Branching Out Part Two: Multiple Home-Based Businesses

spinning-platesIn 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.

Spinning Plates

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.

Getting Feedback

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

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.

Phasing out

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.

Branching Out Part One: Multiple Incomes from Your Home-Based Business

branching-outIf you’ve been in business for a while, and you’re passionate about what you do, chances are you’ve come up with lots of ways to expand your business. Or maybe you’re just starting out, and already can see the potential for some other products or services. Carefully considering how, when, and if branching out into other areas is best accomplished, is critical for running a successful home-based business.

Many Eggs, One Nest

Some home businesses just lend themselves well to multiple streams of income. Coaching, consulting, writing, designing, among many others, offer a wide variety of ways to package and sell your knowledge and skills. The key is to know what types of “add-ons” will enhance your business, as well as your reputation, and which ones to avoid. It’s also important to ensure you don’t leech all the value out of your business by “commoditizing” your stuff. So if you’re considering expanding your offerings here are some things to think about:

  1. What to offer? Of all the ideas you have, which gives the most bang for the buck – both to you and your customers? Also consider how much effort is involved. There are only so many hours in the day and you don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul (or is that Peter and Paul to pay Mary, or John, Paul, and Ringo… I can never remember).
  2. Does what you’re offering provide any real value to your customers? I have lots of ideas that would be fun, or easy, but that don’t provide much to my clients. The goal is to expand your offerings, and if there is no value, nobody’s going to want it. You end up looking like someone just trying to make a buck – any way possible.
  3. Is what you’re offering going to be another source of income or a freebee? Even if item #2 is iffy, free is always good (well, unless it has no value, and it’s crappy). But an even better approach is to offer something of real value for free. It’s a great way to build your brand, show your expertise, and get your message out. Another option is to offer a limited free version, and have an expanded version available for a fee.
  4. What do the add-ons say about your core business? Anything you put out there is going to reflect on your brand and how you’re viewed in the marketplace. Make sure anything that is associated with your business, has the same level of quality that you provide as part of your core services.

When I get asked about expanding, most of the folks I talk to already have a sense of the best way to proceed. My guess is that if you know your business, are passionate about what you do, and focus on providing value, you will know instinctively if a direction is right for you.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the other way of expanding – multiple home-based businesses.

Are You Afraid of Your Competition?

pondering How do you think about others in your field or niche? Are they competitors or colleagues. A threat or a resource.

I had an interesting conversation the other day about home-based businesses and competition. It revolved around the way we view those with similar businesses or who work in our field. Too often others doing business in our field are seen as “the competition.” It’s important to consider how you view your peers – it can directly affect many areas of your business, including networking and referrals. Meaning you may stop getting them.

Many fields are cut-throat. Others are more cooperative by nature. How you choose to view your contemporaries can create a specific picture of you and your business.

For example, I know of a plumber who was very well respected and sought after. All of his business came by word of mouth. He kept a list of other plumbers whose work he respected to refer folks to when he got too busy. Some regarded this with suspicion, while most loved it and gladly returned the favor.

Wendy at eMoms at Home talks about her experience in blogging, but many fields are similar:

Competition is Really Coop-e-tition After enjoying a successful career in the cutthroat recruiting industry (actually, I really did enjoy it!!), coming into the blogging community has both surprised and astonished me at times.

… I didn’t expect it, and in hindsight, I’m not really sure why it surprised me so much. But I am honored to be a part of this community of the best and the brightest…

I’ve been snubbed myself by others who thought I was honing in on their business (Hey, what’s this guy after, anyway?). Usually I like to create a sort of partnership, by approaching peers and looking for ways we could be a resource to each other. Some may see this as a threat (boo!). While most think of it as a great way to help each other out. Fortunately it’s not too often that its the former. I’ve been lucky to form some great relationships in the fields I work in.

So think about how you want to be viewed by others in your field. I don’t think there is a right answer, only the answer that works for you. But if you’re afraid of losing business, then maybe you need to rethink your strategies, rather than looking at who might be “out to get you.” A win-win relationship can really boost a small business, and help you to gain a reputation as a contributor in your field.

Increase Your Home Business Marketing Effectiveness with Personafiling

in-sightsWho are your customers? No, really. Take a minute and clearly picture your customers. If you have folks beating down your door, this should be easy. If you’re just starting out, it should be just as easy – if you’re targeting right.

I love running this exercise with folks who ask about how to market their home-based business. They talk about their marketing challenges, so I ask “who are your customers?” Usually those that are struggling get a kind of glazed over, been watching too much reality-TV look. As they scramble to come up with a good answer, I can almost always guess their response. It usually starts with “Well, everyone with…,” which is why they’re struggling. Everyone with a pulse (or without a pulse depending on your industry) is NOT a good answer, and will make the marketing process much more difficult.

Enter Personafiling

For a home-based business, one of the most important exercises you can do is to clearly define who your customers are. Even if you have a huge niche, the better you are at identifying your target market, the better chances you have of getting customers.

For a lot of home-based business owners just starting out, it can be difficult to get a clear idea of who it is you’re looking to help. Who needs you? Who needs what you’re offering? Who can you provide the most value to?

One of the most helpful tools I’ve found is something I call personafiling. It involves creating detailed personas of who you think:

  • Would gain the most from what you’re offering.
  • Has a specific need for your products or services.
  • Possesses the attributes of your ideal customer.
  • Can afford you (something a lot of folks tend to miss).

Now, marketers have been doing this in some fashion (like marketing segmentation) for a while. It’s also been done for years in the usability and design fields. The idea here is to create a persona and then flesh out a profile of the persona, to act as a template for your target customer. The difference from more traditional profiling is it:

  • Forces you to really think about who your potential customer is.
  • It puts an “individual” face on the amorphous “customer.”
  • It allows you to identify with your intended audience.
  • It’s a heck of a lot more fun than filling out some market profile form.

Personafiling How-To

There are several ways to create your personas. The simplest and most direct is to sit down with a pad of paper and just begin brainstorming or mind-mapping your personas. Think about the different aspects of your customers’ lives. Where do they work, shop, eat, live? Who do they interact with, play with, go out with? Are they married, have kids, pets, livestock? The more detailed you can get the better.

If you want more options, you might try creating personas as you would characters in a story or play. Those working in creative businesses have enjoyed using tools like Character Pro to really round out their personas. That’s probably more than most will need, but it does make things interesting.

No matter how you do it, the idea is to develop several detailed personas of who you will be working for. Those people who need what you have, and are willing to pay you for it, because it’s valuable to them, and you do it well.

Using Your Personafiles as a Gauge

When I began this site, I spent some time creating personas for who I thought my readers would be. They included dads and moms who wanted to work from home, and those who were doing it, but were looking for some help and advice. As I began to get email and feedback from readers, I took the stories people were sending, and compared them to the personas I had created prior to launch. What was interesting was how close some of the real-world stories matched those of the personas I had created. By using them as a gauge, I was able to determine how well I was servicing my intended audience.

The key to successfully marketing a home-based business is knowing who you’re marketing to. A shotgun, all or nothing approach can be very hard to make work. By clearly understanding who it is that would best benefit from what you have to offer, you can pinpoint the best way to get your message out. Helping you to find your ideal customers, who may be out there looking for you.


More Resources

Committing to Your Home-Based Business

sort-of-momThere are a lot of things in life that are one way or another – with no real middle ground. Your dog can no more be “sort of” housebroken, then a woman can be “sort of” pregnant. Either he goes inside or he doesn’t – she is or she ain’t.

Earlier this week I talked about using a Nest Test as a trial run for your new home business. A test can be crucial to the success of a home-based startup. Not only do you get the opportunity to ease into it, you can get some early feedback on what works and what doesn’t. The problem comes when people continue to linger in the in-between stage where they consider themselves “sort of” in business. When they talk about it, they may talk about their day job, and then mention “this other thing” in passing. The apprehension over making the full leap creates a home-business purgatory, where you’re working, but not really thriving.

When it comes to your home business, there comes a time when you need to get serious. Pee or get off the proverbial pot (and for those who’ve been through potty training, HOPE that it’s done in that order, not the other way around).

So, are you in business or not? There are two main reasons that hold most people back from making a full commitment – fear and perfectionism. Let’s take a look at each and what you can do about them.

Fear – Just Look at Your Toes

Fear is a stupid thing. Really. Fear is designed to protect us against saber-tooth tigers, even though they’ve been extinct for thousands of years. Our fear-based lizard brain, that’s tucked inside our new-fangled mammalian brain, gets all the inputs first. And like most two-year olds, its first response is, NO!

By the time our rational, logic-based, and creative selves are able to think about something new, it’s been poo-pooed by Lizard-Boy (or Lizard-Girl). Change is seen as a threat, and it’s not good to threaten the lizard mind.

So what do you do about it? You look at your toes. Okay that might not make any sense to you if you never had diving lessons as an 8-year old in the late seventies. It describes a somewhat sadistic, yet quite effective technique to get a kid to dive off a board suspended 200 feet (this may be exaggerating, but is as I remember it) above the water. No kid is his right mind would just walk to the edge and trust a very large and scary woman not to push him off. So instead, the deal was that I’d just go to the edge and look at my toes. That’s it. So it did. And she pushed me off.

Now you’re not going to hear a lot of bellyaching about child trauma, because it worked. The next time, I went up and dived – and again, and again, and again. That small seemingly safe task of looking at my toes was enough to trick my lizard brain into overcoming the threat. Then my rational brain took over, and I kept on diving.

lizard-brainThe lesson here (there is one, I promise) is that you can overcome fear by taking small, seemingly safe steps to trick the fearful brain. One of my favorite books on the subject is One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. It explores how to use the Japanese concept of kaizen to make small changes to create lasting change.

You can use this approach as a way to help overcome the fear of committing to your business. For the next few weeks, expand your business actions a little at a time. Take small steps to make it ready to go full time. Then when you’ve proven to your fearful brain that you have what it takes to succeed, and are doing the work you were born to do, you have gained the confidence to dive in and REALLY be in business.

Perfectionism – Polished or Perfect

This one can be even a bigger pain, because it seems pretty rational. You can’t launch a business if it’s not perfect, right? You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the marketplace will judge you by your first outing. In a way, that’s true. But I have to tell you, it’s never going to be perfect. I know, I’ve tried.

Paraphrased from a comment I made yesterday, sometimes you just have to launch the thing. Like a piece of art, some things may never be “finished.” We may have to just go with polished. The important thing to remember is that polished doesn’t have to mean perfect. (Hat tip to Easton).

If you keep waiting for the time to be right, your marketing copy to be flawless, your Website to be pixel perfect, your eyebrows to grow back, or whatever else you think you need, it will never come. Get to polished, not perfect. Get to professional, not perfection. Get to refined, not ready. Then just launch the damn thing.

So, are you in business or not? At some point there comes a time when you need to make that final decision. You know in your heart whether it’s right. The best time to take the plunge is now. There’s no absolute safe time or perfect time to do it. But there is today. And it’s as good as any other time, don’t you think?