Debra Cohen is the President of Home Remedies of NY, Inc., a company with a 15-year successful track record of helping consumers to find the most reputable and appropriate contractors in their area to meet their home-repair or improvement needs. Furthermore, Debra has made it her mission to assist others in replicating her success by starting their own Homeowner Referral Network® (HRN). In fact, more than 300 entrepreneurs worldwide to date have launched home-based HRN businesses with Debra’s tremendous support and encouragement.
Her story is an inspiration for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit who wonders if they can really accomplish the goal of owning and operating their own profitable and rewarding home-based business. Here she tells it in her own words:
“After my husband and I purchased our first home, we quickly realized how difficult it was to find reliable contractors. It occurred to me that if I was facing this challenge, then other homeowners must be feeling the same, and I set out to create a business to fill this need in my community. The result? Home Remedies® of NY, Inc., a Homeowner Referral Network® (HRN) business based in Hewlett, N.Y., that pre-screens and refers home improvement professionals to local homeowners.
“Service providers in the Home Remedies® network range from painters and plumbers to electricians, general contractors, handymen and architects. Contractors in the network pay a pre-negotiated commission for work secured, which means that the referral service is free to homeowners.
“I launched my contractor referral business 15 years ago from an old farm table in my basement with a $5,000 loan, and from that humble start it has expanded into a nationwide cottage industry that has grossed more than $4 million to date. I am also the author of a business manual titled'The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating a Successful Homeowner Referral Network©.'”
Debra’s hard-earned success as an entrepreneur makes her an invaluable sounding board for anyone who is interested in business ownership. Thankfully, she was willing to share her considerable insight and words of wisdom in a recent interview with BusinessOpportunity.com’s Entrepreneur Exchange.
In addition to discussing some of the very real challenges she faced at startup, Debra focuses on a topic that many prospective business owners seem to overlook, that of self-evaluation and how the lack of it can become a real obstacle in its own right…
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first six months in business? How did you meet that challenge?
I faced several obstacles when I first launched my business. Not only was I new to my community but I had no home-improvement experience at all. My expertise was in sales and marketing. I had to create a business model from scratch, develop a contractor screening process that was thorough and research commissions that would be fair to both sides. I spent several weeks researching local contractor licensing laws and speaking with dozens of contractors, insurance agents, lawyers and other real estate-related professionals. To help with the process, I created a Board of Advisors, and I invited a few of the people I met through networking to join so that I could turn to them for advice and guidance.
Financing my startup was another obstacle. I had recently left corporate America and a six-figure salary, and we were trying to make ends meet in a new home with a new baby. After considering all of my options, I ultimately decided to take a $5,000 loan from my husband's teacher's retirement savings plan, which I was able to pay back within my first six months of operation.
What would you say is the one thing that new business owners forget about or overlook when they are just planning/starting out?
Self-evaluation. I've spoken with hundreds of moms, dads, career changers and retirees who are interested in launching a business. Many of them have formulated business plans, conducted market research and applied for financing and yet they have still overlooked one of the most crucial steps in the business planning process―self-evaluation. Most new entrepreneurs don’t realize that it’s just as important to analyze yourself as it is to analyze your potential market.
If you’re thinking about launching a business, you should first ask yourself a few important (and personal) questions before taking the plunge.
What are my strengths?
Whether you're a people person, a computer geek, a numbers cruncher or a craftsperson, your business should maximize your strengths. Your abilities should be the cornerstone of your business so that you enjoy the day-to-day tasks associated with it.
What are my weaknesses?
I've seen many very talented entrepreneurs fail in their endeavors simply because they didn't identify and compensate for their weaknesses. Perhaps you're not as disciplined as you'd like to be or maybe you're not the best bookkeeper. Running a business will require you to handle a wide array of responsibilities from sales and marketing to accounting and secretarial. If you overlook one aspect of your business or don't handle it efficiently, the business will suffer―or worse yet, fail.
What am I willing to invest personally?
Running your own business requires you to invest your time, energy and emotions. There will be highs and lows and the rewards may not be immediate. At times you'll need to take chances. It will require you to troubleshoot, multitask and adapt. There's also always the risk of failure. Consider all of these factors before you start your business and be sure that have what it takes to handle the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
What am I willing to invest financially?
While some may require a larger initial investment than others, launching a business requires capital. If you're discouraged by having to spend money in the beginning, then perhaps the business you're considering isn't the right business for you. If you feel passionate about what you plan to do, then the investment will seem like a means to an end, not to mention an investment in yourself.
What do I hope to gain?
Ask yourself what you hope to gain from your business. Is it a better lifestyle? More time with your family? Personal stimulation? Financial rewards? Independence? And then ask yourself if you think that your business can (realistically) be a means to that end.