This week’s Work-At-Home Success story comes fromDebra Cohen of Home Remedies
Debra Cohen is President of Home Remedies® of NY, Inc. and the creator of the Homeowner Referral Network® (HRN) business model. Ms. Cohen launched Home Remedies® as a resource for local homeowners who were searching for pre-screened, reliable home improvement professionals. Contractors in Debra’s HRN network pay a pre-negotiated commission for work secured, which means that the service is free to homeowners. Debra currently manages a stable of more than 50 contractors ranging from painters, plumbers and carpenters to electricians, handymen and General Contractors.
After other entrepreneurs became interested in launching an HRN business like Home Remedies in their area, Ms. Cohen documented her HRN business model and wrote an HRN Business Manual entitled The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network©. To date there are more than 300 HRN’s operating across the US and a few internationally.
Ms. Cohen and the HRN business have been featured in numerous publications including Parents, Good Housekeeping,Working Mother, The New York Times and Entrepreneur.
1) How did you get started working from home?
I was riding high as the VP of an Manhattan publishing firm–large salary, executive office and international travel–I thought I had it all. But after the birth of my first daughter, I soon realized that living a corporate lifestyle was taking too much time away from my family and it was time to make a change. After a lot of soul searching and with the support of my husband, I left my career in Corporate America in exchange for a far less glamorous pursuit–motherhood.
It wasn’t long after I became a full time mom that our bills began to pile up and my self esteem plummeted. While I loved being at home with my daughter, I still longed for the stimulation–not to mention the income–of a career. Fortunately, I discovered a solution right in my own home.
2) How did you choose the work-at-home career you do?
The idea for my business came out of personal necessity. My husband and I had just purchased our first house and–like many homeowners– we were struggling to find reliable home improvement contractors. When I finally found a responsible contractor, I felt compelled to share his name with other homeowners in our community. I’m a networker by nature and a home improvement buff and I decided that I would try and create a business that would fill this niche in our community. After a great deal of research and planning, I set up a home office on an old farm in my basement (which was also my daughter’s playroom), took a $5000 loan against my husband’s retirement savings plan and launched Home Remedies of NY, Inc., a Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) linking homeowners with pre-screened, reliable home improvement professionals.
3) How did you get started (basic initial steps)?
Since my business concept was so unique, I set out to get advice from as many people as possible–contractors, insurance agents, homeowners, realtors, SCORE, etc. With their input I developed a basic business model. I brainstormed on a business name and, when I decided on Home Remedies, I knew there was no turning back. It felt like I had given my business it’s identity.
I set up a corporation for my business, chose a bank account and, since I was launching on a budget, I used our personal phone line for business to start. I purchased a refurbished fax machine, a computer and my desk was an old farm table.
I hired a retired graphic artist from SCORE to create my first logo and a colleague from my previous career helped me write copy for my first direct mail campaign to homeowners.
And, since I was new to the home improvement industry and had never run my own business before, I set up a Board of Advisors and invited people with specific expertise that I didn’t have ( contractors, an insurance agent, my attorney, my old work colleague, etc.) to join so that I could turn to them for advice.
4) How did you get your first client or customer or job?
I got my first client after I sent out a direct mail campaign to local homeowners. I sent out about 300 pieces. The job was for pest control and my commission was $30. I was ecstatic!
5) How do you market your business?
I market my business in a number of ways: direct mail, e-newsletters, PR, a website and most importantly, through networking. This is a very big “word of mouth” business and it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on advertising.
6) What does your usual day look like?
I wake up early to check my e-mail and contractor schedules for the day. I follow up by phone to confirm contractor appointments as early as possible. I generally leave my office for an hour to exercise and then I’m back at work on the phone following up on jobs, estimates, commissions due, etc. I generally take a break after school and then do some follow up phone work after dinner if necessary.
7) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
I wish I knew when to say no to an opportunity. When I was first starting out, I couldn’t say no to any job and felt the need to chase every piece of business. I was trying to handle too large of a market and wasn’t working efficiently. Now I know how to identify which opportunities work best for me, my business and my family. I’m not afraid to say no.
8) What advice would you give someone who wants to work from home?
Working from home requires that you wear a multitude of different hats–CEO, Marketing Manager, Accountant and even Office Manager. It’s impossible to be an expert at everything so my advice is to outsource as much as possible. I have a virtual assistant, a webmaster, a tech support person, an accountant and several other people who I outsource jobs to so that I can focus on the most important aspects of my business and work as efficiently as possible.’
To connect further with Debra, visit
Twitter Handle: @hrnbiz
The Complete Guide To Owning and Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network (sold independently at www.hrnbiz.com)
Leslie Truex is an ideaphoric writer, speaker, entrepreneur, social worker and mom trying to do it all from the comfort of her home. Since 1998, she's been helping others create careers they love by providing work-at-home information and resources through Work-At-Home Success.
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