Home Based Business Self Evaluation Survey

Over the past fifteen years I’ve spoken with hundreds of moms, dads, career changers and retirees who are interested in launching a business from home. Many of them have formulated business plans, conducted market research and applied for financing and yet they have still overlooked one of the most crucial steps in the business planning process–self evaluation. Most new entrepreneurs don’t realize that it’s just as important to analyze yourself as it is to analyze your potential market.

If you’re considering the launch of a home based business, you might want to take a moment to ask yourself a few important (and personal) questions before taking the plunge.

1. What are my strengths?

The answer to this question will provide the foundation on which you can build a successful business. Whether you’re a people person, a computer geek, a number cruncher, or a craftsperson, your business should maximize your strengths.

For instance, if you know that you enjoy cooking, consider becoming a personal chef. If you enjoy computer work, don’t consider a sales career. Your abilities should be the cornerstone of your business so that you enjoy the day-to-day tasks associated with it.

It’s a simple concept yet most people never look inward when envisioning their ideal home based business. They read or hear about another entrepreneur reaping the rewards of working from home and want to emulate that person without considering the differences in their abilities. Make a list of your most marketable skills and ask yourself what you enjoy and why you enjoy doing it. Use that information to create your ideal “job” and then consider businesses that will maximize your talents.

2. What are my weaknesses?

If you’re going to conduct an “honest” self-evaluation, then it’s important that you identify your weaknesses. Perhaps you’re not as disciplined as you’d like to be or maybe you’re not the best bookkeeper. Running a business will require you to handle a wide array of responsibilities from sales and marketing to accounting and secretarial. If you overlook one aspect of your business or don’t handle it efficiently, the business will suffer, or worse yet, fail.

It helps to equate a home business to an office where there is a staff of employees in various departments to handle specialized tasks. You, as the home based business owner, will be responsible for running every one of those departments. It’s not necessary to be an expert in every field. Identify which aspects of the business you’re best equipped to handle and which may require some assistance. Consider outsourcing those responsibilities to an experienced professional so that you can devote more time to the aspects of your business that you enjoy.

If you’d prefer to handle all of your business “in house” as opposed to hiring out, there are other options available. For instance, a Board of Advisors can offer you guidance in areas where you may not have experience. A business course at your local university can help improve upon many business related skills from business planning to public speaking. Computer programs are also available which can assist with everything from bookkeeping to graphic arts. And finally, you can consider launching your business with a partner who has strengths in areas of business management other than yours.

I’ve seen many very talented entrepreneurs fail in their endeavors simply because they didn’t identify and compensate for their weaknesses. For instance, through my Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) business, I met an interior designer with tremendous flair and creativity yet she was terribly unorganized and a chronic procrastinator. She knew exactly how to put together a room, match colors and chose just the right fabrics but never seemed to get around to it. Eventually, many of her clients got tired of waiting and stopped using her services.

By recognizing your weaknesses and accounting for them in the beginning, you’ll ensure that your business will function efficiently on every level and will increase your odds at success.

3. What am I willing to invest personally?

While running a business from home looks appealing, it requires personal sacrifice and discipline. For those who work in an office, business hours are defined and you work alongside coworkers who can support you. When you work at home, it’s easy to get distracted by the routines of those around you and it can be more difficult to define your work hours and commit to them regardless of outside pressures.

It’s helpful to make a rough outline of your weekly schedule. Figure out when your most productive hours are and what activities you may be able to sacrifice for work. Are you willing to work after the children have gone to bed at 9pm? Maybe you’ll have to cut out a weekly lunch date with a friend?

Beyond the time commitment, your home business will require you to invest your energy and your emotions. There will be highs and lows and the rewards may not be immediate. At times you’ll need to take chances. It will require you to troubleshoot, multitask and adapt. There’s also always the risk of failure. Consider all of these factors before you start your business and be sure that have what it takes to handle the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.

4. What am I willing to invest financially?

While some may require a larger initial investment than others, launching a business requires capital. If you’re discouraged by having to spend money in the beginning, then perhaps the business you’re considering isn’t the right business for you. If you feel passionate about what you plan to do, then the investment will seem like an end to a means not to mention an investment in yourself.

That’s not to say that you need to spend foolishly. Minimize your expenditures by investing in the necessities first. You may want to make a list of what you anticipate your business expenses to be for the first three months of your start up and then another list of anticipated ongoing monthly expenses. Consider legal fees, marketing and advertising costs, merchandise (if you’re planning on selling a product), supplies, insurance and office equipment. Decide what expenses will be necessary in the beginning and what purchases can wait.

Look at the final numbers and then ask yourself again if you’re willing to commit to that type of financial investment. If the answer is “yes”, then you’re ready to move on to question #5.

5. What do I hope to gain?

In your search for a business to run from home it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter “get rich quick” schemes and work from home scams. No matter what you may have read or heard, there is no formula for overnight success in business. Businesses grow slowly and require work and commitment. If you’re launching you’re business with dreams of overnight riches, you’ll inevitably be disappointed.

Ask yourself what you hope to gain from your home business. Is it a better lifestyle? More time with your family? Personal stimulation? Financial rewards? Independence? And then ask yourself if you think that your business can (realistically) be a means to that end. Your answer may not be a conscious one, it may be a gut feeling but in my estimation, that’s the most ringing endorsement of all.

As you work at your business, keep your goals in mind. From time to time, as you ride the highs and lows of being a business owner, remind yourself of the reasons why you decided to launch your business in the first place and strive to keep those priorities in focus. You’ll find that the most successful businesses are driven by people who love what they do and focus on the day to day work of their business rather than the financial rewards.

After some careful self-evaluation, you may realize that you and your potential new business aren’t a very good fit. Don’t be discouraged. It’s better to find out now then after you’ve made the personal and financial commitment. There are also numerous options available to those who want to work from home and you can continue to research them with your new-found self-awareness.

If however, after answering the above questions you’re more confident than ever that you’re ready to become a home based entrepreneur, then congratulations–you’re about to embark on one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures of your life!

Debra Cohen is President of Home Remedies® of NY, Inc.–a Homeowner Referral Network (HRN). Ms. Cohen is also author of a business manual entitled The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network. To date, Ms. Cohen has assisted more than 400 other entrepreneurs launch successful HRN’s nationwide. For more information about starting an HRN in your area, visit the HRN website at Homeowner Referral Network.

What If You Could Duplicate Yourself?

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.

Meet Ms. Fix-It: How To Turn Home Renovation Headaches Into A Successful Business

Debra Cohen
After the purchase of our first home, my husband and I were faced with the all too familiar challenge of finding reliable home improvement contractors. At the end of a 60 hour work week we had little time left to search for qualified plumbers, painters, carpenters, etc. and were forced to blindly pick a name from the Yellow Pages and hope for the best. After one too many afternoons of waiting for contractors who didn’t show, it occurred to me that if we were having difficulty finding reliable contractors in our community then other homeowners must be faced with the same challenge.

My concerns are what sparked the launch of a unique, service-based business – the Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) business – which has since expanded into a profitable cottage industry across the U.S.

The HRN business is a contractor referral service that matches homeowners with reliable, pre-screened home repair workers. The HRN takes on the time consuming task of locating and screening qualified contractors, checking to be sure that they’re adequately insured and licensed, and serving as a liaison between the contractor and the homeowner throughout the course of a job. HRN services are provided free of charge to the homeowner and contractors represented in the HRN only pay a commission to the network for any work secured.

The HRN business fills an important niche in the home improvement marketplace. First, it’s a reliable source for busy homeowners in search of pre-screened contractors to work in their home. Second, an HRN serves as an outsourced sales and marketing force for contractors represented in the network who prefer not to handle this aspect of their business.

After extensive conversations with lawyers, business consultants, contractors and insurance agents, my HRN, Home Remedies® of NY, Inc, was launched from my home in February of 1996 with a $5000 loan, a home computer, and fax. As a full-time mom, I was only able to operate my business on a part-time basis. The initial response from homeowners was tremendous and after just 3 months in business I not only repaid my loan in full but in its first year of operation, Home Remedies® grossed almost $30,000 .

After my first year in operation, other entrepreneurs interested in the HRN concept approached me. It was obvious that there was a universal need for HRN services nationwide and I decided to document the HRN business system so that others could benefit from my experience. The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network© outlines step-by-step procedures on how to launch and operate a successful HRN.

To date there are more than 400 HRN’s operating nationwide.

Debra Cohen is President of Home Remedies® of NY, Inc., a Homeowner Referral Network (HRN). Ms. Cohen is also author of a business manual entitled The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network. To date, Ms. Cohen has assisted more than 400 other entrepreneurs launch successful HRN’s nationwide. For more information about starting an HRN in your area, visit the HRN website at www.hrnbiz.com.

Franchise Business Opportunities

With the rate at which persons are losing their jobs on the rise, many have had to be considering what they would do if they lost their job. Some who have already lost their jobs are also contemplating what to do so that they can pay their bills, put food on the table, and take care of their family. Even though there are jobs available, many are not qualified to fill the positions, hence a dilemma arises. Despite this fact, it is not the end of the world. Individuals who find themselves in this predicament, and even those who just want to try something new even though they presently have a job, can try running a franchise, in retrospect starting their own business. There are many franchise opportunities available to all who can afford to embark on this endeavour, providing the freedom to work or run a business in an area that you may have always wanted to.

Some of the industries that have franchise opportunities for sale right now include Automotive, Business, Education, Computer and Internet, Sports and Recreation, Personnel and Staffing, Medical, and Home Services. Start up costs vary for each industry and franchise type. If you feel you are capable of running a franchise so that you can get back into the groove of things, check the franchise listings and make a choice. You will surely enjoy the benefits of running your own business and reap the monetary rewards in the long run.