Are You Ready to Work from Home?

Wendy over at eMoms at Home has a wonderful post entitled 10 Signs that You are Ready to Start a Home Based Business. She highlights one of the many joys of being a work at home parent:

It’s days like today that I am MOST happy, thrilled and excited about the fact that I decided to run my own home-based business again. It’s been years since I was able to go to my kids’ Halloween parade at school. And I’m so excited for the rest of the holidays throughout the end of the year – I haven’t been able to bake cookies, do early Christmas shopping, or host Thanksgiving in years as well.

info-guyShe goes on to outline the 10 signs, including “You have a dream that has become an obsession,” and one of my favorites “You are getting little hints from the universe that it is time to put up or shut up.”

There comes a point where you just can’t deny it anymore. You’ve reached a stage where you are willing to do what it takes to make a go at living your dream. When you get there, it’s amazing how things seem to fall into place. You’ll know at a gut level if what you’re doing, or about to do, is in line with your dreams and values. You’ll also start noticing how opportunities start to flood in.

Though following your passion is hard work, it’s not hard. That may seem like a paradox, but it really isn’t. Going to bed exhausted at the end of the day, but wonderfully fulfilled and proud of what you’re accomplishing, is entirely different then just going to bed exhausted.

Are you ready…?

Key Ingredients That Will (Almost) Guarantee Your Success

key-ingredientsWhat if I could almost guarantee your success as a home-based business owner? No gimmicks or crap to buy, just some key things you can do to ensure success.

I’m always asked what it takes to succeed as a home-based business owner. Though there aren’t any real guarantees in life, there are proven steps you can take, to make sure you get as close to a hit as possible. When fishing, if you use the right bait, are in a relatively good spot, and you keep casting, you will catch a fish. In golf, if a coach shows you how to improve your swing, and you continually do the work, you will improve your game. This is what I mean by guaranteed success.

The Four Key Ingredients

I’ve work with, talked to, and helped a lot of home-based business owners over the years. Every one that was successful had these core ingredients. Some would include others, but these four where common to all of them. On the other hand, almost all of the folks who came to me after having a bad go of it with a business were missing one or more of them. If you’ve heard it before, that’s great – and not surprising. A common theme among coaches, personal development gurus, motivational speakers, success writers, and entrepreneurs is not reinventing the wheel. Take the same steps others have to reach success, throw in your own special views and skills, and you end up with your own success – on your own terms.

The First Ingredient – Your Passion

If you don’t care about something, then there’s no point in doing it. It’s just a chore, like scrubbing the toilet or cleaning the gutters. Starting and running a business of any kind is hard work. It’s the passion about your chosen field or niche that will help you get through the tough stuff. The excitement and enthusiasm that comes from following your passion, helps drive success.

As a bonus, it also makes sales and marketing, much easier. John Jantsch’s from Duct Tape Marketing says “Marketing is the voice of your passion:”

The most successful small business owners I have encountered have two things in common – they are passionate about what they do and they effectively use marketing to spread this passion.

You may have more than one passion. That’s fine. Just make sure whatever business you focus on is based on at least one of them.

The Second Ingredient – Your Gifts

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are currently (as of this writing) about 6.5 billion people in the world. And what’s astounding to me, is each has their own unique gifts – talents, skills, genius, and view of the world. The key is to use those gifts unique to you to build your business. If you don’t know what you’re good at, ask someone close to you. Chances are they know it very well. Also look at what other people are constantly asking you for help with. If you weren’t good at it, then they wouldn’t ask. Another way is sit down with some quiet time and a sheet of paper and list all the things you do better than anyone you know. Now’s not the time to be modest or self-editing. Write everything, even if it seems insignificant.

One misconception I see a lot is that if you’re good at something, then you should only do that. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the passion element is paired with your gifts. It’s the sum total of your talent, skills, and way of looking at and interacting with the world that make up your gifts. Passion is the “why” and your gifts are the “how.”

The Third Ingredient – Your Value

Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”Brian Tracy

If what you’re offering doesn’t benefit someone in some way, you won’t have a business for very long. Passion and gifts aren’t enough to build a business on. You have to provide value to others.

There’s something liberating about taking the focus off of you, and putting on to the “world out there.” By looking at your venture as a way to be of service to others and provide people with something beneficial, your perspective changes. You are here to contribute, and by doing so, you ensure that your business will thrive.

I think most people know in their gut if what they’re providing is of any real value. But if you aren’t sure, ask around. Call up some friends and acquaintances, take them to lunch or for coffee, and talk to them about what you intend to do. Maybe even offer them a free sample to get some feedback (and possibly a testimonial). You’ll know pretty quickly if you have a winner.

The Fourth Ingredient – Your Plan

The final ingredient, and the one that ties them all together, is planning. You won’t know where you’re going, or if you’ve gotten there, without a map. I’m not talking about a formal business plan, unless that’s something you feel you need. Just some basic written goals and plans – who you are, what you’ll be doing, who your customers are, how much you plan to make, how much you need to make.

Take all the things you’ve accumulated while researching your business, and wrap them into a cohesive plan. Start with some simple basic strategies, and then if necessary, flesh out any larger plans. Be sure to get input and feedback from the rest of your household. As a home-based business, your family are your investors and stakeholders, and need to be treated as such.

Building a successful home-based business takes time and work. In order to ensure you’re not just wasting your time, evaluate what it is you are doing. Look at what inspires you, what you do well, what you can offer, and how you can do it, and build your venture around that. Follow the map of those who are already succeeding, and you can (almost) guarantee your own success.

The Nest Test Framework

nest-testYesterday, I provided a basic premise for testing your intended home-business as a trial run for the real thing. Today, I’ll outline the framework I use to help folks plan and run their own Nest Test.

In software testing, a test framework is used to help simplify testing. I’m going to use the same idea for giving you some guidelines when planning your test.

The Set Up

It should go without saying that you need to have a pretty clear idea of what your home business is going to be before you can run an accurate test. Though the test can help clarify some of the fuzzier areas of your plan, you should have most of your plan well fleshed out. Start with the basic formula I talked about yesterday (value you provide + something you love + your unique gifts) then use tools like a one page business plan to help solidify your ideas.

The Basic Ingredients

There’s a fine line between investing too much for a test and looking like you’re a dabbler. I always recommend you at least have a dedicated email address, phone number (a cell phone or Skype number works fine), a simple but professional looking Web page, and professional looking business cards. The Web page can be basic, but please have someone who knows what they’re doing design it. It can be a student or a friend, but if it looks like a “pictures of my cats” Website, you will give the wrong impression about your professionalism.

For business cards, don’t get the cheap black, red, or blue raised ink on thin card stock. Your cards can say a lot about your business, so go with nicer ones from the beginning. I do all my printing with PrintingForLess.com. They are relatively inexpensive, especially for the level of quality you get. Their products come out awesome, and their service is great.

This may sound like a big investment for a test, but remember, your plan is for this to be a dry run for the real thing. Even if your plan requires some tweaking based on the results of your test, chances are the changes won’t affect things so much that your cards and site become irrelevant. If so, the site copy is easy to change, and the cards are fairly inexpensive.

There are probably a few more things you’ll need – a place to work and a computer for example (though it doesn’t even have to be yours). There will also be things you’ll need specific to your type of business. Just use your best judgment on how much you need to get started.

Run the Test

Now, here comes the fun part. There’s something liberating about thinking of getting started as “just a test.” The mind is a wonderful tool, but can also sometimes be a difficult partner. Little tricks to get the mind to accept change works wonders. By taking the approach of a trial run, some of the stress and fear associated with launching a new venture is removed. Of course, you know it’s for real. But this approach gives you “permission” to have little setbacks and to make mistakes (what the mind thinks of as failures), without the mind games that can be associated with it.

There are two ways I usually recommend running the test – in a full 30 day run or in 2 two-week runs. The choice really should be based on your preferences and the type of work you are doing.

Either way the goal is the same – to execute your plan and get the business going. If you are doing it part time, evenings (and weekends if you choose) are dedicated to the operations of your new business. This will mainly consist of marketing and getting new customers, creating (if you are writing, designing, or making products for instance), networking, etc. The key is though you are in testing mode, you MUST run it as if it were your sole source of income. In order to get good results, the actions you take need to be “full on.” Making a half-baked attempt will give you half-baked results. Remember, this is your dream, and it deserves your full effort.

Over the course of the test, be sure to take notes of things that come up. As I mentioned yesterday, the point of the test is to determine:

  • What works and what doesn’t.
  • What you like and what you don’t.
  • How things affect the rest of your household
  • Can you maintain your intended plans and goals?
  • What areas seem to be the most marketable?
  • And the biggie – Is working from home for you?

Feedback, Analysis, and Adjust

During the course of your test run, you’ll begin to see areas for improvement. In the 30 day approach, you execute your plans as you outlined them, making notes of those areas. Small improvements can be made incrementally during the 30 days. Any big changes should wait until after your test run. They may either work themselves out, or you may find other big areas for change, and it’s usually better to package all your changes into your live launch.

In the 2 week approach, you do the same thing, but after the first 2 weeks, you implement any changes you see necessary for the second 2 weeks. This approach is almost like a 2 part beta test in software development. The first gets some initial feedback and catches and big “bugs.” The second is more to refine your plans and activities into a polished operation.

The Results

After your Nest Test, you begin to see some things very clearly. You’ll find how much work your business is going to be, where and how you’ll find customers, better ways to organize and improve productivity, and how exhausting but exhilarating running your own business can be.

Unfortunately you may also find that it’s just not for you. Maybe you thought one business was perfect, but have found that it’s not really something you want to do full time. You may not have the drive and enthusiasm you initially had, and the whole thing may just peter out. If this happens you can either try something different, or go back and do some serious soul searching. Working from home isn’t for everyone, and only you can make the decision of what you want your work-life to be.

The benefit of a test run is to see how things will go in a real world situation. All the planning, strategizing, daydreaming, and discussing won’t show you how things will go in the day-to-day operation of a home business. Running a live test gives you real results, helping you to make well-informed decisions regarding your future plans.

Scale Up to the Real Thing

Once you have a clear idea of what it will take to run your business, you’re ready to scale it up to the real thing. For most, this is nothing more than saying, “test over.” For others, you may decide to spend more time on certain things, or increase your marketing efforts. Still others may march in to their cube farm as give their notice (I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions). Just make sure you have enough saved or coming in to buy food. Your family will still need to eat.

Whatever the outcome, the trial run of a Nest Test will have give you the confidence to carry out your dreams of a home business, and give you a solid foundation on which to build your new venture.

The Nest Test: Are You Ready to Run Your Own Business?

nest-testSo you’ve been thinking it through, imagining what it’ll be like, and pontificating on every aspect of your business. You’re ready to make the leap… you think. Time to test your theory.

Now, this is NOT one of those “See if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur” quiz things. That’s not what I mean by a test. Frankly, I think those things are a crock. I’ve known highly successful home-business owners who wouldn’t have “passed” half of the questions on one of those things. I’ve also talked to folks who were struggling to get off the ground and couldn’t understand why – “the quiz in the so-and-so book said I have what it takes.”

If you are planning on running a multi-billion dollar investment banking firm, then maybe they would hold some credence. But when it comes to a successful home business, there’s a simple formula that can’t be measured with a quiz. One that you’ll hear often here, because it’s the basis for everything else:

Provide something of value, doing something you love, that utilizes your unique gifts.

And the only way to test it is the same way you test your secret recipe chili – you give it a taste.

Taking a Little Taste

One of the great things about a home-based business is the low cost of entry. Usually you don’t need a lot of space, or fancy expensive equipment. Depending on the type of business, you can get up a running fairly quickly and inexpensively.

There are going to be aspects of your new venture that will need fine-tuning. You may also decide that it’s just not for you. So by testing your plan in small doses, you can ease yourself into the business and ease the business into your life.

If you have a day job, start by working in the evenings and on weekends. This is how about 80% of home businesses get started. Run your own “proof-of-concept” test to see:

  • What works and what doesn’t.
  • What you like and what you don’t.
  • How things affect the rest of your household.
  • Can you maintain your intended plans and goals?
  • What areas seem to be the most marketable?
  • And the biggie – Is working from home for you?

Give yourself a 30 day trial run. See if your plans and expectations are realistic. It’s like running a small scale model test, before running it on the real thing. You begin to get some measurable results in different areas that you can use to determine what aspects need tweaking.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you a simple framework you can use to design your own nest test.

Hidden in Plain Site

skillsWhy is it that we can never see what’s plainly obvious to others? Whether it’s the person we should be with (she’s just a friend, not my soul mate) or our calling, sometimes it’s hard to see what is right in front of us.

When it comes to finding an ideal work-from-home business, people tend to bounce around the obvious choice – the one that is a perfect blend of their passions, talents, and gifts.

Take for example a guy I’ll call Ralph (not his real name). He’s a natural people person, and loves to teach. His way of presenting information is so intuitive, it’s almost like you can’t help but learn from him. He went into sales instead of teaching because of the money. Now, after his new baby was born, he’d love to be home more. After discussing his love of teaching and training, and his natural gifts for presenting ideas in a clear and interesting way, he narrowed down his choices of the perfect work-from-home business. Now did he choose:

A. A training and consulting business geared towards presenting corporate training in a way that engages the clients. Or,
B. A multi level marketing “business” his friend Bill said he would be great at because of his natural sales ability?

It was obvious to everyone but Ralph that option “A” would not only make him happy, but be very lucrative in the long run. But the promise of “millions just from recruiting your friends” sounded easier than starting a training business. When I asked Ralph why, he said he didn’t think anyone would really be willing to pay him to teach and train because it was so easy. That anyone could do it. Why pay him, an outside consultant, to do what they could easily do on their own?

The answer, again obvious to everyone but him, was that is wasn’t easy. It was just easy for him. Often when we are considering our own unique gifts, we just assume that everyone can do it as easily as us – because it comes so natural. Whether it’s art, writing, teaching, building things, singing – any special innate talent – to the one lucky enough to have it, it just seems normal. But to everyone else, it’s anything but. It’s a special talent and an ideal way for you to create a successful venture.

So how do we identify these gifts? Here are a few options:

  1. Start to recognize your talents and passions for what they are. Gifts special to you and something unique that you bring to the world.
  2. Ask friends and family what they would say are your special talents. Ask people you trust, and who know you well, but don’t have any specific “mold” of how they think you should be.
  3. Look at what you do that comes so naturally you tend to not even notice it. What creates that magical state of flow when you’re doing it, and seems to make time fly by.
  4. What do people consistently ask you for help doing, because you’re the guy or gal with the skills? Are you always helping people with their car, A/V equipment, their craft projects? Are people always asking for fashion tips, interior design options, or health and fitness questions?

By being aware of what you do naturally, those skills that you enjoy using, and how you can provide value to others, you can find the foundation on which to build a successful home-based business. A business that is a unique contribution, because it offers those special gifts that only you can bring to the marketplace.