Ask Lorraine



QUESTION: Recently I quit my job while awaiting the birth of my first baby. I decided not to go back to my “day job” and instead stay home to raise my child. However, I’m already getting antsy, and my baby hasn’t even been born yet. What should I consider if I want to try starting up my own business from home?

Answer: Keep in mind, you’re partially antsy because you’re in your ninth month in the middle of the hot summer in Southern California. Just wait until the baby comes. You’ll be kept pretty busy, especially this being your first.

After I got over the shock of getting up at 3 a.m. for feedings, I wanted to get back to work. Having a home business when my kids were babies, however, didn’t carry the same options as you have today.

So if you want to venture out, here is a reality check: If you’re serious about starting your own business, you’ll probably need some sort of child care. This isn’t “Baby Boom: The Movie.” You would be surprised how much you won’t be able to get done while rocking your baby to sleep. So you may need help and probably can get away with someone coming in to help for a few hours a day when things can get hectic.

The type of business you can start from home will determine whether you can earn the same amount of money as you did in your full-time position. Of course, this will depend on how much time you put into your business. You can also consider how much money you are saving on work clothes, eating out and commuting, (although now you have to pay child care). The good news is that some home-based businesses lawyers, graphic designers, computer consultants actually make more money from their home enterprises. So if you fall into one of these categories, you can be in luck.

Be prepared to leave home. Just because you have your office at home doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you won’t have to go out into the field for meetings with perspective clients, to complete a specific job, attend seminars, etc. Of course, after having two children of my own, I suspect you may actually look forward to those outings. Just be prepared to arrange for child care and other additional expenses.

Q: I’m an internist and have a reasonably successful practice with two other doctors. But we are all feeling the pinch of HMOs and managed care. Some of my colleagues have started up various ventures providing additional medical and health care services to augment their income. My partners and I believe we should start thinking about our future. But I’m not sure where to begin.

A: Is there a doctor in the house? Yes, several. But what you need is an MBA.

Where to begin? Like most entrepreneurs, you need to decide what your strengths and weaknesses are. Your options range from health insurance to prescriptions. So what do you want to do today?

You might consider taking a course for entrepreneurs or go for your MBA at USC or UCLA. Both have excellent programs. I would also recommend you take a technology course and get really familiar with the Internet. Like in most businesses, there is a plethora of opportunities in providing services over the Net. Why not health care?

Obviously, setting up a venture capital business, if you have any knack for investment or basic knowledge of finance, could be a very interesting business, and one that might not interfere with your existing practice.

There are so many new biotech and health care companies that need capital. If you have connections, this could be a nice way to get a piece of an exciting young company while identifying new firms that may be candidates for you to manage.

Health care consulting could also help you transition to a new profession. You could easily start part-time, and as it grows begin to ease down your practice.

Having some customer-service abilities wouldn’t hurt either. I know it’s something you doctors don’t know too much about, but you better find bedside manner in a hurry. In the real world, it’s not easy getting and keeping customers. So you may want to catch up on your reading on this topic ASAP.

A quick recommended reading list: “Keeping the Edge,” by Dick Schaaf; “Knock Your Socks Off Service,” by Chip Bell and Ron Zemke; “Customer Intimacy,” by Fred Wieresema; “The Ten Day MBA,” by Steven Silbiger.

Q: My business is in dire need of a public relations strategy. I’m a great marketer, but I have no experience in P.R. How do I get my products and company covered by the media?

A: If you’re good at marketing, and it’s your own business, you should be good at P.R. Like any other activity, it takes strategy and, of course, relationships. Oops! I almost forgot. It also takes time and commitment.

Identify the list of potential publications you want to target for your business. Start out with a short list so you can begin developing a relationship with the editor and/or reporters. First, find out what the editor is looking for in a story. Then you will be able to develop a “hook,” or marketing pitch, to hit the bull’s-eye.

Make sure you tailor your story to fit the publication. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need more than one story you just may need different angles to the story, depending on the paper’s focus.

Keep your pitch short and to the point. Like most cold calls, you’ll have to catch their attention up front, otherwise you’ll lose their interest.

When you write a press release, the heading is everything. Think like a reporter or editor. How would the headline read? Keep in mind that if the story is good and has facts, figures and art, it might be easy for an editor to run with it. Make sure you have people the reporter can call for quotes or verification of facts. The easier you make it for the editor, the better chance you have of getting your story told.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author of “Money Clips: 365 Tips That Will Pay One Day at a Time,” and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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