Organize Your Home-Based Business

cover shotMany moms I know are trying to create that life balance with a home-based business. It’s a great idea, and I should know because I’ve tried a few! When my first child was young, I sold Mary Kay. That was a great way to go out in the evening, meet with other women and make a little extra money. I also got my own products at a discount, which saved money too. But I soon decided I did not want to be out at night when my kids were in school all day. And keeping inventory was becoming a problem. So I created my organizing business, which had no inventory, and the hours I work evolved every year as my children grew along with my client base. So here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help keep my business running smoothly. Keep in mind, that you’re never finished with this process, it’s more a “rinse & repeat.” You find what works well with your life as it is now and stick to the basics.

  1. Decide your hours – when the kids are small, working at night and on weekends might be a good idea if your spouse can take care of them while you’re out. When they are in full time school though, I found I wanted to work 9-4 so I could be there when they left and when they got home. Whatever works for your family – set the hours and stick to them. Take off your business hat when it’s time to be mom and vice versa.
  2. Create an office – Believe it or not I see people who work from home and drag their laptop all around the house, have paperwork everywhere and wonder why their business is not organized. Even if you have a small desk and 2-drawer file cabinet in the corner of a room, you can make it an office. I find it’s easier to concentrate on work when I sit there with everything I need at my fingertips.
  3. Keep a list of clients – From your first one to the person who calls you on the phone just to ask about your pricing. This will give you a list to go back to when business is slow. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet or go to a Contact management system so you can send them information via email.
  4. Communicate regularly – Speaking of list of clients, what can you say to them? Well, a blog that goes out the same time each week, a monthly newsletter with some tips or news or an Evite for a special event. These are all ways to get in front of your customers over and over again. You never know what will spark their interest!
  5. Be easy to deal with – I see so many people caught up in logistics of running their business that they fail to just listen to what the customer needs and fulfill that need. Too much formality may scare some people off. Whether it has to do with payment, or scheduling or what type of work you are doing, try to be flexible and meet the customer’s needs.
  6. Use the phone! Given all the ways to communicate with people now, we often forget the phone. It is personal so that is key in a service-based business. Pick up the phone and check in with a no-pressure question that is specific to your client’s situation. When my appointment calendar is empty, I call it dialing for dollars. Just by making phone calls I will start booking with people who had been “meaning to call me.”
  7. Always look professional – in my business we get dirty but professional, and I always error on the side of being a little dressed up especially on my first meeting. As I get to know a client, I mirror their image and then step it up one notch. So if the client wears sweats, I might wear jeans and a casual top. If I’m working in an office of course I wear dress pants and a blouse.
  8. Share some personal info – but not too much! In a service business we get to know our customers pretty intimately. It’s good to share your own stories so they feel comfortable with you. But hesitate from giving too much information to where it becomes a discussion all about you. You are the professional; they are the clients so it’s really all about them.
  9. Say Thank You and ask for referrals – No surprise here but referrals are a big part of a small business. Many of us forget to ask for them! Make a point of this a few times a year and maybe offer an incentive to your clients for sending you their friends.
  10. Assess your financials monthly, quarterly and annually – When you love what you do and the checks are coming in, don’t forget to record them! Keeping track of your income & expenses may surprise you. You may be making less than you think or you might have peaks and valleys throughout the year. Use Excel or QuickBooks to track your money so you know what is worth doing over and where you may plan ahead for slow times of the year. Quarterly reports can help you predict the rest of the year and annual assessments can help you adjust your overall business plan.

What do you find hard about running your small business?