In yesterday’s post I talked about offering “add-ons” as a way to allow your home-based business to branch out. Today, I’m going to talk about the second most common way to branch out – running multiple home-based businesses.
So you’ve been running your home-based business for some time, and it’s going well. You love it, but there are one or more other ventures you’d like to pursue. How do you go about it?
A lot of people tend to use a juggling metaphor to describe running multiple businesses. I like to think of if more as spinning plates. You set one in motion, let it spin, then move on to the next, and the next. Always making sure each stays spinning at the right speed to keep it balanced. Running multiple home businesses is a similar responsibility. You want to make sure each is getting the right attention and stays balanced. Here’s some tips on how to do that:
Managing Your Time
This may seem like an obvious first step, but I’ve seen many folks just jump in without knowing how they were going to manage it all (myself included). Think about how you intend to run things. Are you going to separate your day into segments, one for each venture? Or are you going to mix and match throughout the day and week? There’s no one right way. Depending on your personality and working style, you will favor one approach over the other. The important thing to keep in mind is that along with the actual tasks involved with the newly added business, comes the administrative stuff too – email, phone calls, billing, paperwork. It’s easy to budget time for the key activities you foresee for your new business, but as you know, there are a lot of auxiliary tasks that tend to take up a big chunk of your time. Figuring out in advance how you plan to manage it all will help you get a handle on what will actually be involved.
Some examples include thinking of each business as a project, and the actual projects and tasks as sub-projects. Another (in GTD parlance) is to create a separate context for each business. It helps separate things out, and allows for easy tracking of specific actions.
Testing the Waters
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the best things about starting a home-based business, is the minimal investment needed (in most cases), and testing the waters is a great way to get an idea of how things are going to work. Applying the same principals to a second (or third, or tenth) home business makes sense. It gives you a chance to see how you are going to manage the different aspects. It also lets you get a good idea of how much time will actually be involved. Paper plans are almost ALWAYS wrong. Test out the additional business on a trial basis, and see how it’s going to fit into your existing structure.
The only way to know if something is working or not, is by gathering feedback – both your own and from others. If your spouse is talking about leaving you (and NOT taking the kids), your existing customers are wondering were the heck their stuff is, and your eye starts twitching, it’s a good indication that you’ve taken on too much. Often, we think things are just grand, flowing right along, and then reality gives us the old smack-down. Feedback in its various forms helps us to gauge from a realistic standpoint what’s working and what’s not. It also allows you to adjust and make iterative changes to help your new venture better fit into your life. Listen carefully to the clues you’re getting from others and your own gut, and make adjustments accordingly.
Marketing several businesses simultaneously is an art more than a science. It also deserves its own post (not a cop-out, really). For the time being, know that marketing takes on a whole new meaning when you are the president of multiple solo-run companies.
Over time you may come to realize that one or more of your home-businesses are no longer thriving. You may be losing interest, customers, time, etc., and decide that its time to lay it to rest. Phasing out will happen pretty naturally if the time is right. The most important thing to address is your customers. Be up-front and honest, letting them know your plans. This is one of those times when having a list of your colleagues that you know and trust comes in handy. If you decide to phase out a business, this ensures that your customers have somewhere to go, that provides the same level of quality and service that you do.
Making the Leap, Again…
The key to managing multiple home-based businesses is balance (did I mention that already?). It’s important not to become spread too thin, and have quality drop in your ventures. You also need to make sure you have a life outside of your businesses. Balancing family life with business life is crucial to any home-based business. As you add more to the mix, it becomes even more imperative – and more difficult.
Know your limitations. Remember why you started all this in the first place. Making sure you remain grounded in your values and purpose will help you to stay on track. And above all, if it stops being fun, you might as well be working for someone else.