spend little time in setup and things aren´t going well in the beginning, it might be easier to throw in the towel, whereas if you´ve spent hours researching and designing, you might be a little more apt to hang in over the first few bumps until the business begins paying off. Remember, most businesses take time to begin turning a profit, so you can´t expect it to happen immediately.
I´ve learned so much about starting up a business; more than I ever thought I would.
And just when I think that I´ve learned it all, something new comes along.
Some articles on the subject: