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Advice for 'Mompreneurs'

There's lots of advice for small business owners, even more for women in business, but stay-at-home moms, who would like to become entrepreneurs didn't seem to get much encouragement.Until now.

Entrepreneur and business coach Sean C. Castrina, author of 8 Unbreakable Rules for Business Start-Up Success has stepped up to that plate. He feels a stay-at-home mom should start her own small business if she needs extra money, has time to fill when her kids are older, or simply wants to use her marketable skills, talents, creativity or previous experience. 

 "I believe without a doubt that a disciplined and motivated mother can start and operate a profitable business from home while raising children," confirms Castrina, who stayed home six years raising a daughter while starting several successful businesses from there.

 "I made phone calls while my daughter was napping, and I did my paperwork and proposals during episodes of Barney or Mary-Kate & Ashley videos," he recalls. "Yes, a big purple dinosaur was my personal assistant, but it worked! Since I was my own boss, I had a lot of flexibility, and soon I had a business that ran like a well-oiled machine."

  According to Castrina, it's easier now than ever before to launch a home-based company. Thanks to Internet-based tools, you can reach a large number of potential customers without ever leaving your house-not to mention the 24/7 access to educational tools and the ability to instantly search for answers to your questions.

Here are some of his suggestions:

         Figure out your field. Perhaps you already have a clearly defined vision for your business: you'd like to design, make, and sell original pottery, or you'd like to use your degree in accountancy to start your own tax service. However, it's very possible that you're one of many hopeful mompreneurs who isn't sure which field to go into. In that case, Castrina recommends starting a service business (anything from home cleaning to tutoring to adult care) for the following reasons:

• They require minimal money to start. 

• Many service businesses don't require a prior work history or particular qualifications.

• In most cases, they can't be outsourced or performed by computers so you'll always have work.

• Since you can hire others to perform the actual work while you handle the key behind-the-scenes management tasks (like hiring, supervising, taking client calls, marketing, etc.), service businesses are a great source of passive income.

"Also, before pulling the trigger on your business, take time to research the licenses, permits, and certifications you may need for the industry you're entering, and make sure that obtaining them won't be prohibitive," he adds. "You can usually find the information you need at your local business tax office or by contacting your Chamber of Commerce. And take it from the voice of experience: Start filling out that paperwork early. Government bureaucracies can be painfully slow!"

Set aside a workspace. When you're working from home-a place that's full of distractions ranging from laundry baskets to televisions-setting up a dedicated workspace is crucial for productivity. Depending on your home's layout and how accessible you do or don't need to be based on your kids' ages, you might be able to use a spare bedroom, a basement, a detached garage, or even a nook in the living room as your "office."

Create a dream board. While you're still in the planning stages, set aside an hour to tap into your creative side. Envision your goals for your business: what you'll make or sell, who your customers will be, and-most importantly-how being an entrepreneur will positively impact your family and your future. Then glue images and words that remind you of those things to a piece of cardboard or poster board, and make sure the dream board is visible in your workspace.

Get real about pricing. When you're just starting out, you may be tempted to offer rock-bottom prices for your goods or services. After all, you don't want to alienate potential customers by charging too much...and isn't underselling the competition a reliable strategy? Well, maybe-but that's not the way to make a profit. 

Make room for a marketing budget. One of the biggest mistakes new business owners make is not including a marketing budget in their operating costs. In a nutshell, this is the money you invest every week or month to tell your community why they need your product or service, and why your company is the one they should choose.

Hire smart. If your business will need one or more employees other than yourself (this is especially likely if you're starting a service business), be aware that how and whom you hire will affect how successful your business is. Before you even think about placing your first employment ads, get familiar with federal, state, and local labor laws (these cover areas like hiring discrimination, child labor, independent contractors, immigration law, and more). Don't worry; you don't need to navigate these areas on your own. If you become a member of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFI, you'll have free access to its labor law hotline. You can also consult with an attorney.

Buy some online real estate. Many would-be small business owners (especially those who plan to do all of their business locally) figure that traditional print or radio advertising will be enough to spread the word about their companies. That's archaic thinking, according to Castrina. Since most of your prospective customers-even those born during the heyday of newspaper and radio-are surfing the Internet, websites are no longer optional.

Use your time wisely. Good time management is an important skill for any entrepreneur to have, but it's especially crucial for stay-at-home moms, who are splitting their time between taking care of children and building a business. 

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