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Meet Ms. Fix It, Debra Cohen: From Borrowed $5000 to Million-Dollar Empire

[ 0 ] May. 15, 2013 | SBO Editor

Shortly after the purchase of their first home, Debra Cohen and her husband  discovered an unexpected welcoming committee. First there was a bird that flew in through the chimney and then one night, she and her husband heard something scurrying around upstairs. When they went to investigate, they found a pregnant squirrel!   Over the course of the next few months, they hired three different exterminators and paid hundreds of dollars until they finally found a contractor they could trust.

Cohen was a woman home alone, with strange people coming through the house, telling her things her things she didn’t understand and it was costing her money that she and her husband didn’t have. It was all very eye-opening.

Eye-opening enough that Debra quickly realized she couldn’t be the only one who felt this way and decided that she was going to begin a contractor referral service to save other homeowners the same headaches she and her husband faced trying to find a reputable contractor.  She started networking in her community by asking people at the hardware store and paint store and then reached out to contractors, to see what kinds of commissions they thought would be fair.

From that humble start, Cohen launched and grew Home Remedies® of NY, Inc. into a personal concierge service linking homeowners with pre-screened, reliable home improvement professionals–or, as Cohen, puts it, a Homeowner Referral Network® (HRN).  Contractors referred by her HRN agreed to pay a pre-negotiated commission for work secured and the service would be free to homeowners.

But Cohen faced some challenges to start.  In addition to having no start up capital, she had no previous construction experience.  In order to overcome each of these obstacles, she had to get creative.

First, to fund her business start-up, Cohen took a $5000 loan from her husband’s retirement savings plan.

And, to compensate for her lack of experience in the home improvement industry, Cohen created a Board of Advisors who she could turn to for advice when necessary.

Six months later, Cohen launched Home Remedies® from her basement and worked about 15-25 hours per week.  Her initial network of contractors included a painter, a pest control specialist and a floor refinisher.  Now, fifteen years later, Home Remedies® refers a network of almost 100 contractors in every field from general contracting and electrical to plumbing, decorative painting and roofing.

The HRN business satisfies all sides:  homeowners can easily hook up with quality home improvement experts and hard working contractors can promote their businesses while dedicating more time to their trade.

After it’s first year in operation, Home Remedies® took a unique turn when Cohen realized that the HRN business concept appealed to other entrepreneurs as well.  She decided to document her business in a comprehensive and easy-to-follow business manual so that others could benefit from her experience and wrote The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network©. She sells the HRN Business Manual along with HRN Management Software, a customized website, forms and consultation time to other entrepreneurs who are interested in launching an HRN business in their community.

To date, Debra has helped 300+ moms, dads, career changers and retirees launch successful home based HRN’s nationwide and her HRN business has grossed more than $4 million to date!

For more information about how to launch a Homeowner Referral Network in your area, visit www.hrnbiz.com.

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Category: Features