When business as usual just doesn’t work anymore, these 10 ideas will help you take your homebased business to a new level.
Small is beautiful.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Inch by inch, row by row, that’s the way my garden grows.
While such homespun wisdom might be fine for common folk, it can be awfully frustrating for an ambitious homebased business
owner determined to take his company to the next level of growth and
profitability. Sure, a thriving one- or two-person service business
with no inventory, rent or employees can seem like an easy way to make
money at first, but when the phone starts ringing off the hook and
customers keep coming back for more, homebased business
owners who fail to plan often fall victim to their own success. Either
they burn out trying to juggle everything themselves or they spend so
much time and money hiring people to help them that their profits go
down the drain.
Fortunately, there are some ways to take your homebased business to new
heights without sacrificing your business’s profitability or losing
your peace of mind.
Follow these 10 steps to grow your homebased business into the personal and professional success it was meant to be:
1. Focus on a single product or service, and then market it, sell
it, promote it—do everything you can to increase sales of that one
product or service. While it’s tempting to swing for the fences and
try to be all things to all people, it’s often less risky and more
profitable to pick a product or two that you can execute really well
and just try to get on base.
Richard Roy, a Sparta, New Jersey landscaper, started a homebased
dog-waste removal business called Dr. Pooper Scooper when he got tired
of picking up the dog poop from his customers‘
lawns. Instead of splurging on a retail storefront or an expensive
Yellow Pages ad, Roy decided to use his truck as his primary
advertising vehicle. Says Roy, "I decorated the truck as a Dalmatian,
used full signage and put magnetic business cards on it. By using the
truck as my moving billboard, by joining community groups and through
word of mouth, I’ve turned what was once my nightmare into a thriving
business serving 100 customers and making 1,100 pickups a week."
Thanks to Dr. Pooper Scooper’s success, Roy is now planning to phase
out his landscaping business and focus on his new venture full time.
"When I scoop the poop, I do it 12 months a year and never have to fix
or replace equipment," Roy says. "It’s also three time easier than
landscaping, and I can do it until I can’t walk anymore."
2. Expand your product line to offer complementary products or services.
Once you’ve hit on a product or service that customers really like,
don’t miss the opportunity to bring out related items to diversify your
product line. Not only does that give your customers a wider selection,
but it also makes your products more appealing to retailers who
typically like to stock a line of products as opposed to a single item.
Meredith LiePelt, who runs a company called Contemporary Baby out of
her home in Dublin, Ohio, started off making colorful burp cloths for
newborns. Now she’s expanded her line to include such "go along"
products as receiving blankets, bibs and gift baskets. Says LiePelt,
"Our retail customers have enjoyed having more gift-giving options, and
our wholesale clients are able to offer their customers a wider
selection to choose from."
3. Find ways to increase sales to your existing customers. It’s
a lot cheaper than finding new ones. Even if you can’t expand your
product line, you can boost revenues by selling more of your existing
product or service to the clients you already have. One easy way to do
this is through volume discounts. Especially if your products cost
little to produce, offering your customers the chance to buy, say, two
T-shirts for the price of one lets you ring up additional sales without
sacrificing much profit. Another common practice is to reward loyal
customers by giving them a punch card that entitles them to a free
product or service for every 10 items they buy. This technique is
common at hair salons, car washes and arts-and-crafts stores, but
homebased businesses can use it, too.
4. Hire someone to help you out—an employee, a freelancer, an intern, an independent contractor, even your kids.
Not only does this free up cash flow by adjusting your expenses to the
level of work you bring in, but it also enables you to cultivate a
large network of talented people you probably couldn’t afford to hire
Marc Kirschner, a neighborhood directory publisher in New York City,
employs 50 to 75 writers—all of whom are freelancers—to develop his
directory’s content. This way, Marc saves on payroll taxes, medical
benefits, employer liability insurance and all the other costs of
hiring full-time staffers. There are other benefits, too. "Bringing in
outside help gives you someone else to bounce ideas and strategies off
of," Kirschner says. "It prevents you from feeling you’re going it
5. Create a Web site to advertise your company or sell products online.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s no longer necessary to open a store to
reach retail customers. For marketers of specialty products like rare
books, collectibles and gourmet foods, a Web-based boutique lets you
reach millions of shoppers around the world without paying for rent,
utilities or garbage collection.
And while creating Web sites once required a big investment and the
skills of an experienced Web designer or programmer, do-it-yourself Web
sites are now available for less than $30 a month with no technical
knowledge required. Typically, the companies that help you register
your domain name (Web address) will provide online templates you can
use to build your site, host your Web pages on their server and provide
you with multiple e-mail addresses as well. E-commerce capabilities can
often be had for an additional charge. You can also set up low-cost Web
sites through Web hosting companies and search engines.
6. Join forces with another business to promote your company.
Partnering with a company in a related industry is one of the cheapest
and easiest forms of marketing that you can employ. If you make spa
products, for example, you may be able to convince a local health club
to carry them in its store by offering a discount to its members.
Likewise, you can send a free, one-day health club pass to anybody who
buys your lotions and scrubs.
Nancy Tamosaitis, a homebased publicist, says her New York firm,
Vorticom, has partnered with a graphic design firm to provide creative
services such as Web design and brochures to her corporate PR clients.
From time to time, she also joins forces with specialty PR firms to
assist clients in fashion, finance and other industries. "Now that I’m
working from home, my clients receive infinitely better service and
results—at much lower cost—than when I managed a $3 million profit
center at a top PR agency," Tamosaitis says.
7. Target other markets. If you sell to teens, start marketing
to college students. If you sell to working moms, maybe your product
will work for stay-at-home moms with a few modifications. Another
strategy is to take a retail-oriented product or service and sell it
wholesale. For example, a homebased catering business that specializes
in cakes, pies and other tasty desserts can contact local bakeries to
sell its goods on a wholesale basis. While the price you get from the
bakeries will be lower (because the bakeries need to mark it up to
their customers to make a profit), you’ll sell more products and
generate consistent cash flow that you can bank on.
8. Find new and different ways to market your business through
e-mail newsletters or by doing guest-speaking gigs or by teaching a
class. Marketing your homebased business doesn’t need to involve
spending big money on newspaper ads, Yellow Pages listings, or TV or
radio spots. Grassroots marketing techniques cost far less and are
often much more effective. Most chambers of commerce and community
groups are more than happy to provide a forum to a local business owner
who’s willing to share his expertise at no charge. Sending out a weekly
newsletter is also a great way to get your name out in front of new and
potential clients. Thanks to the Internet, you can send out your
newsletter via e-mail using online templates and automated delivery
9. Expand to another location. That could mean renting "virtual" office space
in a business center or by sharing office space with another growing
business. Brad Taylor, a CPA in Springfield, New Jersey, spends most of
his time at home preparing tax returns, developing tax-planning
strategies and revising his clients’ QuickBooks files. But when he
needs to come to New York City for a meeting, he sometimes rents space
at a Manhattan business center operated by HQ Global, a national
provider of temporary office space.
For a monthly fee or a la cart, business centers like these offer
everything from conference rooms and receptionist services to
remote-access voicemail, high-speed Internet connectivity and tech
support, offering homebased business owners as much or as little
outside office services as they need. Taylor pays just $10 an hour to
use the space and is able to bill the cost to his client. "While I
still want to run my business from home, this has allowed me to pursue
new opportunities and network with other professionals," Taylor says.
10. Think about turning your business into a franchise or business opportunity.
While most homebased businesses remain small, yours may have the
potential to hit the big time through franchising, licensing or
wholesale distribution. The key question to ask yourself is if your
business can be converted into a business format that somebody else
could operate (a franchise) or if you have a standardized product or
service that someone could resell multiple times (a business
opportunity). While you may think that expanding your business requires
raising capital, hiring employees, buying equipment and leasing office
or warehouse space, it’s often more profitable—and less risky—to
license your product to a big corporation with manufacturing
capabilities and an existing sales force to do the work for you.