There are often misconceptions about home businesses and their long-term viability. A company, no matter the size, location, or time in operation, is still a business and should be treated as such; this is crucial when considering your brand image.
Some consumers look less favorably towards home businesses rather than ones that have become successful and grown out of their infancy stage, having moved into a professional office. The truth is, many home businesses can and do flourish and operate as very professional companies. However, it requires the owner to treat it like a professional business for their customers to follow suit and do the same.
“Inward facing” (behind the scenes) do what you like – wear your pajamas all day, answer the phone stark naked if this works for you. But as soon as your business becomes “outward facing” it’s time to put on your “business hat.” Be professional on the phone, if someone comes over, put some clothes on – clothing that is appropriate for the type of client.
This article was inspired by a personal experience I had when it was time to select a daycare for my daughter. While searching, there were some non-negotiables such as: close to home, licensed, and the hours had to compliment schedules. There was also the “emotional” list. Did the person instill a sense of trust and competency that they would be a great teacher and provider for my daughter? Did they seem passionate about their job and the possibility of being a part of my daughter’s daily life?
My experience of the daycare centres greatly surpassed my experience of the home-based ones. The centres displayed professionalism, and the caregivers were passionate and able to make time to answer my questions. I admit that I had a bias during this search; I expected home-based daycares to fall short, and they did by a large margin. The service I got from the home-run daycares was astonishingly poor.
I had three experiences with home-based centres that left me shaking my head in disbelief. On one occasion I called and a young child answered; unaware if his mother was around, he took a message. With such a poor first impression and little to no confidence that the Mom would indeed get the message, I crossed that option off the list.
Many of the home daycares I contacted during regular business hours answered the phone without any type of indication that I was calling the right place. Whatever happened to “Hello, ACME daycare, Joyce speaking, how can I help you?” The bare minimum I would expect when contacting a company is a polite greeting. Regardless if it is the owner, an employee, or a family member as the case may be, train them to respond in a similar way. To take customer service up another notch, get a private line with an answering service that is just for the business and not for Joyce, Bob, Charlie and little Peter.
One home run daycare had great business phone etiquette. However, when the owner began giving a tour, my confidence began to waiver. Saying things like, “this is where the kids put their coats and belongings – it’s a little messy right now…I should really tidy that up” unfortunately, gave the impression that if it were unkempt for my first visit, it would most likely continue in this way.
Before a client or potential client comes over to your home business, tidy up. Wash the dishes (even if you have to hide them in the oven, get them out of sight), vacuum, dress up, and whatever it is that you are selling, make sure it is spectacular.
The most shocking experience was the one my daughter’s mother visited. The information sent along was excellent; it read well and sounded very professional. The price was a great fit, and I was very hopeful. One of the first things that the lady stated was how hard the previous year had been with the kids in her care. In fact, she said that she was close to a nervous breakdown and hoped the coming year would be better (seriously?!). When questioned on her first-aid qualifications (something that was high on the essential list), she said that she previously had it, but it may now have expired and that she should “probably look into this.”
It is a great example that it is easy to say great things about your company, but the “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak. If people believe your sales pitch and try out your product or service, and they have a poor experience, they will NOT be coming back for more. More than that, they will probably share their miserable experience and tarnish your name and any positive brand image that you may have created to date. As a branding specialist and communication designer, this would be like me trying to sell you a logo design but letting you know “that the last client I had was very disappointed with my work. In fact, it was really stressful, and I don’t like dealing with people much. And by the way, you should hire me.” Not going to happen, right?
We all have bad experiences running a business, whether it’s a home business or a multi-million dollar corporation. But put simply, “keep your mouth shut” about them, especially when talking to staff and even more so, to potential new clients.
As I mentioned earlier, as a home business, you may be perceived as not yet having “made it” which places even more importance on customer service. Treat each customer as if you are the best in your business and, at that moment, as if they are the most important person in your world.
Any home-run business is still a business. Operate one that is professional and leaves its clients with a positive experience. If it’s not obvious how to do this, then ask other successful companies to help and mentor you as a fellow business owner. On the most basic level, look at the shops and companies you like to do business with. What is it about them that has been an enjoyable experience and keeps you going back for more? Once you identify these successful elements, incorporate them into your business. From there, keep on learning and keep on enjoying the benefits that come with owning a home-run business.