Nine years ago, Rolf and Susan Hansen turned their part-time, online save-the-date wedding magnet Web site into a full-time business. The husband-and-wife team developed innovative designs and set to work marketing their products until the business really took off.
"For the last three years, we've almost been busier than we want to be," said Rolf Hansen.
The Time Was Right
Two factors told the couple that it was time to focus on their own business full time. They were taking in more and more orders, and Susan Hansen wanted a change in her career. The Hansens made the switch in order to do something they love for a living. And the money has been good, according to Rolf.
"Some people are ready to take the risk because they don't want there to be ceiling on their paycheck. They find it limiting and stifling to fight for a five to seven percent raise each year," said Marty Weiss, counselor for SCORE, a volunteer organization of retired entrepreneurs who offer confidential, free assistance and advice to people who want to start a business or are having issues with their existing businesses.
Before you quit your full-time job to turn a side business into an occupation, you need to do a great deal of honest self-examination and planning. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.
"Some people find a great deal of security in a regular paycheck," said Weiss, who advises would-be entrepreneurs to consider the value of their health benefits and retirement plans before making the final decision.
Planning for Profitability
Even though you've decided that the payoffs outweigh the risks and you can handle the highs and lows of running your own business, it's not time to quit your full-time job yet. Your next steps are:
- Draft a Business Plan
- Create Projected Financial Statements for the Next Three Years
- Seek Advice
A business plan is a detailed document containing an analysis of the marketplace, your business goal and your path to reaching your goals. Weiss recommends carefully researching each topic and creating a document that runs between 10 and 12 pages long.
Be brutally honest when developing your business plan. If you realize in the process that the future looks dim for your business, it's better to find that out before quitting your day job. You can always search for another, more promising idea.
Pro forma financial statements are simple, one-column documents that state your estimated cash flow and income. These statements will help you make operational decisions such as pricing.
Talk to other people who've successfully run their own businesses. Find out what their biggest challenges were and how they overcame them. Score offers free advice from retired, successful entrepreneurs. You may want to contact your local chapter. Also, search your local chamber of commerce for related businesses and contact the owners.
Putting the Plan into Action
Executing your plan takes a lot of work. You'll modify your plan as you go along and learn what works and what doesn't. Here are your first steps to get your business off the ground:
- Register Your Own Domain Name
- Optimize Your Web Site for the Search Engines
- Add new content regularly
- Build a site with many pages
- Load your copy with keywords relevant to your product or service
- Market Your Company
- Provide Excellent Customer Service
It's time to leave that free domain name behind and register your own. Choosing a domain name related to the content of your Web site can improve your ranking in the search engines. It also gives your business a more professional appearance.
Some ways you can increase your rank in the search engine results page are:
Include your URL on business cards, flyers, email messages and letterheads. Buy ads or request links to your site on other sites your customers are likely to visit.
Encourage word-of-mouth referrals by responding to customers quickly and backing your work with a guarantee.
The Hansen's success is due in part to recognizing a need and filling it. When they first began making wedding magnets, they were so unique, the Hansens' business ranked high in the search engine results with little effort. As their competition grew, the couple continued to innovate, offering new custom designs to stimulate word-of-mouth marketing, and learning new search engine optimization tricks to keep their top rankings.
The couple plans to retire soon, but not before launching one last online entrepreneurial venture. They're putting together an ebook revealing the secrets of the wedding magnet business — design templates included.