The Weekend Entrepreneur

The Weekend Entrepreneur


These weekend warriors launched successful businesses in their spare
time. Find out how you can put your free hours to work, too.

By Michelle Anton and Jennifer Basye Sander
  |   Entrepreneur MagazineMarch 2006

Online exclusive:
If you’re planning to start a weekend business but don’t have tons of
money in the bank, check out the low-cost startup ideas at www.entrepreneur.com/lowcostbusinesses.

So
you want to start a business, but don’t think you have the time? Think
again. All you need to get started on the path toward your dream
business are inspiration and determination… and maybe a few extra
hours a week. Meet three entrepreneurs who used their off hours to
launch and grow successful businesses–and get some tips on the dos and
don’ts of starting a weekend business of your own.

Filling a Need
After buying their first home, Debra Cohen and her husband faced the
unenviable chore of finding reliable home improvement contractors. Fed
up with blindly picking names from the Yellow Pages and waiting for
contractors who didn’t show up, it occurred to Cohen that if she and
her husband were having trouble finding contractors, other homeowners
in their community must be facing a similar predicament. This bleak
reality sparked the creation of a unique service that has since
expanded into a profitable cottage industry across the U.S. and
internationally.

After
extensive conversations with lawyers, business consultants, contractors
and insurance agents, Cohen, 38, started Hewlett, New York-based Home Remedies of NY Inc.from
her home in February 1997. This stay-at-home mom used a $5,000 loan, a
computer and a refurbished fax machine to launch her part-time
business. Right away, the response from homeowners was tremendous, and
after three months in business, she repaid her loan. Her gross earnings
in the first year were almost $30,000.

Today, Home Remedies is a
contractor referral service that matches home-owners with reliable
home-repair workers. The appeal to customers is that the company takes
on the time-consuming task of locating and screening qualified
contractors, checking to make sure they’re adequately insured and
licensed, and serving as a liaison between the contractor and the
homeowner throughout the course of a job. Home Remedies provides a
win-win situation for both parties: Services are provided free of
charge to the homeowner, and contractors represented by Home Remedies
only pay a commission for any work they secure.

At first, Cohen
worked approximately 15 hours to 20 hours per week; she now works about
30 hours per week. Last year, sales for Home Rem-edies exceeded
$100,000. Cohen earns additional income by selling manuals and packages
on how to get started in the referral business. (Her manual, The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating a Successful Homeowner Referral Network, is available at www.homereferralbiz.com.)

Talking
about filling a need you discovered on your own, Mark Rogers, 39, was
an amateur photographer who was considering turning pro until he did a
Google search for 13-by-19-inch frames and realized he’d stumbled on a
niche waiting to be serviced.

It turns out most frame companies
were not making it easy for photographers to buy frames in the sizes
they needed. With the popularity of digital photography, Rogers says,
"I was frustrated with the lack of [alternate] frame sizes from the
usual suppliers." He also had difficulty finding standard-size frames
that would help reduce fading and would not cause yellowing. Rather
than continue to deal with the frustration, he decided to start
manufacturing and selling gallery-style picture frames to fine-art
photographers. In 2004, Rogers founded Dallas-based Frame Destination Inc., which markets specialized products such as acid-free, conservation-quality frames in wood or metal.

At
first, Rogers juggled his new business with his day job as an
electrical engineer and his photography hobby, but he quit photography
when the long hours started taking their toll on him. "That got old. I
was starting to get burned out," he says. "I mix business and pleasure
quite a bit now. For instance, when I go to a photographer’s gallery
reception, I view the work, so-cialize and enjoy hors d’oeuvres, but I
am working. Some of the attendees are people I do business with, and
others are potential clients."

With an initial investment of
$30,000, Rogers’ framing business was cash-flow positive in about six
months. Hiring one part-time contract employee has helped him meet the
demands of his busy operation. It had been Rogers’ longtime dream to be
his own boss, and he had seriously contemplated opening a photography
business until he realized that, although he would be the business
owner, he would still have to perform manual activities. Instead, he
wanted to build a company that would become an asset-one that would
produce income even if he wasn’t working and that would allow him to
retire. Frame Destination was the picture-perfect opportunity.

Rogers
started the business out of his home. Compared to other frame
businesses, Rogers says, "Mine is a high-volume wholesale version, so
it isn’t an easy one to start at home, and it definitely can’t last in
a home. Regular custom picture-framing, however, is a common
[homebased] business. You can get the distributors to do a lot of the
frame and mat cutting so you don’t need as much equipment, and you can
just do the final assembly in your home." The advantage of homebased
picture-framing businesses is the low overhead, which makes it easier
for smaller companies like Rogers’ to compete with big companies like
Michaels. The advantage has paid off for Rogers, who moved operations
out of his home in May 2005 to accomodate the company’s growth. He
projects 2006 sales to reach more than $500,000.

The internet has
been an important resource for Rogers to build his customer base. He
uses Google AdWords and a couple of banner ads on photography art show
websites to attract customers, and enjoys helping photographers in
online forums. "People post questions about where to get frames, and I
help them," he says. "Now that photographers know me, they recommend my
company to others."

Part-Time Profits
Even though Brian Eddy, 31, worked 40 to 50 hours a week at a
Minneapolis law firm, his day wasn’t over when he left the office. This
entrepreneur man-aged to practice law by day and run Q3 Innovationsin
his free time. The company, which he co-founded with longtime friend
Chad Ronnebaum, 31, is a product design, development and distribution
company with an emphasis on the personal safety and monitoring devices
market.

Since launching in 1999, Eddy and Ronnebaum have
successfully marketed the Alcohawk ABI digital breath-alcohol screener
and other Alcohawk products to big-time retailers like The Sharper
Image and Target.com.

Eddy got the idea for his business while
working for a drunk-driving defense attorney in Iowa City, Iowa, during
law school. So many clients said they would not have driven had they
known their blood alcohol content was so high. After Eddy discussed the
potential of an affordable personal breathalyzer with Ronnebaum, the
pair found a company online that manufactured a disposable alcohol
tester.

Eddy and Ronnebaum didn’t purchase any inventory for
Independence, Iowa-based Q3 Innovations until it became a distributor
of the disposable testers in December 1999. By January 2000, after they
had purchased $1,000 in inventory, orders started rolling in, and the
company became profitable within the first couple of months.

Initially,
Eddy and Ronnebaum kept their day jobs and worked nights and weekends
on Q3 Innovations. But since then, Eddy has left his firm and Ronnebaum
has left his pharmaceutical job.

Although Eddy says a business
degree provides a solid foundation on which to start and run a
business, he also says a law degree doesn’t hurt. He was just starting
law school when the business took off. So why didn’t he quit his day
job early on? Eddy’s law degree and the knowledge he gained working in
the field of business law have been to be extremely useful as he and
Ronnebaum as build a company that generates annual gross revenue
between $2 million and $5 million.

Starting
a business using just your weekend hours (and maybe even your weekday
evenings) can be a challenge–so we went to Jeff Sloan, co-founder with
his brother Rich Sloan of StartupNation LLC, an online outlet for
starting and growing a business, and co-author of StartupNation: America’s Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business, to get the dos of starting a weekend business. Listen up.

  • DOstart part time.
    Using your evenings and weekends to build a business while keeping your
    day job is a great strategy. The accessibility of technology and the
    end of homebased business’ stigma means starting part time is now a
    more viable option than ever.
  • DObe efficient with your time.
    It’s important to be completely focused during the precious little time
    you have to spend on your business. Says Sloan, "The time you spend
    doing the business needs to be focused, dedicated and serious if you’re
    interested in real business success."
  • DOdetermine your weekend business goals.
    Ask yourself: Do you want your business to be a hobby business? Do you
    want the business to provide a living for you and your family? Do you
    plan to grow the company exponentially to reap enormous profits? Making
    some specific goals will help you plan and target your efforts toward
    meeting those goals.
  • DOeliminate distractions.
    Sloan suggests setting up a private, dedicated space in your home for
    work-free it from distractions like TV or boisterous youngsters.
  • DOstrive for balance.
    Before you even create your business plan, says Sloan, create your life
    plan-then you’ll see where your business fits on your list of
    priorities. "It’s really important to have the discipline to create a
    balance," he says. "And make sure you don’t forget other priorities."

…and What Not To Do
Along with the great many tips on how to start and run your weekend
business, we asked Jeff Sloan, co-founder with his brother Rich Sloan
of StartupNation LLC, about mistakes to avoid with your part-time
startup.

  • DON’Tskimp on technology.
    Because you’re not there to fix problems right away, invest in
    top-notch technology (website, e-mail, fax, phone, etc.) to keep things
    running smoothly when you’re away.
  • DON’Ttreat the business casually.
    Part time doesn’t mean half-assed-if you’re serious about starting a
    weekend business, you still need to deal with all the elements of
    startup: incorporation, taxes, legal issues, employees and insurance,
    for starters. Says Sloan, "A part-time business is still a business,
    and it needs to be conducted accordingly."
  • DON’Tadvertise your part-time status.
    But you needn’t lie about running a part-time business, either. The
    truth is, customers don’t care if you’re part time as long as their
    needs are met. Says Sloan, "What a customer wants is a good
    experience…. They want whatever it is they purchased from you to be
    realized."
  • DON’Ttake on too much business.
    More isn’t always better-especially when you’re working under a tight
    time crunch. Says Sloan, "Don’t overburden yourself with so much
    business that you can’t execute on the promise and deliver to your
    customer."
  • DON’Tbe unprofessional.
    To build your weekend business, make sure your marketing materials
    (business cards, stationery, brochures, etc.) are all highly
    professional-looking. Says Sloan, "You want to convey an image of
    credibility and effectiveness so the customer has confidence in you."–Nichole L. Torres

Excerpted from The Weekend Entrepreneur: 101 Great Ways to Earn Extra Cash by Michelle Anton and Jennifer Basye Sander. To purchase the book, visit EntrepreneurPress.com. For another excerpt, read "Weekend Businesses for Domestic Gods and Goddesses."


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