Media Guru Peter Shankman's Work-From-Home Tips

Last Updated Jul 28, 2009 6:57 PM EDT

We've all dreamed of founding a million-dollar business from our spare bedrooms, but Peter Shankman has actually done it. Less than two years ago, he founded Help A Reporter Out, a way for reporters to post queries looking for sources; if a reporter needs to find a mortgage expert, or a tree doctor, or a fifty-year-old left-handed dad, HARO is increasingly the way they do it. Now the network has 85,000 members and brings in those desired seven figures of revenue for Shankman.

As I bang my shins on boxes piled up from my recent move in an attempt to claw my way to my desk, I thought now would be a perfect time to ask Shankman for his successful-entrepreneur secrets to running a business from home. Here's what he told me:
  • Have more than one way to get online. That way your business won't go out just because your cable does. "I have a wireless card, I have a BlackBerry, somewhere in the closet I have a modem," notes Shankman.
  • Train people how to contact you. Having watched my brother-in-law wrestle with the home phone/personal cell phone/business phone/business cell phone problem, I asked Shankman how many cellphones he has. The answer is "one phone, one BlackBerry," but he prefers email, which both friends and clients have been trained to use. "If you get my voice mail, it says to email me or text me, and I'll return the call that much quicker," Shankman says. "And I do."
  • Try to be as paperless as possible. Any paper Shankman needs to keep "goes into a filing cabinet my assistant is in control of," he notes, or even better, is scanned: "The majority of stuff I sign and scan. I don't even own a fax machine; there's no point."
  • As you grow, consider a dispered team. Shankman's first employee, his assistant Meagan, works from his home office on the West Side of Manhattan. His second and third employees work from their homes in White Plains, N.Y., and Scottsdale, Ariz., respectively. Since you are not looking directly at these people, they need to come through trusted networks, which leads to --
  • Hire well. When you trust your employees, privacy issues become irrelevant. "I hire people who are good at what I'm not," says Shankman, who notes that he hired his assistant after he misbooked a flight to Singapore as a flight to Shanghai. He rents an office for the day when he needs to conduct hiring interviews, but he asks questions geared to making sure that the person is comfortable with a non-traditional office. "One of the hiring questions is, 'You're going to be working from my apartment. Are you okay with that?" he says.
And don't forget that a home office has some built-in business boosters. When contacts do come in for a visit, Shankman says, "usually they love the cats."

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    • Alison Rogers

      Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.

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