Monthly Archives: December 2015

Resolving Resolutions

Let’s face it: New Year’s resolutions are more than a little unrealistic. Planning on making major or minor changes based solely on the turning of the calendar is a recipe for failure, and as a result it’s little wonder that most people give up on them by February.

If there are things you want to change, behaviors you either want to gain or lose, you are only going to succeed if deep down you really want to change, and are willing to put in the time and effort to ensure that you succeed. As such, it doesn’t matter what the date is.

As you may have been able to grok from these blog posts—and our book, if you have purchased it—working from home and running a home business require considerable discipline. And a large part of developing that discipline is picking up good habits and breaking bad ones. We all have both, and they can mean the difference between success and failure.

In lieu of suggested New Year’s resolutions, we’re going to post one of the chapters from our book—good habits you should get into and bad ones you should break. These are meant to offer an honest self-assessment to identify which habits to keep and which ones to break. It is not intended you strive to pick up and/or break any of these starting January 1. In fact, we insist you don’t even try. But if you are planning—or continuing—a home office experience, being able to achieve as many of these goals as possible will be a great help.

Habits to Pick Up

  • Keep a regular work schedule—whatever those hours may be.
  • Tell spouses, children, or other cohabitants not to disturb you at certain times of the working day—your “office hours.” Also be sure to set up times when you will always be available.
  • Ensure that phone calls and video conferences are free from distracting background noise or activity—or at least as free as you can make it.
  • Develop the ability to “switch off” and not work during your dedicated downtime.
  • File physical materials such as documents, receipts, statements, etc., in a timely and effective fashion. Don’t let it pile up on your desk or in a drawer.
  • Diligently name and store computer files in a way that will allow you to find them again in the future—perhaps even long after you have forgotten about them.
  • Work in the cloud.
  • Enter all business expenses into your chosen accounting system in a timely manner. Save receipts (either physically or digitally) so that you can easily access them and supply to your accountant.
  • Use only your dedicated credit card and bank account for business expenses.
  • Be able to talk with energy and enthusiasm (and no false modesty) about your business.
  • Pick a social media strategy and diligently and persistently post updates and otherwise remain active and visible.
  • Attend in-person networking events at least once a month.
  • Have business cards on hand at all times. Even if you’re just going to the supermarket, you never know whom you may run into.
  • Always dress better than the people you are meeting. Although it’s not necessary for you to deliver a presentation in a tuxedo or a ball gown, a basic business suit and understated accessories always convey professionalism.

Habits to Break

  • Dropping everything to answer the phone—especially the cellphone—or read an incoming e-mail.
  • Indulging spouses, children, or other cohabitants whenever they see fit to disturb you.
  • Throwing all papers and other physical materials into a single drawer or folder.
  • Naming computer files randomly and vaguely. If your Excel files are all named “Book1.xlsx,” you’re already in trouble.
  • Waiting until you have a serious problem to find a computer repair or tech support expert.
  • Relying too heavily on new technology. How many times has someone brought a tablet or a smartphone to a business meeting to take notes or present ideas—rather than a more reliable medium, like a pen and paper—and been flummoxed when there were technical problems? Having to admit that “this isn’t working correctly” reflects badly on your business.
  • Charging everything to the business, even if it is a personal expense. If the IRS finds this in an audit, it only makes them want to probe deeper. If they see a distinct separation, they move on to other things.

On a separate piece of paper, computer application, or mobile app, make a list of good habits you think you should pick up, and those bad ones you think you should break. At the end of every month, review these lists and see how much progress you have made.

At any rate, Happy New Year from The Home Office Gurus!

More Collateral Damage

We hope you had a great Christmas. Before the holiday, we began a series of posts about marketing collateral materials, starting with business cards. Today, we’ll say a few words about some of the other traditional marketing collateral materials: letterhead, envelopes, and mailing labels.

You may or may not have an immediate need for these items, but as with business cards, you can opt for the do-it-yourself approach (store a template on your computer in Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, or the application of your choice) and then print them out as needed. You can buy blank letterhead paper at an office superstore. Most laser and inkjet printers today can print on envelopes, and you can buy sheets of labels that can also be run through a printer. If you only physically mail things once in a blue moon, this is a cost-effective option.

If you do plan to be mailing frequently, you may be able to get a package deal on all these materials with the commercial printing company that prints your business cards.

Remember that collateral materials should present a professional appearance, so the DIY strategy is quick and cheap—but you want to make sure that that is not the image you convey.

Get Carded

Last week, we started looking at promotional opportunities for the home-base business person. Before you do anything, though, you will need what is known as marketing “collateral.” It’s a fancy term, but all it refers to is the basic logistical and practical materials that support your business: business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and mailing labels. Oh, and there is one more thing: a website.

We’ll look at these in turn.

Even in today’s almost entirely electronic world, you still need good old-fashioned printed business cards. There are few, if any, satisfactory electronic alternatives, especially if you are out physically networking with people. If you are a teleworker for a parent company, you will likely have business cards provided for you, and while they will have your phone number and e-mail address, all other information will likely be that of the company’s headquarters. That may or may not be a bad thing; it all depends on whether or not if you need to provide your direct mailing address to others.

What should appear on your business card? Some things are obvious, some things not.

  • Your name and a title, if you have one, such as “President,” “Principal,” “Owner,” and so on. If you are the only employee, it is acceptable to not include a title, but adding one does look a bit more professional.
  • Company name and logo (if you have one—we’ll cover that in an upcoming post).
  • Mailing address. This is the address you decided to use for all business mail (see Chapter 3).
  • Phone number(s). Again, this is the number—landline and/or cell—you decided to use for business calls.
  • E-mail address. Ditto.
  • Website (we will look at creating websites in an upcoming post).
  • Brief bulleted list of the services you provide, even if you think it’s obvious from the name of the company. For example, your business name may indicate that you are an attorney. What kind of attorney? Real estate? Copyright? Criminal? A business card functions as an ad, so use it as such.
  • Some people also put their various social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) addresses on their business cards, but that tends to make the card look too densely packed. When you set up your website, you will have links to your other Internet presences, so it’s not necessary to include them all on one card.
  • We’ve seen some people put QR (Quick Response) codes on their business cards—usually on the back—which will theoretically allow people with smartphones to scan the code and immediately access your website or whatever destination you program into the code. In reality, however, the number of times we have seen someone actually scan a QR code on a business card is zero to none. At this stage, all a QR code communicates is, “I know what a QR code is.” Not that QR codes aren’t important on other printed materials, but on business cards they are just taking up space that could be better utilized.

Business cards are fairly easy to either buy or create yourself. If you like a DIY approach, you can design your own and print them on perforated business card sheets sold at any office superstore. These sheets can be run through any laser or inkjet printer, and the quality is generally acceptable. This is a good option if you need a small batch of cards immediately, but they can be a little cheesy compared to professionally produced and printed cards unless you have a high-quality office printer.

You can also order business cards in bulk from many commercial printers. Vistaprint (www.vistaprint.com) has become a reliable source for business cards and other print and non-print services. The company has focused on small businesses, especially home offices, and it offers free business cards, only charging for shipping. Of course, you are limited to their own designs (some of which are better than others), and you can’t add your own logo, but they’re free. You can also pay to have additional layers of customization.

We’ll look at other elements of marketing collateral in upcoming posts.

Give Yourself a Promotion

For the past few weeks’ worth of posts, we have been looking at networking. Networking is, among other things, a form of promotion, but for the next few weeks’ worth of posts, we’ll be looking at all the various ways that small or home-based businesses can promote themselves.

Admittedly, some people are very good at self-promotion, and others are much shyer about it. The comfort level likely is a function of our innate extrovert vs. introvert tendencies. Regardless, if we intend to be successful in our home business, we need to overcome whatever hesitancy we have toward self-promotion and “just do it” (to coin a phrase).

As we launch into strategies for promoting a home-based business, think about the “elevator speech” we discussed in the previous post, which can serve as an important foundation for all your other promotions. Rehearsing, revising, and tweaking the pitch gives you immediate feedback. Once it’s refined, it can be used as a theme for your website, newsletter, social media, and all the other things we will be discussing in the next batch of posts.

There are many physical and technological means of promoting ourselves, but what we will be concentrating on is marketing and promotion as a process. Regardless of the media you choose for promotion, the key elements are diligence and persistence. We can only attract clients and customers by…well, by attracting them. You don’t get clients if no one knows you exist!

Promotion, like the business itself, requires persistence and perseverance. We may not want to do it, but we have to.

There is no shortage of “channels” for marketing and promoting a business these days, and the trick is to pick the channel or combination of channels through which you are most likely to reach your intended audience. In other words, where do you find the people most likely to be your customers? Are they on the whole not technologically proficient, never check e-mail, and have no idea what Facebook is? Or are they highly tech-savvy, find e-mail to be too slow and archaic, and would never think of picking up the phone? If the former, you may still need to resort to offline channels like print and television, and if the latter, you will have to become as tech-savvy as they are.

In the next post, we’ll start with something very prosaic: marketing collateral.

Love In an Elevator Speech

Any businessperson—whether running a home business or not—should have a so-called “elevator speech” tucked away in his/her back pocket (figuratively, not literally). An elevator speech is a short summary of your business and is essentially a sales pitch. The term derives from the scenario wherein you are riding an elevator and you have thirty to sixty seconds to answer the question, “So what do you do?”. We often give short shrift to the elevator speech (also called an elevator pitch) but it should be one of the first things you develop when you set up your business. In fact, it’s often the one thing that will sell you and your company to a potential client, and, like business cards, is something you should never leave the office without.

How do you write an effective elevator speech? Start by answering each of these questions.

  1. Who are you? “I am a ____________…”
  2. What do you do? “…who does ______________…”
  3. Who are your clients? “…for _________…”
  4. Why should someone hire you? “…because I can ______________. …”
  5. What do you want to happen next?  “I’d be happy to set up a time to discuss ______________…”
  6. How can you conclude with a catchy “hook”? “Don’t you wish you could ________? Don’t you wish there were someone who could help you with ____________?”
  7. Put it all together.

That’s half the battle right there. Now, here are six tips for presenting the elevator speech:

  1. Keep it short. It’s not an escalator or a five-story walk-up speech. The Delete key is your friend when you are crafting an elevator pitch. It should be short and punchy—lasting no longer than thirty or sixty seconds at the most. Remember, if you are talking with someone, they will ask follow-up questions if they’re interested, so there’s no need to cram every detail about your business into the speech.
  2. Avoid jargon and “corporate speak.” When we work in specific industries, we often use special terminology as a kind of shorthand when communicating with colleagues. Remember that someone outside your industry may have no idea what you’re talking about, so try to use plain language. Also, avoid corporatespeak words like “synergy,” “core competency,” and so forth. It should sound natural coming from you, not from a company press release.
  3. Practice it out loud and memorize it. Writing a speech and delivering it orally are two completely different things. What reads great on paper may sound stilted and unnatural when spoken. So make sure you practice it out loud before taking it on the road. And don’t be afraid to try it out on family, friends, or close colleagues. Be sure to listen carefully to feedback and advice. Also be sure to memorize it; you don’t want to be at a social event and have to read it off an index card.
  4. Be passionate. Conveying a passion and an enthusiasm for your business is a must. If you sound blasé, uninterested, or modest about your own business, how can you expect anyone else to be interested in it?
  5. Have several versions. Different audiences and venues require different approaches, and it’s vital to target your message appropriately. For example, if you are talking to a business reporter for your local paper you will want to pitch your business in a different way than if you are taking to a potential customer or an investor.
  6. Reciprocate. Give the person you are talking to the opportunity to give their own elevator speech.

Seven Networking Tips for Introverts

For the past few weeks, we have been looking at networking options for the home-based worker or entrepreneur. Taking advantage of these kinds of events and opportunities is based on the premise that you are comfortable in these kinds of situations—and not everyone is. Not everyone is a slick salesman, and many of us are not predisposed to walking into a room full of strangers and chatting people up. Some of us are true “introverts,” but even very mild introversion doesn’t help navigate social situations. If you are decidedly not the extrovert, here are some tips for getting the most out of networking events.

  1. Arrive early, ideally within the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the event, when the crowd is still somewhat sparse and attendees haven’t settled into more or less permanent groups or cliques (or “bouquets,” as Tom Wolfe once described it). You will likely be more comfortable approaching individuals rather than groups.
  2. Go in with an achievable objective or a goal, such as “I am going to meet five new people or collect five new business cards.”
  3. Don’t overreach. Don’t expect that you will land five major new clients and sign contracts on the spot. Networking events are about making initial connections that may bear fruit at some point in the future. Follow-up is where the real action is.
  4. Develop a list of questions or topics beforehand. Often the best way to make a good impression on others is to let them talk, listen attentively, and ask questions. So draw up a list of questions or topics beforehand to get the conversation started. Just don’t pull any topic cards out of your pocket. Easy “icebreakers” can simply involve the event or the venue (“Looks like a good turnout,” “Do you come to many of these events?” “I love this restaurant; have you ever eaten here?” etc.). “Tell me about your business” is another good way to let the other person start talking.
  5. Prepare and rehearse your “elevator speech” (see sidebar later in this chapter), your thumbnail verbal description of your business. You’d be surprised how tongue-tied we become when we are asked to talk about our own business!
  6. Stand in line. Queuing up for the buffet, the bar, or the bathroom often provides a captive audience—the person in front of you and/or the person behind you. Take advantage of that situation.
  7. If you think you might be interested in having a long-term membership with this organization, volunteering for committees or events is the best way to meet people because you will share a common goal. You will meet others in the natural course of working the registration table or planning the events. The interactions are more natural, and you have to worry less about “opening lines” or meaningless chatter.

Meet Markets VII: Wrapping It Up—12/03/201

This week, we wrap up our look at networking opportunities for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and home-based workers.

Unless you live in a very remote region, the chances are good that there are in-person networking events near you. If you are not adept at networking, the key—at least to start—is to not overextend yourself. You may think that “more is more” when it comes to these kinds of events, but it’s best to pick perhaps two or at most three networking events over the course of a month, just to get a feel for them. If you find that you are having success with these events, by all means attend more, but you don’t want to reach the point where networking and searching for new clients is taking time away from actual productive work for present clients.

Meet Markets VI: At Your Service

Last month, we looked at many of the various networking opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs, and offered not only some strategies for getting the most out of networking, but also some specific venues. Here is a final suggestion.

Many small business owners join local chapters of international or national service organizations, such as the Rotary International (www.rotary.org), Kiwanis (sites.kiwanis.org), Lions Clubs International (www.lionsclubs.org), and others. These groups usually meet weekly, often for lunch, and are designed not only to be business networking events, but they also serve the community in some fashion, such as organizing benefits and fundraisers for various causes, staging events like home shows and fitness expos, and much more. Some require more of a time commitment than others, but all can be good opportunities for you both professionally—and even personally.