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Community Manager

Ask The Expert: Launching a Home Based Business

Join AARP Expert Felicia Brown along with Janet Attard, founder and CEO of Business Know-How, July 27-August 3, 2020 to discuss how to start and run a home-based business. 

 

As a result of the pandemic, many have considered the start of an online/home-based business, but may not know where to start.  Businesses, too, have sought help in pivoting to online and remote operations. This conversation will help businesses and individuals alike understand the do’s and don’ts of effective online/home-based business.  

 

We’re taking questions in advance, so please click ‘Reply’ to post a question today!

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Community Manager

This concludes our session of Ask The Expert: Launching a Home Based Business. Special thanks to our guest Business Leader, Janet Attard, of Business Know-How® and AARP Expert Felicia Brown for all your time and attention over the week. And many thanks to all who participated over the last week. We hope you've come away with your questions answered and many more thoughts and resources to consider when launching your at-home business. Thanks again and best wishes, everyone!

 

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For more information, please visit www.aarp.org/beyourownboss

 

You're invited! We hope you'll join us for the Make Your Move Entrepreneurship Contest. AARP and Daymond John have teamed up to launch a contest for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs. Entrants have a chance to win one of four grand prizes which include a virtual one-on-one meeting with Daymond and $5,000! Enter your email address HERE to receive a reminder when the contest goes live on August 20th.

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Periodic Contributor

Are there any books you would recommend that give the basics of starting a home-based online business?

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Business Leader

@cc54292467 Almost any book on starting a small business from an established expert can help you with information about starting from home. That’s because the things that matter – choosing the business, writing a business plan, identifying your market, pricing goods and services, are things that are important no matter  what location you operate the business from.

 

The same is true if it’s an online business. But for an online business, you might also want  a book that covers certain basics in more depth like setting up a website, using social media, selling online, etc.

 

I’d love to be able to recommend my own books on starting a business, but mine are out of print and out of date. Updating them is a project I’ve been putting off too long.

 

I have to admit, too, that I haven’t personally read any of the recently published books on the topic.  In general,though, “For Dummies” brand books do a good job of providing basic information about the topics they cover. I think they have books that cover both starting a business and starting an online business. You can search for them on Amazon.com. Just be sure to look at the publication dates. For the information about running a business online, you’ll want something with a recent publication date within the last few years..

 

Looking on Amazon, I noticed a  book I saw that is an Amazon best seller, with good reviews. Based  on the table of contents,  it seems to cover the important startup points. It is called Starting a Business Quick Start Guide by Ken Colwell. 

 

If you have a local library or local bookstore that is open, (I’m not sure what’s allowed to be open right now because of the pandemic), take a little time to browse through the books they have available. You will find that some cover some topics the you want to know about in more depth than others.  

 

@FeeBrown @AARPLynne 

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AARP Expert

@JanetAttard I'm glad you mention "Branding" in your post.  Many don't know the difference between marketing and branding for your business.  Can you give us a little crash course or a brief break down so our community knows the difference?

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Business Leader

@FeeBrown The difference between branding and marketing is an important one to make!

 

Branding is the identity you develop for your business. It’s * all* of the things that come to mind when someone hears your name or sees your logo or products. It includes the business name you choose, your logo, the color you use in your logo and website, photos you  might use,  a slogan or USP and even the way you dress or answer your business phone.  In short, it’s an image that comes to mind when people think about your business.

 

Your brand is important, because it sets up expectations for what you do, how you do it, and the quality of your goods a services.  You have different expectations of what the food will be like when you hear the brand name Nathan’s than you do for Pace’s Steakhouse. Similarly, if you are hiring someone to paint your home, you may have different expectations about how and when the work will be done from someone whose answering machine says “We’re not hear. Leave a message,” vs someone who has a more professional message or has someone answering the phone.

 

Marketing consists of the things you do to reach out to your potential customers and make them aware of your brand. That would include networking you do on social media and offline, presentations you make, fliers you hand out or mail, any advertising you buy, etc.

@AARPLynne 

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AARP Expert

@cc54292467@JanetAttard shared some great resources last week.  I'm sure she would be happy to share again!

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Contributor

I'm interested in selling handmade goods, patterns, and maybe downloadable graphic elements. I could sell through various sites (like Etsy, Redbubble, Ravelry, or Creative Market), but I'm also interested in having my own website. What websites or web hosts have an easy way to set up a site?

I would be interested in ones where my content would be my property and not of the web host. I know that Wordpress is free, but am not sure if they claim rights to the content. 

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Business Leader

@RoC368640  Having your own website can be a viable addition or alternative to selling on online marketplaces.  And, there are lots of web hosting companies that have website building software that simplify somewhat the process of setting up a website.  

 

But, let me answer your last question first.

No major web hosting company will take away ownership of your content.  What I think you might be referring to, however, is the terms of service for putting a website up for free on Wordpress.COM.  They require you to  give them certain rights to display and distribute the content through their website.  That’s because the free site is actually a subdomain of Wordpress.com (ie, yourbusiness/wordpress.com.  I believe they might also have the right to put their ads on your website.

 

There is actually a different type of Wordpress site, however, which is created with software made available through Wordpress.ORG.  This is the one that’s the popular Wordpress installation for business. The  Wordpress software from Wordpress.org gets installed on your own domain at whatever hosting company you choose.  Because you own the domain and are paying for hosting, you aren’t giving Wordpress any distribution or other rights this way.

 

As a business, you would want to have your site hosted on your own domain name, and  many hosting companies offer site building software that makes it possible to create a website to sell products without knowing any programming.

 

Among those major hosting companies are Bluehost, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and Hostgator. There are many others, too. Big hosting companies can all set up the software from  Wordpress.org on your own domain along with something called WooCommerce to handle online sales. There are also hosting companies whose specialty is providing online storefronts. Shopify and BigCommerce are a couple of them. There’s also WooCommerce, which works with WordPress. PayPal also has options to let you put “Buy Now” buttons on most types of websites.

 

What you need to look at besides how easy or difficult it is to create the website, is what features you really need now, and how many products you will start off selling.  Even with just a few products, you need  a way to accept payments online and to charge the correct sales tax on items that are taxable. Hosting companies that offer storefronts sometimes make those capabilities available.

You’ll also need to keep track of those taxable sales, and determine the amount of money you collected, and remit it on a regular basis to state taxing authorities. Some shopping sites have tools available to do these things more easily. But those may be overkill until you have a big volume of sales. If you only have a few sales a week, you could keep track of what you owe sales tax authorities with a spreadsheet or some other tool.

 

If you have limited supplies of your handcrafted items, you may want a site builder that will let you record the number of items available (your inventory), and then prevent people from buying that item when you've sold all of them. If  you don’t get a lot of traffic  to your site, you could manually put up an out of stock notice, of course.

 

Another feature you might want is  a web hosting site that will integrate with and let you sell through  popular social media sites.

 

So, how do you decide?  The key is to determine what capabilities you  want and really need to get started. Besides those already mentioned, you'll want a way to communicate with customers, and may want ways to upsell and cross sell products. 

 

If you’ll be starting out with just a few products, look for a low cost option that lets you test the water. You could set up a simple website on your own domain at any of the web hosting companies. (Check their demos, or see if they have a free trial.)  Be sure you own the domain name if the hosting company includes domain name purchase with their plan.  Use the hosting company’s website builder to put a couple of products on the site and sign up to use PayPal to accept payment for them.  As you need a more complex solution, then look at other options.

If you’re going to start out with a lot of products and customers that know you, then you’ll want to start with a more robust solution.

 

If you want to learn more about what's involved with building websites, Businessknowhow.com has a lot of information on building websites. 

@FeeBrown @AARPLynne 

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Contributor

Thanks so much for the detailed reply!

I remember now the .org and .com difference in WordPress, but am glad I asked.

I had done some research on web hosts, but didn’t have enough technical knowledge to trust my own judgment as to which might be a good idea and what information I found might be out of date. So, the links you shared are really helpful to me.

I will bookmark the page in your link and read more about how to do it.

Thanks again!

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Newbie

I'd like to start a non-profit He/She Shed to engage widows/widowers in hobbies and community projects or initiatives as I transition to retirement.  How do I go about securing the status?

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AARP Expert

@CARB what a great idea.  My dad just became a widow and he is grappling with what to do with his time, now, amid COVID-19.  Please keep us posted on the developments of this - great idea to combat loneliness and isolation.

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Business Leader

@CARB  What a great way to bring together people who may be sitting home alone and feeling lonely or maybe even somewhat useless. You should consider including older single individuals who have never been married, too. As single people retire, they can have similar needs to socialize and feel needed.

 

As far securing nonprofit status, this is an area where I strongly advise getting help from an attorney for getting it set up and consulting with an accountant, as well.

 

You start by forming a business and incorporating it. Then you apply for nonprofit status for the corporation. There are several types of nonprofits, and rules for what they can do/how they are run.  After you’ve incorporated then you apply for nonprofit status. There are several types of nonprofits, and you’ll need to choose the right one for what you want to do.  USA.gov has an overview of the process here.

 

Before you go through the time and expense of forming a nonprofit, you may want to consider whether you could accomplish the same goal in some other way.

 

Good luck whichever way you decide to proceed!

@FeeBrown @AARPLynne 

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Newbie

Im about to start up a graphic design business at home.

What can I do to gain confidence with a business to do business with me in person, by mail/email, and cold calling?

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Business Leader

@JohnV685191 Graphic designers can command good fees once they  become established. To win clients, one of your first tasks  is to build a portfolio. Most clients will ask to see examples of work you’ve done before they’ll hire you.  The portfolio can go on your own website and on sites  such as Porfolio, Bēhance, and Dribbble that provide space for artists to display their works.  Portfolio and Bēhance are both owned by Adobe. Dribbble also has a jobs board for graphic artists.

 

If you need to create portfolio examples that simulate the kind of work assignments you might get from clients, you may find a site called Briefbox useful.  

 

To find clients online, consider platforms like Upwork.com or 99Designs. On sites like these, you’ll be competing for jobs against people from around the world, some of whom may be willing to work for a lot less than you’d want to charge on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it is an option to get started.

 

Another way to find customers is to contact bigger companies to see if they would outsource any work to you. Depending on what your specialty is, that might be web developers, advertising or digital marketing agencies, book publishers, book packagers, or any other larger company that might have a need for a subcontractor to do the kind of work you do.  You could call on the phone, or try to connect through social media.

 

Finally,  cold call businesses and prospective clients yourself.  If you're calling local companies, let them know you are local and launching a new business. If they don't have work to give you, ask if they know anyone who might. If you are persistent you'll start to bring in work and build name recognition for your business.

 

@AARPLynne @FeeBrown 

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AARP Expert

@JohnV685191 this is exciting.  Let's see what @JanetAttard says about starting a graphic business.

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Periodic Contributor

If I'm creating a product with graphics and text to sell online, how do I copyright the materials.  It's not just a book, but has several segments.  Can you recommend books or a site that explains copyrighting and protecting your material?

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AARP Expert

@cc54292467 this is great!  What kind of business are you pursuing?  I think @JanetAttard can better assist you and perhaps others as well who may be interested in a similar type of business.

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Periodic Contributor

It's a kind of game with cards, directions, and other pieces.

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AARP Expert

@cc54292467 so it's a board game that has visual components?

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Periodic Contributor

Well, it's not fully developed yet.  It may be more of a card game with multiple elements; I'm not sure there will be a board.  However, I would want all the cards to be copyrighted as a unit.  Plus the directions and the rest of the design elements.  I'm not sure how that works. 

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Business Leader

@cc54292467 @FeeBrown  @AARPLynne 

Thanks for providing the additional details!  Developing a game sounds like fun - and a lot of work 🙂

 

Copyrights are just one form of intellectual property you'll want to learn about. For a game, you also need to look into trademarks and patents.  

 

Copyright can protect elements like graphics and text in your game. But chances you may have original characters and other parts of the game that should be trademarked to protect your rights. Finally, it is possible that the methods of playing the game or some other aspect might qualify for patent protection as well.

 

You also need to be sure you aren’t accidentally infringing on anyone else’s intellectual property.

 

The US Trademark and Patent Office has a good explanation of copyrights, trademarks and patents.

 

And you’ll find a good explanation of all three types of intellectual property specifically as they relate to games on the American Bar Association website.

 

But, I would recommend consulting with an intellectual properties attorney to determine the best way to protect your game.  Intellectual property is a specialty within the legal field, and a good intellectual properties attorney will be of invaluable assistance helping you get things set up correctly from the start. 

 

Good luck, and I hope your game becomes a huge success.

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Periodic Contributor

Thanks for the copyright, patent and trademark info!  I have a lot of research to do.  🙂

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Contributor

Members have questions about the details of this event.

 

Please reply to them via

https://community.aarp.org/t5/Work-Jobs/Ask-The-Expert-Launching-a-Home-Based-Business/m-p/2289979

 

Thank you.

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Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi @mr93637344, thanks for jumping in to help. This is the place to be for Ask The Expert: Launching a Home Based Business. For anyone who's interested, please click the "Reply" button within this discussion to post your question. We're here now thru Monday, August 3. Thank you!

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Contributor

When's the event, where's the link, where's the literature?

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Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi @MarcF212015, you've come to the right place. The event takes place right here in this discussion, Monday, July 27-Monday, August 3. We're taking questions in advance if you'd like to leave a question for @FeeBrown and @JanetAttard. Thank you for your interest! 

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Contributor

I own a multi-line insurance brokerage where I'd typically meet with clients at their home or Starbucks. The pandemic-related adjustments have been challenging: presentation, prospecting, client service, juggling.

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Business Leader

@MarcF212015, You’re certainly not alone! Networking has always been one of the most important ways for small businesses to meet prospects and get known.

Building relationships (the way you were doing before the pandemic) is key for both prospecting and keeping clients. It is just as important – or more so – now when so many people feel isolated and so many small businesses have concerns about staying in business and keeping employees and customers safe.

Even though you can’t network in person, you can still keep client relationships strong and build new ones. Here are a couple of suggestions:

If you aren’t already doing it, try video conferencing with clients and prospects. The technology is easy and can be inexpensive to use. Instead of inviting a client to meet you at Starbucks, you might send them a bag of Starbucks coffee and invite them to meet you for a coffee break in a video conference.

You can also stay in touch by calling clients on the phone and asking how they and their families or employees are doing. Call people who were on your prospect list before the pandemic, too.
Check with the networking groups you used to attend and see if any of those are running online networking events. If not, why not start one!

You should also be corresponding with your clients and prospects by email, sending them educational tips and hints to stay safe, and information related to the lines of insurance you sell.
The bottom line is to think in terms of your goals – meeting prospects and servicing clients – and consider ways today’s technology (and your telephone) can help you achieve the same results.

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Newbie

Hello my name is Lynn I am interested in starting a home-based insurance business I also would like to have a iPod. Please direct me on getting started selling health insurance/life insurance. Thank you

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