By Tammy Harrison
We received a telephone call from the owner of a local manufacturing business a couple of weeks ago. He had handcrafted a trailer for my husband. The phone call was a follow-up to make sure that the trailer was acceptable. After my husband assured him that all was great, the business owner explained that their sales had dropped 20%, so they were closing the doors.
More than once lately, I have been reminded that one of the uncertains in a home-based business is lean times. No money coming in, no prospect of money coming in, and no idea how one is going to pay for the ISP each month. You have written to all of your clients and customers, and no one has come forth with any additional work for you. Not to mention the fact that the holidays are fast approaching, and you really wanted to give your children some of the bigger items on their lists.
Unfortunately, you may have waited too late to fulfill some of your sales goals for the month, and you may not be able to make all of the kids' dreams come true. But, you can start now to insure that the lean times do not flow over into next year. Here are some tips to help you increase your customer base, and your pocketbook:
1) Market, market, market. This is one item that should never be overlooked, even when you have more than enough clients and sales. Take the time to do some market testing and find the best approach to selling yourself and your business. Then, make goals each day/week/month to set aside dedicated time to market your business.
2) Volunteer your time and energies. When business is slow, it gives you more time to give. Many non-profits are looking for volunteers, especially during the holiday season. Who knows who you might run into? You could be helping serve food in a soup kitchen and be standing next to the CEO of the biggest business in town - and when you are scooping vegetable soup, you could be marketing yourself and your business!
3) Make sure that all expenses for your business can be paid for when times are tough. This means having adequate savings to tide you over, not making big purchases when your business is historically low, or working your business on a budget. I have opted not to purchase DSL. One of the reasons is because we live in the country, and the only way for me to have the speed would be to purchase a satellite. But, the other reason is that I do not want to be strapped for cash when that recurring bill comes every month. My fixed expenses for my business are less than $150 per month, and I have worked my business well enough to know that I will be able to pay those expenses whether I make a big sale or not.
4) Make sure that your home expenses are just as carefully budgeted as your business expenses. In my case, my husband pays the bills and I pay for the fun. The total of our home expenses will never exceed that of my business expenses because we are very careful to live within our means. Groceries for a family of six are really the only unknown in our house (as we have savings for the bigger household repair expenditures), but I have worked this business long enough to know when my slow times are, so that I can be ready for them. February is typically a slow month for me, so you can bet I will be making more dinners from scratch, planning my meals based on the ingredients in my pantry and eating out less than once a week.
5) Do some business sharing with friends and non-competitive counterparts. For example, say you are a web designer and your friend sells baskets. Work out a commission arrangement with them and exchange business cards and marketing materials with each other. When you visit with clients, leave your own materials with them as well as that of your friend. That way, even if you don't make a sale, you may be able to pick up a little commission by helping your friend make sales.
6) Coupons WORK. Create some coupons and distribute them wherever you can! I make mine on the backs of my business cards, that way my potential clients have both my contact information as well as their discount on one handy card. Drop some off at the laundromat, ask if you can set them on a counter in the local mail stop and share them with your friends and family for distribution. When I worked in the law office, we always had a running joke about business cards. We were to keep a stack of them in our car, right next to a disposable camera. When we came upon an accident, we were to *accidentally* drop some of the attorney's business cards out of the window. Then, go around the block and snap photographs of the scene. That way, we could develop the film and use that as a means to make contact with the victims; and they would already have our name fresh in their minds if they picked up the cards that littered the street! This was a joke, but it is a unique way of making sure that people find you.
7) Network with others. Again, you may not think you have anything to offer, but conversing with people (on- and off-line) is one of the best ways to increase the awareness about your business. When we work at home, we rarely have a flashy sign on our front lawn. Locals may not be aware of what you do, because of that. So, take the time to visit with neighbors, at the grocery store, at gymnastic lessons. Make sure that you are the *talk of the town*, and make sure you keep talking!
8) Invest in a cell phone. This is my single biggest expense in my office, outside of computer equipment. I can not only take calls anywhere and anytime, I can also plug my laptop into it so that I am never without my connection to the world. Many potential clients still have trouble leaving messages on voice mail or an answering machine. I can forward my home office calls to my cell phone when I am out and about, which gives me more of a chance to sell myself and my business than hoping that people will leave messages.
9) Stock up. When you are having good times, the checkbook is happy. But, do not be too smug about all of the money you are making. Watch for paper sales, specials on printing costs, etc. Make sure you have enough of the everyday supplies you need to make it for a month or two.
10) Do NOT give up! Unless you are running in the red for more than a year, if you have the drive and determination to make your business a success, then keep your spirits up!
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