Reach Bonnie on her company website or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Professional and LinkedIn Company. Also check out the bbr blog and Marketing ideas for CPAs.
The beginning: I started my company in August of 2009 and set up my home office at that time. I certainly didn’t have budget for outside office space but also really didn’t have a need for it either. The biggest obstacle was creating a clear delineation between work and home. There can also be a feeling of isolation that you are always in your home. But the biggest benefit is no commute! Also, we aren’t spending money on rent for an office space and can apply that money to better uses. I did have a business plan but wasn’t sure when I added employees if we would be able to continue with this model…it worked well! I have two employees who both work from their homes and we get together as often as we need to collaborate on work. We also make great use of instant messaging to have conversations and keep in touch.
Work in progress: Starting from scratch can be really tough. From day 1, I set a goal of having three networking meetings a week - going to an event, coffee with a colleague or even lunch with a new introduction. Because of the nature of our business, I’m constantly meeting with clients or on the phone with them, so the feeling of isolation doesn’t get too bad. I’m also involved in a number of groups and organizations and make an effort to meet with friends and colleagues as often as I can. Financially, being a service business, our overhead and capital costs were very low. I already had a computer and nearly everything I needed to get started. Other than printing stationery and setting up my website, I was good to go. I did have some money that we were saving for another purpose suddenly come available, and we used that to help replace my income while I was getting bbr off the ground.
The support system: The three of us that work for bbr marketing are a support network for each other. I also have friends that have helped me along the way and my husband has been the greatest support anyone could ask for. He was much more confident in my business than I was and has been my biggest and loudest cheerleader. We took a huge financial risk to start the company and he took on the breadwinning role for quite a while. But as he says, “You are so much happier, it’s all worth it.” When I started I said I would reevaluate the situation in six months to see if I could continue or needed to look for a job. At six months, I had added enough clients that it felt like it was going to work, so I plugged along!
Today, Bonnie is the busy President of bbr marketing. Other than the two employees, she has a few outside partners who help deliver services.
The average day: Get up between 6 and 7 a.m., pour coffee, check email, shower and officially start my day. I’m often in meetings or on calls with clients during the day, so there’s very few days of sitting in my pjs until noon. I typically work until after 6 p.m., then shut the door to the office, officially ending my work day. I try to maintain a work schedule. Most days I work from 7:30ish to 6ish, though there are certainly days that go longer than that. My clients are all over the country, so there are times when I need to stay in the office later for a west coast call. But I’ve found that keeping a regular schedule brings structure that I need to my work day. While I will still check email on my phone, I’ve found that creating a hard stop to the day is a great help to finding a balance between work and home. Officially to the outside world, I am working 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Current scene: Overall, I’m not sure that we have tons of challenges in relation to working from a home office. So many people are doing it now that the stigma that used to exist is evaporating. Having a team can provide a bit of a challenge, but we’ve addressed any difficulties there by having cloud-based project and customer management systems in place and taking advantage of instant messaging for quick conversations. My clients love that I come to them when we need to meet in person and no one has asked to see my office. But we don’t hide the fact that we have a virtual office either. My dogs are featured on Facebook and we have embraced our work situation and our clients seem to like it. Working hard and keeping in touch with clients and collaborators is the biggest thing. Also, online tools have made running a remote company so much easier.
The heart of the matter: Financially, we are doing pretty well. The company has grown by over 50% in revenue each year, though I doubt we’ll be able to keep up that pace. We have a national reputation and following and are fairly well known in our particular niche. We’ve won awards and been recognized for our work too. While it would be nice to make more, for a company that is less than 4 years old, we are doing just fine. Socially, I seem to go through stages where I have plans nearly every night with friends and then go a week or two where I’m a homebody, but all in all, I guess my social life is as good as most. Emotionally, it’s thrilling to see an idea take flight and now support three families. For a marketing firm, we work very hard and manage more than many others our size. That knowledge is an amazing feeling.
Let’s talk the talk: Face-to-face networking is vital. Online tools are great but nothing beats sitting down with a person and getting to know them. I network with other women business owners and those in the industries we serve, accounting and law mostly. There are tons of ways to get clients but nothing will ever beat referrals. I can’t stress the importance of creating and maintaining a strong brand and messaging for any company too. You may get a referral to a provider and the first thing you will do is visit their website. If what you find is dated, inconsistent or poorly executed, you will probably never make the call. Like many of our clients, our marketing budget is small, so taking advantage of social media has been a great way to reach out, spread the word, and increase awareness and thought leadership. We are very active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. We also manage accounts for some of our clients.
Highlights of your 100% work from home career: The moment I realized that my company was going to make it. Being named one of The Most Influential People in Accounting for 2012. Meeting some financial milestones I never thought we’d reach.
Lowlights of your 100% work from home career: We’ve certainly faced difficult days and frustrating situations, but nothing out of the ordinary. It can be lonely, it can be difficult to find motivation on down days, but overall, I love the situation I’m in.
Liberties of 100% work from home: Being able to work in my sweats when I don't have meetings, taking short breaks to throw the ball for the dogs when I need to clear my head, access to a full kitchen when I want to whip up something for lunch.
Restrictions of 100% work from home: I sometimes miss having access to the things that you find in a bigger office, like a nice copier or mailroom. I can’t ask my clients to meet me in my office. Water cooler conversations now take place online.
Pastimes and such: That’s probably been my biggest challenge. I love what I do but it has been very hard for me to find and take the time to do things like go to the gym or keep the house clean. But now that we are a bit more established, I intend to try to pursue these and other areas more consistently.
Future plans: For the time being I plan to be 100% work from home. I’m not going to commute! We plan to continue doing what we are doing and grow at a comfortable rate. Always provide the highest level of client service and quality tools possible. I've secured a number of speaking engagements around the country that typically have a great return on investment. Gaining national exposure has been an incredible boost, and we have referral relationships with some of the industry movers and shakers now too. The more people that work with us, the more referrals we get and the more we grow. I am looking forward to watching my company grow and succeed, watching my employees flourish and grow into their roles, helping my clients reach their marketing and growth objectives and stand out from the competition. We are happy, have wonderful clients and are enjoying the ride.
Pro talk for those considering 100% work from home: It’s not for everyone. Take into account how you like to work. It can be a lonely existence, I’ve known many people who have tried it and hated it. Be honest with yourself and determine how self-motivated you are. Will you have the determination to work all day, or will you slowly wind up in front of the TV. Some jobs aren’t conducive to it either, so take a long, hard look at it and determine what is best for you and your business. If you do work with a team, finding an online project management system is important. We use Solve360 but there are many others out there too. I have an outsourced CFO/bookkeeper and we use Quickbooks Online to manage my finances. Research the tools you need to do your job and don’t hesitate to invest in something that will save you time and money over the long run.
Congratulations Bonnie, on being the first participant of this project, and thank you for sharing your inputs!