Social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and others are a great way to showcase your products and services. It does take time to start and maintain these pages but the benefits are well worth it for free advertising and customers can leave positive comments.
Ads -Printed vs Online
Printed ads such as newspapers, magazines and direct mail-outs can sometimes be effective but it is very important to make sure that it's worth the dollars you spend since online ads (including click per ad such as Google ads) can reach a much greater audience and can be updated easier than a printed ad. Email campaigns (spam to most people!) are much more effective being sent to past customers or people signing up for your newsletter on your website.
A website is a very, very valuable tool these days for any business. On your website's home page (similar to the look & feel visiting a store front) you can have valuable content such as a welcome to your business, a bio, product photos, customer feedback, a newsletter sign up and logo/links to organizations that you are part of (many are free to join & gives good credibility for your business) Many other things can be added to a website such product/service videos (actually just links from YouTube to videos you uploaded there for free), a contact form (can be customized to ask a few questions & captcha added to minimize spam), contact info (email address can be encoded to prevent spam & a PO address is highly recommended over your street address for security), and other special website features. A website can be built online for free (usually has ads that you can't control but will be free) or a website can be professionally built (cost involved but has advantages such as your own domain name and a unique look like no other website, etc.)
Business Cards and Flyers/Brochures
Business cards are very important for any business. You can design your own on your computer for a small "starter pack" until you get some good quality ones from a commercial printer. Other business materials such as flyers and brochures can be important to have a small quantity in stock ready to hand out or mail for customers that request something in printed form. Printed materials can include a QR code that when scanned takes a person directly to your website.
Word of Mouth
This may be the most effective type of advertising depending on your product or service. Be sure to ask customers how they found you so that you can know what is the best type of advertising that's best for you.
Hours M-F or Weekends Too
This is important to establish and stick to but alowing some flexibility for people that have jobs that keep them till 5 or 6pm. Many businesses offer a Saturday by appointment only policy (or open only Sat am).
Do it Yourself or an Accountant?
There are advantages to each method but both ways will require you to keep accurate records of sales, purchases, mileage, etc. Having a good accountant or bookkeeper to do your record keeping can save you a lot of time but doing your own bookkeeping and end of year taxes can save you fees.
QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel are great programs for bookkeeping purposes and well worth the time to keep things organized and up-to-date. (Excel can be customized & does not require update costs but Quickbooks has many advantages such as generating invoices & others) At tax time you will be glad to be able to see at a glance sales totals, purchases, expenses etc.
From old school hand counting (still needed in some types of businesses) to computer tracking -inventory is very important if you deal with multiple products so you can always know where you stand, when you need to buy more inventory and be ready for the next job.
This will depend on the type of business and how many products are sold in a job. Each product may require different amount of stock depending how long it takes to buy and receive more. The goal is to prevent last minute scrambling and extra fees to get items shipped quickly.
An office away from traffic in the home is important but not too secluded if you plan to have clients in your office. If you spend a lot of time on the phone it may be worth considering having a high quality headset and even an acoustical wall treatment to absorb sound from other rooms. (can ne as simple as hanging large thick quilt(s) on the wall). A quiet environment helps with concentration and also sounds more professional to customers when there are not other sounds in the background.
Of course these days a computer (an external hard drive big enough to back up all your files on a regular basis-this is critical) is an essential and other items such as a good printer, a file cabinet, good lighting (daylight white light bulbs help it feel more like an office), and other equipment as needed for your type of business.
A system of steps to getting a job done is very important which can help you plan for additional jobs. The faster a job can be done (without sacrificing quality) usually increases profits and frees you up to do other things. If you have a type of business that has a step that run during the night this really helps.
Job Ticket and/or a Job Board
A job ticket (whether printed or computer) is essential to be able to see at a glance jobs pending and the status of each. Be sure to write any special instructions for each customer (depending on your memory may get you in trouble!). In addition to the standard customer contact & billing info, type of work required and due date it is also good to include an area for how they heard about you (valuable info to help you decide where to most effectively advertise)
A good system of printing invoices is very important. Invoices have the power to keep everything organized, make you look good, show types of payments you accept and even advertise a little about other types of work you do that the customer may not know about. A system of printing 2 invoices-one for the customer in color (color logo) and a b&w one for your files works good.
Due dates should be discussed with customers at the beginning of jobs and then written on the job ticket but giving a little flexibility to yourself (if possible) to allow for work overload or other unforseen situations is wise. Remember to allow for weekends and holidays when giving customers turn-around time in work days.
These days accepting credit cards is very helpful. You can set up an account with Paypal (link) and then you can accept major credit cards (Visa/MC/Discover/AmExp). Paypal offers 3 types of business accounts (2 are free). It is good to be able to accept check, cash, credit card or Paypal.
Be competitive but profitable! This means doing research to learn what your product or service generally sells for. Other factors such as demand, time of month/year, online vs local and your experience are to be considered when setting prices
Sales & Coupons
Many people love coupons (if easy to use) to save money and feel like they received a good deal. Be sure to set a time limit and a way to access the latest good deals such as in red on your website homepage or a special link printed on the back of your business card.
Online vs Local
Generally a local business will have the added advantage of being better able to meet a customer's needs better than an online business. This is where it is important to emphasize your experience, options and not having to rely on shipping times and risks.
This is important especially if you have several products or services to offer. Printing your own price list in small quantities enables you to easily keep it updated. (be sure to put a last updated date very small at the bottom to help keep track of latest update). Using gloss paper in your desktop printer will give a more professional look similar to when offset printed at a commercial printer.
Shipping & Receiving
Each of the well known carriers have unique advantages. Your best option will depend on how far away their office is for dropping off (but they can pick up from you also) and you may find that one is better for heavy boxes, another when going far, etc. USPS has several options such as lower cost regional boxes and padded envelopes (a small box can be put in a padded envelope & then ships at the lower padded envelope rate!)
Packing items well is very critical. Pack the product where it cannot move around using peanuts and bubble wrap -especially if a breakable item. Writing FRAGILE on all 6 sides of box is important and using insurance if a valuable product (a small amount of insurance is sometimes included for free such as $50 at USPS). You can set up an account at all 3 & pay for & print your own labels. (also via your Paypal account)
This is important and customers like to receive a tracking number when they order a product being shipped to them. Fedex & UPS offers a more detailed tracking system than USPS.
Avoiding Delivery Errors
Be sure your home can easily receive deliveries in all weather situations. If living in an apartment building or complex with multi units be sure your number is clearly visible. (if possible you may want to make your number stand out in some way)
Supplies & Equipment
Local or Online?
Buying local has advantages and also buying online has unique advantages. Buying local enables you to buy quickly if you run out of products that are common such as printer paper and envelopes but there will be sales tax to pay. Buying online out of state will not require sales tax but there will be shipping.
Name Brand or Generic?
This usually depends on the products you sell. Knwing the brands and their quality is essential to keep purchases as low as possible. Reading reviews can help (be sure to read several as sometimes manufacturers post false highly positive reviews)
Stocking & How Much
This will also depend on how quickly your products sell and the space you have for storage. Experience over time will help you with these decisions but also keeping in mind you may need more stock for seasonal demand (such as Christmas time if you sell a product that becomes extra popular at this time of year)
Used or New
When it comes to equipment you may be able to save a lot by buying used such as on ebay but be sure to shop around a lot and know the product and check the sellers feedback.
Answering & Voice Mail
It is important to sound professional and knowledgeable when receiving calls. A good headset to allow you to be hands free is well worth the investment. A voice mail mesage should also be clear (without background noise), friendly and assuring that a phone call will be replied to.
Verbal Commitment Cautions
Be careful when talking to a potential customer when making a committment such as extra fast work or special lower price to write down what you told them.
This is a common headache among all types of businesses. Many cell phnes allow you to select "Block Caller" and you will never receive a call from that number again. There are also telemarketer aps and silent ring tones that can be downloaded for call phones. (telemarketers can do caller ID spoofing and sometimes even "call" from a disconnected number!)
Land Line or Cell Phone
This is also a matter of preference with each service offering unique advantages. A traditional landline usually will have a clearer sound (no bandwidth or minutes used concerns) and usually not valnearable to weather but cell phones enable you to receive calls anywhere you are. And you can do much more with a cell phone than a landline.
This is important to keep a record of all mileage related to your business. Be sure to include going AND returning for customer visits, picking up materials etc.
Also keep a good record of car expenses such as fuel, maintanance and repairs.