5 Key Steps to a Home-based Business, Part 2: Ready, Set, Start Up
If you’ve read Look Before Leaping, the first of this 5-part series on moving a home-based business from start-up to mainstream, you’re ready for the next step: Ready, Set, Start Up (opening the doors for the first time).
In order for the public to take a business seriously, it needs to be professional. You are your business and you represent the business. Just because you are operating from home doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have professional surroundings (quiet when talking with customers on the phone – which means the elimination of crying babies or loud sounds in the background). Home-based businesses get used to their home’s noises (television, lawn mowers, barking dogs, or kids arguing), never realizing how distracting those sounds are to a customer. Also, never eat while talking to a customer on the phone.
Being professional requires that business owners examine their attitudes, attire, collateral materials, and marketing strategies. When dealing with the public, businesses (even home based) have a lot of competitors who may look better, provide more services, have a bigger marketing budget, etc. In order to compete effectively, every detail should be examined in the business, from image to quality of services. Things like branding, packaging or presentation, availability of product or service; and in general, good customer service (returning calls, following up, making good for any dissatisfaction, putting the customer first, etc.) should be worked out long before opening for business.
Home-based businesses need to inform family and friends of business hours and adhere to them. Don’t stop to do laundry as you walk through the house. Little chores will eat into your business hours, distract your thoughts, and cut into your profits. Time management is equally as challenging and important as setting priorities. The lack of controls can break a business. The best way to ensure momentum is to start well (using good habits) and continue to streamline operations.
Ready, Set, Start Up
- Dress appropriately every day (hair, clothing) – If you run an errand or drop off materials, you’re ready. Never let potential customers see you dressed inappropriately. Even at the Post Office, you might strike up a conversation with a potential customer. If you’re in a dirty sweatshirt, don’t mention your business. If you don’t take your business seriously, neither will they.
- Start work on time and maintain regular working hours. Nothing is more frustrating than to try to reach someone who isn’t available. Return calls immediately and follow up with customers as agreed. Your word is gold in customer service.
- Put your best foot forward. Don’t make homemade business cards on flimsy paper. They scream “amateur” and unprofessional. All collateral materials (brochures, business cards, websites, giveaways, etc.) are extensions of you and your business. If they look cheesy, so will you.
- Have enough money for operations. Assuming you did your financial projections, you should know how much money you need for keeping the business afloat. Money should be allocated for marketing, inventory, and other overhead expenses like phones, business supplies, licenses, insurance and equipment.
- Supplement word-of-mouth advertising with a good marketing budget. People with the attitude, “I’ll build it and they will come,” are fooling themselves. Besides advertising, businesses need to look at other promotional opportunities to get your business’s name in front of the general public. These can include writing press releases to promote newsworthy events such as grand openings or awards; participating in radio interviews to promote a special event; investing in sponsorship opportunities that are good match for your brand. Along with promotions, offer customer incentives to encourage existing customers to help promote the business. Something to remember is that “You’re not in the business you think you’re in, but you’re in the business of marketing your business.” Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote your business, but don’t forget about traditional networking. Joining clubs, organizations, business associations, and attending their events is still extremely valuable. It provides an opportunity to meet potential customers in person while giving a business pitch.
- Make sure to get feedback from customers on services and products. You can’t change something if you don’t know it’s broken. Good methods for feedback are surveys, asking customers face to face, and providing online or email feedback requests. You can sign up for a free Survey Monkey account and start creating and publishing free customer surveys on your website in minutes. Customers appreciate being asked.
- Be your own watchdog or critic. Assess your business by asking yourself questions: What activities are bringing in customers? What are customers buying? What months are better for business? Is that newspaper ad working? Why are repeat customers shopping? From where are the greatest profits coming?
- 8) Don’t get complacent. High energy and enthusiasm is contagious. You are the one who should love your business and you are the one who can best sell for it. Use every opportunity to excite potential customers about what you have to offer.
Update: Read Part Part 3 of this series now: “Keep on Tracking ” (staying on top of competition, product/services, operations, record-keeping)