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Work at Home
05/07/2010
IconHome-Based Business Myths By 2003 Priscilla Y. Huff With the American Association of Home-Business Owners stating there are over 24 million home-business owners in the U. S. and other research findings showing that a new home business is started approximately every eleven seconds, you may be considering starting your own home venture. Making money from the convenience of your own home, being able to have more time with your family, and doing work you love sounds like the ideal work-life situation. However, realistically, there are several home-business myths that should be dispelled as you consider starting a home-based business: Myth #1: A home-based business has no overhead. Reality: Often as much as 50 percent of a home-based business#146; billing rate will go towards covering overhead costs, but the good news is that you can deduct from your income tax a percentage of your home-related bills if you work out of your house. It is best to check with your accountant or bookkeeper, or your local IRS office or the site, www.IRS.gov for guidelines about these home office/business tax deductions. Myth #2: I will not need childcare if I work from home. Reality: True, a home business allows you the flexibility of working your own hours, but it is still difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a conference call with a two-year-old in the same room! Truth is, a majority of entrepreneurial moms and dads have some sort of child care coverage#151;either a spouse or babysitter taking care of the children in the home while they work for a block of time; taking their children to a child care center or sitter for a few hours a day; trading coverage with another work-at-home parent, or some other arrangement. Even older children can be demanding and sometimes resentful of your business#146; demands. It is best to realistically discuss your business idea with your family and think carefully about the number of hours you will actually be able to put towards your business. Myth # 3: If I have a home business, I will have time to clean house, continue to volunteer at church and school, cook delectable meals, taxi the kids to all their activities, and have a meaningful, personal relationship with a #147;significant other.#148; Reality: This really is a fantasy world!! A home and small business demands more hours than a regular job#151;especially in the start-up phase. Unless you are a #147;super-woman or -man or #147;supermom/dad#148; (I know I am not!!), then you will have to prioritize the important parts of your life and phase yourself out of all but the important activities and people with which you are involved. Learn how to say #147;No#148; with a smile. On a positive note, you can use your business to help your community like providing jobs or internships to youth, being a mentor to a struggling entrepreneur, donating your product and/or services to a charity auction, and in a number of other ways. And your altruistic efforts will have the added benefit of promoting publicity for your business. Myth #4: I have a great idea that I know will make me lots of money, and I want to start it next week.Reality: Business experts say that the amount of time and research a person puts into a business idea relates directly to the success of that business. Not to damper your enthusiasm, but one of the biggest mistakes a new entrepreneur often makes is starting her venture too soon, before thoroughly investigating the business and its trade. One woman who owns a successful home-based food delivery franchise, took a full year to research the business before she invested a single dollar. In order to grasp a better understanding of what is involved in running a business, experts recommend that you make list of business ideas that interest you, and then work for a time in a business that is similar to the idea that interests you. Phyllis Gillis, author of Entrepreneurial Mothers, said at a seminar I attended, #147;If you think you might like to bake special desserts for caterers or restaurants, bake a hundred pies in a week to see if that is what you really want to do, fifty weeks a year!#148; Working or volunteering in the trade that interests can also give you valuable skills and knowledge you can apply later on to your own home venture and even some funds to help you start your new at-home venture. It is important to also conduct some preliminary market research to see if people need and want to pay for your business#146; products or services. Without customers, you cannot make money. Be aware, too, that it may take from two to five years until your business#146; profits can support you and your family. When you believe you have a good idea and a potential market, then you can begin to write a business plan to set your goals and the steps you will need to get your business up and operating. You may wish you could start your venture tomorrow, but taking the time to first research and plan your business idea, will pay off, literally, in the end and your business will be much more likely to succeed. Myth #5: If I work from home, I can be much more casual in both how I dress and how I treat my customers. Reality: Yes, you can dress in your T-shirt and sweatpants while you make business calls#151;unless you have a home office that receives customers#151;but how you treat your customers should be as professional as any business protocol dictates. Do you respond promptly to customer requests? Do you have professional-looking promotional materials? Can your customers depend on your product and service? How can customers and business associates reach you if you are not in your home office? Do you belong to any professional trade groups or associations? In other words, you can work from your home office, but you should always follow professional procedures and ethics as if you were working from an office as the CEO of a major corporation. After all, you are the CEO of your business, even if you are the only employee. Just remember to act like one, or no one will take your business seriously. If you take the time to plan for your business, prepare yourself and your family, and persist in learning the skills you need, you can make a successful home business a reality instead of just a myth! U. S. Small Business Administration www.sba.gov , 1-800-UASK-SBA (1-800-827-5722) #150; provides listing of local SBA offices that assist people in entrepreneurial ventures. Women#146;s Online Business Center www.onlinewbc.gov provides a listing of these centers that are located across the U. S., and in Puerto Rico and other U. S. territories that offer business education and training to women entrepreneurs at every stage of business development. Priscilla Y. Huff is the author of 101 Best Home Business Ideas for Women, 3rd ed. and The Self-Employed Woman#146;s Guide to Launching a Home-Based Business. She welcomes home-business questions at pyhuff@hotmail.com ; and offers a free list of resources for women entrepreneurs to those who request it. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconOpen a Fancy Flea Market #147;Store#148; By Glory Borgeson Ann and Cathy wanted to start a business together that they could do part time, that would utilize their creativity (especially Ann#146;s beautiful hand painting talent), and that would be a lot of fun. They considered opening some type of retail store, but they knew that the hours the store would be open would turn it into full-time work. After expanding their thoughts a bit, they realized there was a flea market a few towns to the west that was open once a month on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. One weekend, they visited the flea market to see what types of items were sold at each booth and the types of things people were buying. They decided that the flea market was a great place to start their business. They would find bargain items and fix them up with paint, Ann#146;s decorative painting, silk greens such as ivy, ribbon, and whatever else they could dream up. They would create their booth each month like it was a beautiful store with an antique/shabby chic look. Their plan worked so well, that by their third month, customers lined up on Friday morning early to get to their booth first. Before long, Ann and Cathy began renting two booths to double the size of their fancy flea market #147;store#148;. How did they do it? First, they formed their business as a corporation, opened their bank account, and did the work needed to get set up to collect sales tax on their future sales, and to be set up to purchase some materials at wholesale. (Note: The scope of this article will not focus on the how-to#146;s of that general aspect of the business, but will focus on the activities specific to this type of business.) From there, they started scouring garage sales, tag sales, rummage sales, resale shops, and other flea markets for items they knew would be great to start with for their first sale. They also decided which month to join the flea market and reserved an indoor booth starting with that month. They each had a workspace in their homes. Sometimes they worked alone, but they also spent time together to plan, create, and review ideas for the items they purchased. They sanded and scraped, removed rust, painted, and made all of the items they purchased become more beautiful, desirable, and sell-able. What About Pricing? Choosing prices for items proved to be tricky. Since theirs was not a typical retail store (where items are usually #147;keystoned#148;, meaning the cost is doubled to arrive at the sales price), they needed to be more creative and forthright in how they priced their items. So far, the idea for this business may have sparked a few thoughts of fun possibilities, and you also get to make money! And in order to get the best price for your merchandise, I#146;m going to show you how to keep track of each item in a manner that helps you to keep your sanity. You want to keep track of each item that you fix up and beautify in order to price it appropriately. To do that, create a form that you will use to track the cost of an item, the cost of anything you add to it, and the amount of time you spend working on it. It will include the hourly rate you choose to apply to your work. The form will help you arrive at a price for the item. You can even have a column to add the initials of the business partner who worked on the item. Toward the bottom of the form, include a box titled #147;Price#148; to write in the final sales price. To make the form even more useful, leave an area in the top right corner for a number. Then take the mocked-up form to a printer to create pre-numbered forms for you. This will ensure that each item has its own unique item number. When you purchase an item that will be fixed up in any way, start a form for that item and write in the amount you paid for it. Find a way to keep the form with the item (for example, staple it to a wooden item; put it in a plastic sleeve and tape it to the item; or tag the item and write the form#146;s item # on the tag, and file the form). As you work on the piece, update the form with the amount of time spent working on it, plus the cost of any materials you add to it (i.e. the cost of silk greens put in a container; this would not include the cost of paint and other materials that you purchase to fix many items). If an item you purchase does not need to be fixed or painted, but can be sold #147;as is#148;, keep a log sheet for these purchases. You can create a log in Excel and use Excel#146;s #147;fill-a-series#148; function to create an item number column. Perhaps you can start with #A1001 to keep these numbers separate from the other item numbers for the items you fix. Tag these items with the item number on the log. Use the log to decide the item#146;s sales price. Later, when you#146;re ready to price items that you#146;re selling #147;as is#148;, you can easily match the tagged items to the log and re-tag the item with a price tag. For the items you fix up, you may also choose to keep a log of these items as well. This log would have the item number (from the form) and a brief description (such as #147;wooden chair#148;; #147;birdhouse#148;; #147;metal container/planter#148;). You could also add a column titled #147;Sales Price#148;. You could bring your log sheets with you to the sale as an inventory control. The beauty of the log page and the individual item sheets is that your accountant can easily determine your cost of good sold. You may find that, as you choose your sales price, there may not be a simple formula that is applied to price each item. More likely, you will find that as you gain experience, you will select the best sales price: a price that your customers will pay and that will yield you the highest possible gain. Arranging Your Booth Ann and Cathy needed a way to display their merchandise in their booth. On their purchase outings, they bought lightweight furniture pieces, crates, and bookshelves, fixed them up, and used them for their displays. Make certain the pieces you buy for display are easy for you to fit into your vehicle and to carry. You may choose to put this furniture up for sale, or you may decide that certain pieces are working well for your displays and that you will keep them. If they display your merchandise well and are easy to transport, why not keep them? (Put a tag on display pieces you want to keep that read: #147;Display only; Not for sale#148; so that customers will not ask you for the price all day.) Nice looking silk green pieces will make your booth look very attractive! As a business that buys wholesale (i.e. assuming you have already obtained something from your state that says you are buying to re-sell, such as a sales tax ID), you can set up an account with a wholesale florist company that sells silk greens, ribbon, and other trim. You can usually shop at these companies in person to choose exactly what you want. Check the #147;business-to-business#148; yellow pages under categories such as #147;Florists-Wholesale#148;. Also check www.floralshops.com/wholesalefloral1.html and click on your state for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of wholesale florists in your area. Before you make a trip to visit them, call all of them in your area to find out what types of floral items they sell. Once you know that they have the types of silk greens you are looking for, ask them about their terms for setting up an account with them. Some will require that you pay by check when you shop with them. Others will have you do that for a short time, and then will give you net 30 terms. Use silk greens either as display pieces only, or use them in your displays and sell them, too. (If you purchase nice quality greens, people will want to buy them!) Working these silk greens into your displays will attract many people who are looking to purchase items that are #147;a step up#148; from flea market wares. And that#146;s what you#146;re selling: merchandise that is a little nicer than the average found at the flea market. The whole look and feel of your booth will be a little nicer than the customers usually find. People will be drawn to your booth. You will go home with only a few items left over (for next month) and lots of money from all of your sales. Use Your Booth for Marketing Because they wanted the good word to get out about their booth, Ann and Cathy created a half-sheet flier as their marketing materials. They used plain light pink paper, some creative wording, and a creative font style. They gave one to each buying customer and made them available to people who visited their booth. Using a word processor, you can create your own half-sheet flier to give away at your booth. Put it on pastel-colored plain paper. Choose a color that will be your #147;signature#148; color: pink? light green? baby blue? In addition to including your business name, come up with a clever phrase or tag line (for example, #147;Creative Objets d#146;art for Your Home Garden#148;; #147;Funky Frolicking Fun from the Flea Market!#148; ). If appropriate, list some of the types of things you sell. Include the dates you will be at the flea market for the next several months (or for as long as you have booked a booth). Also include the name of the flea market, the address, and days and hours of operation. If appropriate, include your contact information (name, phone number and/or e-mail address). If you know the booth number you have reserved for future events, include the number. People may give your marketing sheets to friends who haven#146;t seen your booth. You want them to be able to find you. When customers purchase your items, be sure to give them a marketing sheet in their shopping bag or rolled up inside one of the items they purchased. Extra Materials Ann and Cathy sold some breakable items, and they didn#146;t want customers having to be concerned about breakage. They purchased some plain paper for packing. (They thought about using newspaper, but they knew the newsprint could be a problem for some of their items.) Depending on the item purchased, you may need to wrap it in some type of wrapping materials so that it doesn#146;t break. Find a local supplier of materials such as packing paper and bags. When you are first starting out, stick with inexpensive wrapping materials and bags. Try to choose similar colors (i.e. white, cream, or a pastel to match your marketing sheet) to go along with the whole theme you#146;re creating for your business. Your Flea Market #147;Store#148; Are you ready to create your flea market #147;store#148;? Do some up-front planning. Are you going to have a business partner or are you going it alone? Do you have an area in your home to store your purchases and fix them up? Have you checked the flea markets in your area? Have you scoped out how you#146;re going to find the inexpensive items to purchase? Print out this article and start a #147;to do#148; list of all the things you need to do to get started. Then prioritize the list. In what order are you going to tackle the items on your #147;to do#148; list? What things can you do at the same time? And, please, let me know how you#146;re coming along with your #147;fancy flea market store#148;! Glory Borgeson is a small business consultant and coach who loves to work with clients by phone from her Chicago-area home office. She works with clients individually, and is also planning to hold teleclasses on the details of starting a home-based business. Please contact her by e-mail at glory.borgeson@borgesonconsulting.com for more information about your home-based business. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconAre You a Natural Party Planner? By Glory Borgeson Do you enjoy a great party? Do you get a charge out of planning parties? Are you: Efficient? Organized? Resourceful? Professional? Why not consider starting a party planning business?As with all work-from-home businesses, you'll need to decide ahead how much time per week you can devote to the business, especially if you have children at home. Consider starting small, creating small parties for busy people. Figure out how many parties per month you can reasonably handle (for example, starting small might mean doing 2 to 4 parties per month). Jan's Story Jan loved giving parties and loved to cook. She heard many women in her area talk about how they liked to have people over, too, but they were often too stressed out for company. Some of them worked full time or they had a "high maintenance" family. Others just didn't enjoy the cooking and other preparations that go into hosting a party. Most seemed to have the financial means to pay for some help, though.Jan figured she got an idea from these ladies in her town. What if she worked with them to plan the party and to do the cooking and other food preparation? Better yet, what if she cooked the food in the hostess' own bakeware and served the food in the hostess' serving pieces? That way, it would look as if the hostess created the meal herself. Menus Jan knew that she needed to have several menus to choose from. She made a list of several items, including meat and other entrees, hot vegetables, salads, breads, appetizers, soups, and desserts. She also created suggested combinations of menus for complete meals that included one of each of these that went well together. Recipes Jan figured that she would get requests for various sizes of parties: anything from a small intimate dinner party for four to a large party. So for each recipe, she created a Word document on her PC that included the amount of ingredients needed for various numbers of party guests. At the beginning of the recipe document she included a table. Along the left column of the table, she listed the ingredients. Across the top row, she put the number of people served. Then, in the table she entered the amount of the particular ingredient required for the particular number of servings. Training After checking out the party planning industry, Jan knew she might need some additional training and would need to connect with others in the industry. She looked into classes offered at her local community college and classes given through the adult education program through her high school district. She also found a couple organizations to investigate, to see if it would be beneficial for her to join now or to join later. Associations Check into the following associations to see if they would be a good fit for you: #149; The International Special Events Society (ISES), www.ises.com Meeting Professionals, Int'l, www.mpiweb.org Visit local chapter meetings, if there are any in your area, prior to joining. These groups may or may not be "overkill" for you, as they also are for those business people who plan huge events. But you may find some value in them that would help you in your business. Also, some day you might want to expand your business to full time or take it in another direction, and these associations may be helpful to you as you steer your business into new areas of growth. Suppliers Jan soon realized that she needed to find great suppliers in her area for related items and services, such as rental businesses where she (or her hostess) could rent items such as punch bowls, punch fountains, extra chafing dishes, coat racks, tents, etc. She also got to know a couple florists, photographers, and bakery owners. She looked into party supplier businesses where she could find disposable items. Publications Trade Shows Jan kept up on what was happening in the party planning and party supply business by subscribing to trade publications. She read Party Paper Retailer ( www.partypaper.com ), Special Events ( www.specialevents.com ), and Event Solutions Magazine ( www.event-solutions.com ). Between the publications and the trade associations, she found out about trade shows, which showcased many vendors and offered seminars. She also looked into party-related trade shows hosted by TransWorld Exhibits, Inc. by visiting their website at www.transworldexhibits.com . Pricing Jan worked up the cost of each recipe per number of people and entered it on her recipe documents. Then she figured in her time to prepare it, plus some profit, to arrive at a sales price. She made a note in her schedule to re-visit her pricing every summer, and to have her prices effective from September 1st to August 31st. Types of Parties Jan was tempted to be a party "generalist", but she knew that could hurt her business more than help it. She needed to select a niche that would work well in her geographical area. Think about the area where you live. For the people who would be most likely to benefit from your services and hire you, what type of parties would they prefer? Upscale dinner parties and cocktail parties Children's parties Theme parties (such as luau, 1950's, Hollywood, etc.) What other types of parties could be popular in your area? Getting Started Once Jan checked with her county and state for any regulations for caterers and talked with her insurance agent about the type of insurance she would need, she decided to host some parties of her own and invite people over who would either be in the market for her services or who would be likely to talk about her business to others. Her parties showcased her new business and her creative talent. She also had simple brochures and business cards available for everyone who attended. She decided to do three different types of parties in her home to give people a good idea of party options. She needed to see where peoples' interests would be before deciding on her niche. Next, Jan asked three busy friends if she could do a party for each of them, without charging them for her services. They would plan it together and the hostess would pay for the food and supplies. The hostess also agreed to tell her guests that Jan was the party planner for her party, to promote Jan during the party, and to give each guest Jan's brochure and business card. This gave her the practice she needed for doing the parties and catering for other people. She told all three friends that she needed to do one upscale party for 4 to 6 people, one upscale cocktail party for a large group, and one fun theme party. Each friend hosted one of those parties. Jan created everything from great invitations to the food and beverages to the decorations (for the theme party) and atmosphere (lighting, candles, tablescapes, music, etc.). Jan took photos at the parties hosted at her home and at her friends' homes. She put the pictures in a small portfolio. That way she could show prospective customers what her party tables, buffets, decorations, and atmospheres looked like in peoples' homes. She also included samples of the invitations in her portfolio. More Marketing Next, Jan spent time finding out about upscale charity fundraisers in her area, because she knew that the women attending these events tend to give a lot of parties and would be likely to hire her. She wanted to advertise in the charities' program booklets. For many of these booklets, they could use her business card at their lowest advertising fee. (Because of this, she made certain that her business card had sufficient information on the front of the card that made it clear what she did as a party planner and caterer.) For a couple charity events, she donated an "in-home dinner party for 4" for auction or raffle. Those events gave her an additional listing in their booklets and the attendees of those charity events were exactly in her target market. Meetings with Clients Paperwork When working with a client, Jan found that she needed to meet with them at least two times prior to the event. She tried to schedule these meetings either while her children were in school, or, for customers who worked during the day, she scheduled meetings in the evenings or on Saturday mornings when her husband could stay with their children. Other than those meetings, she used the telephone, fax, and e-mail to communicate with customers. Once a client agreed to book a party, Jan wrote an agreement which included the date, time, and address of the party, the items and services she would provide (i.e. the menu, supplies, etc.), if she would pick up any serving pieces prior to the event from the client and when, the time she would arrive at the party location, the total price, the amount of deposit due, the amount of balance due on the day of the party, and any other details particular to the party. Jan's Party Planning Business Jan received a great response to the parties she created both at her home and at her friends' homes. She also started to make a name for herself in her community. She knew this would be a word-of-mouth business and made certain that people would talk about her new business to others. She let other parents know (at her kids' schools and sporting events) what she was doing, as well as people at her place of worship. She also talked about it at her health club. Her friends were very helpful, too, as they talked about her new business to their relatives and acquaintances. Some friends even kept a small inventory of her brochures and business cards to give out. Before long, Jan was handling the amount of parties she wanted in order to put in between 15 and 25 hours per week. At first, it took her longer to do certain tasks. After a while, she shortened the amount of time she needed to spend on most tasks as she became more familiar with what was required for each party. When her children are older, she plans to grow her business. For now, the pace suits her just fine. Your Party Planning Business Are you ready to plan your party planning business? Do some up-front brainstorming. What do you think would go over well in your community? Who are the busy people who would like to have more parties, but their schedule just doesn't allow them to create time for planning and hosting a party on their own?Print out this article and start a "to do" list of all the things you need to do to get started. Then prioritize the list. In what order are you going to tackle the items on your "to do" list? What things can you do at the same time? And, please, send me some pictures of your first few parties! Glory Borgeson is a small business consultant and coach who loves to work with clients by phone from her Chicago-area home office. She works with clients individually, and is also planning to hold teleclasses on the details of starting a home-based business. Please contact her by e-mail at glory.borgeson@borgesonconsulting.com for more information about your home-based business. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow to Create a 'Virtual Assistant' Business By Glory Borgeson Virtual assistants are one of the newest careers in work-at-home businesses. Using a personal computer, a phone, and a fax machine, virtual assistants (VAs) create value for their clients from their home office. They create their own hours, have no commute to a job, and call the shots in their own business. Some of the work a VA does during the day is administration. They do various tasks for their client as if they were at their client's office. This could include mailings to their clients' customers and prospects, creating presentations, and making reminder phone calls for appointments. The beauty of the VA business is that it is "virtual". Your clients can be anywhere: they don't even have to be in your vicinity! They can even be in a different state! In my companion article, " Could You Be a Virtual Assistant? ", I discussed the skills you need before deciding to become a VA. These include being organized, excellent grammar and spelling skills, good communication skills, and computer hardware and software knowledge. How to Get Training Some VAs learn the business from another VA. Other VAs attend a school that trains them how to be a VA. Most such schools conduct teleclasses, so you can attend from anywhere. One VA school is called AssistU ( www.assistu.com ). Their virtual training program lasts 20 weeks. Another school is Virtual Assistance U ( www.virtualassistanceu.com ). Their virtual training program lasts 16 weeks. A third training program to look into is with The Virtual Wizards ( www.thevirtualwizards.com ; e-mail: info@thevirtualwizards.com , or call 352-242-2234). Support If you attend one of the VA schools, you will automatically be introduced to a support network of other VAs. You will also want to check the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) ( www.ivaa.org ), The Virtual Business Group ( www.virtualbizgroup.com ), and for military spouses who are VAs, look into Staffcentrix ( www.staffcentrix.com ). Clients and Fees Most VAs bill at about $30 an hour or more. The rate you charge can go higher if you: Have industry-specific education and your clients are in that industry Gain more experience as a VA Can do many types of work for a client without requiring supervision from the client Have many resources and skills at your disposal Know a little html code and can update your client's website Some VAs bill clients for actual hours worked and break it down to 30-minute increments. They may invoice weekly or bi-weekly. Others work on retainer. They plan a certain number of hours per month for a particular client. The client pays the retainer fee at the beginning of the month. During the month, the VA keeps a log of hours worked for each client to make certain that retainer clients do not go over their allotted amounts (or, they may have an agreement in place for billing additional time). Unused hours do not roll over to the next month. VAs will often discount their hourly rate by 10% for clients paying on retainer. You can invoice your clients using a software program such as Quickbooks, which also allows you to easily keep track of unpaid invoices. (You would also use Quickbooks to enter all of your expenses, whether paid for by cash, check, or credit card, reconcile your bank statements and credit card statements, and keep all of your data together for monthly [or quarterly] and annual tax reporting.) You can also receive payments by credit card, if that is how your clients prefer to pay. If you sign up to use an online system, such as Practice Pay Solutions ( www.practicepaysolutions.com ), the client will get a receipt by e-mail to notify him or her of their purchase of your services after you enter the charge online. If you give your invoiced clients, for example, "net 15" terms, you need to decide how many days past due is too long, and start contacting the client to request payment. You will find that some clients pay on time and others pay late. You will need to decide how late is too late. If a new client wants you to just work on a project, consider asking for some money up-front. First, think about how much time the project will take, multiply that by your hourly rate, and then ask the client for one-third of that amount up front. Trust your instincts on this issue. If a client asks you about how long a project will take you to complete, you will need to use your experience to arrive at your best estimate. It is generally a good idea to give them a range (for example, "It will probably take somewhere between 4 and 8 hours."). Also, it is best to give your estimate on the high side. This is a customer satisfaction principle in action. If you estimate on the high side, and the actual comes close to that or lower, your client will be happy. If you estimate too low and the actual comes out higher (for example, you estimate that some work will take 8 hours, but it actually takes 11 hours), your client will get a "bad" surprise and his "customer satisfaction" level will be lower. Who Will Be My Client, and How Will I Find Them? Who can use the services of a virtual assistant? Just about any "solo-preneur" who does not have office support staff! For example: Insurance agents, consultants, coaches, speakers, authors, caterers, artists, etc., may be able to use the services of a VA. When you are first starting out, tell everyone you know about your new business and the services you offer. Send them a letter with your business card, and then follow up with a phone call. Ask people who they know who might be able to use your services (and give them examples of the types of businesses that might be interested). Ask your friends for introductions to people who might be interested in your work. Join a local chamber of commerce and attend networking events. Make certain that your business card includes a brief list of your services, even if it's printed on the back of the card. Two or three months after you first notify all of your friends about your business, contact them again. Stay in front of them, reminding them of your new business. Frequent networking in your current circles and in new groups will ensure that people are reminded of the work you are doing, and they will be more likely to remember to refer you to people they meet. Tips for Doing the Work Some VAs agree that they do their best work with clients who have established long-term business relationships with them, as opposed to project work or piece work. They enjoy working in 'partnership' with their clients. The longer a VA works with a client, the more she gets to know the client. This is especially important when, for example, a client gives you documentation that has errors. If you have worked with him or her for some time, you will be more likely to catch the errors than if you rarely work with them. An area where your organization skills become of utmost importance is in following up on phone conversations with your clients. Since you have no visual cues when you are on the phone, taking detailed notes during a call with your client is very important. Just as crucial is sending an e-mail or fax to the client after the call to confirm what you've agreed to in the call. Your organization of your clients' projects must be done as if you're a project manager. You will have tight "to do" lists. Keep as much work as possible in soft copy so that you do not accumulate too much paper. Have a good PC "filing system" in Windows Explorer. Remember to back up your PC regularly. What Software Should You Know? Most VAs agree that you should have and know how to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, ACT, and Adobe Acrobat PDFWriter. Some VAs do very little PowerPoint, while others create several presentations a month. Many clients will want their documents given to them in a pdf format. Adobe's PDFWriter is very easy to use to create documents in pdf. Some VAs have learned some html code in order to make minor changes to their clients' websites. Most recommend using software such as Dreamweaver, but do not use FrontPage. Others use FrontPage for ease and convenience's sake. You need to get to know your clients and what products you need to know in order to serve them well. Take intermediate and advanced classes in these software titles to provide a great level of skill for your clients. Are You Ready? Is it time to create your own "to do" list about taking steps to begin your virtual assistant business? Print this article and then start a list of the tasks you need to do to get started! Review how much time you have to devote to this business: How much time do you have now, in 6 months, in 12 months? How many hours per week to you want to work? What skills do you currently have, and which need improvement? Is your PC ready for this business? After you print out this article, go through it and note what you need to do, first, to decide if this is the business for you (also see my article titled, " Could You Be a Virtual Assistant? "). Second, go through this article again and note what you need to do to get the business going. Make a "to do" list out of it and schedule those "to do's" into your calendar. Then follow through. And let me know about your success! Glory Borgeson is a small business consultant and coach who loves to work with clients by phone from her Chicago-area home office. Please contact her at 630-653-0992 or by e-mail at glory.borgeson@borgesonconsulting.com for more information about your home-based business. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGetting It Right Robert G. Allen boballen@robertallen.com In the field of marketing, "getting it right" is very important. Sometimes success can hinge on just a single digit. Take this story for example: About thirty years ago, Joe Karbo wrote a book called The Lazy Man's Way to Riches . He launched his $10 book with a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times with the headline, "How to earn $50,000 a year the lazy way". Not a single person responded! Joe didn't give up. He was a master at marketing; he knew he had a good idea and if he could only get it right, then he would succeed. He placed his ad again but with a slight change. Instead of offering people an easy way to earn $50,000 a year, he changed it to $20,000 a year. His book was a huge hit making him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why did such a small change make such a huge difference? At the time, a good income was $10,000 a year. Earning ten times that was not believable, but earning twice that amount was. When it became more believable, then people were able to "see" what he was offering and responded. Extracted from Multiple Streams of Income by Robert G. Allen. Contact Robert G. Allen at boballen@robertallen.com or visit his website at www.robertallen.com for more information. Permission granted for this article for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconMaking Money by Making Sandwiches: Boxed Lunch Catering Is A Tasty Business! Michelle Couch mgcouch@mindspring.com In true Dr. Laura form I have always longed to proclaim "I am my kids' mom!", but could not financially figure out how to do so. As a 30 year old woman, I guess you could say I was the victim of my own success. I focused on my career in my early twenties and by the time I married at 27 years old I was making more than my spouse in my corporate consulting job. This was fine until we decided to have children and I found it impossible to find any work that would allow me to provide the income that our family needed while allowing me to stay at home with my children. Throughout high-school and college I was always told that I could do anything that I wanted to do and be anything that I wanted to be#133;but no one told me that what I would want most of all was to be a stay at home mom. I have never really thought of myself as "exceptional" in the kitchen and quite frankly I have never spent a lot of time cooking, but I've spent a tremendous amount of time in the Boardrooms of the firms that I consulted for in my corporate career. More times than not we held "working lunch" meetings and sandwiches were catered in for these events. So, I decided to launch my own boxed lunch catering business to cater (literally) to the corporate world that I had left behind. With an emphasis on providing upscale, gourmet boxed meals and specialty party trays, we have catered business lunches, training meetings, group outings and special events. The business is perfectly suited for stay at home moms (or moms wanting to work just a few hours per day) because of the ability to start things on a small scale and grow at a rate and pace that fits with your lifestyle. Depending on the amount of work that you are willing to do, profits could range from $100 to $1000 per week. I have outlined for you below a few things that need to be done in order to get started: Check with your local Health Department regarding the specific rules and regulations that apply to caterers in your area. Legally register your business within your state and/or municipality and acquire the appropriate licenses to operate. Identify businesses and professionals in your area who use catering services. Go for it! Start prospecting for clients from your prospect list and start making sandwiches! You are certain to be surprised at the opportunity that exists. ---As a former consultant, Michelle welcomes the opportunity to work with you on developing a strategy to start your own catering business. She has also developed an implementation workbook which provides step by step instructions for getting your own boxed lunch catering business off the ground (based on what she has learned on her own journey). For more information, please contact her by e-mail at mgcouch@mindspring.com Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconLife#146;s Problem Solvers: Duct Tape and WD40 By Chellie Campbell www.chellie.com #147;All of life#146;s problems can be solved with two things#151;duct tape and WD40. If it moves and it shouldn#146;t, you need duct tape. And if it doesn#146;t move and it should, you need WD40.#148;#151;Unknown This quote makes me laugh every time I think of it. It#146;s a great image that really can be applied to life: you need duct tape to keep you on purpose in your life; to stick to your guns, stick to your ideals, stick to your goals . You need WD40 to get you up and moving; to get out of bed in the morning, to get you to the gym, get you #147;out of the box.#148; Distinguishing when you need to use duct tape and when you need to use WD40 is vitally important. Many businesses have failed because they didn#146;t see a new product or technology on the rise and stuck to the old way of doing things playing it safe. Just like food kept in the refrigerator long past it#146;s expiration date, sometimes people stay in jobs, neighborhoods, or relationships beyond their fruitfulness. When the ship is sinking, it#146;s appropriate to #147;jump ship!#148; Then again, it#146;s very important to use that duct tape and stay the course#151;you don#146;t want to give up on your dream just before it#146;s fulfilled. Maybe the next ship you send out is the one that will bring home the treasure, so heed the cry: #147;Don#146;t give up the ship!#148; The creator of the copier machine took his new invention to Kodak first. The copier is a kind of camera, so it seemed a natural connection. However, the Kodak executives rejected it#151;after all, they had better quality photographic equipment already. They just didn#146;t see the business application of the invention. So the inventor went to Xerox and that#146;s why we Xerox documents rather than Kodak them. The Kodak executives had too much duct tape holding them to their known business model#151;they needed a squirt or two of WD40 to rouse them to act on a new idea. The inventor had plenty of WD40, which helped him create a new business machine, and enough duct tape to refuse to give up in the face of rejection. So how do you know #147;when to hold #145;em and when to fold #145;em#148;? You use the duct tape and stick to your goals as long as you passionately believe in them and are committed to the process of making them happen. When you enjoy the pursuit of the dream, whether or not it is realized. When your intuition tells you to keep going. And most of all, when you know that you will succeed because you#146;re willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Behind every #147;overnight sensation#148; there were years of study, failed attempts, more learning, small successes, and dogged persistence. Lots of duct tape. This is the path of achievement, and every successful person walks it. Succeed or fail, your passion and commitment to your purpose will be the WD40 that moves and inspires you to get up each day, excited about the new possibilities today will bring. If you enjoy your dream and each daily activity, you#146;ll be happy, and that will mean you are a success every day of your life. Chellie Campbell is the author of The Wealthy Spirit: Daily Affirmations for Financial Stress Reduction , selected as one of Dr. Laura#146;s book recommendations. She created and teaches the Financial Stress Reductionreg; Workshops on which her book is based in the Los Angeles area and gives programs throughout the country. Her free e-newsletter is available at www.thewealthyspirit.com . Permission granted for use on Dr.Laura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconStaying on Track When You Work From Home by Leslie Godwin When I had a 40 minute commute, and a long workday, I fantasized about those lucky people who worked from home. I pictured people relaxing with a cup of coffee and the newspaper each morning, since they didn't need to rush onto crowded freeways. Then, I figured, they got plenty of work done (since they had no distractions) until it was time to break for a festive lunch with the family. Then, it was back to being extremely productive until the end of the work day. It never occurred to me that without a deadline to leave the house, that by the time I finished my coffee, ate breakfast, walked 2 Great Danes, and showered, that it would be time for lunch. TIPS FOR STAYING MOTIVATED WHEN YOU'RE WORKING 'HOME ALONE' Do your plans include working out of a home office, or in a home-based business? Or do you already work from home and want to be more productive?Here are some tips that have helped me stay on task instead of surfing the net or watching a high-speed car chase all afternoon. Know what you need to accomplish each day: Staying focused on your top priorities is especially important when you don't have an on-site supervisor to keep your attention on the big picture, or when YOU are the supervisor. It's way too easy to get distracted by what Stephen Covey calls "urgent but not important" items and lose sight of "important but not urgent" ones. In other words, don't take a non-critical phone call when you should be working on your marketing plan. Start each day with a review of your schedule and to-do list. Do you need to write a Mission Statement? Will some market research help you better assess a new aspect of your business? Should you write a rough draft of the talk you'll be giving next week? Get your top priority items done when you're most productive, and you won't have to go back to work after dinner to finish up something important. Give yourself some structure You're more likely to get that "important but not urgent" item checked off your to-do list if it's scheduled for 11 AM on Tuesday, and not just in a file somewhere on your desk. Help your family and friends understand that you're working When your spouse, neighbor, or mother-in-law pops in, say, "I'm working now, but I can take a break at [specify time]." Your mother-in-law may never fully grasp that you're on the job, but your spouse, neighbors, and friends should respect this boundary. Type up a sign that you can tape to your front door when you're on an important call or on a deadline that says, "In meeting, please don't interrupt." When a child pops in: If you're the primary caretaker of children, working at home with kids is like bringing them to work with you, only worse. Working from home is NOT the same as being a stay-at-home parent. If you're NOT the main person responsible for childcare duties during the workday, and your child pops in, please don't say, "I can't now, I'm working." Your child will always remember that mantra, and it'll eventually cost you thousands of dollars for their psychotherapy. It's better to give them your full attention for a few minutes, then either invite them to bring a book or homework in and join you, or tell them you'll see them at [specify time] ... and stick to it! Remember why you wanted to work from home Build some fun activities into your day. Schedule breakfast with one child one week, another the next. Walk your dog when you hit the wall on a project to get a fresh perspective. And try not to make your friends and colleagues envious that your commute takes less than a minute. Leslie Godwin, MFCC, is a Career Life-Transition Coach specializing in helping people put their families, faith, and principles first when making career and life choices. She publishes a free email newsletter on career and life transition. To subscribe, email godwinpss@aol.com and mention that you'd like to be on the email newsletter list. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconCash in on Your Expertise Jillian Coleman copy;2003 www.GrantMeRich.com Even though I#146;ve never met you, I know one thing about you. You are an expert. Don#146;t shake your head and smile that shy, self-deprecating smile. Modesty is not the name of the game here. This is about identifying your expertise, owning it, and parlaying it into money. How can I be so sure you#146;re an expert? Easy. Everyone is. Think about it. It#146;s impossible for any of us to go through life without developing a high level of competence in at least one area, and probably more than one. What is yours? Maybe you cook amazing Mexican food. Maybe you convinced your two-year-old to sleep in his own bed. Maybe you make your own clothes, and could show someone else how to do it, too. Maybe you recently bought a sound system, but first you spent months comparing products and features. Maybe you can do ten basic repairs on your car, or your bike. Maybe you know everything there is to know about Pink Floyd. No matter what your area of expertise, there are people out there who want to learn what you already know. And tens of thousands of them are surfing the Internet, right now, looking for you. Despite early belief that the Internet was going to be all about shopping, recent marketing reports show that most people go online for one reason: information. Information products are the hottest products on the Internet today. Increasingly, this information is delivered in the form of e-books. All right, I saw you wince. Writing a book takes years, doesn#146;t it? Well, writing the Great American Novel might take a while, but writing an e-book is very different. Electronic books are a form unto themselves, written with a different goal than printed books. With e-books, the sole objective is to transmit information. Visitors to the Internet want to locate information, get access to it, read it and absorb it #150; quickly. They don#146;t care about a beautiful cover, or the heft and feel of the paper and binding, or how a book looks on a shelf. They want information, succinctly presented. An e-book must be only as long as it needs to be, to transmit the information. Many e-books are thirty pages of 16-point type, but each page is packed with the information the reader wants, and nothing else. A good e-book is a quick, enjoyable read. After you write your e-book, publishing and selling it are much simpler than you may imagine. The Internet marketplace is responding to the demand for information with an array of resources for the e-book publisher. You can take the text from your word processing program and put it into a PDF file such as Adobe Acrobat, or you can use one of the web-based publishing programs. The whole process can be completed in less than half an hour. You don#146;t need your own website to sell your e-book. There are a number of sites that, in return for a percentage of the sales price, will display your e-book and allow buyers to pay by credit card and download their purchase immediately. Some of these sites have affiliate programs, so that website owners who believe your book might be of interest to their visitors can also offer it for sale. In those cases, you share a percentage of the sales price with the affiliate. What you do need is a good sales letter. In fact, I#146;d suggest that you learn the basics of writing a good sales letter and put as much effort into that as you do into writing the e-book. The sales letter introduces the potential buyer to the book, and is displayed on the sales site. You can also develop affiliate sellers yourself, by offering your book through websites you identify. For example, if you are an expert golfer, and you#146;ve written a book describing your techniques, approach the owner of golf or sports-related sites. Many of these sites offer a newsletter to their visitors, and might want to feature your book in their e-zine. So there you have it. Identify your area of expertise, spend a week or two putting it down on paper, format it, write your sales letter, and put it up for sale. Then spend five or ten hours each week marketing it. When those monthly checks start rolling in, you might decide to get to work on book number two! Jillian Coleman is a consultant to businesses and non-profit agencies. Her website, www.GrantMeRich.com is a resource site for small business, grant writers, and consultants. To learn more about this topic, visit the site and click on #147;e-Books#148;. Jillian is the author of books related to grants and business, including Big Bucks for Free: The Complete e-Guide to U.S. Government Grants, and Build Your Small Business Now! Secrets of Success for Entrepreneurs. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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