The Most Important Item on a Top 5 List – #6 – Follow Up

valuable-infoPhil Gerbyshak over at Make It Great! has a terrific post on customer service today. One of the key items on his list – item 6, Follow Up – is in my opinion one of the most important. And as I noted in the comments, is the one most often overlooked. I also think it’s fitting that its number six on a “top 5″ list ;) .

The exclamation point of any contact is a call back after the sale or service is done, and find out if your customer got what they needed or if the item is working the way they expected it to, or if perhaps there is more that needs to be done. This ensures customers are delighted, and if they’re not, it gives you a chance to make it up to them, right then and there. You do want delighted customers, don’t you?

As a home-based business owner, it’s important to spend as much time keeping current clients as it is getting new ones. A simple follow-up phone call, or better yet, a hand written note, is an incredibly effective way to show your customers how important they really are. They become repeat customers and evangelists for your business. I’m guessing if you are doing what you love, from home no less, that you are pretty enthusiastic about your company. Carry that enthusiasm through after the sale to genuinely show that you value your customers. If you’re providing a great service, and something of value, it’s also a good way to hear some nice words. But even in the (hopefully) rare situation where you have an unhappy customer, it’s a way to make things right. It’s often said that a happy customer will tell a friend and an unhappy one will tell 10 (or more these days).

A perfect example is a home-based hypnotherapist I recently worked with. If she does her job well, she won’t have any repeat business (unless they have multiple issues they want to work on). In a sense, she provides a service to lose customers. Her value is making sure her customers won’t have to come back. But what she gains is an army of evangelists, promoting her great service.

So think of ways you can follow-up, and provide some additional value. Treat your customers as your most valuable asset – because that’s exactly what they are.

4 Things to Consider About Your Home-Based Business Structure

structureBetty sells bras – nursing bras to be exact. Betty’s been doing it for about a year, and is making a pretty good go at it. She’s starting to expand her line, and has considered adding on to her home to enlarge her home office.

Jeff is a career coach. 6 months in and he’s tripled his client base in the past 2 months alone. He’s looking at forming some strategic partnerships, and already has several inquires about licensing his products.

Betty went the LLC (limited liability company) route from the beginning. Her friend and attorney recommend it for the ease and security it offered. Jeff never thought about a structure, and became a sole proprietor by default. Now he’s considering forming an S Corp.

Now, I’m using Betty and Jeff as composites of the many home-based business owners I’ve worked with and talked to (and both are based on real people) – but the issues are real, common, and involve…

How to Structure a Home-Based Business

There are lots of opinions on what is the best structure for a small business. Doing a Google search for “home-based business structure” returns about 1,620,000 hits, as of this writing. Most of it is confusing. Your attorney and tax advisor will tell you one thing, and successful peers will tell you another. So what do you do?

First off, I’m not a lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV). I’m just a guy who’s been doing this for 14+ years, and worked with lots and lots of other successful home-based business owners. With that in mind, here are 4 things you should consider (that often aren’t) when exploring the best structure for your home-based business.

1. Simplicity

The easiest and most common way to structure a home-based business is a sole proprietorship. Essentially, you just start working. You may need a fictitious name filing or a business license depending on what type of business you’re in, but it’s all pretty basic. A lot of folks get caught up in all the structure stuff before they’ve even thought out many of the other aspects of their business. Even if you plan to move to a more formal structure, it’s often best just to start as a sole prop to get up and going. I always vote for simple when you’re starting out.

2. Scaling Up, Scaling Back

An important thing to keep in mind is that it’s fairly easy (though possibly costly) to move from a sole proprietor to an LLC or S Corp. But going back is not. This is one thing I’ve heard consistently from legal and tax experts – that doing this can throw up lots of flags. If you decide to form an LLC or S Corp, make sure you think it through, and plan to stick with it.

3. Oh, That Veil Thing

One thing you’ll hear a lot about regarding the protection an LLC or S Corp offers is “piercing the corporate veil.” There is often some confusion from home business owners about the protection a legal entity offers. If you set one up, then do nothing to maintain it, you can still be personably liable. You need to run it as a corporate entity – meetings, minutes, records, annual reports – or you run the risk of getting pierced in the veil.

You are also liable for your own actions regardless. You can’t run over your neighbor’s prized begonias with your corporate vehicle and claim to be protected by your corporate entity. It’s not as all-encompassing as many believe. This is a simple, not a lawyer explanation, but you get the gist. Your attorney can explain it better (but maybe not as colorfully).

4. If You Need Real Advice, Talk to an Expert

Many of the folks I work with already have a pretty good idea of what approach they want to take. But if you are confused, please talk to a lawyer or tax advisor. I’ve met so many folks who got their advice from peer groups or online forums. That’s actually a great place to start. Getting advice from someone who’s done it makes sense. But because there are so many variables, and your needs may be unique, it’s worth it to talk to an expert.

Choosing a structure for your business seems like a monumental task, but in reality it’s not. I’ve found that it’s actually not that big of a deal at all. Starting off as a simple sole prop, or forming an elaborate corporate body won’t guarantee success or failure. The key to all of this is to actually do something. Don’t let all this structure stuff cause analysis paralysis. If you never get up and going, you won’t need a structure, anyway.

Yeah-But Rebuttals: Show Me the Money

yeah-butt-headThis is the third in a series of periodic posts on rebuttals to common “yeah-buts” that I hear from people wanting to work from home.


“Yeah, but, I don’t have enough money to start a home-based business.”

The Rebuttal

It’s unfortunate, but often things end up coming down to money. Basing your future on how much cabbage you can scrape together may not be the best way to look at things. But in today’s world, you sometimes have to. One of the great things about a home-based business is the low overhead. Most home businesses can be started on a shoestring (though some may need a longer one than others). The key is to be frugal, bootstrap, and find a way to get the initial investment you need to get up and running. Now assuming that like most home-based start-ups your actual cost of entry is pretty low, here’s a couple of ways to fund it yourself.

Credit Cards

Now I can hear all you financial advisors out there cringing at this, but it’s one of the most common ways to fund a home-based startup. Contrary to popular belief, credit cards themselves are not evil. It’s the misuse that causes the problem. So using plastic to get up and running may be a good solution, with a few caveats:

  • I’m going the benefit of the doubt route here, figuring if you are disciplined enough to run a business you can handle a credit card. But really think about it, and look at your recent past to see if it’s a good idea for you
  • If you’re drowning in debt, another card is probably not a good idea.
  • Use it only for your business and nothing else.
  • Be frugal – no better yet – be a cheapskate.

A Better Option – The Mocha Fund

Another way to get some money to fund your home business is to stop drinking so many darn mochas. I know lots of folks who spend an average of $3-4 a day on their venti café mochas. That’s around $17.50 a work-week and $910 a year. Now, granted, there is vacation time and those days you don’t make it to the coffee place. But even conservatively, that’s $500-$700 a year.

So instead of getting coffee out, buy a decent coffee maker for home. I worked with a lady who used this idea in a very creative way to get her business off the ground. She stopped getting coffee on the way to work and bought a really nice coffee maker. Then she’d buy good quality, organic, shade-grown (and fair-trade) beans. She also kept a jar with a “Mocha Fund” label on it beside the coffee maker. Every day, she’d stick in 5 bucks, rounding up what she usually spent, and within 3 months had the money she needed. Now, I agree this is an extreme approach. But she liked the discipline and the action of actually keeping her money in a place designed to show her resolve about starting her business.

You don’t have to take it that far. But cutting out things like daily coffee from the corner place, or bringing lunch instead of eating out every day, is an easy way to get the cash you need to get going.

More Money Resources

Allocate Your Time and Energy

interesting-ideaSteve Pavlina consistently has some thought-provoking stuff on the subject of personal development. Today Steve has an interesting post on asset allocation. Aside from the standard financial planning methods, he relates how to apply the concept to different areas of your life:

After the financial planning course I realized that the strategy of asset allocation can be applied to other areas of life, such as work, relationships, and health.

Consider how you allocate your time. You can think of your time as consisting of several buckets, each having a different risk/reward ratio. If you have a full-time job that pays a flat salary, then most of your time is allocated to the security bucket, so you might want to shift some of that time to the entrepreneurial bucket to participate in the game for much greater gains.

One of the key factors to success as a home-based business owner is balance. Learning to allocate your time and energy in the most efficient and beneficial way is essential to running a thriving business. The concept of asset allocation is a great way to develop a framework for balancing the different areas of your life.

5 Ways to Overcome the Home Business Blues, Blahs, and Burnout

Why the heck am I doing this? What’s the point? I’m so sick of this $%#@!

spinning-platesThere comes a time in every home-based business life when you reach the point of blah. It has happened to every single person I’ve talked to who runs a home-based business. I, myself, know it well. Maybe you’ve hit what I call the Futility Factor, the point where you’re busting your hump and not seeing any results – working 16+ hours a day, seven days a week, for months to get your business off the ground. Or you’re a few years into it, and things are just getting stale. There are lots of reasons why it happens. The key is to know what to do, when it does.

Just Be With It

Your first option is to do nothing. Just be with your mood – wallow in it, feel it, accept it. Now granted, this is not the usual kind of advice for this stuff. But sometimes, it’s nice just to be with your funk. Churchill called it his black dog. Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, used his melancholy moods to inspire his work. Don’t be afraid to be in a crappy mood once in a while – especially when it relates to your business. Running a home-based business is hard and you’re bound to get down about it. If it’s not a common thing, just sit with your cranky self. Sometimes it’s nice to give yourself permission to be in a foul mood. Enjoy it.

Go Back To Why

There’s a good reason why you decided to go into business for yourself in the first place. You set out on this road with a mission. During times of bad mojo, it helps to go back to that “why.” I’m guessing you’re a pretty smart person. You didn’t just jump into a home-based business without a plan. And even if you did, there was still a reason for it. Sit in a comfy chair, lie on the couch, or curl up in a ball on the floor, and think back to what it was like when you started. What drove you? Why did you make the decisions you did? Hopefully you are following your passion, so those feelings of excitement start flowing back in. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and the BS that comes with running your own business. It’s important to regularly get back to that place of why you are here, and why you’re doing this. That initial spark can help get you back into full-flame mode.

Be of Service to Others

Many times, it’s helpful to stop making it all about you. I often find that the business blahs stem from the “poor me’s.” By stopping and thinking of how you can be of service to others, you interrupt that thinking, and start to see how what you’re doing is benefiting others. Again, I’m working off the assumption that you are doing something you love, that you have talent for, and that is providing value to others. If you’re running a pyramid scheme just to get rich, this ain’t going to help you. But if you are pursuing your dream, and contributing something of value, then chances are, what you’re doing is benefiting someone else. Ask yourself “how can I be of service to others?” That question alone is often enough to snap you out of your doldrums. Then follow that tread. Think of all the ways your business is providing a service to your fellow Earthlings. It’s a great feeling, and can give you a real boost to move forward.

Take the Day Off

If you’ve been working like mad, burnout is inevitable, even doing something you love. Remember to take time for yourself. Just taking a day to goof-off, see a move, or play with your kids is enough to help you get re-focused on your business. One of the wonderful things about working for yourself, is having the freedom to do this. Take a day off in the middle of the week, and if you need to make it up, work a little on the weekend. Rather than wait for a good day to take off, take a bad day off. Forget about it for a while, then come back refreshed with a new outlook.

Work On Your Favorite Stuff

Another pretty common reason for the business blues is spending a lot of time on the things that you have to do and not enough on the things you want to do. The reality of running a business requires a lot of things that aren’t fun, such as paperwork, filing, or cold calls (for some). These are things you have to do to keep things running smoothly. But if you need a boost, switch to doing the fun stuff – the things you associate with why you love doing what you do. It’s most likely true that you have to do the fun stuff anyway, that it’s part of your core business. So why not rearrange some things so you can work on them first. I’m not recommending putting off all the crappy stuff indefinitely. I’m a big proponent of the Eat that Frog strategy. But if you need a way to lift your mood, filling out tax forms probably isn’t going to do it (unless you’re a CPA and love that stuff – if so, that’s what you should do). You can always go back to that later. Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing.

Bad moods are a part of life, and running your own home business doesn’t make you immune. The bright side is that you are your own boss, so you don’t have to sit in a cube and just deal. You have the freedom to choose. Take advantage of it and learn to work with your moods as they come, and around them when you need to.

This post is part of “5 Things Week” over at Ben Yoskovitz’s Instigator Blog.