The secretary of yesteryear needed to know how to take shorthand, type and answer the phone. Today's secretary deals with dictation using a tape recorder and transcription equipment; instead of simply typing, she inputs data into a computer; and the office telephone she uses is actually a complex communications center. What we now call the business support services industry has experienced a similar and perhaps even more remarkable evolution. It began as secretarial services or typing services, and typing was pretty much all they did. But those operations have gone the way of the horse and buggy, replaced by modern, techno-savvy entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of a virtually limitless market.
Over the span of the 20th century, the administrative demands of doing business have grown tremendously, creating a need for secretarial and clerical support. With the advent of desktop computers and increasingly sophisticated office equipment, the skill and knowledge requirements of secretaries have also increased.
At the same time, the general business landscape has changed dramatically.
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Big businesses are looking for ways to streamline their operations, and one popular option is outsourcing, where they retain another company to provide a service that may have traditionally been done by employees. Small companies want to stay lean and profitable, so they, too, are turning to outsourcing, rather than fattening up their payroll. Combine the obvious need with the new way of operating in the business world, and you have a dynamic young industry wide open with opportunity: business support services.
In fact, there is so much opportunity that if you don't have a clear plan, specific services and a target market, your chances of success are slim. But with a lot of thought and preparation, and a minimal amount of cash, you can quickly be on the road to profitability. You can offer a wide range of services. The following list encompasses what we found on the market, but it is by no means exhaustive. Some of these services could be businesses in and of themselves; others are ancillary to a primary service.
Listen to your clients; they'll let you know what they need, and then you can decide if you can provide it.
You have three broad markets for your business support services business: the general public; small commercial and homebased businesses; and large corporations. A job hunter creating or ating a resume may actually write the document and bring it to you for layout and printing; he or she may need you to assist in writing the content as well. Even when the unemployment rate is low, the resume market is significant because people don't have to be unemployed to need a resume.
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There are thousands of higher-learning institutions in the United States with a collective enrollment of millions of students. Although many students prepare reports and papers themselves, enough of them will turn to a professional word-processing firm to make this market substantial.
Students working on particularly long papers, such as graduate theses or dissertations, are strong candidates for your service. And, of course, once they graduate, they may come back to you for assistance with their resumes. In addition to students, the academic community may also be a source of business think professors who need word processing, editing and proofreading services for their books and articles.
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As the number of small businesses continues to grow, so does your potential market. And the list of services they use is limited only by your imagination and personal preferences.
As you develop relationships with small businesses, you'll be in a position to make suggestions that will increase the volume-or even expand the scope-of the work you do for them. Typically, small businesses turn to business support services firms for word processing, faxing, photocopying, shipping, desktop publishing, mailing list management, dictation and transcription. Large companies also use business support services when their own staff members are unavailable due to vacations or illness.
They may not actually need a "temp," that is, someone to come in and be present in the office, but they may need someone who can handle all or part of the work of the absent staffer.
It's a good idea to select one or more key market groups to target. There are a number of very valid reasons for choosing a well-defined market niche.
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By targeting a very specific market segment, you can tailor your service menu, marketing efforts and customer service system to meet that segment's needs. You can refine your marketing efforts and gain a reputation within the industry for expertise in certain areas-which means you can charge more.
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Think about it: In the medical field, who earns more-a family practitioner or a neurosurgeon? The neurosurgeon, naturally, because he's a specialist, and what he does requires greater skill. Some market niches you might consider include:. One of the most appealing cts of the business support services industry is its relatively low startup costs.
If you have a decent credit rating, you can be ready to start serving clients with virtually no cash out of pocket-although you'll certainly be on firmer ground if you have some startup capital. Most of the business support services entrepreneurs we talked with used their own personal savings and equipment they already owned to start their businesses.
Because the startup costs are relatively low, you'll find traditional financing difficult to obtain-banks and other lenders would much rather lend amounts much larger than you'll need and are likely to be able to qualify for. Many operators start their businesses on the side while working full-time jobs, so their personal living expenses are covered.
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But if you plan to plunge into your new business full time from the start, be sure you have enough cash on hand to cover your expenses until the revenue starts coming in. At a minimum, you should have the equivalent of three months' expenses in a savings account to tap if you need it; you'll probably sleep better if you have six to 12 months of expenses socked away.
Charlene D. Perrysburg, Ohio's Rachelle Y. So I bought a new computer and printer, paper, and some other odds and ends.
Irvine, California's Cindy P. Joann V. That was it-that was all I needed to start.
As you consider your own situation, don't pull a startup number out of the air; use your business plan to calculate how much you need to start your ideal operation, and then figure out how much you have. If you have all the cash you need, you're very fortunate. If you don't, you need to start playing with the numbers and deciding what you can do without.
As a solo operator, expect to spend at least one-fourth of your time on general business management and administration, marketing, purchasing and billing.
The bigger your business and the more people you have, the more time you'll spend managing them rather than actually doing the work yourself. With four employees, Irvine, California's Cindy P. And Chicago entrepreneur Joann V.
No matter how small or large your company is, it's critical that you not neglect the administrative side. It won't do you much good if you do the work but never get around to sending out the invoices so you can get paid. Poorly maintained records can get you into trouble with the IRS and other government agencies.
And if you aren't marketing on a regular basis, your business will eventually dry up.
Running a business support service takes a lot of energy. It helps if you enjoy people but are also able to work alone or in small groups. You'll need to be able to juggle several projects at the same time, and always make each client feel as though he or she is the most important person to you.
When it comes to the actual site of your business, you have two choices: homebased or a commercial location. A business support services company can be extremely successful in either venue; your decision will depend on your individual resources and goals.
As you consider the issue of location, keep a few things in mind. Depending on the specific services you offer and market you target, you'll possibly be dealing both with the general public, who will need access to your office, along with small-business owners and managers in larger corporations who may also want to visit your facility or have their employees or a messenger pick up and deliver work.
In any business, but especially in this one, a professional image is a critical element of success. Homebased operations are very accepted in today's business world in fact, many customers prefer dealing with homebased suppliers because they have lower overhead and can therefore charge lessbut you still need to present the appearance of being a serious business, even though you choose to work from your house.
And if you opt for a commercial location, be sure it's one that is compatible with your goals.
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In the mids, about half the members of the Association of Business Support Services International ABSSI were homebased; by the turn of the century, an estimated 70 percent were homebased, one-person operations. In the perception of clients, there no longer is a stigma associated with being homebased.
While conceding that operating from home can make growth challenging, Smith says, "At home, one cannot expand through the traditional means of hiring employees. However, it's becoming more realistic to subcontract out work-especially transcription-to others, so there is still significant profit potential to be expected by replicating one's efforts in this way.
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You have a number of options when it comes to deciding on your approach to pricing. Some operators simply call around, find out what other companies are charging and set their prices in that range.
Others decide what they want to earn and set their prices based on that without regard to how it relates to the competition.
Then there's the issue of pricing by the project, the page or the hour. The best approach is a multifaceted one that considers the skill level of the work, your profit goals and the market.
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Industry Activities. Market research report - table of contents About this Report. Industry at a Glance.
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