2007 Thoughts on Business Plan Development for a Home Based Business

Many folks wish to start a small business of their own and 2007 seems to be the year they wish to do this. Yet so many middle class Americans have few resources or up-front cash to start a business. Starting a business is not easy and it costs generally three times as much as the average optimistic entrepreneur believes it might. Worse off it often takes twice as long to get it going due to all the government paperwork and red tape.

So many small business start-up entrepreneurs that I have consulted with do not have much money and are currently drowning in short term debt such as credit cards, car loans and other consumer type debt. They need to be wiser with their family resources and will most likely need an investor to get the business off the ground. To start a small business you really need a plan of action and if you wish to find an investor you will need a business plan as well.

Some folks just starting out in a business of their own believe that all they have to do is to launch a website, register a domain name or two and they will be suddenly in business. However, it really does not work that way. If your family is on a budget, well then stick with that budget and do not spend any money until you have a viable plan and an investor. You should not talk about registering domain names or setting up your business, until you have your own financial house in order.

If you cannot run the family budget how can you expect to run a small business, which needs a proper ROI; Return on Investment. How can you expect an investor to be serious about investing in you and your dream? You also need a business plan if you are serious about setting up your business. You need to get serious about all that it details and perfect your plan, otherwise no one will wish to invest.

Your business plan must be as good or better than your College Papers, Thesis or Dissertation. Your business plan must be perfect or as close as humanly possible. You cannot simply register a domain name and set up a three-page website other wise you will appear to an investor to be some kind of Internet Marketing coo-coo-head and this will scare them off, because real businesses must provide value, services and products to their customers or they will not trade you for that unit of trade you seek.

I certainly appreciate you reading all my articles on this subject of Small Business and that you learn something new from each one. Thanks again and Godspeed. Perhaps this article is of interest to propel thought in 2007?

Is it Really Possible to Go From Offline to Online Business Entrepreneur in a Short Time Span?

The first 30 years or so of my life were spent pretty much the same way as the masses; starting in state school education, following on to College to study, in my case Construction Studies, then joining the usual main stream 9-5 JOB as a trainee for ‘peanuts’ in terms of money just for having the privilege of actually having a JOB!  I remember my first year’s salary back in the late 1980’s was a whopping £4.5k! Yes that’s 4 point 5, not £45k!

At this point you’re thinking, well that was back in the 80’s, right that probably wasn’t so bad was it?  Well 12 years later when I eventually ‘sacked’ my employer, my salary had increased to a staggering £20k a year after reaching Site Manager level, and the employment funnel was getting narrower towards the top, meaning there was little or no chance of going much further.  £20k a year, how pathetic was that!

So I was in my late 20’s, I had been married for several years and both my wife and I were working flat out to try and keep the bills covered on our first home we had bought into. Interest rates here in the UK reached somewhere around 15%, and our mortgage payments were crippling to say the least.  My salary alone wasn’t enough to cover the mortgage.  I was working overtime and even then it was a struggle.  There was no way we were going to be able to start a family! Now we are only talking about 12 years ago, and I recall some of my school friends that had gone their own separate ways were earning anything up to £50k a year. So I knew then something was ‘drastically’ wrong!

The strange thing then, was that everyone else around me at my old employer seemed oblivious to it all and seemed to be happy and content that this was the norm! For some time I had felt as though I was outside of this huge box looking in at everyone else.  I knew there had to be a different way, but I didn’t know how.  Although I had come through the management route in construction, I was quite able when it came to the practical side of construction, and so began to offer my services to some friends.  This then spread to doing small projects to some Architect friends I knew, to the point where I couldn’t cope working my full time job and my new found side line which I was running in the evenings and at the weekends.  I was literally working 7 days a week and burning the candle at both ends!

It was the spring of ’97 and interest rates were beginning to fall.  Just when we saw we could break even, we sold our house and moved in to a bedroom at our parents flat in West London!  We had the greatest news; we were going to have our first baby Girl!!  Now I don’t know if it was this that had the effect, but for whatever reason I decided in my wisdom that now was the best time to sack my 9-5 BOSS!  So, we had no home, we were expecting our first child and then I sacked my BOSS! Shortly after we found a new home and with the money we had saved at our parents along with the additional income I was getting from my new business, put this towards another mortgage. And in that first year I earned double of my final salary at my old employer!

So that was it then, I found my New Success and the right career path move right? Well I developed and grew my own business from initial typical refurbishment contracts of circa £20-30k to larger contracts of circa £2.4million. During this time, I also purchased a Freehold Property which we refurbished ourselves ‘in house’ from an old disused garage to forming a top end Bathroom Showroom, displaying such brands like ‘Villeroy & Boch’ and offered an in-house Design and Installation service to our local Customers.

The down side to this new found success? Well when I was employed, I still had all my holidays.  When we went away we had great times. During our time owning our own business, no such luck!  I quickly found that I was being employed again, this time by a hungry machine that demanded being fed even when I wanted to slow down for a bit; so I didn’t, I couldn’t.

To top it all, as with many other Companies, trading in 2008-2009 saw a significant change and it was evident that we needed to look for an alternative, fast!  Where did I look then? Well I had been a subscriber to a monthly Business Newsletter and the one area that shouted out among any other industry, was how well and successful people were doing ONLINE.  This worried me at first; I had been one of those that, with the exception of purchases etc, had kept completely clear of the Internet and its offerings. My initial thoughts were…

“How can I do anything online, I know nothing about computers, I didn’t take ‘IT’ at school or college, I know nothing, I’m an Offline Entrepreneur…”

Well silly me (that’s putting it mildly!!).  It was great that I had taken the initiative to do something about our lives back when we started our business, but if I had opened my eyes a bit wider and looked further a field, I could have saved years of hard and lost times!

Fast Forward to today, and I am now meeting a complete new stream of people and friends whilst chartering new waters with more ‘Enthusiasm and Optimism’ than ever before!!  The main difference now? Well I get to work from home at the hours to suit me.  I still work hard and am committed to my new found career and Business (everything worth having in life takes work, there’s just different ways of getting there and different levels of enjoying your time whilst achieving it)

I get to take my girls to school on most days, after having breakfast together!  I get to take our handsome German Shepherd dog out a couple of times a day on long and ‘fun’ walks (not rushed at the crack of dawn or in the pitch black of night after work) At the end of the day I get to ‘pick’ my girls up from school!  We have dinner together! This may all seem a bit boring to you, but I have got over 12 years of catching up to do, and the simplest things in life have a complete new value to me again, and I am enjoying every minute of it!!

So ‘Offline’Construction Business Owner and Entrepreneur to ‘Online’ Marketing in less than a year!! Who would have thought you could change your life long career to something completely new? And who would have thought that you can cover the same distance as an Offline business over 12 years in JUST SEVERAL MONTHS Online?

Wow…The Power of the Internet and more importantly, the POWER OF SELF BELIEF!! (I will leave that last one for another time!) For me for now, I feel blessed to be given another opportunity to build a new successful life for me AND my family’s future.  There’s an old saying “Third time lucky…” Well this is my third time around in my career and I don’t plan on going anywhere else now, I have found my right career path at long last!

Bedroom Developer to Business Entrepreneur – 5 Survival Tips to Running Your Own Website Business

Consider the scenario: You are a bedroom developer/designer who over the past two years has built websites for friends, family and local business in your spare time and now you want to run your own website business. Undoubtedly this starting point is an exciting time, typically when one starts out in web design you are either creatively dominant or technically. Generally speaking for those who claim to be in the middle this is fine it just means when the time comes to delegate – make sure you know which side of the fence you will sit on.

Note: This is only applicable in the first year of running your website business – all shall be revealed in my later articles.

The web industry is a saturated marketplace however there is good news for the budding new bedroom developer or designer. Website and Internet development has only really been around for 30 years and if you compare that with industries like Steel, Mining, Catering, General high street retail etc… this is not a patch on their 1000+ year histories.

The fact is the “Industry Life Cycle” for website development and Internet technologies is still in its growth phase and showing little sign of maturing. The reason why I am telling you this is because by the very nature of its youth the continual release of new ideas and innovation will continue to thrive throughout your lifetime. There will always be new ideas, new trends set and new ways of doing things that others hadn’t thought of as well as the continual opportunity to do better than the next person.

The web industry is plagued with limited standardisation, have you ever wondered why there are over 8 internet browsers? Why does Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 all have their own interpretation of style-sheets.

Why, oh why? Can we not build a website to work on one Internet browser and it will not work on another. Well historically it comes down to the fact that Internet standards have never been properly enforced or advised.

In 1994 was the dawn of the World Wide Web consortium and from there on in, their initiatives have been the most respected and followed standards for website building as we know it today. (for more visit their website)

So where was I? Ah yes, the bedroom designer/developer – well like all businesses your number one asset to get new your business running is REPUTATION!

Reputation is earned and the better you can build on this reputation, then the better you are going to survive in your first years in business. The way it generally works is that if you do a good job for someone – then likelihood is that they will tell their friends and so forth and then someone in that chain will want a website.

So here are my core rules in first year survival for running your own website business or any business (for that matter):

Rule 1: When an opportunity comes to build a website or even just something small – make sure that your 1ST job is done really well, above and beyond expectation.

It sounds stupidly obvious but I can tell you – this set me aside from the competition I was facing in my first year. If successful you immediately set yourself up to have a referral or recommendation.

Rule 2: Make sure you know how much it costs you (in hours) to build a website! Work out your hourly rate and then get a price together. The single most criminal mistake by nearly all website developers and business owners I’ve met over the years is getting your price wrong and when you do get it wrong… IT HURTS!

Trust me – it only takes one difficult client, or someone who changes their mind and does not understand what you do and you’ll be working every hour God sends for peanuts!

Rule 3: Understand domains and the impact of changing DNS settings, many people do not have a clue behind the impact of a poorly configured/managed domain-name can have on their business. If you can demonstrate common sense and understanding this will give you confidence in front of clients and handling the ‘dreaded go live’ period.

Because if you get this wrong – you will probably find for all your hard work – you still have not been paid!

Rule 4: Make sure you receive some money upfront before starting – agree a fee and get somewhere around 40 – 50% upfront – this way you can cover your cost to build and you wont be out of pocket during the closing stages of completing the website.

I recommend you request the remaining 50% on completion for small website work and larger websites request another 40% on first delivery and a final 20% once all is done.

Rule 5: Take your time when estimating complexity and timescales – this is the single most criminal mistake by any web development agency, whilst it can be easy to make a profit building a website it is even easier to mis-quote a project and find yourself at a significant loss.

You should approach the work in stages and calculate the time required deliver each stage. You then need to add on a suitable amount of contingency, for example 20%.

The stages typically could be:

  • Requirements and Capture
  • Design & Prototype (this is two stages if the project is large)
  • Build / Code
  • Test – Includes cross-browser testing, dead link checks, time to load checks, validation and any other necessary unit and system testing methods.
  • Deploy – Time it takes to publish the website, configure the hosting and domain name, double check email contact forms, Google verify the site, setup website traffic monitor and publish the site map.

Your final price should reflect the time you estimate to accomplish the work by your hourly rate.

Building Websites requires experience and knowledge of Software development methods, for those who are serious I recommended reading about Software Engineering, development methodologies and understanding project management technique.

No matter how small or large your website project is, this will open your eyes to the disciplines of software/web system development and the hoops you need to jump through that will set your professional standards above so many others within the marketplace.

Sales Tips For The Home Based Business Entrepreneur

Sales are the life-blood of every business. Without regular sales we don’t have a business. We may as well go and work for a boss. “Aaaggghhh. Never again”, I hear you say.

Keeping yourself up to date with modern sales tips and techniques is vital in the 21st century. Most of those tired and worn out sales strategies of the 80’s and 90’s will no longer cut it in this fast paced world. However, some things remain unchanged.

If you are looking to grow your business… and if you are not, then you are going backwards… you need to generate ongoing sales.

There are only two ways to get more sales:-

1. Sales from new customers

2. More sales from existing customers

Clearly, you must tailor your marketing and lead generation strategies to meet the different priorities of prospects and existing customers. Once you have engaged with a new prospect, it is essential to have a sales process that focuses on generating trust and building a relationship. The sales process for existing customers needs to be a little different, leveraging the existing relationship and focused on a better understanding of the customer’s situation and future needs and wants.

Furthermore, different processes are needed for face-to-face situations and web-based interactions. Attracting new customers via the web requires a “give before you get” attitude that builds trust and develops a relationship over a period of time. A very significant proportion of businesses spend most, if not all of their time and money trying to attract new customers. In focusing everything on “new business”, they pay little or no attention to their existing customers. Are you one of them?

It costs between 5 and 10 times as much to gain a new customer as it does to grow an existing one. Existing customers continually “disappear” if they are not looked after. Indifference (not price, not quality, not competitors) is the most commonly quoted reason given by customers, for changing supplier/service provider. Furthermore, if you fail to take care of your existing ‘A’ and ‘B’ class customers, you are denying yourself the most cost-effective, high quality source of new customers – referrals.

Successful businesses are systemised businesses. These “systemised businesses” identify, design, document and implement effective systems to ensure consistent, high quality engagement with their markets, prospects and customers. They understand the importance of relating to and understanding their customer base. They stay in touch with their ‘A’ and ‘B’ class customers and treat them like gold.

The ‘C’ class customers (you know the ones I mean… the complainers and tyre kickers) can be let go. They will only cost you money in the long run.