Savvy Business Start-Ups
by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
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Laid off? Money tight? Stay in budget by starting your own business. Here's how.
Don't simply open the type of business you have always dreamed of starting. Analyze if the market wants it. Search for it in the Yellow Pages, on craigslist.com, on local bulletin boards and anywhere else that businesses advertise. Think about the target demographic. Do these kinds of people live in your area?
Of course, if you have some background and experience with the business, it will decrease the learning curve and you can provide potential clients references and/or work samples.
Choose a business with low start-up overhead. It's better if you provide a service than a product, unless you sign up with a company such as Avon or cafepress.com, where you won't have to keep inventory on hand.
Select a business where repeat customers are built into the business plan. Selling durable goods or a one-time service forces you to constantly seek new customers. If you sell consumable goods or a repeatable service, customers will keep coming back if you serve them well.
Running the business from your home saves considerable overhead. Publications such as Home Business Magazine can help. If you meet with clients only occasionally, you can arrange to meet at a coffee shop or restaurant (your treat), either of which costs much less than renting a building.
Other cost-saving options include renting space by the hour at a professional building or at the library or another civic building. A local business may allow you to rent a conference room for the rare occasions that you need it if they're cash-strapped, too. Some moonlighting bakers I know rent commercial kitchen usage during a restaurant's off-hours to bake up the sweets they sell to coffee shops.
Use supplies and equipment you already have. Search the local classifieds and craigslist.com for anything else.
Consult your tax advisor as to writing off business expenses, which may include the square footage of your home dedicated to your new enterprise. Keep all the receipts for any item or service you purchase and record your income to save tax-time headaches. An Excel spreadsheet or neat handwritten records suffice.
Create a free e-mail account solely for your business on a site such as hotmail.com or yahoo.com. Don't pay for a website if your business generates leads by word-of-mouth and serves local customers only.
Send press releases announcing your business's grand opening to all the local media's news department (not the advertising department). Update them anytime you're doing something new. Target general and business newspapers, radio, and television. It may seem far-fetched that you'd be on the local news, but perhaps your new plumbing repair service will catch their eye for inclusion in a feature on local people starting second businesses.
Include a "hook" (why it's newsy), contact information, and a brief background on yourself. Be ready with up-to-date photos of yourself (both a headshot and one depicting you engaged in your business) and all your vital business statistics that you wish to share. When members of the media contact you, they're top priority.
Post for free on craigslist.com. Some software you may already have on your computer can help you create posters. Leave them on community bulletin boards, under windshield wipers (where permitted) and in storefront windows (with permission). It's illegal to insert in mailboxes, but newspaper tubes are fair game.
Going too cheap with marketing gives potential clients a bad impression. For example, perforated business cards scream, "I'm an amateur." Even micro-perforation cards won't look as nice as professionally printed ones. Vista Print produces good-quality, inexpensive business cards and other printed items. Or, perhaps you can barter services with a local printer.
Plenty of sites offer free Web pages, but these will be littered with ads and pop-ups that hassle your site's visitors. If you want to create a free presence in cyberspace, start a blog on Blogger or another such site. You could also post to blog discussions pertinent to your line of work.
Your moonlighting may provide some temporary income or pan out to become your full-time career. Either way, running your own business can help keep you afloat during the recession.
After experiencing her fourth layoff in three years, Deborah Jeanne Sergeant began a freelance writing business, which she has operated since 2000. She and her family live in Wolcott, N.Y.
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