Asking Customers What They Want

One of the biggest challenges to small-business owners, including home-based businesses, is finding out what your customers want. A recent article in USA Today gives some good tips on how to do this.

In a nutshell, simply ask your customers on a one-on-one chat what they like and don’t like about your buiness. Give customers questionnaires to fill out and offer a freebie of some sort as an incentive. Also, hiring a telemarketing company or your teenager’s friends to call a sampling of your customers for feedback on your company.

I’ll tackle this topic more in-depth in an upcoming At Home News issue. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive this free, monthly e-newsletter by clicking on the newsletter tab.

Until next time,

Sarah

Work From Home Numbers Grow

Yet another article about the growing number of people who are working from home, this time in the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703819904574555710881471416.html.

The article tackles more at-home employment rather than home-based businesses. Kind of interesting the amount of telephone-answering type work there is out there, as well as medical-field work.

As always, be extra careful of scams, which are proliferating like bunnies. Ignore any email, ad, Internet site or phone calls that ask for money or personal information in order to receive job information or employment.

It looks like more and more companies will be exploring at-home employment options, so sharpen those skills and keep your eyes and ears open.

For more tips, check out my July 2009 At Home News that explores how to become a contract worker.

Until next time,

Sarah

Progress Report

So it’s day nine in my quest to write a 50,000 word article and the writing bug has bitten me good. I have typed 15,000 words thus far, which is a great start.

But as I get into the writing, I find that I do not want to do other things. All I want to do is hole up downstairs in the office and write. It’s hard not to be annoyed when the kids want or need something. But I have to be disciplined to make the most of every minute in order to accomplish my goal, which is what most of us have to do on a daily or weekly or monthly basis in order for our at-home businesses to succeed.

So I’m off to write a few more words before getting dinner on the table, that if my 16-month-old and three-year-old will stop grabbing my arms and wanting to be in my lap!

Until next time,

Sarah

Chicken Soup for a Rainy Day, or a Shameless Plug

So it’s a cold, rainy day, the third consecutive such day, and the children have been going a little stir crazy. It seems like the sunny days, they don’t want to play outside (not that they have a choice) and on the rainy days, all they want to do is play outside. Ah, the fickleness of children.

But all this rain has made me crave a cup of hot tea, a bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup, and a good book to curl up with, perferrably with one of my cats to warm my lap. Currently, I’m reading Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor for my next book club meeting.

If you’re looking for a little light reading, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series has two new books coming out this fall that feature a story from yours truly. Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family (Oct. 20 release date) has heartwarming and humorous stories about families, while Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings (Nov. 3 release date) has stories about thankfulness in the face of adversity.

My family story centered around my experiences as a foster sister to the many foster children my parents took in over the years. I also shared our thankfulness for God’s provision after a huge tree nearly bisected our house during Hurricane Isabel.

So pull up a chair, pick up your favorite book, and sit back to enjoy a nice rainy day.

Death of a Book

I just received news from my publisher that they will not be reprinting Hired @ Home, which essentially means the book will officially go out of print and not be available for purchasing online or in bookstores.

Naturally, this news is very distressing to me, as writing a book is akin to giving birth. We plant the words on the page and water them sometimes with our tears, sometimes with our sweat. We carefully craft the flow of the book and send it off to the publisher to be transformed into something magical. We await with eager expectation the arrival of the book in printed form with high hopes that it will find its place in the world, that it will make many friends and find a good home in many lives. We follow its progress through the outside world. Will it find an audience? Will it succeed? Will those who read it find it inspiring and worthwhile?

Then the crushing news that, a mere 15 months after its arrival into the published world, the book is dead, a victim of rapid changes in Christian publishing and the retail world (according to the publisher). And you as the author are left with a choice: purchase the inventory and hope to somehow sell the copies yourself or let it pass into obscurity.

As of this post, I have no answers. I cherish the readers who have contacted me to say the book has made a difference in their lives. I still believe in Hired @ Home, but am mourning its death, at least as far as my publisher is concerned.

So I’m left with passing along the sad news to family and friends.

Until next time,

Sarah

How to Know When to Move Your Business Out of Your House

An recent article in Entrepreneur magazine tackles the question “Have You Outgrown Your Home Based Business?” Some of you might think that day will never come, but some might already be looking around and realizing that space constraints are making it harder to run your business.

The article outlines key indicators that let you know it’s time to find a new place to do business: product-based businesses that are filling your home to capacity and beyond; increased customer or vendor flow into your house; trouble separating work from home; and the need to hire employees.

Developing an “exit” strategy for your business before you need to move can help you make the transition from home office to an outside location. A commercial real estate agent can help you find the perfect office space for your former home-based business.

Until next time,

Sarah

Picking the Right Time

An interesting article in Inc Magazine talks about how for entrepreneurs, it’s never the “right” time to start a business. Juggling work and home life can be a struggle, especially when building a business.

Balancing Acts: If Not Now, When?” discusses how running your own business can become a series of “not right” times or about postponing (fill in the blank). Check it out for inspiration to move beyond the “not right” into the “right now.”

Until next time,

Sarah

Russia Ball anyone?

Today, I taught my oldest child and one of her friends one of my favorite childhood games, Russia Ball. Why it’s called that, I have no idea, as there’s nothing inherently Russian about it. Basically, the game involves tossing the ball into the air and catching, with variations. It can be played with one or more people, which makes it a great solitary game as well as a fun group game.

I practiced Russia Ball for hours on my own as a kid. And, years later, I can still do it very well, if I do say so myself. So I got to thinking, does working from home and my childhood experience with Russia Ball have anything in common?

First, Russia Ball and working from home takes practice. Sometimes we catch the ball right away and sometimes we have to lunge to make the catch, only to miss the ball completely. Don’t be discouraged when you make a mistake related to your at-home work. Maybe you lost a client or maybe you had to put in extra hours on a project because something went wrong. You can do it, you might just have to go about it a different way than you had originally thought.

Second, Russia Ball and working from home takes patience. I had to develop patience with myself as I learned how to perform the routines necessary to perfect Russia Ball. Sometimes, we need a lot of patience when performing our at-home jobs. Be persistence and patient, especially when starting your business.

Third, Russia Ball and working from home takes persistence. Doing the same routines over and over again until I had mastered the skills necessary to play the game well took persistence. I spent many a summer’s eve outside banging the ball against the sidewalk in an attempt to “win” the game. That persistence is what’s necessary to be successful with your at-home work, too.

So when you’re feeling discouraged with your home-based business, take a minute to recall your favorite childhood game and the practice, patience and persistence you needed to perfect that game. Then use that memory as a way to encourage you to get right back into the swing of things.

Until next time,

Sarah

PS: If you’re interested in finding out how to play Russia Ball, send me an e-mail through my contacts page and I’ll send the instructions.