Subscribe to our Newsletter for first access to:
* New arrivals, catalogues, and special sales
* Upcoming book fairs (plus free or discounted passes!)
* Book collecting news
* Rare book trivia
We send our newsletters once per month.
Subscribe to our Newsletter for first access to:
* New arrivals, catalogues, and special sales
* Upcoming book fairs (plus free or discounted passes!)
* Book collecting news
* Rare book trivia
We send our newsletters once per month.
Unless you are the most organized person on the planet, chances are you are always looking to improve your time management skills. Managing your time well will combat a demanding schedule, overbooked days, and struggles with work/life balance. It’s especially important if you are a manager or self-employed—you must create structure where there is none.
I admit that time management is something I struggle with. An ENFP personality type, I am a “see the big picture” person who has little patience for the details that bring it all together. I do not see the forest for the trees, I prefer little to no structure, and I am definitely not detail-oriented (despite what my resume may say.) So how have I been able to run a business successfully for 10 years?
Here are some time management tips I’ve learned—and continue to learn—as my company has just opened a gallery and hired employees:
1) It’s OK to Say No – My usual speech for how to run your own business goes something like this: “Do everything all the time in order to get ahead.” While I still think this is true, you’ll eventually learn where your limits are, and sometimes the hard way. By committing to too many projects, the quality of your work can suffer, which might be the same as not doing it at all. Prioritize – and do any analytics you can – to decide what tasks and commitments are the best and most profitable use of your time.
As business in our gallery is getting busier and busier, I’m realizing that I am going to have to turn down some opportunities so I have more time with our employees. By putting in the time to train them now, they will hopefully master the basics of running the gallery so that I can once again step away for travel and other business opportunities. The better you delegate, the more you can eventually accomplish.
2) Schedule Appointments with Yourself – Do you keep appointments with others but never have time for planning, brainstorming, or other creative projects? Schedule time for yourself as you would any other appointment: block out the time on your phone, set up reminders, and don’t stand yourself up—actually keep these appointments! When you finally settle down to your appointment with yourself, avoid phone and email. Yes—the great thing about technology is that information can reach you in real time. The bad thing about technology is the same—you’ll never be productive during your self-appointments if you allow phone calls and email to distract you. For your entire appointment, turn off your devices – all of them – so that you are truly unreachable.
What started as sporadic “me time” to check in with my schedule and prepare for upcoming projects and trips has become a mandatory meeting I have with myself every morning. Before I do anything else (well, after breakfast anyway), I oversee our inventory, employee tasks, my own task list for the week, what I accomplished yesterday, and what I have left to do. I’m also seeing an additional need for brainstorming time for various committees I’m on—time to schedule a weekly appointment with myself!
3) Overestimate & Prepare for Interruptions – Ever feel like if you just had another hour, another day, or another week that you could finish everything you need to do? I do— “A day late and a dollar short” should be my motto. If time always seems to slip away to who knows where, try to overestimate how long your tasks will take until completion. If interruptions break your concentration and steal away your time, try to schedule them in advance. That person who comes over every week to shoot the breeze? That weekly meeting or phone call that turns into a marathon mega-conference? You know they’re going to happen, so anticipate how these will slow you down.
When I finally settle down into a task, I give it my full attention. It’s the settling down part that seems to be the hardest. I have started to plan my days around the interruptions I know will come: when the mail arrives, when friends and colleagues are active on social media, days I know that lunches or dinners (even if they’re business-related) will eat up most of the day.
Your time is one of your most precious resources—train yourself to guard it and protect it. The better you are at managing it, the more productive you will become.
After working from home for 10 years, we just opened an office and gallery in downtown Manhattan. This represents 10 years of hard work, heavy introspection, and a lot of guts. It is a significant achievement on the timeline of our business. It feels great.
Great– but along with these positive feelings comes anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Just when we got our home office working like a well-oiled machine, we took a leap and opened up (dare I say it?) a REAL office. Now what?
Here are a few things we’ve been enjoying about the new space, and some of the challenges we’re facing:
1) Space – If we had been thinking about space alone, we would have opened a gallery several years ago! Not only do we have more retail space for our books, but we now have separate office space and work stations, and a comfortable place for customers to sit and relax with a drink (and hopefully, with a book or two.) In addition to this space gained, we have also taken back all of our apartment’s dining and living room space that used to house our home office. With this new physical space comes mental space—the space to truly leave work at work, enjoy a meal on the dining room table (previously our desk) and watch a movie on the couch (previously our dining area.)
2) New Customers – Here’s how your business will grow, and not only financially. For us, new customers mean learning about different collecting interests and expanding into other specialty areas, which will expand our expertise and scholarship. Our gallery space also represents customers unknown, because we never know who (or what book) is going to come through the door. Now, we’re found more easily and are professionally set-up—we’re already getting more traffic than we were in our apartment building, and we believe this trend will continue. For any business, new customers can mean growing in new locations, new markets, size, power, and stability. See my last post on the different ways your business can grow.
3) Unlimited Potential – When we went full-time with our rare book business 6 years ago, we ultimately made the decision because we believed our business plan could yield unlimited potential for us, both professionally and personally. Now that we are working for ourselves, we have (almost) unlimited earning potential—our gross sales are as good as the time and effort we put in, and the well-managed risks that pay off. Along with unlimited earning potential, we’ve gained innumerable opportunities to learn more about our trade and professional opportunities by joining professional associations. Even more, the flexibility of making our own schedules has allowed us to travel and spend more time with our families, two things that are so important to us for our work-life balance.
1) Overhead – Oh, what a beast overhead is… you conquer it one month, and there it is the very next month waiting for you all over again. This is where the potential to expand your customer base and your own creativity will be tested. Increased overhead is a real risk if your business plan doesn’t give you new ways to cover your added expenses. If there is one thing that keeps us up at night, it’s this.
2) Space & Staff – OK, I know I just proclaimed how excited I am about having more space…but growth can translate to a heavier workload, and therefore a need for employees (or more, if you have them already.) We’ve just gotten the hang of working with our first hire, our Gallery Assistant, and we’ve now hired an additional freelancer to help us with inventory management. Our company had been just the two of us for 10 years, and now all of sudden we were three, and now four. This change has been monumental for us, and not just financially (can we afford to pay these fine people?)– it has shifted our focus. Sure, we spend less time doing the time-intensive, detail-oriented tasks that drive us crazy, but now we spend our time delegating and managing other people, which is not as easy as it sounds. And then there’s the practical issue of getting used to having other people around all the time… no more working in pajamas, I guess.
3) Work-Life Balance – We opened our office and gallery for the progression and growth of our business, and ultimately for the improvement of our lives, but any type of change can cause problems initially. For instance, remember when I mentioned that leaving work at the office is easier now since we cannot work from home? Well, now we find ourselves staying at the office until 9 or 10 pm, and then crashing when we finally get back to our apartment. Nice balance, huh? With time and practice, it has been getting easier for us to manage ourselves and our time, but I see that we still have a long way to go until we reach the work/home balance that is ideal for us.
Opening an office or retail location is a huge accomplishment for any business, but it can also represent your make-or-break moment. We’ve been enjoying the benefits that having a separate work space can provide, but we are still reeling from the changes. Don’t underestimate how challenging a monumental change in your work life can be—try to evaluate the risks ahead of time, and be ready for the unexpected.
Sometimes business growth happens naturally. Other times, you have to take a big risk to make it happen. But how do you know if your risk will pay off?
We took a risk recently—after working from home for 10 years, my husband and I just opened a brick-and-mortar shop in an office building. I know—most book stores are closing their doors instead of opening new locations. But we decided to buck the trend, and are very happy that we did.
Before taking this risk, we evaluated why we wanted to grow, how it would affect our current situation, and how it relates to our long term vision for our business. There’s no foolproof way to know, but here are some things to consider when analyzing the risks of growth:
1) Potential to Meet New Customers – Will you have the opportunity to tap into a new or expanding market that you are not currently reaching? Taking on more overhead is always risky, but your revenue will increase if you can grow your customer base. You have to spend more to make more, right? But taking on too much too soon can also be disastrous. Assess your current overhead and how easily you can cover it. How much do you think you could increase your expenses if the new customers never materialize? This will be the hardest thing to predict, so a contingency plan could save you if what happens is your worst-case scenario.
2) Experimenting – It’s often less risky to “spread the risk out” over several different operations rather than one big (expensive) one. You can experiment with different types of growth– offering new products, expanding into a new market (see above), networking with other businesses, traveling to meet new customers, or hiring new employees. It’s not all about revenue– these are ways that your company can grow in size, power, and stability. This ties in with #3, below…
3) Your Vision for the Future – The long-term vision for any business model should not only be about growth and revenue, but about making your business more secure over time. As your business gets stronger and more financially secure, the risks will get less risky. You’ll be able to take bigger risks, more of them, and grow faster and more aggressively. Decide where you want your company to be one year from now, 3 or 10 years from now: What risks do you need to take to get there?
4) Timing & Opportunity – Wanting to grow your business aggressively is great, but sometimes the timing has to be right when you take a risk. This means being patient, waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and being able to recognize it when it does. Take us, for example: We had been looking at commercial real estate for a few months, but were discouraged by the options and prices, and didn’t connect with anything on offer. I was prepared to spend a year or more looking for the perfect space, as anything less than perfect would have been more risky. But in January of this year, we found our space: the block, the building, and the gallery space itself are the best we could have hoped for, and therefore a good reason to take on the extra overhead. Be patient! It’s hard enough to start a new venture, and if you’re starting by making concessions to your original plan, forget it.
5) Work/Life Balance – Business growth can represent a whole new set of challenges for your work/life balance. We, like most small business owners, have the problem of working too long, doing too much, and doing everything. Growth can give you more options to manage you business, whether this means having additional revenue to work with, more space, or more employees. There is usually a transitional period that requires more flexibility on your part when you initially make your change, but afterward, you may be able to think ahead, plan better, and delegate more. Once everything is going according to your plan, you can focus on the tasks that actually make your business money, and hopefully carve out more time for your family or personal life.
It wasn’t easy to move from our home office to our new gallery space, and it’s still too soon to tell if it will pay off. But by making the right moves, we’re confidant this risk will move our company in the right direction. Think about whether the risk you want to take is in alignment with your long term goals. Determine the ways you want to grow, develop a plan, then stay true to your vision.
The B & B Rare Books Gallery is OPEN!
Please visit us in the Gramercy/Flatiron neighborhood at:
30 East 20th Street, Suite 305
(between Park Avenue and Broadway)
New York, NY 10003
Our new location is in an historic 1918 building right between Gramercy Tavern restaurant and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.
We are so excited to be taking our business to the next level—please join us in celebrating and check it out!
Meet B & B’s new Gallery Assistant!
The B & B family is growing! If you visit our new gallery or attend the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, you will have the pleasure of meeting our new Gallery Assistant, Becca Kennedy.
Becca graduated from the University of Rochester in May 2012. There, she majored in English Literature with a minor in Music. She moved to NYC with her fiancé in August 2012. Before working at B&B, her first job was with The Strand Bookstore. Becca looks forward to learning the “ins and outs” of the rare books trade, especially how rare books are appraised and cataloged.
Becca’s interests are singing, playing the piano, and reading. Her favorite author is Ray Bradbury and her favorite book is Something Wicked This Way Comes. She also enjoys modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and their contemporaries.
Sunday’s Forbes Blog Anniversary!
Sunday just celebrated 1 year of blogging on Forbes.com! Her blog, HOME OFFICE, features posts on small business strategy, entrepreneurial advice, and anecdotal stories from the rare book trade.
Find Home Office here:
To follow Home Office, click on 'Follow Me' beneath Sunday’s photo- you have the option to follow via social media or with an account on Forbes.com.
Upcomming Book Fairs
New York Antiquarian Book Fair
The Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, NY
53nd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair
B&B Rare Books will be exhibiting at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair April 11-14, 2013. Join us for our 4th year- visit us at Booth D7!
The NYABF is one of the largest antiquarian book fairs in the world. There will be hundreds of exhibitors, so plan to spend the whole weekend – you can’t see it all in one day! Who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend surrounded by fellow bibliophiles, enjoying rows upon rows of one-of-a-kind rare books?
Don’t miss the Thursday night Preview for the official opening night. Admission for Friday-Sunday is $20/day and more information can be found here. We hope to see you there!
For my last post, I shared advice I imparted to an aspiring entrepreneur. It could be summarized as a positive, optimistic approach to starting your own business. While it’s possible to follow a dream and take blind risks, it’s also important to realize that obstacles, and learning how to mind them, can actually help you to succeed.
Here are some common mistakes that entrepreneurs encounter, and what to learn from them:
1) Get Ready for Some Losses – Let’s say that our theoretical game record is 16 wins – 14 losses. Overall, we have a winning record, but that also means we lost 14 out of 30 games. If you’re willing to experience some losses (and can afford to do so) then keep going and try in earnest to learn from your mistakes. Lesson: Establish a safety net because you can and will sometimes lose what you put into the pot (but with the bittersweet knowledge that you can only win when you do take chances.)
2) Make Sure Your Idea is Relevant – We were successful selling books online because we capitalized on the new and growing online marketplace when it was truly booming. A friend of ours became a successful poker player because he capitalized on online poker when it was booming. It might be too late for these two routes to financial success, but there are dozens of new ideas taking off on practically a daily basis. Lesson: Does your idea serve a current need in society, and can it compete with (or be different or better than) what’s currently out there? Get feedback from objective sources and make adjustments as necessary.
3) Face Your Weaknesses – Personality-wise, I am a Myers-Briggs ENFP: P for Perceiving, one who “sees the whole picture.” Early on, however, I deluded myself into thinking I was a detail-oriented person. When the deadlines started flying by, I came clean to myself (“you’re not as perfect as you think you are!”) and developed strategies to mind the concrete tasks. Lesson: Your weaknesses will find you eventually, so get the jump on them. This is especially important in business ownership, as it will either be just you, or you managing other people (who will look to you for guidance and see your flaws with much more clarity than you do.) Go beyond simple reflection to the interview question “What are your weaknesses?” and attack the things you compulsively avoid. Avoidance is your first clue that you’re probably not that good at something. Develop ways improve upon your weaknesses or hire the proper people to make up for this.
4) Think In the Long-Term – I entered my Master’s program in Counseling Psychology because I wanted to become a counselor and therapist. Nothing wrong with that, but my mistake was that this was where my dream started and ended. I didn’t look ahead to what would happen after I became a counselor; I didn’t acknowledge that the most obvious career options past this (supervisor, program manager) were careers that I really didn’t want. Luckily, I was already moving forward with my online book business, and that left me with long-term options that I liked (entrepreneurship, flexible hours, opportunities to travel.) Lesson: Sometimes you have to make decisions for the short-term, and that’s OK. But never lose sight of where you want to be in the long run, and think about how your short-term plans relate to your long-term plans.
5) Know What You’re Up Against – Having entered the rare book trade rather “accidentally,” I was not previously aware that it was (and still sometimes is) a male-dominated business with little in the way of support for young newcomers. Knowing this ahead of time wouldn’t have prevented me from entering it, but it certainly would have saved me a lot of confusion and angst during my first few years in the business. Lesson: This is all about foresight and awareness: seeing the present –and imagining the future– of the culture in which you are about to immerse yourself, and self-awareness as to how you will fit into this picture. No one has a crystal ball that can predict all of the obstacles and changes, but the more you know, the better. Especially concerning change and growth: can you adapt to your industry’s changes, or even better, be on the forefront of change?
6) Are You Self-Sabotaging? – Indeed, we all do this from time to time. Over the past few weeks, my company opened a gallery– after working from my HOME OFFICE for 10 years, we moved our business to a separate retail location (must I change the name of this blog?) Thinking critically about it, if I had been more aggressive a few years ago, we probably could have done this earlier and would have grown at faster rate. But financially and/or emotionally, we were making other moves that prevented us from doing this, and we just weren’t ready to take it on. Overall, I am happy with our decision to wait, and perhaps it is even better this way, but I’ll never really know how it could have turned out otherwise. Lesson: If you are making decisions that are constantly at odds with your long-term goals, maybe you’re afraid of failure, or maybe you’re just not ready, or maybe you don’t really want them at all. No matter what the case may be, pay attention to your actions (and non-actions), as these will clue you in as to what is really important in your life.
Many people only see the obstacles in their way, and will never follow through with their plan for independent employment. Be honest with yourself and look at where you put your energy. The barriers will always be there, but if you can learn how to move around them, you will be on a path to self-improvement and closer to your dream.
B & B Rare Books is opening an Office & Gallery!
After working from our home office for almost 10 years, we will finally be moving our business into a place of its own.
We hope to have the space ready near the end of this March. Please visit us in the Gramercy/Flatiron neighborhood at:
30 East 20th Street, Suite 305
(between Park Avenue and Broadway)
New York, NY 10003
Our new location is in an historic 1918 building and is located between Gramercy Tavern restaurant and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.
We are so excited to be taking our business to the next level—please join us in celebrating when we open our doors in late March! A Gallery Opening Party is in the works, date to be announced in our next newsletter.
We look forward to celebrating with you!
The Collective Returns!
Together with 5 other ABAA member firms, we've put out a catalogue of new material.
Please contact us if you would like to receive a hard copy of this new catalogue.
Washington Antiquarian Book Fair
Holiday Inn Rosslyn at Key Bridge, 1900 North Fort Myer Drive,
Arlington, VA 22209.
32nd Annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair
St. Petersburg Coliseum, 535 Fourth Avenue North, St. Petersburg, FL.
Last summer, I met with a young aspiring entrepreneur. She wanted to know how I started my business, how I quit my 9-5, and how I got to where I am today. I have no idea if meeting with this bright young woman was at all helpful to her, but I do know that it was a learning experience for me. Reflecting upon the last 10 years of my life, the following points occurred to me:
1) Search Your Soul: What Do You Want? – When I finished college, I applied for graduate school because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I got into two programs, but one was in a city where I did not want to live. If the program was really more important, I would have gone there and probably have a PhD by now, but it wasn’t. I realized it was more important for me to move to New York City, so I chose that instead. My NYU Master’s program was the vehicle that brought me to New York, and eventually to my destiny as an entrepreneur. Bottom Line: You can respond to pressure and do the “practical” thing, or pause for a moment of clarity: think about what you really want. You can go with the flow or make the tough decisions that will take you where you really want to be.
2) Just Do It – Fear of failure can be one of the most paralyzing fears out there. It can play a significant role in whether you follow your entrepreneurial dream or not. Of course, fear can be a signal that something isn’t right, but fear can also be a way that self-sabotage keeps us from taking chances. Bottom Line: You can take small steps and find ways to minimize the risks inherent to business ownership, but you also need to just do it- no one else will make it happen for you, so take a deep breath and make the leap.
3) Keep Doing It – We’ve all heard stories of humble beginnings: people who start blogging and get book deals, people who sell goods online and grow successful retail businesses from there (that’s us!) We’ve been putting ourselves out there for 10 years, and are just now really blossoming and getting noticed. That means for the last 10 years, or certainly for the first seven, we were putting a lot of time and effort in and were just about scraping by. Against mountains of adversity, we kept trying and worked hard to learn from our mistakes. And we’re successful now because we kept playing the game. Bottom Line: View every event you do and every contact you meet as a means toward your desired end. When faced with a roadblock, do you need to change something in your model that doesn’t work, or does it just need more time to take off? Get feedback from other professionals. Make needed adjustments, and keep going.
4) Take Small Steps to Reach Big Goals – I didn’t just wake up today as a successful business owner. I’m where I am because of every day I’ve worked until now. Every decision I’ve made and every small step I’ve taken has made a big difference toward achieving my long-term goals. I told my husband one day, “Let’s quit our jobs and move to France.” We accomplished this goal because we saved our money (making many financial sacrifices along the way), enrolled in French classes, obtained Student Visas, made housing arrangements, sublet our apartment, bought plane tickets, and moved ourselves to Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. This sounds overly obvious, but it really was those little steps that brought us to our goal. A friend of mine has a dream to go back to school and finish her degree. It remains unrealized because she never took the entrance exam she needed, never called her old school to get her transcripts, never attended that open house she said she wanted to. Bottom Line: Write down your long-term goals (one-year, three-year, ten-year, whatever is important to you.) Then make a checklist of all the concrete tasks you need to complete to achieve them. Now just do it (#2 above!)
5) Prioritize – Remember that list you just made for Lesson #4? Look at what your number one goal is– whatever tops your list and is most important to you– and discard the rest. I know: life is complicated. We all have a myriad of work goals, family goals, and life goals that at times can seem at odds with each other. I’m not saying you can’t do it all, it’s just that you can usually be more successful with a major goal when it has your full attention. Bottom Line: Doing one thing really well can get you further ahead, and is ultimately better for your work/life balance, than doing many things not so well. When I lived in France, learning French and just being abroad was the priority. When we returned to the US, we went full force with our business, motivated to not have to return to our day jobs. Now our priority is growing our business by setting up a retail location. Kids? Maybe someday, just not right now. In the long run, I believe I will have accomplished everything I set out to do, by having focused on one thing at a time.
6) Be Hungry – If I had moved back in with my parents after college, I would have never had the financial pressure to pay for my expensive Manhattan apartment. I would not have been pushed to make money on the side in unusual ways. I would have never started selling books online, which eventually became my full-time business and livelihood. I had financial pressure all around me, and it got me thinking and moving. Bottom Line: Hunger will get you out of your comfort zone, and put pressure on you to move toward your goals. Sometimes living at home or taking a job you’re not thrilled with is necessary, but don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Remind yourself of what you want, and continue to work toward it.
7) Allow Life to Change You – If you go into life with a set plan, you’re not leaving much room for something serendipitous to intervene. Perhaps you’re just a planner and want to have every detail in place, but remind yourself to be open-minded. I moved to New York City to get my Master’s degree, but I was also interested in everything else the Big City had to offer. Out of my usual surroundings (and way outside of my comfort zone) I was rewarded with a great entrepreneurial idea. Bottom Line: Have a plan, but be aware of the untapped resources and new ideas swirling all around you. They’re out there, you just have to recognize them.
I never knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. What I wanted after college was the freedom to follow my dreams, no matter where they would end up taking me. By intense introspection, careful decision making, and allowing chance and opportunity to sometimes step in, I’ve spent the last 10 years on a path that led to me owning my own business. If your goal is to work from home, invest in a start-up, or own your own business, you’re already one step ahead of where I was 10 years ago. Got similar dreams? Go after them, and make your own unique path to get there.
A catalogue of new material we'll be bringing to the California book fairs - the joint effort of B&B plus 5 other ABAA member firms.
Please contact us if you would like to receive a hard copy of our latest catalogue.
Chandler, Raymond. The High Window.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942. First edition.
In an exceptional unrestored dust jacket.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Taps At Reveille.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935. First edition.
In a beautiful unrestored dust jacket.
Booth # 203
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main Street,
Santa Monica, CA.
Booth # 114
Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 8th Street at Brannan Street,
San Francisco, CA.
To rebind or not to rebind? That is the question…
We get many inquiries about binding services. Old books, rare books, antiquarian books… if they’re in less than perfect condition, do you ever consider rebinding them?
Book binding and restoration is expensive, and most books are actually more valuable in their original bindings and without repair. However, some books will merit repair if preserving them will increase their value. So, to rebind and repair… or not?
If you have a book that you think could use repair, allow us to determine its value. We can then make a recommendation for work, and then estimate the price and time needed for repair.
Of course, you might want a book repaired or rebound to preserve it for sentimental purposes. Allow us to make a recommendation for the style or type of binding. Repairing a well-loved book for a family member or friend can be a touching and personal gift.
To inquire about binding or restoration services, please email us.
There are countless barriers to quitting your job and becoming your own boss. One of the most practical can be the idea of leaving your health insurance behind. Working for another company makes it so easy– the group rates are competitive if not excellent, and payment for your plan is usually deducted from your paycheck.
My husband and I used to have all of the above—good-paying jobs that provided us with excellent health care coverage. Then we quit to pursue our dream of running our rare book business full-time. How did we do it?
Every person’s situation and concerns about health care will be different, but here are some general points to consider if you’re thinking about becoming self-employed:
Obstacle 1: As soon as you quit, you’re no longer eligible for your firm’s health care plan.
Tips: It’s hard to see any good news here, since health care for the independently employed is still lacking in so many areas in pretty much every state in the US. However, now that you have to find your own insurance, you’ll probably have many more options to choose from than would have been provided by your old firm. You could choose a low-premium high-deductible plan that would only cover you in case of emergencies, or pay a higher premium per month if you need more coverage. Some plans will travel with you (they will cover you if you travel out of your state), but if you mostly stay at home, you could save money with a plan that only covers local providers. Every state will be different in their offerings, but the point is that you have options that you can customize to your personal needs.
Obstacle 2: All of these options are very expensive.
Tips: Again, this is a hard fact to escape from, but having to consider this can help you to make the decision whether or not it is time for you to quit your job in the first place. One of the biggest perks to running your own business is the opportunity for unlimited earning potential. Hopefully, you’ll be making enough money through your own endeavors to cover this higher cost. Research the health care plans you’d be eligible for before you quit your job, and if you can’t swing the higher cost, you might want to wait until your business is more established and earning reliably.
Obstacle 3: It’s not just me—I have a family to insure, too.
Tips: As with Obstacle 1 above, flexibility in choosing a plan will be key. The first time my husband and I researched health insurance plans, we had several health insurance brokers clamoring for our business. This allowed us to see multiple options and multiple quotes before we chose our plan.
The points above will hopefully shed some light on the complicated issue of health insurance for independent workers. Here’s our personal story of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of navigating your own health care plan:
We quit our day jobs in the early summer of 2006. COBRA was expensive, so we went without insurance for a few months before we moved to southern France. Although France didn’t require us to purchase any insurance to get student visas, we purchased a basic traveler’s short-term (6 month) plan anyway. We spent a blissful 5 months living, studying, and yes, selling books in the south of France, and then returned to the US to get serious about our business.
We calculated what our expenses would be with both of us being self-employed, and decided to take our chances and go uninsured. We did this for 3 years– we were both young (26) and as yet without any major health concerns. We happily saved the money we would have been putting toward health insurance and reinvesting it back into our business. This situation was ideal, until I ended up in the ER with a ruptured appendix. You’ll never appreciate how much insurance really comes in handy until you need it and don’t have it.
I’ll spare you the details of my appendectomy, but needless to say, we were motivated afterward to buy our own health insurance. Luckily, NYS had just passed a law stating that children of state employees could stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 30. That took care of my husband, at least for a few years, but I was not so lucky. I researched and worked with a few brokers and finally settled upon a plan. It was expensive—roughly $750 per month. Yes, for just me. Yes, a young and healthy 27-year-old woman. But after my rather expensive stint in the ER, it seemed worth it.
When my husband aged out of his state benefits, we both became members of the Freelancer’s Union. Among other great benefits, members of FU are eligible for a low group rate on health insurance. It’s what I call “portable insurance”—the type that doesn’t expire just because you no longer want to work for a large firm. Whether you want to work for yourself, start a small business, or make a living freelancing, you’re covered.
Again, options for you and your family will vary based upon your personal situation and the state you live in. This is merely our own story, one that we have learned a lot from.
There are countless advantages to working from home– I’m sure every entrepreneur, freelancer, and small business owner would agree with me. But what about your clients? Are they as comfortable in your home office as they would be in a standard office setup?
If clients are wary of meeting you at your home, it’s most likely a “space” issue—they don’t want to intrude on your personal space or know too many personal things about you. Here are 6 ways to keep your home office looking like an actual office:
1) Set Up a Partition or Other Physical/Visual Barrier – Your office space will look more like an office if you can’t see other parts of your home like your kitchen or bedroom. If you don’t have a separate room for your work space, set up a floor-to-ceiling partition like a folding screen or a room divider. A curtain or well-placed bookcase could also do the trick, but keep in mind that your partition should also help to contain noise. If you have a separate room for your office, try to have it close to the front door so customers won’t have to traipse through your entire house to get there. The visual barrier will also function as a psychological barrier, keeping your personal life out of your business life for both you and your clients.
2) Ditch Personal Items – In a previous life, I worked in Counseling and Social Work. I continue to use the therapist’s rule of thumb when it comes to personal items in your office area: the less, the better. Personal effects reveal personal information, and this is often distracting to clients. They’ll be thinking about your home life when they should really be there talking business with you. Think first about what you want your customers to know about your personal life (again, the less, the better.) If you don’t want them to necessarily know your age, marital status or about your family, then keep things out of your office that would show them that information.
3) Add Business-Related Décor – As a follow-up to #2 above, replace personal items with professional ones related to your business. This can give an advantage to your home office over the sterile feel of a cubical in a traditional office. As your own decorator, personalize your space. Our business is a rare books and manuscripts company, so it was an easy decision for us to make our “office” look more like a library. When customers enter our space, they are transported to a turn-of-the-century library, complete with period artwork and Tiffany-style lamps.
4) Dress the Part – We all love to work in our pajamas (perhaps no one more than me!), but no one besides you has to know that. You might be able to keep it casual, depending upon your business, but dressing up couldn’t hurt either. “Business casual” is still business-appropriate, so this is a good barometer. Wear something that would be appropriate in any office. Also: keep your shoes on. Never make your clients feel as though they need to “dress down” to you. They’ll be uncomfortable, or at the very least confused about whether they need to take theirs off too. Keep shoes on, even if you normally take them off when you’re at home.
5) Don’t Make Appointments at Obscene Hours – Your flexible schedule is great for you, and it could even give you a leg up on the competition. Just make sure your clients aren’t encroaching upon your personal time. It may be convenient for them to visit you after 5 PM, but if you see clients any hour of the day or night, you won’t be setting good boundaries. Clients could take advantage of this; if they don’t respect you as a professional, they are more likely to do other disrespectful things like not pay you on time. Your time is part of your “office space” too—make sure you manage it properly.
6) Keep it Smoke-Free and Pet-Free – This isn’t just a “not everyone’s a cat-person” tenet—serious allergies could make clients feel physically uncomfortable in your space. This is also a consideration for how your office smells. Cigarettes and pets can make their presence known even after you have moved them from your space. As much as we want our small dog to meet all of our clients (almost as much as he wants to meet all of them!), we keep him in our bedroom during meetings unless we know for certain that they want him around.
Now that your home office looks more professional, offer your clients the advantages your home has to offer. Bring them a glass of water or cup of fresh-brewed coffee. Take their coats and bags and set them up in a comfy chair. The perks of a home office can benefit your clients, not just yourself.
Like many companies nowadays, we are reaping the benefits of having a mostly-online presence. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of companies competing for your customers online. How can you make your website stand out?
We get a lot of compliments on our website, from customers and competitors alike. I attribute the success of our site to the following things:
1) A Clear Vision
3) Hiring the Right Help
Consider the following:
- Don’t Copy Your Competitors – So your competition has an engaging site that gets great traffic. Avoid the temptation to copy it! The finished product will look as polished as theirs, but there will be nothing else to set you apart. You need to have your own identity—something memorable, something that is yours alone. If you don’t know what that is yet, chances are your customers are confused too. Don’t start working until you decide on the look you want and functionality you need.
- Use Original Information – Aside from your unique design, add background information to express your expertise AND your passion. No two business models are the same, and your personal story can’t be told by your web developer. Photos –your own, not internet stock photos- will make your site less sterile and more personal. Bonus: The more original text you have, the easier it will be for search engines to find your site.
- Make It Match – Potential customers are looking for the facts, but your website should also have a feeling about it. Does it match your personality and your business model? A monochromatic, text-only website would not work for a hang-gliding company, in the same way a cartoon-filled candy-colored website would probably not work for a bankruptcy firm. This is a common mistake that, once identified, can be easy to avoid.
- Hire a Developer That Shares Your Vision – When we decided to upgrade our website, we hired a company that not only understood web building, but also understood the rare book business. It might not always be possible to find a web developer who understands the nitty-gritty of your work, but they should at least be adept enough to understand what you need out of a website and why you need it. If they don’t intuitively understand what you’re looking for, you’re going to spend a lot of unnecessary time explaining, and possibly back-tracking if they make a mistake. Before you hire someone, try this test: Ask the developer to look at your current site (or other work-related materials if you don’t have one yet), and ask them what they think it needs. If you are in agreement, or the developer comes up with something even better, you’re most likely on the same page.
- Be Accessible and Trustworthy – We didn’t always have our own shopping cart. Our old site displayed our books and then took you to a third-party site to complete the purchase. It doesn’t make you un-trustworthy if this is your set-up, but we received plenty of feedback from customers who said it made them uncomfortable, no matter how much the rest of our site appealed to them. Post your SSL certificates, as well as any professional associations you are a member of. Make sure your policies and contact information are clearly stated and easy to find. Your customers need to know how they can reach you if they have a problem.
- Lastly, Go With Your Gut – Clear your head and go to your own website. Would you spend time on it? Is the information easy to find? Is everything easy to understand, easy to navigate? Or would you click away the first chance you get? Be your own judge and critic.
If your first point of contact with customers is your website, you need to be especially careful of the impression your site is making. If you make your website an extension of yourself, when customers reach out, they’ll feel like they’ve already met you.
Joshua is a New York City native. He received a degree in Biology and Psychology from SUNY Geneseo. Before working full-time with rare books, he did clinical research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Joshua’s specialties include Victorian literature and Modern American literature. His favorite book is The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Sunday grew up south of Buffalo, NY. She attended SUNY Geneseo and New York University, receiving a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a writer and a Forbes Small Business Contributor. Sunday specializes in the Bloomsbury group and the 1920's Lost Generation literary expatriates. Her favorite book is Mrs. Dalloway.