As a military spouse, you may find that a home business is a great way to have a career that moves when you do. A home business can be successful and rewarding – even at remote duty stations or overseas. But keeping the business up and running through deployments and relocations can be a real challenge. Whether you're working remotely on a computer or offering a service, such as child care, managing a home business takes time and effort. The following information can help.Marketing your home business
Marketing may be the most important part of your business. A marketing plan will help you let potential customers know about your services and help you focus your energy and your budget. Know your market. Explore your potential client base. If you're offering a photography service, your potential customers may include parents of small children. A medical transcriber might want to target medical offices. Once you understand who your potential clients are, you'll be able to focus your marketing plan.
Develop your message. Consider what you want to say about yourself and your business. Your message should reflect the unique qualities that make your business stand out. The message should grab your potential customers' attention and tempt them to find out more.
Promote yourself. As you meet new people – and potential customers – you’ll want to explain what you do in a way that will attract their interest. Come up with a short speech that describes your business, focusing on what you can do to help the customer. Practice your speech so you'll be ready with a good answer when someone asks about your business.
Select your marketing tools. Your marketing tools may include print advertising, flyers, e-mails, or a website. If you're running a virtual – or computer-based – business, your advertising should include electronic advertising. Different types of marketing tools are listed below:
- Business cards. You never know when you might meet a potential customer, so have professional business cards with you at all times.
- E-mails. Mass e-mails can be a cost-effective way of reaching potential clients. Be sure to proofread your messages carefully and reply promptly to any responses you receive.
- A website. A website can be an excellent marketing tool for many businesses. Creating one yourself may seem intimidating, but there are many good books and software programs to help you get started. Check your installation's library or your local library for books on creating a website. The Small Business Administration's website offers information on electronic marketing and building a site for your business.
- Local marketing. Many traditional home businesses draw their clients from the local community. But even if you have an electronic business, you may find potential customers in your local community.
- Network. Your circle of friends is a great place to start marketing your business. Word of mouth can be a very effective tool.
- Get involved. Join local business and professional organizations. Volunteer for local charities to meet new people – and potential clients.
- Print flyers, posters, mass mailings. Be sure to communicate your message in a focused and professional manner.
- Advertise in the local paper, your installation's paper, or a community newsletter.
- Use free or low-cost promotions. Pursue opportunities for free or low-cost promotions, such as writing an article for a local newspaper or sponsoring a local school function.
Making your home business work
Often the ups and downs of military life can make running your business difficult. Keeping focused and on track is key to managing a successful home business.
- Create a work schedule. Set aside time to devote to work. If you put your schedule in writing, you'll be more likely to follow it.
- Set aside time for administrative duties. Your business will require a certain amount of time to take care of administrative tasks, such as advertising or invoicing.
- Consider your family. When creating your work schedule, consider your family's routine. Don't require them to make unreasonable sacrifices. But you may find that they can help you in your business – by stuffing envelopes or passing out flyers, for example. You'll also want to set specific rules for work, such as establishing a "no interruption" time when you're on the phone.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Keep in touch with your clients on a routine basis – either by phone or e-mail.
- Meet your deadlines. When you make a promise to a client, be sure you can keep it.
- Set goals. Short-term and long-term goals can help you stay focused on your business. But make sure your goals are realistic.
- Stay on track when your spouse is deployed. You may find it difficult to manage a family and a business while your spouse is deployed. Organizing your time effectively and following a written schedule will help you stay on track.
- Keep a positive attitude. Your positive attitude will be passed on to your clients. It can also help you stay motivated – even when the going gets rough.
Relocating your home business
When your spouse gets orders to a new duty station, it's time to think about moving your business. Computer-based businesses are easy to relocate – most only require a few days down time during your move. But if you run a more traditional business, you may have to start all over when you get to your next duty station. Before you make a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, check the laws governing home businesses in your new community.
- Plan ahead. You'll have less down time if you do a little research before you move. If you run a virtual business, make sure your Internet connection will be available as soon as possible. If you'll be starting over at your new duty station, create a new marketing plan before you move.
- Licenses and permits. License and permit regulations vary by state and by locality. Even if you didn't need a permit at your old duty station, you may need one now. Some types of businesses require a state license, which you may be able to transfer. The local Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you with these requirements.
- Zoning requirements. Local zoning regulations may restrict signage and the number of visitors to your home business. Your local SBA office can provide information on zoning ordinances in your area.
- Installation housing regulations. Policies that regulate home businesses in military housing vary from installation to installation. However, requests are usually approved as long as they don't jeopardize security in the housing area or compete with existing installation services.
- SOFA agreements. If you move overseas, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) may determine the type of business you can run in your host nation. Before you move, contact the installation's Family Employment Readiness Program for detailed information on your new duty station.
- Customer needs. When you change where your business is located, your new customer base may have different needs and expectations. Be sure to consider this when making your move.