Let’s daydream for a minute.
Imagine that you’ve finally taken the entrepreneurial leap, left your 9-5 job in Corporate America and launched your own business. Your company is a tremendous success and, less than one year later you have more work than you can handle. You’re working 12-hour days and inevitably falling short somewhere. Doesn’t sound like a dream anymore, right?
I was faced with this situation several years ago after I started my Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) business. I launched Home Remedies of NY, Inc. from an old farm table in my basement with just a refurbished fax machine, computer and a phone line. And, after just one year in business, I had more work than I could handle. I was fielding calls from homeowners outside of my operating area, from contractors across Long Island who wanted me to represent them and from other entrepreneurs who were interested in partnering with me. After a few months of working 10-hour days, I was overwhelmed and had completely lost the work-life balance I had tried so hard to achieve.
My entrepreneurial mistake is not that uncommon. Many new business owners are so enthusiastic and passionate about their business that they become the core of it and ultimately, the business can’t operate without them.
Consider this scenario…
You’re a world-class baker and all of your friends and family are encouraging you to start your own baking business. After months of soul searching, you decide to fulfill your entrepreneurial dream. You leave your 9 to 5 job and set up shop as “Suzie’s Cupcakes”. After a few months in business, word catches on that your cupcakes are the best in town. Soon, you’re receiving orders for more cupcakes that you can make in a week, let alone a day. You’re in your kitchen at 5am and work ‘round the clock to fill the orders. While it may seem like you’re in the bakery business, you’re not. You’re in the business of “making cupcakes”.
Now, consider this scenario. Your cupcakes are a huge hit and there’s a line out the door. But, you’re not there. Why? Because you’ve documented your proprietary cupcake recipe, copyrighted it, trademarked your business name and the name of your world-class cupcake and now have a staff of people who work at your bakery and make them for you. You may now be out on the road promoting your products to other stores or maybe even consulting with people who want to launch franchises of your bakery because it’s been so successful. Or, maybe you’re just sitting on a beach relaxing somewhere with your family?
Why are these two scenarios so different? Because your business doesn’t rely exclusively on you anymore. You’ve duplicated yourself. This is the basis of the franchise model and the solution I found for my own business. In order to expand my HRN and continue to maintain a work-life balance, I decided to “duplicate myself”.
When my HRN business took off, I was faced with two options:
1. Expand and try to handle all of the work on my own.
2. Expand by teaching others how to do what I do.
After evaluating both my options, I went with the second.
Over the course of several months, I met with attorneys and business consultants and set out to document my business model so that I could teach other entrepreneurs how to launch contractor referral businesses in neighboring communities. My plan was that, once they were up and running, I would refer work to them and share the contractor commission. That way, I would be able to satisfy the demand for my services in a larger market area without having to do all of the work on my own.
I tested the waters with a small ad in the Business Opportunity Classifieds section of The New York Times:
Home improvement contractor referral business. Investment $5K. For additional information, contact Homeowner Referral Network at…
Within 2 weeks I had a list of 22 prospective HRN business owners!
Over the next 6 months, with the help of a friend from the Wharton Business School, I wrote The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network© which outlined every aspect of my business from my contractor screening process, commissions and invoicing to a market segmentation study, promotional campaigns, homeowner and contractor sample dialogues and liability issues. The process was beneficial to me personally because it forced me to analyze my company with a very critical eye and systemize all of my operating procedures that I had taken for granted.
In less than one year, the first HRN was up and running on Long Island and now–almost 15 years later–there are 300+ HRN’s like mine operating all over the country!
My business would have never achieved the level of success it has today if I hadn’t figured out how to duplicate myself. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who dreams of launching a business of your own, keep in mind that while passion may drive you to start your own business, creating a plan to duplicate yourself is what will help you sustain it.
Debra Cohen is President of Home Remedies of NY, Inc. and founder of the Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) business. Her HRN business has been rated “The No. 1 business Start-Up” by Small Business Opportunities magazine and has been featured in numerous media including Working Mother, Entrepreneur, Remodeling, Good Housekeeping and CBS News. Currently there are more than 300 independently owned HRNs operating nationwide. For additional information, visit her website at Homeowner Referral Network.