Home Remedies of New York, founded in 1997, is a homeowner referral network that pre-screens and refers home improvement contractors.

‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching the business: Shortly after becoming new homeowners, my husband and I quickly realized how difficult it was to find reliable home improvement contractors. At one point, we had a pregnant squirrel living in our attic and called 3-4 exterminators who couldn’t resolve the problem. After several months we finally found a pest control specialist who caught the squirrel. I was so thrilled that I told him I would share his name with everyone I knew. That was my “aha!” moment. A networker by nature, I realized that I could promote reliable contractors in our community in exchange for a commission.

Ideal customer: Affluent homeowners, dual income families and/or homeowners in or around metro cities.

First customer: I created a direct mail piece for local homeowners and sent it out with a magnet. Three days later I got my first phone call.

Measuring success: By the balance I’ve achieved in my life. My business allows me to work from home and still be a full time mom to my two daughters. I’ve also been able to save for college and retirement which has been a tremendous accomplishment. My earliest success was that first phone call. Nothing can ever match the sense of accomplishment I felt about having created a service that people actually needed!

Biggest struggle: After my first year in business, I had more work than I could handle. Rather than franchise or expand my business too quickly, I decided to “duplicate myself” by documenting my complete business model and teaching other people how to set up their own home referral companies. After a positive response to some market research about the idea, I took the plunge and helped launch three other home referral networks on Long Island. I referred work to them and we split commissions. When I realized that the HRN model could work successfully in other communities, I launched a website to promote my business. There are now more than 300 HRN’s like mine operating nationwide.

Surprise!: How my business has grown into a cottage industry nationwide. I launched my business from my basement with a $5,000 loan from my husband’s retirement savings plan. All I had was an old farm table, a refurbished fax machine, a computer and a phone.

Promoting sales: PR. Press attention is a great third party endorsement and has helped my business grow.

What you wish you would have known: To trust my instincts and how and when to outsource certain business responsibilities rather than trying to handle everything on my own.

What keeps you up at night (business wise!)?: Brainstorming ways to improve, expand and grow my service so that I can remain competitive in the marketplace. I keep a pad by my bed because once I’ve written something down on paper, I find it’s easier to go back to sleep.

Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?: Yes! Sometimes I feel like it would be wonderful to just get a steady paycheck and not have to worry about business all the time.

Biggest goal: I’d like to figure out a way to brand all of the HRN’s operating nationally under one umbrella so that homeowners nationwide are even more familiar with the services that HRN’s have to offer.

Pricing: In regard to HRN business start-ups, I offer a lot of different pricing options so that people can customize packages and purchase what they need. In regard to my contractors, I’ve set commissions that are equitable to both the contractor and my HRN yet I try to remain flexible so that they can be competitive in the market.

Funding: I repaid the $5000 loan from my husband’s retirement savings plan in 6 months. I launched my business on a budget and was very cautious not to overspend in the beginning. Since obtaining financing is so difficult right now, I advise new business owners to consider launching their business with a partner or taking a loan from a family member or friend. However, in either case, agreements must be spelled out on paper to avoid issues in the future.

A few good tips: While my business is in the home improvement industry, I have no technical experience at all. My area of expertise is in promotion and marketing. I’ve built my business by filling a niche in the industry as an outsourced sales and marketing force for contractors. I also don’t try to mass market my HRN service. I keep it personalized and local so that I can build relationships with both my clients and the contractors in my network.

The absolute best part of owning my business is: being able to work from home and raise my family at the same time.

If I had to start over again, I would: have planned my exit strategy better.

I never imagined: not working would be so difficult.

If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “Perseverance pays.”