A thriving one- or two-person service business with no inventory, rent or employees can seem like an easy way to make money at first, but when the phone starts ringing off the hook and customers keep coming back for more, homebased business owners who fail to plan often fall victim to their own success. Either they burn out trying to juggle everything themselves or they spend so much time and money hiring people to help them that their profits go down the drain.
Fortunately, there are some ways to take your homebased business to new heights without sacrificing your business’s profitability or losing your peace of mind.
Follow these 10 steps to grow your homebased business into the personal and professional success it was meant to be:
1. Focus on a single product or service, and then market it, sell it, promote it—do everything you can to increase sales of that one product or service. While it’s tempting to swing for the fences and try to be all things to all people, it’s often less risky and more profitable to pick a product or two that you can execute really well and just try to get on base.
2. Expand your product line to offer complementary products or services. Once you’ve hit on a product or service that customers really like, don’t miss the opportunity to bring out related items to diversify your product line. Not only does that give your customers a wider selection, but it also makes your products more appealing to retailers who typically like to stock a line of products as opposed to a single item.
3. Find ways to increase sales to your existing customers. It’s a lot cheaper than finding new ones. Even if you can’t expand your product line, you can boost revenues by selling more of your existing product or service to the clients you already have. One easy way to do this is through volume discounts. Especially if your products cost little to produce, offering your customers the chance to buy, say, two T-shirts for the price of one lets you ring up additional sales without sacrificing much profit. Another common practice is to reward loyal customers by giving them a punch card that entitles them to a free product or service for every 10 items they buy. This technique is common at hair salons, car washes and arts-and-crafts stores, but homebased businesses can use it, too.
4. Hire someone to help you out—an employee, a freelancer, an intern, an independent contractor, even your kids. Not only does this free up cash flow by adjusting your expenses to the level of work you bring in, but it also enables you to cultivate a large network of talented people you probably couldn’t afford to hire full time.
5. Create a Web site to advertise your company or sell products online. Thanks to the Internet, it’s no longer necessary to open a store to reach retail customers. For marketers of specialty products like rare books, collectibles and gourmet foods, a Web-based boutique lets you reach millions of shoppers around the world without paying for rent, utilities or garbage collection.
6. Join forces with another business to promote your company. Partnering with a company in a related industry is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of marketing that you can employ. If you make spa products, for example, you may be able to convince a local health club to carry them in its store by offering a discount to its members. Likewise, you can send a free, one-day health club pass to anybody who buys your lotions and scrubs.
7. Target other markets. If you sell to teens, start marketing to college students. If you sell to working moms, maybe your product will work for stay-at-home moms with a few modifications. Another strategy is to take a retail-oriented product or service and sell it wholesale. For example, a homebased catering business that specializes in cakes, pies and other tasty desserts can contact local bakeries to sell its goods on a wholesale basis. While the price you get from the bakeries will be lower (because the bakeries need to mark it up to their customers to make a profit), you’ll sell more products and generate consistent cash flow that you can bank on.
8. Find new and different ways to market your business through e-mail newsletters or by doing guest-speaking gigs or by teaching a class. Marketing your homebased business doesn’t need to involve spending big money on newspaper ads, Yellow Pages listings, or TV or radio spots. Grassroots marketing techniques cost far less and are often much more effective. Most chambers of commerce and community groups are more than happy to provide a place to a local business owner who’s willing to share his expertise at no charge. Sending out a weekly newsletter is also a great way to get your name out in front of new and potential clients. Thanks to the Internet, you can send out your newsletter via e-mail using online templates and automated delivery systems
9. Expand to another location. That could mean renting “virtual” office space in a business center or by sharing office space with another growing business.
10. Think about turning your business into a franchise or business opportunity. While most homebased businesses remain small, yours may have the potential to hit the big time through franchising, licensing or wholesale distribution. The key question to ask yourself is if your business can be converted into a business format that somebody else could operate (a franchise) or if you have a standardized product or service that someone could resell multiple times (a business opportunity). While you may think that expanding your business requires raising capital, hiring employees, buying equipment and leasing office or warehouse space, it’s often more profitable—and less risky—to license your product to a big corporation with manufacturing capabilities and an existing sales force to do the work for you.