This month I celebrate my 32nd year in my home-based business. Wow! How cool is that? Who would have thought 32 years ago that a site like LinkedIn would be available that would share the news of your big anniversary. Totally awesome!
I thought it would be fun to go back in time and share some stories from the past. To those starting a business today, you have no idea how lucky you are and all the advancements at your fingertips. Now the order of these might be off, but with that .. let’s go … Back to 1985 and beyond.
- Computers – Back in 1985 computers were just becoming popular. Sure some of the major corporations were all on it and had them already, but many small businesses didn’t. What did that mean to me? At the time I started a word processing business from home. So when I typed up a document for a client, and I made a mistake that couldn’t be fixed with white-out, I redid the entire document. And unfortunately I did that a lot! Bummer! I especially did this when clients would be waiting for me to finish something for them and breathing down my neck. They weren’t happy to hear, “Oops need to redo that page.” My husband and I quickly decided if I was to start a “word processing business at home,” I needed to get one of them there computers. So I got my first Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack. Life improved instantly. In fact, within months I was helping some of the attorneys and other businesses I worked for computerize their entire offices. Life was grand! BTW, my business name at the time was Dee’s Letter Perfect! Pretty fitting.
- Pick-Up and Delivery – Back in the 80’s there wasn’t any internet or sending documents to clients via email, it all required the physical transfer from person to person. With my home-based business, I did offer pick-up and delivery services, which meant time away from my actual work. Although it was a hassle, it was nice to connect personally with clients on a regular basis. I always tried to make the visits short and sweet, because we were all busy. And back then I was a new mom. Often times, I would keep the drop off of work to when I had my kids with me so I wouldn’t miss out on any actual work time. The beauty of that was most of my clients grew up with my kids and most of the time when we dropped off work, there was candy awaiting them and lots of hugs. (Yes, I had awesome clients even back then.) Now of course, some clients such as the attorney’s offices, that didn’t work and I couldn’t take my kids, but many it did. I got to say, I truly enjoyed it too. My kids thought that’s what everyone did. Drive with their mom to drop off work and get candy. Yes, we had a good thing going.
- Email – That came around in the 90’s for me. At that time I had written a book on starting a home-based business (Words From Home: How to Start a Home-Based Word Processing Business) and had found a publisher for it. YES!! Now I was running a pretty successful business, but in doing so, I wasn’t up on all the latest developments apparently. The first thing my publisher told me was to work together, you need to get email. (My contract was faxed to me. Boy what a fun day that was.) I remember vividly asking my husband what the heck was that. Fortunately our Tandy 1000 computer quickly revealed that I needed to look into something called AOL. Before long, I was one of the hundreds of thousands hearing, “You’ve got mail.” Now back in the day, when AOL was new, you have no idea how crazy it was. It would get “busy” from all the people logging in and you’d have to wait hours sometimes in order to connect. Can you imagine today waiting more than a few seconds at most now? But they fixed that promptly and I was one of the cool ones who figured out how to do email. (Boy am I dating myself here! BTW, it was around this time that I changed my name to Ennen’s Computer Services. Thought it was more fitting!)
- Sending Files – With email came sending of files. Oh boy, how cool was this? No longer would I have to get dressed and deliver my work. This saved me close to an hour a day. Today you can’t even imagine not being able to attach a file or load it to Dropbox, but back then the ability to do so didn’t exist. And when it did, the skies opened up and doves appeared. Well, not really, but it was pretty cool. I also discovered that in sending files, I could send anywhere ….like out of my local community and even to another state. That’s when I found my first client virtually, a publisher in Arizona. (I’m in Florida.) It was fun to tell my friends and clients that I had gone big time … having a client in another state. I had arrived!
- Forums / Message Boards– Back in the day even when you had clients and friends, you pretty much winged it. There weren’t groups you could ask or experts sharing their tips on social media, podcasts, etc. When you had challenges you figured it out the best you could. Then came these things called “forums or message boards.” Sites would be able to add forums and it allowed everyone to connect, ask questions, talk about their business, and just have fun. These were big back then. There are still some around, but social media pretty much replaced them. And for those who had books (like me), it was also an opportunity to show your expertise and sell your books. Cool beans! I managed several forums during my day and gotta say, really enjoyed it.
- Social media – I always consider this one of my biggest fails. I had a client who had a new site that was set up exclusively with social media in mind. It was years ahead of its time. When she first approached me she said, “Social media is here to stay and I want to get ahead of the game. Here again was another new term … social media! Only this time, I jumped at the opportunity and learned as much as I could in order to do a great job. Unfortunately, it never took off like it could have, not through any fault of either of us. Just that we didn’t give it the man power needed to make a difference. My big lesson from that though was when I heard something new, I spent the time to understand it fully so I could master it before others.
- Twitter – I can vividly remember when I first heard about Twitter. As already successful work-at-home moms we were eager to jump aboard and I gotta admit, kind-of felt cool being ahead of the curve on so many new things. We loved being among the first to try things, at least in our industry. I can remember one of my friends saying, “That was so cool, you followed me around all day.” WHAT? I followed you around? I didn’t get it. And if most were honest, in the beginning many didn’t. So I sat back and watched. That was one thing I learned. Usually if you step back a bit and follow what is happening, it won’t take long to figure out and you won’t look like an idiot doing it all wrong.
- Virtual Assistants – This was always ongoing since the late 1990s, but in early 2000s, it was full steam ahead. I can remember being quoted in USA Today in 1997 on becoming a virtual assistant. That one quote landed me numerous clients. I do believe that was when my true love of doing marketing began. I saw that you get quoted, people read it see you as expert, and then want to work with you. BAMM, what a concept. That rocked! The VA industry has grown in leaps and bounds today and I’m still proud to have been a part of its success along with my co-author Kelly Poelker.
- Women’s World – Of all the publicity I’ve gotten one of my favorite stories is when I was quoted in Women’s World way back in the day. I was four months pregnant at the time and they asked me to wear a certain color / style for the article. They were sending a film crew. Well, I shopped and shopped and couldn’t find anything. They wanted fall colors and I live in Florida. I finally found something, but it was way out of my price range for something that I would only wear once because of being pregnant. So I did what every business owner would do (well maybe not), but I bought it and kept the tags on to return immediately. I looked AWESOME!! So, as we’re filming away and I’m getting really into it, the photographer said, “Oh would you mind pushing your tags in a bit.” Yikes! Funny how over 20 years later, I still cringe at the thought. Bottom line, I’ll never do that again or if I do, I’ll hide my tags better.
I could go on and on about all the fun things that happened throughout the years, but most know already. One thing has not changed over the years — I love what I do and am honored to get to continue to do it on a regular basis. The future for working at home has never been better.
Here’s to the next 30!
Want to share your work-at-home story; I’d love to add them. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or add it to comments below.