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Debra Cohen is President of Home Remedies® of NY, Inc., a Homeowner Referral Network® (HRN) business that pre-screens and refers home improvement professionals to local homeowners.
Service providers in the Home Remedies® network range from painters and plumbers to electricians, General Contractors, handymen and architects. Contractors in the network pay a pre-negotiated commission for work secured which means that the referral service is free to homeowners. Debra launched her contractor referral business from an old farm table in her basement with a $5000 loan and it has expanded into a cottage industry nationwide grossing more than $4 million to date.
MO: What inspired you to start Home Remedies®?
Debra: After my husband and I purchased our first home, we quickly realized how difficult it was to find reliable contractors. It occured to me that if we faced this challenge, then other homeowners must feel the same and I set out to create a business to fill this need in our community.
MO: When first launching Home Remedies®, was franchising always part of the greater plan?
Debra: No, not at all. I intended to start locally and expand my service to homeowners in a larger market. But, after a local paper wrote an article about my company, my business took off faster than I had expected. I received calls from contractors and homeowners outside of my operating area as well as other entrepreneurs who were interested in starting a service like mine. Rather than take on more work than I could handle, I decided to help other people set up HRN businesses like mine on Long Island and refer work to them. Once the concept worked locally, I set out to expand across the country.
MO: How complicated was the process of putting together a comprehensive network of contractors and negotiating a fee for each one?
Debra: Because I was starting from scratch, it was a bit time consuming. I had to create a screening process for contractors that was thorough and then research commissions that would be fair to both sides. In addition to my own research, I created a Board of Advisors and invited a few contractors, my insurance agent, a business advisor adn a few other legal and real estate related professionals to offer me guidance.
Once I had a system in place, it was much easier to begin setting up my network and within 6 months I was up and running.
MO: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
Debra: I’ve always been fascinated by business but I never owned my own business before. I became an entrepreneur because it fit my lifestyle and allowed me to work from home and balance a career and a family. I do enjoy running my own business and it’s very gratifying to help other entrepreneurs launch successful businesses of their own.
MO: There are also some international Home Referral Networks©. How does it feel to have your idea taken and implemented so far beyond the beginnings of starting on a farm table in your basement?
Debra: Incredible! I love working with other HRN owners and seeing how they add their own creativity to the business. There are now 300+ HRN’s operating nationwide and their experiences have helped me expand on my original business model.
MO: You wrote The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network©. How challenging was it to put together comprehensive manual detailing step-by-step procedures for others to replicate?
Debra: Very challenging. I didn’t write a business plan before I launched my HRN, so writing the HRN Business Manual (The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network) forced me to go back and take a long hard look at all of my procedures. I had to systemize every step of my business so that it could be duplicated by anyone in any market. I used a franchise manual as my guide and worked for weeks with a close friend who ran the Small Business Administration at Wharton. He questioned every detail of my business until we had a solid operational manual in place.
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