Last June Yvonne Shortt left a six-figure salary at American Express to launch a marketing firm from the cramped, toy-strewn basement of her home in the Queens section of New York City. In a mass e-mail to people she had met through networking groups and a previous venture, she introduced Small Biz Booster, which provides marketing advice to small companies. The pitch promoted services ranging from market research to direct mail at prices starting as low as $500 per month. Soon she had eight clients and was hiring a small army of interns and part-timers to help her.
A year later, Shortt has 25 regular accounts, averaging $2,150 a month. She now has five full-time employees, who, like Shortt herself, work from home. "My business is virtual," says Shortt, "and I hope to God it will always be that way." But don't you dare call Shortt a "lifestyle entrepreneur." Though her original goal was to spend more time with her kids, she is also highly ambitious. In 10 years, she hopes to have a $25 million firm "with New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles on the letterhead," she says. At that point, she figures she'll buy the house next door and, zoning regulations permitting, run the company from there.
In launching Small Biz Booster, Yvonne Shortt staffed her business in stages:
"Some people buy Mercedes-Benzes," says Shortt. "For me, it's my Steinway." The Model S baby grand (retail: $40,600) is the focal point of her living room. When they visit her home, workers sometimes take turns playing it.
Shortt thinks her strategy can be replicated outside the New York area, and plans to hire affable, well-connected, and entrepreneurial representatives--that is, people like herself--starting in Los Angeles. The challenge is to make sure that her agents aren't so entrepreneurial that they walk away with the business themselves. To that end, she wants the L.A. rep to handle client relations primarily, while the New York office maintains control over functions such as cold-calling, research, and writing press releases. "We want to keep the core work here," says Shortt, though she admits, "we're still figuring it out."