Before You Do Anything: Try It Out.
So you know, roughly, what you want your home business to be. Before you go any further and start investing, though, you need to try it out. Here’s how.
Build a Prototype.
If you plan to sell physical things, or you’re going to do something like starting a website or making software, then you should build a prototype to see how your idea will work out. A prototype is a version of your product that is built quickly by you alone, and serves to show that your idea is feasible in the real world. If it would be too expensive to build the whole thing, then just building the new part that differentiates you from your competitors is good enough.
Show your prototype to a few people, to see what they think. Are they excited? Would they use it?
Get a Few Customers.
If your product is relatively low-value, or you’re providing a service, then it shouldn’t be too much trouble to get a few customers and do a few dry runs. Do them a generous discount (you could even do it for free), to make sure that everything runs smoothly and the customers are satisfied at the end of it.
For example, let’s say you plan to be a landscape gardener from home. You could borrow the tools, and volunteer to do a garden for some kind of charity project – this is good, since it means that you’re doing something nice for charity, but they’re not paying for perfection, so it’s not that bad if small things go wrong. You should then go through all the motions as you would once your business is established, and see what comes out at the other end.
Here’s another one. Let’s say you’re an Italian living outside Italy, and you plan to start a home business cooking pasta in your kitchen and delivering it to customers (you’d be surprised how many home businesses there are in the catering industry). You could make a rough draft of a leaflet (with discounted prices) and deliver it to a small number of homes in the area, until you get a little response. You could then see if it really is feasible to make and deliver these things, and whether there would be any profit in it.
The best dry-runs, though, are the ones where you can get one client at full price. This generally happens in the kind of industry where most transactions are business-to-business, and go through a bidding process. If you’re doing something like freelance writing or artwork, this can let you take on one ‘job’ without being committed to any more afterwards. If you find it’s not for you, at least you haven’t lost too much – and if you love it, then you’re getting valuable experience before you try to take it full-time.
When you try your business out, make sure to do some kind of survey – you could hand it to the customer, include it with your delivery, or even phone up and say that you’re just calling to make sure everything is alright. Following up this way isn’t just good for you, it’s also good customer service.
Don’t Rely on Scale.
One of the most common things I hear when I tell people to try out their home business ideas is that a small-scale trial wouldn’t do the idea justice, since they ‘plan to make money on scale’.
Never, ever rely solely on scale. You think that supplies will get magically cheaper if you’re doing ten orders a day instead of one? Guess again. You think you’re going to save time by doing lots of orders at once? You might save some, but not as much as you might think. When you’re trying to see whether your business is viable, you should always err on the conservative side – the thinner your margins are, the easier it is for something unexpected to happen and destroy them altogether.
You’re cheating yourself if you don’t try out your business before you start it – you’ll be throwing yourself in at the deep end, and there won’t be a lifeguard. Trying it out gives you the opportunity to make your beginner mistakes (there will be a few, I guarantee it), and to build confidence in yourself and your business without taking pointlessly large amounts of risk.