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When we started our home business, the Copper Lion, 10 years ago, our kids were 4 and 6. We put an open/closed sign on our office door and told our kids they could go into the office when it was open.

Then our son turned the sign around. “The sign says open,” he explained. We forbade him from changing the sign.

There are subtler ways business owners can lose time. Protect your time with your business and beware The Errand Trap.

When you begin a home business, some family and friends believe your flexibility gives you opportunities to run their errands.  They ask if you can do this, do that, and more.

Snap goes The Errand Trap.

You have to learn to say no and set boundaries. The only at home business people who make millions doing nothing are actors in infomercials.

Small business owners live with flexibility to decide:

  • which 6 of 24 hours we will sleep – sometimes. Sometimes it is 1 or 2 of 24.
  • which 1 day out of the month we will take off as a real day off with no work – sometimes.
  • which 1 in 10 years we will shut down and take a family vacation.

 The short one hour errand can kill half a day. How?

  • Add ½ hour for conversations before and after the errand.
  • Add ½  hour on either side for drive and delivery time.
  • Add ½  hour to either side for time you spend preparing to leave and then settling back afterwards.
  • That becomes 3 ½ hours lost.

You just lost half a day’s work for that 1 hour errand.  You will make it up by giving up family time or sleep.

Successful businesses are built because their owners are willing to “crush it,” as Gary Vaynerchuk passionately puts it. We have free time but schedule most of our lives around work.

Decide how much of your time and talents you can share with others on errands.  Set a limit on that time. Otherwise, unless it’s a dire emergency, it’s ok to say no.

Protect boundaries.  Spend your time on friends and family who respect your efforts to build your business and go after your dream.  

Good news about The Errand Trap – business owners can spot it and avoid it.

Make sure you don’t get caught.

How do you avoid the errand trap?

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“How do I get started?” people ask when they decide to try Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn for business.  Follow the same steps you would take when planning a long distance business trip. 

  1. Plan. Before you take a business trip, you decide why you’re taking it and what you hope to accomplish. “Go somewhere and business will come” is not a sound strategy.
  2. Train. Before you drive a car on a business trip, you learn to drive the car. Riding in a car does not translate into instant driving skills. You learn the rules of the road, safety tips, and more. Driving lessons take time. Give yourself time to learn to use social media.
  3. Organize. Decide who will go. Who do you send on business trips, and how do they best represent your unique brand? What will you do when you get there?
  4. Budget. What tools will you buy, and which freebies will you leverage?
  5. Equip. Travel is mobile. So’s social media. Get a smartphone so you understand your customers better.
  6. Target. Who is your dream customer, and how can you best find that niche via social media?
  7. Converse. Listen to your target customers, respond, and ask them questions. Build a relationship.
  8. Streamline. Over time, social media takes less of your time. Tools like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and NutshellMail can help you use social media on a schedule.
  9. Evaluate. Measure results. Experiment with various strategies and determine which work best for your customers. This will help you set short and long term goals.

The key to social media is the word “social.”  It’s about people.

If you can…

  • Balance the personal and the professional..
  • Be real and be smart while you’re being transparent…
  • Listen and respond….
  • Build your own brand indirectly as you build up the community around you….

Social media will help your business not only survive but thrive.

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Open for Business

“We’re open for business.”

Those words can be hard to say with a smile in a tough economy. What you are when times are tough shapes who you will become for a lifetime. Others have made it. So can you.

The Copper Lion, Inc.Ten years ago, my husband and I started our own home business, The Copper Lion, which does digital illustration and retouching for ad agencies.  Nine years ago on a Saturday night, we were paged at a baseball game. “Your house is burning,” a neighbor told us.

We raced home to a street of fire trucks. Friends met us. When the fire was out and heat levels were down, the fire chief gave us 15 minutes to remove any needed posessions. Friends helped Richard haul his office equipment out. They pushed, dragged, pulled, and carried his basement office equipment up what had been basement stairs, now littered with construction debris and insulation.

Sunday morning, we wore borrowed clothes and took our kids to church, kneeling in desperation – no home, no business, and no idea what would happen next. We moved to a friend’s house, and Richard set up a temporary office in a spare bedroom.

Monday morning, we returned to the shell of our home. The ceiling and roof were gone. We had water and phone service but nothing else. I needed to wait for fire inspectors and our insurance adjuster. First step: hung the American flag outside. Second step: set up a card table in the driveway and a long phone cord so I could answer the phone.

At 8 a.m., a client with a deadline called after he heard about the fire. I told him, “We’re open for business. Your work will be finished on time. And we’ll finish any other jobs you can send.”

Richard stared at me. “I’ll get to work.” He left and finished the job on deadline.

For the next 3 months, we lived in a 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment. Our kids called our bedroom “Dad’s office” because he worked in there, keeping our business going. I supervised the insurance claim and rebuilding.

Many would say a 1 year old business with a fire is most likely to close. By the grace of God, and with hard work, we are still here 9 years later.

When things are at their darkest, don’t give up your hope. Great opportunities present themselves in big disasters. Remember to be:

open for business.

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