When it comes to the US economy, there’s one vital sector that hits very close to home: home businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, 53 percent of businesses in the United States are based from home, and this number is expected to increase.
In recognition of their importance, we set out to create a Home Business Resource List that would serve the needs of entrepreneurs setting up shop from home. We asked experts, talked to home business owners and scoured the Internet, and this is what we found.
Starting and growing a home business may seem like a lonely venture, but you’re far from alone. Check out these government resources for assistance:
- Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov)
Keep up to date on new loan programs, contracting opportunities and government actions impacting small businesses.
- SCORE (www.score.org)
Tap into the skills and knowledge of more than 11,000 volunteers with online and in-person mentoring and workshops.
- Business.gov (home-based section) (http://www.business.gov/start/home-based/)
From zoning to tax laws, you’ll want to check out this guide for home businesses.
Spreading the word about any business is crucial but especially so with a home-based one. Fortunately, there are many tools and resources available to help make this aspect become a key factor to your success.
Email Marketing Solutions
- Infusionsoft (www.infusionsoft.com) *Special Recommendation*
Makes CRM, email marketing and e-commerce simpler by making everything automated so that emails can be sent or contact information updated with a single click. This web-based software program also helps you segment your contact list, capture leads online and track deals.
- VerticalResponse (www.verticalresponse.com)
A one-stop shop that assists with everything from email marketing to direct mail to conducting surveys. The prices are affordable (as low as $10/month), customer service is a priority, and you can test it out with a free one-month trial.
- iContact (www.icontact.com)
Features an easy to use interface and SpamCheck technology that makes sure your emails actually make it to your customers’ inboxes. Choose from hundreds of professionally designed email templates or design and upload your own.
- Duct Tape Marketing (www.ducttapemarketing.com)
Visit the site to find out more information about marketing products designed to help grow small businesses, upcoming workshops and to check out the Duct Tape Marketing Blog, an award winning small business and marketing bog.
- SuccessStream (www.success-stream.com)
Marketing expert, Stacy Karacostas, helps develop the right voice, image and messaging for small businesses. Visit the site for a free copy of her report, “The Seven Deadliest Marketing Sins…. Are You Guilty?”
- Debbie LaChusa (www.debbielachusa.com)
A home business and marketing coach, Debbie LaChusa shares her expertise in a free report, "Why Marketing Isn't Enough: 3 Steps for Getting Out of Struggle & Creating a Successful Home-Based Business and Abundant Life," available on the site. Her 1-Hour Marketing Plan is also available for those in need of additional assistance.
- Website Marketing NOW (www.websitemarketingnow.com) *Special Recommendation*
As a home business, your website will speak volumes about your business and determine your subsequent success. Through a Website Audit and Website Consulting, learn how to make your website stand out from the competition and how to make your site more effective in driving your revenue.
- The Outsourcing Company (www.theoutsourcingcompany.com)
An Internet marketing services firm that helps create/redesign websites, drive traffic to your website and maximize sales from your website.
- iMedia Communications Inc. (www.imediaconnection.com)
A trade publisher that offers a comprehensive section of articles covering website marketing and design.
- StartupNation Small Business PR Packages (www.startupnation.com/pages/passport/PP_small-business-pr-packages.asp) *Special recommendation*
An effective and affordable way to outsource your publicity needs. The membership is free for the first year and features a free MEDIAtlas Microlist with first domestic news release distribution as well as various discounts to other resources essential to your PR efforts.
- Help a Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com)
Sign up for this free service that helps put you in touch with journalists looking for sources. If you fit the bill, the free publicity can do wonders for your business.
- Main Street Media Savvy (www.mainstreetmediasavvy.com)
A do-it-yourself publicity blog that founder, Nancy Juetten, describes as “a free resource that offers tips, tools, resources, and inspiration to guide businesses to get seen, heard, and celebrated in their own backyards … and beyond through the power of free publicity.”
Need a helping hand but not yet ready to hire full time or extra staff? The freelance marketplace is full of individuals with strong skill sets who can help you succeed.
- StartupNation Vendor Selector Service (www.resourcenation.com/landing/startupnation/business) *Special Recommendation*
This comprehensive database features local and national pre-screened vendors in over 80 categories, including website design, accounting/bookkeeping, business plans and online phone services. Best of all, the site makes it simple to compare price quotes to find the best vendor for your home business.
- Elance (www.elance.com)
Since 2002, Elance has helped tens of thousands of small and medium businesses outsource to service providers in categories ranging from graphic design and web design to market research.
- HireMyMom.com (www.hiremymom.com)
Tap into a talent pool of skilled, at-home professionals and post your temporary or permanent projects on the site for free. “It’s a win / win,” says founder, Lesley Pyle. “Businesses save on employee salaries and benefits while Mom Professionals enjoy more flexible work schedules with no commute.”
Starting and growing a home business is much simpler thanks to the advent of these innovative uses of technology.
- RingCentral (www.ringcentral.com) *Special Recommendation*
A virtual phone service that includes a local or toll free number with multiple extensions, directory, call forwarding, internet fax and more, making it easy for home businesses to project a professional image. “The 800 number obviously makes it easier for people to get a hold of us (at least in the US), but, most importantly, it gives us the flexibility of being able to have a professional phone service at a fraction of the cost of any traditional hardwire means,” says Kim Hampton, founder of YachtPals.com. “I can forward it, screen my calls from any phone, get messages via email, and basically stay in touch much more effectively than I ever could with my POTS 800 number.”
- Free Conferencing Corporation (www.freeconferencecall.com)
This free service makes it simple to connect with others from your home office. Simply provide your name and email to instantly receive a dial-in number and access code for phone conferencing. You can even record, play back and download your conference calls for free.
- magicJack (www.magicjack.com)
If your home business often has you traveling away from home, you may want to check into this service which allows you to make calls to US and Canada for free as well as calls abroad at a discounted rate via a small device that connects to your computer’s USB port. (Even if you’re abroad, you can still make calls to the US and Canada for free.) It offers directory assistance, call waiting, voicemail and caller ID for $20 per year.
- PayPal (www.paypal.com)
A must-have if you’re doing business online. Available in 190 markets and 19 currencies, PayPal makes it easy for customers around the world to pay you for your product or service.
- Volusion (www.volusion.com)
If the whole e-commerce experience is new for you, you may want to check out Volusion’s offerings. Volusion takes care of everything from email hosting to your shopping cart.
- Shipwire (www.shipwire.com)
Want to sell a product but don’t have the means to store it? Shipwire will take care of the logistics by not only storing your merchandise but also packing and shipping the products when orders are placed on your website.
- 37signals (www.37signals.com)
Featuring four main applications all designed to help business owners get things done the simple way, 37signals makes it easy to share files, keep track of past emails and phone calls, and chat real-time with team members.
- Citrix Online (www.citrixonline.com)
Offers a suite of solutions including GoToMeeting, a web conferencing tool, GoToMyPC for accessing your computer remotely, and GoToWebinar for Webinar setup and delivery from any PC.
- Toggl.com (www.toggl.com)
An online time-tracking tool that features 1-click time tracking. “I've been able to be more efficient in my work day, devote more time to family, and best of all — say ‘no’ to tasks that don't help my clients or build my business,” says Linsey Knerl, a mother of four who works from home.
One of the main challenges of a home business is keeping the records straight. Fortunately, many services exist to help you stay focused on the business, not the paperwork.
- QuickBooks (www.quickbooks.com)
Check out QuickBooks Pro Edition 2009 which, for just under $200, simplifies tracking sales and inventory, creating invoices, managing payroll, and organizing accounts for tax purposes.
- PayCycle (www.paycycle.com)
An online payroll procession solution that takes the hassle out of running payroll and filing taxes. “[PayCycle has been] a great service for paying my staff in just minutes and then having all of my tax information prepared and submitted to the IRS and state automatically,” says Paul Mann, founder of Fetch! Pet Care.
- FreshBooks (www.freshbooks.com)
Software that takes the pain out of invoicing and assists with sending, tracking and collecting payments.
The rules of business can get complicated. Here are some services to help you bide by the laws and grow your home business.
- BizFilings (www.bizfilings.com) *Special Recommendation*
Even a home-based business owner needs to be set up carefully. This online incorporation service operates in all 50 states and makes it possible to file a corporation or LLC in as little as 24 hours. BizFilings has helped more than 500,000 entrepreneurs start, run and grow their businesses. “Once you incorporate with BizFilings, we remain your compliance partner,” says Karen Kobelski, General Manager of BizFilings. “We provide software to help you maintain your corporate records, provide e-mail alerts for upcoming compliance events and monitor the status of your company with the state.”
- LegalZoom.com (www.legalzoom.com)
Helps you choose which is the right business structure for your business. It also offers assistance with trademarks, patents and copyrights in order to protect your work and your business.
- RocketLawyer (www.rocketlawyer.com)
More than one million users use this online legal portal which offers features such as creating customized legal documents, sharing and editing your documents online, collaborating with business partners, electronically signing your document, and click-through legal review.
Have an invention in mind or already created a product but don’t know where to head next? Check out these invaluable resources:
- Invention Home (www.inventionhome.com) *Special Recommendation*
A low-cost, low-risk solution for helping inventors through each step of the invention process, ranging from patent search, obtaining patent protection, professional drawings/designs, and marketing.
- MatchProduct.com (www.matchproduct.com):
Servicing the inventor who has a fully developed, ready-to-go product, MatchProduct.com provides a free resource for listing the product. A small commission is due only if the company "matches" the product with an interested buyer or licensee.
- Don Debelak’s One Stop Invention Shop (www.onestopinventionshop.com)
Whether you have a prototype of an invention or just a cool idea, check out this site to see if any of the services ranging from consulting and invention evaluations to offshore manufacturing and product design and prototyping can help you bring your product to market.
Setting Up Your Home Office
Your business’s success may be more dependent on where you do business than you might think. Take the time to set up your home office to set yourself up for success.
- The Home Office Organizer (www.thehomeofficeorganizer.com)
This site is geared solely toward helping you get your home office set up and organized.
- ChiefHomeOfficer.com (www.chiefhomeofficer.com)
Features a variety of articles on setting up a home office, including cloud computing and keeping your home office inspired.
- PowerHomeBiz.com (www.powerhomebiz.com/workathome/homeoffice.htm)
Though not devoted exclusively to setting up a home office, this site offers a fairly comprehensive section on the topic, including a list of books that might help you make this crucial first step.
If you’re starting or building a business from home, make sure you have the following books in your library:
- StartupNation : America's Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business by Jeff Sloan and Rich Sloan
- Start & Run a Real Home-Based Business by Dan Furman
- Home-Based Business for Dummies by Paul Edwards and Sarah Edwards
Additional Helpful StartupNation.com Links
- StartupNation's Home Business section (http://www.startupnation.com/Home-Business/8/)
Check out this link for helpful and practical knowledge on running a home business.
- StartupNation's Home-Based 100 ranking the top home businesses (http://www.startupnation.com/homebased100)
Check out StartupNation’s annual competition that judges home business owners in various categories. Check out this year's winners and sign up for notifications to keep track of (and maybe enter?) the competition next year.
- StartupNation's 10 Steps to Open for Business (http://www.startupnation.com/steps/55/10-steps-open-start-business.htm)
A guide to entrepreneurship with step-by-step directions. A must-read before you take any steps toward starting your own business.
Now that you’re armed with the resources and tools to start and grow your home business, the only thing left to do is to get out there and do it!