Trading online and cross border
Emma Jones
emmaljones

As the European elections come to a close and World Trade Week begins, what better time than the present to look at the possibilities of selling products and services overseas. Emma Jones offers a route map.


Export-friendly

In a recent report on the characteristics of home based businesses, it was revealed that the proportion of home businesses deriving more than half their sales from overseas customers is greater than for other SMEs. Businesses started and run from home trade local – but they also have a growing propensity to trade global.

This was confirmed in eBay’s quarterly Online Business Index that showed a 127% increase in cross border online trade in 2008 compared with 2007, with exports by online businesses to Eurozone countries surging by 136%.

As I quoted in our support statement for World Trade Week: ‘It is incredible that you can now start a business from the spare room in the morning and be selling to the world by midday.’

So, how to get started?

I suggest it’s about getting three fundamentals right.

  • The Platform – to sell to the world, requires being seen by the world. Achieve this by being active on one of a number of powerful platforms; global marketplaces such as eBay and etsy.com and online trading spaces such as elance and peopleperhour.com are connecting buyers and sellers across the globe. As trade develops on these high profile platforms, consider creating your own site or blog. Companies like Venda offer an online trading store for £50 per month; allowing you to run your own store whilst maintaining trade through other platforms.

  • Payment – with tools such as PayPal and Worldpay you can easily accommodate e-commerce on your website and get paid without having to make up-front investment. PayPal is owned by eBay and has more han 100 million account holders. There is no up-front cost to installing PayPal – you pay transaction fees once the system is up and running. WorldPay has a dedicated site for small business and offers the opportunity to start trading and receiving payments online in one basic package. WorldPay customers are charged an up-front amount plus monthly and transaction charges. Google Checkout is a relative newcomer. It works pretty much like PayPal, with slightly lower fees, ranging from 1.4% to 3.4% plus 15p per transaction.

  • Post & Packaging – the FedEx Small Business Centre offers all the information you need on packing and posting goods or visit your local Mail Boxes Etc and have them do the shipping for you. They have deals in place with most of the major postal companies; UPS, Parcelforce Worldwide and FedEx. And if you’re looking for somewhere to store all your stock before sending it across the world, take a look at Access Self Storage and move stock out of your garage/hallway/spare room and in to its own dedicated space!  

Taking these steps will see you start your adventure of international trade with the rich rewards it is sure to bring.

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’

Enterprise Nation is racing to follow every home business on Twitter by Home Enterprise Day on Friday 20th November at www.twitter.com/e_nation 

 

 


 


Commercial coach, professional nagger, mentor
Emma Jones
emmaljones

Whatever you decide to call them, having someone to act as a commercial reality check in your business is invaluable. Finding someone with business experience who is prepared to meet and make you accountable could make the difference between meeting or missing your targets. 

Benefits

So how can a commercial coach/Non-Exec type person help your business? Here are a few of the benefits you’ll reap:

  • - Outlining your business aims and objectives to someone not involved in the detail helps you to get things straight in your own mind
  • - A fresh pair of eyes looking at the business can make suggestions that may not have occurred to you
    A commercial person will inject discipline in to the business and have you reporting on a monthly basis as to whether you have met sales and marketing targets
  • - Knowing someone will be on your back if you don't deliver motivates you to win that new customer/ seal that long-running deal etc etc  


Mr or Mrs Right

How do you go about choosing the person to fill this role? It may take a while to find the perfect person (what’s that phrase about having to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince) and as the business develops, you may need to look for a person with different attributes. As a general outline, go for someone who:

  • - you trust
  • - preferably know (or know through a shared contact)  
  • - has experience in an area that applies to your business
  • - and, critically, someone you respect
     

As a business owner, it can be a little unsettling at first to have someone question your business model and approach. After all, you are the boss, you know how to run your business, you won't be told what to do. Right? Well, maybe. But it's worth taking advice at the right time, and from the right kind of person.

Two hours with this person can have you walking away feeling great about the business and clear on the way forward. It may also mean doing some homework but then again, that’s what professional naggers are for!

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’


Taking care of the finances
Emma Jones
emmaljones

I often speak about the golden triangle in business. This is the simple triangle that helps to keep your head and your business in order. It goes like this; try to spend equal amounts of your time on three things - business development, customer care and admin - if you spend roughly a third of your time on each, the business will balance.

There will though be a corner of the triangle you don’t enjoy. If you’re like me, it’s ‘admin’ – the canny corner that involves distributing invoices, monitoring cashflow and generally keeping the books in order. The good news is, there’s help at hand for each corner of the triangle, including support with your admin and accounts.

A number of online services have come to market, particularly aimed at the freelance community. They include Free Agent Central which, in a review of online invoice applications by our freelance technology editor, San Sharma, was described as “more than an invoicing app - it's the closest thing to a virtual accountant that I've ever seen and, far from those services on my original list, it's British! That means it’s easy to report Sales Tax, VAT, business and personal taxes.”

Other options for online invoicing include Freshbooks, Simply Invoices and Cashboard with more comprehensive accountancy products such as Intuit’s Quickbooks also available.  

To receive an even deeper level of support as a freelancer, you can register with an umbrella company. This essentially outsources all of your admin with tasks like invoicing, collecting payment and paying taxes taken care of by the umbrella business. You have your own clients and continue to enjoy the benefits of being self-employed, whilst your status changes to an employee, with someone else taking care of the support required. Companies such as Kingston UK and Brookson are leaders in this field.

Central to the services offered by all of these support businesses is that they take care of the money, so you can spend more time generating it. Which has got to be good news!  

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’

 


7 steps to creating the right impression
Emma Jones
emmaljones

You only get one chance to create a first impression. To make sure it’s the right one, follow these 7 steps that will have people meeting you, liking you and, critically, wanting to do business with you.

 

  1. Be confident – walk into a room with your head held high and confidence intact. This will come across clearly in your posture. Shake hands firmly and look the other person in the eye when introducing yourself. If someone is coming to collect you from a waiting room, remain standing whilst you wait – no matter how appealing the sofa looks! 
  2. Look the part – are your shoes polished and hair brushed? This may sound like a small thing but potential customers will look for the detail. The state of your appearance and dress could make the difference between winning a contract, or not. If you can, check yourself in the mirror just before greeting; it’s the safest way to avoid sitting through a vitally important meeting with cappuccino froth on your lips!
  3. Good design speaks volumes – ensure your personal image is reflected in your professional image. Do you have a memorable logo? And does that logo appear on business cards, your website and other promotion materials? Company design can make you stand out and it’s worth paying a professional to get it right.
  4. Take an interest in the other person – creating a good impression is about listening to the other person, as much as it is telling them about you. Ask questions about their business, hobbies, life and they, in turn, will take a deeper interest in yours. It’s also through asking questions that you’ll find common points of connection.
  5. Be clear on the offer – when asked to describe your business, product or offer, be clear and concise. Perfect your elevator pitch – this is the description of the business that can be uttered in less than 15 seconds. When I meet someone new my line is “Hello. I’m Emma Jones. My company helps people start and grow businesses from home.” 
  6. A bit of give and take – when heading to a meeting or networking event, of course you want to get something out of the experience but be prepared to give a little too. You’re meeting a potential client and would like their business. Give something in return, whether that be your free expert opinion or opening up your rolodex and making a virtual introduction (this takes only seconds yet will keep you in the mind of the beneficiary for time to come)
  7. Follow-up – back in the home office and it’s time to follow up on the actions agreed. Be prompt and the relationship will progress just so. 

Taking these steps will ensure you create the right impression and that your business is regarded as professional and trustworthy. What better way to secure new customers.

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’

 

 


The top 5 home business occupations in 2009
Emma Jones
emmaljones

You can guarantee that the number of businesses started at home will increase in 2009. That’s for sure. And it’s on account of lower start-up costs, lack of commute and the fact that many more people will launch a part-time business; holding down a day job and returning home to build a business at nights and weekends. But what will these businesses be doing? Here’s a list of what we think will be the top 5 home business occupations of 2009.
 

  • Arts and crafts

Driving this growth is the increasing number of platform sites offering a window to the world for products. In a recent feature  we reviewed five such sites, from the globe-sprawling etsy.com to UK upstarts such as myehive.com and folksy.com. They all offer a powerful sales channel for artisans and are a key factor in the continued rise in arts and craft home based business.

  • Business services

Expect to see thousands of new businesses started by professional experts including web site designers, accountants, copywriters, lawyers and recruiters. Skilled and talented individuals are leaving employers (or, in the unfortunate case of redundancy, being asked to leave) and choosing to go off and do a better job on their own. We hear from many who are enjoying the new-found freedom and flexibility that comes with being your own boss.

  • Making Money Online

You can’t ignore the web. And why would we, when it’s delivering so many new opportunities for people to make money. Start a part time business on eBay and build up sales. Launch an online store with venda.com and watch the orders come in. Build traffic to your blog or website and generate advertising and sponsorship. By the time the year is out there’ll be dozens more new ways of making money online and home business owners will be making the most of them.

  • Domestic services

If people aren’t moving homes in 2009, they will be improving them. This throws up a raft of opportunities for new home business owners. We predict a rise in the number of businesses offering services from cleaning to interior design and garden landscaping,

  • Franchise
This final one isn’t an occupation as such but we are confident of seeing a rise in the number of people opting to buy into a franchise. In doing so, business owners benefit from being their own boss but also being part of a team. Outfits to benefit from this will include Travel Counsellors, Virgin Vie, My Secret Kitchen and Girlie Gardening.

We’re expecting an exciting year for home business in 2009. Let’s wait until the end of it to see if we got these judgement calls right!

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’


 


When the phones hush and emails subside
Emma Jones
emmaljones

One of the most appreciated aspects of December (aside from it being a time for family and festivities) is that it’s a quiet work time that allows home business owners to get the house in order. The phones don’t ring so much and emails don’t arrive so often. It’s a perfect time for some considered business planning.
 

Make plans against these main headings to be sure of starting the New Year with that extra bit of oomph. 

Business Development

The first priority is to take care of existing clients. Send Christmas cards (with personalised notes) to thank them for their custom over the year. For bigger clients, set up New Year meetings to ask for feedback and propose new ideas and activities for the new year.

As for new clients, make a list of those you’d like to work for in 2009. This is your sales pipeline that can be recorded in excel, in your carry-around note book or via software applications such as www.salesforce.com. Spend a couple of quiet hours researching contact names and, if you can find the time in between merriment and mince pies, send an introductory email to the contact so the note is waiting for them at the beginning of the year.  

Marketing

Produce a 12 month press schedule and resolve to writing a press release each month. Think about partners who could add weight to the release - maybe through a joint piece of research or a survey – or help with distribution. Set up these alliances now so they’re ready to activate when the time comes to release your news.

If you have an online presence, December is the month to spend an hour going through the site as if you were a new visitor. Does the design still reflect the brand/ are there any broken links/ is the press section up to date etc. Give the site a spring clean so it’s ready for all the new traffic set to arrive on account of your ’09 marketing plan.

Technology

Carry out a technology audit. The key questions to ask are:

  • Am I spending too much on broadband/wireless access? Are there better deals now on the market? www.broadbandgenie.co.uk is a great way to check this.

 

  • Are there any new and affordable pieces of software that will help me work smarter? (look out for an article dedicated to this topic in January)

 

  • Is 2009 the year I get set up with an IT support contract so computer security and back-up is taken care of by someone else? www.zuuMedia.com offers this service remotely and at a competitive cost.

 
Finance

The final piece of planning is the finances. Does cashflow look strong and is this the time to consider outside investment to take the company to its next stage of growth.

After all this planning, you’ll feel fit and ready for the year to come. And will have earned yourself a glass of fine mulled wine!

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’
 


Taking on talent - on the right terms and at the right price
Emma Jones
emmaljones
One of the reasons why home businesses are performing well in the current environment is on account of manageable overheads. There’s no rent to pay on out-of-home office space and, as is often the case, no full-time salaries and National Insurance to cover as home business owners tend to sub-contract work to partners and freelancers or take on flexible and part-time staff.  If you’re wondering how to go about recruiting a flexible workforce, this feature is for you.
 
Supply meets demand
A sad repercussion of the blip in the economy has been people losing their jobs. The upside of this is a good number of quality people have come on to the market, offering their services as freelancers and independent contractors. This is good news for them (benefiting from the freedom & flexibility that comes with being your own boss) and it’s good news for all the home businesses on the look-out for talent. Here are some places to look.

For project work – check out elance.com [www.elance.com]. A huge site that operates across the globe with a database of more than 130,000 professionals who will respond to your project requests.
 
For more permanent work – search on sites that offer more of a personal service. One such site is flexibleskillsbank.co.uk [www.flexibleskillsbank.co.uk] that is currently operating in 11 areas across London and the South East, offering a niche service for small and growing businesses that have staffing requirements and want to take on flexible freelancers or employees. Founder of the business, Karen Kennard, says:
 
“We understand that sometimes small businesses don’t need full time staff, or don’t have office space for new staff, so we can put you in touch with the right people who can work flexibly.”
 
Since being formed two years ago, Karen Kennard’s business is taking off as more people choose to work flexibly and more companies want to hire this way. The plan is to expand nationwide over the coming months.
 
Two others who spotted a gap in the flexible recruitment market are Ken Sheridan and Paula Wynne who came together to launch remoteemployment.com [www. remoteemployment.com] on the back of personal experience of searching for freelance workers.

RecruitmentRevolution.com [www.RecruitmentRevolution.com] claims to offer ‘a refreshing approach to recruitment’ and this site too is set up to accommodate the needs of home business owners looking for the most flexible employment solution.

These latter three sites are operated by home based companies who practice what they preach when it comes to keeping costs low, being nimble and providing a top quality service to clients. They are businesses founded by talented individuals and have fast become the online gathering place for talent.

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home
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Top 5 technology apps of 2008
Emma Jones
emmaljones

As we enter the month of December, I can’t help but look back at the year that was. The thousands of new businesses started, the people we’ve profiled, and the technology applications that have made our lives complete. In no particular order of preference, I give you my top 5 technology applications of 2008. 

 

  1. Basecamp [www.basecamphq.com] – the backbone of the business. This project management software helps us keep on top of things. By logging in, the team can see the status of each client and contribute to future projects. It saves on sending group emails and files and keeps your thoughts and intelligence in one place. To clients, it makes you look super-organised. Cost: $49 per month (£32)
  2.  

  3. Skype [www.skype.com] – our virtual water cooler, video conference system and podcast production kit. Yes, we do lots with Skype! It’s a versatile product that, at its most basic level offers an instant messaging service. Taking it to the next level allows you to connect with customers by webcam or group calls.Cost: Free to download. £20 for basic hand phone or headset.
  4.  

  5. Twitter [www.twitter.com] – a perfect way to show off your expertise .. and, yes, see what your friends had for lunch. Twitter has had a bad rap for being ‘lightweight’ and ‘a form of virtual stalking’ but anyone who uses it will know it’s no such thing. Twitter is a tool that is low maintenance, yet powerful. It provides an outlet for your expertise as you tweet in less than 140 words on your thoughts and motions of the day. To be sure, there is a social angle to this neat application but that’s what home business is all about; business mixed with life. Cost: Free
  6.  

  7. Surveymonkey [Surveymonkey.com] – take polls and run Awards with this cheeky piece of software. Our 2008 Home Business Awards were managed by surveymonkey.com - it was a delight to use and is also cost-effective.  Cost: Basic package is free. Cost to upgrade.
  8.  

  9. Blogger and Wordpress [blogger.com/wordpress.com]  –  the launch pad for many a home business. These blogging tools have allowed thousands of people to turn a hobby into a business and create a home on the web that generates a financial return. For that reason, blogging platforms make it in to the top 5 list! Cost: Free
  10.  

There are many other quality applications on the market. A number have been mentioned by members in our forum; from accounting packages like Freshbooks to mail shot programmes like Mailchimp.

 

As for the applications we’ll be testing at Enterprise Nation in 2009, they include news feed Yahoo Pipes, sales tool Go To Webinar and customer relationship software, salesforce.com. It’s going to be another busy year!

 

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com] and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home'


A professional front door
Emma Jones
emmaljones

When you run a business from home, you realise the importance of extending a professional welcome to existing clients and potential customers. Presenting to prospects a reception that says ‘we are in business, here to serve and quality is our aim.’ There are a number of ways to extend such a welcome.
 

By post

You might want to hide your address; maybe it sounds too domestic or you just don’t want people turning up on your doorstep! You can do this with a P.O. Box number that’s easily set up with Royal Mail. Or, rent a mailbox at Mail Boxes Etc., which gives a more tailored and personal service than a P.O. Box. You get a nice sounding address – and a place to meet other home business owners.
 

By phone

It’s cheap and sometimes free to get an 0845 local rate number or an 0870 national rate number for your home business. It will hide where you’re based and divert calls to wherever you specify. Bear in mind, though, that having such a number – especially with national rates – might put customers off ringing you.


If you use a landline number it’s best to have a separate line for home and for business. It will stop your business calls from being answered by the kids and give you a chance to escape work calls when you want to. You don’t need to invest in an actual second line as VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is an option.  This uses a broadband internet connection to make and receive calls. The VoIP service I use and recommend is Skype.


To have someone take calls when you can’t, consider a call-handling service like Moneypenny. They answer calls with your company name, text on urgent messages and email the others, giving you a big business feel and giving customers a professional welcome that inspires confidence.
 

On the web

This could be the topic of a full feature in itself! Your website is sometimes the first thing potential customers see – and they’ll make a judgement in seconds! Create a well-designed site by hiring a professional designer or build your own and include the basic pages:
 

About us/ News/ Products or services/ FAQs/ Contact us
 

If you’re not ready to invest in a bells and whistles website, set up a blog to show off your products and services. This can be done for free via blogger.com or wordpress.com 
 

Face-to-face

Meeting clients outside the home office offers another opportunity to show how professional you are. Find a venue that chimes with your brand and that will create the right impression. Anyone who visits my site will know I’m a member and huge fan of private member’s club, One Alfred Place. It provides me with a professional base in the city and a space in which clients feel comfortable about doing business.  

Investing in these services will make you look professional and well and truly open for business. 

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’

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