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Terri Lonier
Are you an entrepreneur in need of business start-up advice? Ask Terri, author of the award-winning Working Solo product line, including Working Solo, Working Solo Sourcebook and The Frugal Entrepreneur, for help!
 

 EP Business Start-Up Q&As

Q. I am looking into starting a childproofing and a unique gift service. That's the straightforward part...now here are my questions:

1. Right now I'm living in Mississippi but in June 2000 I'll be moving to Florida. If I were to start my business here...ie: getting my license and resale # and possibly starting to sell products and offer childproofing services, how will that affect me when I move? Will I have to reapply and
pay all the fees once again? or can I get my business license in FL and still sell here in MS?

2. Also, re: selling products on the Internet, should I collect taxes from my customers? How does that work?

I guess my biggest question is where to begin. I feel really overwhelmed. I don't even know where to start. If you could provide any help, I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks,
April Hight

A. April, it's not unusual to be overwhelmed when you're faced with all the many details of starting a business. Take heart in knowing that there's no magic domino that has to fall first -- you can just dive in and start putting a lot of pieces together, which is what I suggest you do here.

First, I'd think carefully about starting a business for only a few months in one location if you know for certain that you'll be moving. Without offering you specific legal advice, it's my understanding that your entire business will have to change, since you'll be operating in a different state. Your Federal registrations (Federal ID number, etc.) would stay the same, but your state licenses, including your tax resale number, will
change. I'd check with your local Chamber of Commerce and an attorney to confirm this. A quick phone call to your state department of taxation would also be wise.

If you're eager to jump in for just a few months, it may be worth the investment in the registration fees -- but do the financial analysis carefully. Review whether startup costs for things like checking accounts and stationery are worth the short-term duration.

Of course, this doesn't mean you can't get started on your business. There is so much background work to do -- the business planning, marketing materials development, etc. Think through your overall business objectives and schedule, and see what works best for you. It's also a great time to do your homework; find a few startup books and dive into them to get your grounding. Check out my "Working Solo" series as well as others at your local library, neighborhood bookstore, or at your favorite online bookseller.

In regard to taxes on Internet sales, this is a topic of hot debate -- and one that is entering the presidential election discussions as well. Several states currently have a moratorium on sales tax, which means that customers are exempt from paying sales tax for goods that cross state lines. (This is identical to the way land-based catalog sales operations work today.) Several states require that companies who have Internet-based operations charge sales tax if they also operate brick-and-mortar stores in that state. If you're confused, you're not alone. As you might imagine, the stakes are high, with literally billions of dollars in potential revenue for the states. So expect much more news on this topic. In the meantime, a quick
call to your state department of taxation and finance will give you the answer to your specific state's regulations.
Terri

Q. Dear Ms. Lonier,

I am writing to request some of your expert business advice. At the moment I am a college student looking to start a seasonal business selling baskets for special occasions such as Valentine's day etc. I sell baby shower favors on
auction sites, but I get very little business and want to branch out since holidays can be a lot more profitable.

My main problem is how do I go about finding wholesalers/manufacturers for products to fill my baskets? When I do find a wholesaler they will not sell to me without a Tax ID #. I am in NY and do not have $150 to spend on a license for a biz until I know it will be somewhat profitable. If you can offer me any help I would really appreciate it.

Thanks In Advance,
RM

A. There are several ways to find products for your gift baskets, RM. The first is to keep your eyes open when you're shopping, and write down the names of the companies of products that you find interesting. (Seasoned entrepreneurs know that every outing usually turns into business research
somehow -- our brains never stop working!) You can also ask your friends and family to be your "scouts" as well.

But most professionals attend wholesale gift shows to do their shopping and buying. These shows feature row upon row of specialty items, many of which could be ideal for your baskets. The New York Gift Show is held every August in New York City at the Jacob Javits Center, and it's one of the largest. Some shows are open at no charge to wholesale businesses; other charge a registration fee. You will have to show proof of business ownership, since they do not want the general public roaming the aisles and trying to buy single items from the vendors -- that's not the focus of the show, and it's very frustrating to the vendors who are there to do major wholesale
business.

For information on this show as well as dozens of other gift shows around the country, check out the Trade Show News Network Web site. They have a sophisticated search engine of their online directory -- and the gift trade show section has numerous show listings, and contact information
for the shows.

Any of these vendors (at the show or elsewhere) will require proof of your resale license to sell to you, so your investment in your business license will be necessary. By law, they cannot sell to you without charging sales tax unless they have proof that you are a business that will be reselling the goods to end users.

Also, as your business develops, be sure to keep an open dialog with your customers about what items they like or dislike in the baskets. You'll find -- as so many entrepreneurs do -- that your best business ideas can spring from a casual comment from a customer. Keep your antennae out for their responses -- and good luck with your business! 

Terri

Q. Hi Terri,

I am trying to start a photo restoration and enhancement business out of my home. I tried it on my wedding pictures as a joke and since then, family and friends have been giving me more and more pictures to restore and manipulate. They're even recommending me to other people and I've had to price my work (though I don't really think I'm profiting from it). I'm also going for my BA in Graphic Design. I need about two years to graduate.

My husband thinks it would be a good idea for my brother-in-law (a graphic designer working at home) and I to become partners and open a location together in about 3 years.

Never in my life have I enjoyed my work like I do this and I want to make it
legitimate. I'd really appreciate your advice on both ideas. Thank you.

Alicia

A. Alicia, congratulations on finding work you love to do that has the potential to turn into a profitable business. Finding both these ingredients -- the passion and the profit potential -- is often the biggest stumbling block for many people who want to launch a business.

I'd keep doing as much of this work as your other commitments will allow. It will build your skill level, and teach you what customers like and want. Listen carefully to what they tell you -- it may lead to additional services your fledgling company can offer.

Pricing is often tricky for new entrepreneurs. It's a balance between what you need to cover costs and make a profit as well as what the market will bear. Check out the sections of my books "Working Solo" and "Smart Strategies for Growing Your Business" on pricing -- I cover things you need to consider in much greater detail. Also, keep track of what your expenses
are, and how much time you're spending on each job. Over time, you'll get a better idea of what to charge, based on your expenses, your time, the competition, and what customers are willing to pay.

As for a future business with your brother-in-law, it's premature to say how this may develop. Three years is a long time, particularly with anything involving technology, as this does to some extent. Some people find they work better on their own; others like to team up. It depends on your own personal work style, and how big you want to grow the business.

For now, it's OK to have modest goals and to keep expanding your entrepreneurial dreams as your skills and experience grows. Over time, you'll find what works best for you, and it will become clear what makes sense for you as an entrepreneur. But at this point, congratulate yourself on making a fine start. You're on your way to a great adventure in business.

Terri

 Q. Dear Terri,

My wife and I have a four-month-old baby. We're both teachers. Recently, we went back to work. You can imagine how difficult it's been leaving our little girl every day. During my wife's pregnancy, we "invented" and devised many conveniences for pregnant parents that are not currently on the market.
We've summized that we could possibly start an online line of products. Customers could place orders via the Internet, and my wife could stay home with our baby to run the business.

Here's our question: we've made copious notes and know how the products will look and work, but how do we get from the "idea stage" to actual inventory? Who do we go to to get prototypes made? Who do we approach to get our
product mass produced? How do we go about this cautiously and safely, so as not to lose our shirts and to know who is reputable? We've got the ideas, the creativity, and the energy. We just don't know where to go now. Please help. Our daughter is aging by the second.

Thanks,

Leon and Mary Lewandowski

A. Leon and Mary, congratulations on the birth of two babies -- your lovely daughter, and this business idea! Both will take a lot of your attention in the coming months.

First, let me give a disclaimer that your question is much too complex to answer in simple terms. There are so many variables. For example: Will you design the products and have them manufactured elsewhere, or construct them yourself? Will you sell direct or wholesale them through other companies? Do any of your items have unique designs or mechanisms that should be patented or trademarked? These are all important issues.

Instead, let me direct you to some resources to begin your homework. First, get clear on what you want your business to be. Make a detailed list of your skills and experience, and where you'll need some help. Take into account things such as new product development, marketing, sales, finances, management, and technology.

Next, surf the Web for some information. If you're going to be looking for companies to manufacture your designs, check out the Thomas Register. This site is the online companion to the venerable red hardbound books that are found in nearly every public library, and list more than 150,000 manufacturing companies in the U.S. and Canada. Using this site's search engine, you can find companies who make thousands of different products. This may be the source for raw materials for your items, or you may find a company who will manufacture goods to your specifications.

While on the Web, do some hunting and see what your competition may be, and track down stores who might be good customers if you decide to sell your products wholesale.

For issues on patents and trademarks, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site, where you'll find details on steps to take to protect the intellectual property of your designs and inventions.

If you're interested in starting your own online business, check out Bigstep.com, a do-it-yourself Web service where you can set up a complete ebusiness for free. I'm working as the Small Business Advocate for this young Internet company, and it's very exciting to see the professional-looking sites that thousands of small businesses have set up for free on their service. (And yes, it really is for free. If you want to accept credit cards, they'll take you through the process and get you accepted by a bank that will charge a small monthly fee. But the Bigstep.com service, including hosting your site, is absolutely free.)

Finally, for guidance on getting your business up and running, visit the SCORE Web site, where you can sign up for free email business counseling from an experienced business owner. SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is a program partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and offers email business counseling in more than 500 different categories. Chances are, there's a SCORE volunteer with a background in developing products similar to what you want to do. Good luck!

Terri

Q. Terri,

Hi, I'm a 23 year-old guy who's looking to start my own business from my home and then work it up to a nice located office with a selected few employees. (That's looking way into the future but nonetheless a goal.) Since I can remember I've always known I'd be a leader and was meant to do things on my own.

I'm looking to venture forth and explore my options in building my own business by providing a service to companies, small businesses (like myself)
and individuals. This service would be a Web Design business possibly more later down the road). Creating, editing etc... detailed websites for their business or personal needs. I have many years of knowledge dealing with computers: building, repairing, trouble shooting, design, software, hardware, programming, internet, etc... you name it, I'm linked to it one way or
another.

Anyhow... using my current knowledge I'd like to build my small business with my highly driven and motivated skills but there's so much to know. How much capital will I need, will I be able to qualify for a small business government loan, is this legal, do I need a lawyer, should I get a merchant account, how much will my taxes be, can I write off a part of my mortgage as a business expense since I'm working out of my home? So many questions, no idea where to turn. I've tried searching and searching on the web but nonetheless I come up to a dead end on my search. Would you have any information on any of the questions listed above and/or have any suggestions where to look to answer these questions?

Thanks Terri,
Rob

 A. Rob, you're right, it can be both very exhilarating and confusing when you're faced with all the details of launching a business. In working with small businesses and entrepreneurs over the last two decades, I've realized that most want to go into business because they have a passion or skill that they want to use in better ways. It seems that's the way it is with your technology background.

What often happens, however, is that new business owners don't take into account another sphere that they have to master -- the one I call "the business of making a business." That's what you're facing now: the details of legal, financial, management, taxes, marketing issues, and more. It can make your head spin.

First, realize that there is no single "perfect" way to start a business. That said, there are some basics you have to cover in doing your homework. First, make sure your business idea can turn into a viable company. Just because you're excited about it, doesn't mean that there will actually be customers willing to pay for your products or services. I find this analysis is a step most new business owners skip -- at great risk to their future
success.

Once you've thought this through clearly, it's time to turn to the many resources available to you. Check out books such as my "Working Solo" series -- I wrote it with folks just like you in mind, and made it straightforward, jargon-free, and information-packed. There are literally hundreds of other books that can guide you. As Online Resident Entrepreneur for barnesandnoble.com, I've posted several "startup lists" that you may find helpful, too.

The Web also has a wealth of startup information, only a click away. Check out sites such as www.score.org for free online e-mail business counseling from SCORE volunteers, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a program partner of the U.S. Small Business Adminstration. Also, our Working Solo Website has numerous hotlinks to valuable small business sites.

There's never been a better time to start a business -- both in terms of the economic climate and the information and other resources to guide you, Rob. Do your homework, and think before you leap, particularly about your market focus and service offerings. Then make the jump and know that figuring it
out as you go along is very much a part of the process -- and the fun!

Terri

 Q. Terri,

I'm on the verge of starting a service business that is unique to my community. I do not want to give out prices and other information over the phone as I am concerned about "copy-cat" businesses. As part of my business I plan to give free consultations in order to address services offered and price information. How do I address those people who will try to glean this information over the phone?

Thanks for your help,
Judi

A. Your question is one that is often asked in my seminars, Judi, along with concerns about sharing business ideas that seem so perfect that sometimes the individuals don't even want to tell ME!

Keep in mind that there's often a fine line between caution and paranoia. If you keep all your business details to yourself, you'll never win over any customers. That said, it's important to be smart about what you share with strangers who may be competition in disguise.

Begin by putting together a list of all the benefits you offer customers who use your services, and why you think your company is the best place to turn to. Be very clear about what makes your service different (and better) than others. Also, do not compete on price -- it's a losing proposition for everyone involved. There will likely always be someone who can deliver your service for a lower cost, and if you continue to match the lower prices, your profits will go sliding out the door faster than you can say, "Now why did I think this business was such a good idea?" You must show customers the total value of your service, not just how much it will cost. (This is a subtle, but crucial, distinction.)

Your best marketing tool is going to be recommendations and referrals from individuals who have used your service. The more you can get this network going, the less the competition will matter. Ramping this up in the beginning can take time, but I encourage you to persevere in getting written testimonials from satisfied customers. After a while, a momentum builds and
marketing becomes easier.

My advice: when in doubt, give out all the information you can so that customers know the full story behind your business. Remember, it's a very wide gap between having a business idea and actually launching a business. Individuals calling your company snooping around may never have the guts and determination that you do to make their business a reality. And in the end, you'll have the head start in the marketplace. Your bigger challenge is to keep serving customers reliably, and in new ways -- so they keep coming back again and again.

Terri

Q.I have read, practiced, experimented, and done my own house in faux and unusual painting techniques. I've had great feedback on my work, and know I would do better than some of the sloppy and expensive "professional" jobs that I've seen. How do I get going? Is it a hindrance to lack paid clients, or should I down play that? Should I put together photos of walls I've done and samples of potential finishes, and emphasize my satisfaction guarantee? I'm stuck and need a shove in the right direction. Please advise me where to start. Thanks.
A. Your faux painting service is one that could be very successful -- particularly since so many people have discovered that just reading a Martha Stewart magazine doesn't automatically turn them into a professional. They like the sophisticated painted style, but have neither the time nor talent
to make it happen in their own homes.

You need two things to launch your service: satisfied customers and visual examples of past work. Your ideas about taking photos of the walls you've done is a great start. I'd put these together in a nice portfolio -- make both the photos and presentation as professional-looking as possible. (You want to avoid the hobbyist look here at all costs, and eliminate any chance for potential customers to think, "Oh, I could do this myself.")

You also need other satisfied clients -- even if they are friends and relatives at this point. You want lots of different room styles, and ideally a few letters from clients saying positive things about your service. Put these in your portfolio, too.

Consider putting together a fact sheet on your service, along with a list of Q&As that customers often ask. (For example, Can you paint any type of wall?; What about outside walls?; How do I care for the walls?; How do you charge?; What if I don't like the finished wall?) You want to break down any hesitation they may have in hiring you.

Your idea of having samples to show of different wall finishes is a good one. Many times people can't translate a photo into the reality of a painted wall. Help them overcome all these obstacles, give them an interior that will enhance their living environment, and you should have a very successful business.

Terri
Q.  I am interested in starting a tutoring business in my community with outreach focus on the homeschool population (but not necessarily limited to), which is growing. My background is in education. I have a current teaching license and have been teaching in my local school district for eight years. Do you have any advice? Do you have any success tips or stories?
 
Jennifer
A. Dear Jennifer,
 
While homeschooling is not something we have direct experience with here at Working Solo, Inc., let me address your question from the entrepreneurial/business start-up standpoint. It sounds like you have a clear picture of what you would like to do, and that you have the skills and experience to pursue it. What you need now is a strategy for putting your idea into action.
 
As you know, having a great idea for a business does not ensure having a great business. We urge you to do your "homework." Make sure there is a need in your community for tutoring services in the homeschooling community.
  • Are there a significant number of people opting for homeschooling?
  • Have you canvassed them to determine if tutoring is a solution they'd like to have available?
  • What is the general attitude and acceptance of homeschooling in your area?
  • Is there any additional certification or training you may need to qualify?
Know too how to reach your audience...since PTA meetings are out, you'll need to make sure you know where and how you'll find your clients, and how you can make it easy for them to find you. You don't indicate if tutoring would be a part-time business in addition to your current teaching position, or your new full-time occupation. While it's not the option for everyone, testing the entrepreneurial waters while you're still employed full-time can be a great way to minimize the financial risk of launching a new business, giving you a chance to get up and running (and work the bugs out) before making a complete commitment.
 
Thank you for writing Jennifer. We hope these suggestions help you with your planning and launch. We wish you great success!
 
Terri
Q. My sister-in-law and I are looking into starting up a home-based mail order business. I have been using the Internet as my primary research tool as I have a 3-year old and an 18-month old and the library just isn't what it used to be. From the volumes of information I have already been through I have yet to find any information under home-based mail order, and I'm sure that there must be specific regulations governing mail order companies. My question is this: do you know of any resource specific to this field? Perhaps I've been looking in the wrong places, but I've tried just about every search engine that I could think of. Of course I have "stumbled" across a lot of great information along the way and your site is one that I plan to return to. (Right now I need to put laundry in the dryer, take my child's temperature and get started on dinner!)

Thank you very much for any assistance that you may be able to provide.

Sincerely,
J. Burke
A. Dear J. Burke:
 
Your question covers all of the bases regarding conducting research on the Internet. As you've discovered, it's fun, accessible and you don't have to leave home. However, the quantity of information can be overwhelming, and finding what you went looking for can seem like attempting to locate the proverbial needle in the haystack.
 
Mail order is a big topic. And as with any business start-up, you'll want to do your homework: make sure you have a business plan, that you have arranged for adequate financing, that you have identified who your customers will be, and that you have done your market research for your product or service.
 
Here then are a few resources to get you started:
 
Since you seem primarily concerned with the legalities of operating a home-based mail-order business, you may find help in the books available from Nolo Press. Nolo specializes in self-help law books for entrepreneurs and individuals. And yes, you can browse and order online. Visit Nolo Press at: http:www.nolo.com.
 
Similarly, you may want to also search on the Amazon.com booksellers site. Do a subject search for books on "mail order businesses" or "home-based business." Two books on the subject of mail order that we like, (we included them in the resources inside the second edition of the Working Solo Sourcebook,) are Start and Run a Profitable Mail Order Business, by Robert W. Bly, Self-Counsel Press, (800) 663-3007, and How to Start a Home-Based Mail Order Business, by Georganne Fiumara, Globe Pequot Press,
(800) 243-0495. Both books should also be available through Amazon.com,
http://www.amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com.
 
One of the top associations for mail order businesses that you'll want to be aware of is the DMA, or Direct Marketing Association. You can reach them at (212) 768-7277 or online at http:/www.the-dma.org.
 
For answers to your government questions, contact the SBA's Answer Desk, at (800) 8-ASK-SBA. They have free and low-cost small business publications available, including the classic "The Facts About Starting a Small Business." You can request a catalog of all available publications when you call. And be sure to visit their richly informative web site, at http://www.sba.gov, for valuable information and links to other small business sites.
 
If your business will involve exporting, then a visit to the US Department of Commerce's Information Trade Center (ITC) site, can be valuable. Check it out at http://www.ita.doc.gov/tic, or call the Trade Information hotline at (800) USA-TRADE (800-872-8723).
 
We hope this helps you and your sister-in-law launch a successful home-based business!
Terri
Q. Hello, my name is Prakes S'pore. I am 39 years old and currently am working for a shipping line for the past 17 years (I've been in this trade as long as I can remember!). I would like to start a part-time biz from my home in my spare time.

I have a PC/printer/modem connected to Pacific Internet.

My expertise is shipping. What can I offer in this trade to expand myself?
A. Dear Prakes:
 
It sounds like you are starting your business thinking on solid footing. Taking something you know inside and out -- as a foundation for launching your own business -- is an excellent way to test the waters of solo entrepreneurism. Doing it on a part-time or moonlighting basis is also a good strategy, and may require a smaller financial cushion while you are getting up and running.
 
You indicated that you're looking for suggestions on types of businesses, probably related to shipping, that you can successfully run from your home. While we can't give you a failure-proof list of business ideas, here are some questions that can help to clarify your thinking:
  • What parts of your current job can be outsourced?
  • What aspects of shipping can be handled by an individual?
  • What parts of the shipping industry don't rely on geographic location of supplier?
  • What technology changes will bring new opportunities for shipping?
As for general business start-up information and counseling, it's hard to beat the combination of the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) and their program partner, SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives). As we related to Lisa in the above reply, you can contact the SBA's Answer Desk,
at (800) 8-ASK-SBA
for information on the closest SBA office near you, and for info on available free and low-cost small business publications. Also, do visit their "granddaddy" of all small business web sites at
www.sba.gov for valuable information and links to other small business sites. SCORE is also online, and now offers free business counseling via their site and your email address. Check them out for a full list of services at http://www.score.org, or by calling (800) 634-0245.
 
You may also be interested in visiting the US Department of Commerce's Information Trade Center site, at http://www.ita.doc.gov/tic. Or you can call the Trade Information hotline at (800) USA-TRADE (800 872-8723).
 
Good luck making your decision, and we wish you much success with your new business!
Terri
Q. This question is for Terri: I have an idea for a part-time business at home. I would like to employ independent contractors, specifically moms at home, to assist busy working mothers have it all (with a little help of course). I already have a craft business that is under the name of Marketplace Promotions. I chose this name so that it could possibly cover a few ideas that I might have. I hope this is legal.
 
Anyway, I would like to call this personal service to working mothers "MOM", meaning "Moms on the Move." The personal services would include:
 
1) Kid transport - to/from school, or other after school activities.
 
2) Meal preparing - Too busy to cook, or working overtime? Let a MOM prepare a meal, on site or off, and bring it to you.
3) House cleaning - Too busy for housework, want to catch up on some sleep? Let a MOM employee do the work for you.
4) Elderly services - Lots of working mothers, especially the baby boomers, have come of age - and so have their parents. They are not only taking care of their households, but are also taking care of their parents either at their residence or their parent's residence. I thought that maybe personal services could come into play here, such as grocery shopping, doctors appt., etc.
 
5) Personal Shopper - Picking up, picking out gifts, or whatever need there might be.
6) Laundry Services - Pick up and delivery.
7) Party Catering Services and meal preparations would be only for those MOMs who are proficient in this area.
 
8) New Mothers services - assisting the new mothers when they arrive at home.
 
I would like to know how to begin this venture. I thought about putting an ad in the newspaper to find out how many MOMs would be interested. I also thought about starting small with a few services and building on that, such as personal services to New Moms. I could contact hospitals in the area and let them put my services in the material given to new moms before they leave the hospital to find customers. I could also give my information to employment services looking for women interested in this type of employment. I could also attract customers with flyers. I could leave this information with doctors' offices (those who would allow me to place them in their offices).
 
I believe this is a good idea. I am in desperate need of guidance. Please HELP!!!!
A. Dear Entrepreneurial Colleague:
 
Congratulations! You have enough good ideas here for eight different businesses!
 
Your task now is to narrow down your ideas to the top two. You'll need to determine which of your ideas comes with strong, built-in customer demand, and then analyze this potential market for its size and ability to buy, among other things. Because as you are probably aware -- just because you have a good idea, doesn't mean you have a business.
 
Conduct market research, perhaps forming a focus group of local moms, to find out which services they'd be most interested in. Find out too whether these would be services associated with newborn care, or with children in the Pre-K to 6th grade, for example. Faced with several strong possibilities, you can then choose the one that most appeals to you, or that most closely complements your skills and interests.
 
Then figure out where people would be most likely to hear about the service: a grocery store, the hospital, a PTA newsletter? Start with inexpensive marketing first, rather than advertising in the local paper or Yellow Pages. Let word-of-mouth and community marketing tactics work for you during your start-up phase.
 
Starting a business is challenging enough; adding employees into the mix at the starting gate can make it difficult to focus your energies where they're most needed. Before you think seriously about hiring, you may want to think about starting your business as a solo enterprise, or with a partner, laying the groundwork, then adding contract or part-time help as
your business grows.
 
Line up your support team now. Interview prospective bookkeepers, attorneys and so forth now. (For example: child and elderly transport may involve liability exposure, and the need for insurance.) Then when you need those services, you'll know where to turn.
 
You will also want to make sure you've done your business-planning homework.There are also any number of good books and audio programs on the market today designed to help you navigate the finer points of planning and launching a new venture. Books on designing business plans, tackling financial, tax and bookkeeping details, even handling legal issues, can be found on web sites like Amazon.com, Entrepreneur's Wave, Nolo Press (self-help legal books) as well as at Working Solo and here at The Entrepreneurial Parent's Bookstore.
 
And last but not least, make sure you avail yourself of the excellent help available to you through the US government and its small business programs. Get familiar with the US Small Business Administration; they offer a toll-free Answer Desk number (800 U ASK SBA), free and low cost booklets
that address all manner of business start-up questions, and a terrific web site that is a must-see for all solo entrepreneurs at
http://www.sba.gov.
 
You will also want to get acquainted with SCORE, the Service Corp of Retired Executives, a program partner with the SBA. They offer free small business counseling services, among other things, both online and at offices throughout the US. Call 800 634-0245 or visit http://www.score.org.
 
We hope these suggestions will help you in your planning and lead you to some top-notch resources. We wish you much success with your new business!
 
Terri
Q.

Hi Terri,

I am trying to get my home-based business going, but I can't seem to get any clients. I offer off-site secretarial support, specializing in word processing/data entry, etc. I am not sure what the best marketing idea is to get my clients.

Can you give me some advice on how to get clients? I have over 10 years office/administrative experience. I would really appreciate all the help you could give me.

Thank you very much.

Lindy

A. Dear Lindy,

You don't mention how recently you launched your new home-based business, or what kind of market research you did before you got going. If you haven't already, ask your friends what kind of services would be helpful at the offices where they work. And conduct a small focus group with local business owners. Find out what services they most need, and what they'd be willing to pay for them.

Some more marketing suggestions might be:

  • Decide what qualities makes your business unique. What sets you apart from your competition is often referred to as your unique selling proposition, or "USP." The USP for your business could be based on one or more of the following: price, availability, selection, location and service. What sets your business apart? From this exercise develop a USP that you can use in marketing your business.
  • Make sure you have a clear idea of who your target customer is. Is it a local small business, who needs temporary support to get through a crunch period? Will they want you to be available to work for them on site? Get out and meet your local business community. Talk to them at Chamber of Commerce mixers. Send them a letter introducing your company and its services, perhaps with a discount coupon for a first time purchase. Make sure they know who you are and what you have to offer.

Apply creative marketing ideas, and don't rely solely on costly
advertising. Some "marketing on a shoestring" ideas include:

  • Offer to give a talk on a topic related to your business (maybe in conjunction with a mixer at your local Chamber of Commerce).
  • Give discounts to customers who refer new customers to your business.
  • Post colorful flyers about your business on local bulletin boards.
  • Create inexpensive but useful printed items that have your company name on them, such as pens, pencils and note pads that you can give to prospective customers or use to thank returning ones.

Once you know what services to offer and who your target customer is, then get ready to market your services consistently and repeatedly. Studies have shown that it can take as many as 7 to 9 exposures to a message before
someone buys.

Once you have new customers, do everything you can to hold onto them. They can be your best source of advertising as well as a continued source of business. It may take a while to get it going, but word-of-mouth referrals are the single most powerful marketing method for any small business.

We wish you much success in your business!

Terri

Q. My friend and I are starting up a home run business offering our organizational skills and experience, i.e. for help in organizing parties, home, office, life in general, etc. We live on the Isle of Man, British Isles and believe me this is a very new concept over here. Basically we need advice

on courses available for us, regulations, where to start etc.
 
I understand that this may be difficult as we are not in the USA, but any help you can give us will be gratefully received.
 
Thank you

 A. Dear Entrepreneurial Colleague,

Congratulations on your decision to start a business! While we can't really speak to resources and regulations outside of the U.S., we can offer you some general suggestions as you contemplate the start-up phase of your business. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Just because you have a great idea does not mean you have a business. Be sure you do your homework -- including adequate market research. You may want to conduct a focus group within your community -- especially important if the service you are going to offer is new to them. You may be doing some educating of your would-be customers.
  • Narrow your focus. Pick one or two services to offer at first -- maybe home and office organizing, or career and family time management -- then expand your services as your customer's perceived needs grow and your capabilities (increased cash flow, additional staff) allow.
  • Let technology help you take advantage of all the small business resources out there. Most small business sites not only have free helpful articles and newsletters on tap for you, but they also post reviews of top small business books, (which are worth buying and using) and most have hotlinks to other recommended small business sites. Both the Entrepreneurial Parent and Working Solo are good starting points.
On the subject of organizing, here a couple of books you may want to check out: "Organizing from the Inside Out", by Julie Morgenstern, and "Taming the Paper Tiger: Organizing the Paper in Your Life," by Barbara Hemphill. Both books are available in the Book Review section of the Working Solo Web site, or through on-line booksellers like barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com. Another great resource is the web site for NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers in the U.S. It's full of tips and resources for those looking to get organized at home, work or in any other aspect of their lives.
 
Check with your local government about home-based business regulations. We refer business start-ups in the U.S. to both the SBA (The U.S. Small Business Association) and SCORE, (Service Corp of Retired Executives, a program partner with the SBA.) These organizations are part of the U.S. Federal Government's programs for assisting small businesses with start-up and growth issues. There may be an equivalent organization where you are.
 
Finally, on a local note, we'd like to refer you to a fine colleague in the UK, Ron Sheppard, who is very knowledgeable about freelancing. A speaker and author, he operates two Web sites that will be of interest to you. The first is the Freelance Centre which has articles, information and products for solo entrepreneurs. The second, RoySpeaks.com, gives you some background on Roy Sheppard, his speaking topics and his expertise as a freelancer.
 
While visiting the Freelance Centre, be sure to check out his book "Your Personal Survival Guide to the 21st Century", which shows individuals how to successfully navigate the opportunities of the coming decade, and the audio program "The Secrets of Successful Freelancing", which covers all the bases of being a successful, organized freelancer.
 
Good luck with your new enterprise, and thank you for your interest in Working Solo.
 
Best wishes,
Terri

 

 
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