Tightrope: Word-of-mouth only goes so far

Hi, Gladys, I will soon be 59, and I had to leave my job to come home to take care of my sick husband. I need to be productive both because I need the money and I need to feel like I am a part of something. I love arts and crafts and believe that I might be able to make a good living at it. So far I have been making beautiful decorative baskets that my friends and family rave about. Do you think that I've waited too long to get started in business? And, what are some of the things that I can do to develop a successful home-based basket making business? — Jean

To answer your first question — It's never too late to make changes in life. Artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, also known as "Grandma" Moses, didn't start to paint seriously until she was in her late 70s. Harland David "Colonel" Sanders was 65 when he started his chicken franchise business. By the standards of these folks, you are an early starter at 59.

As for developing a successful business, remember that customers and clients make a business a business. It doesn't matter if the business is home-based, bricks and mortar or cyber space. The important thing is to get customers and keep them coming.

My rule is: For every hour of production, spend three hours marketing and promoting your business.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a birthday party at one of the most beautiful banquet facilities I've ever seen. The owner of the place had taken an old three-story warehouse and turned its many rooms into plush, elegant dining and living room combinations. And crystal chandeliers and table lamps were used to bring the soft lighting that offers a feeling of being at home. She rents these spaces out for events.

When I met the owner I congratulated her on having such an excellent event facility. She responded by telling me that she had hoped business would have been much better than it was. I asked her how she promoted and marketed the business. She said that because the place was so beautiful she had hoped word of mouth would have been good enough to attract tons of business.

I believe that your baskets are beautiful. But as beautiful as your basket may be, and as much as folks might rave about them, don't let word-of-mouth be your sole marketing and promotion plan.

Think about your market. Make a written list of the folks who would be decorative basket buyers. Perhaps corporations would buy them for employee or customer appreciation gifts? They might work for baby showers, wedding showers, birthday and holiday gifts. Use your imagination and come up with a number of possible places to promote your baskets.

Once you complete that list, make a separate list of how to reach each market. Perhaps you might want to develop a website or post flyers on community bulletin boards. Or have your friends host house parties to sell and take orders for baskets, similar to the Mary Kay model. You now have a kind of road map to guide you toward a successful business.

Also, don't downplay your intuition. Listen to, trust and follow your intuition. One of my favorite authors, Florence Scovel Shinn, says, "Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way." Many successful entrepreneurs have paved their path by using their intuition.

In the meantime, maintain the faith in both yourself and your new home-based business.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at gladys@gladysedmunds.com.