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Bringing it Home: A Home Business Guide for You and Your FamilyExcerpt from
Bringing it Home: A Home Business Guide for You and Your Family
By Wendy Priesnitz

Home business is ideal for those who are timid about being in business. It allows you to start very small and learn as you go, picking up speed as your knowledge and confidence expand. You can even start a home business while you’re holding down a full-time job if the financial risk of becoming self-employed makes it a bit too scary to jump in with both feet.

Nevertheless, starting a business is an adventure. It’s full of challenges and even a little bit of discomfort. Although home business allows you to work inside your own structured comfort zone most of the time, success comes from taking a chance. This book is designed to help you minimize the risk, but only you can put yourself in the right frame of mind.

Your Work-at-Home Lifestyle

In addition to motivation, dedication and effort, growing a successful business in a home setting has its own unique set of challenges. And if you plan to work by yourself, with no partners or employees, many of these challenges can be so serious as to affect the actual viability of your enterprise. That’s why it’s so important that you assess yourself and your family to ensure you can meet these challenges. You also need to put in place some emotional support systems to help out when times are tough.

You will need to rely heavily on self-starting energy. This is usually plentiful when things are going well, in both your business and personal lives. When emotional or family problems arise, however, and your mind is not wholly on business, it can be quite different. When you work for yourself there is no boss to remind you to get on with your work.

And no matter how emotionally healthy you feel, there will be tasks that you dislike. Dealing with administrative details like keeping the books up to date or returning telephone or email messages may require a good deal more self-motivation than creating a new computer program for a client or mailing off your book manuscript to the publisher. But the jobs all have to be done – and, in the case of most home businesses – done by you alone. As a woman who runs a private home day care agency puts it, “When you own your own business, you are it! If you don’t look after it, no one else will. And because I also have a full time job, I find myself juggling a lot.”

Because of the stress created by having the whole load on your shoulders, you need to have in place a support network for dealing with overload – both emotional and work-related. It’s good for your business credibility as well as your personal mental health to have a colleague to whom you can contract out work when a personal crisis arises and clients are getting impatient. (A more in-depth discussion of time and stress management can be found later in this book.)

In addition to having good time management techniques to keep the administrative jobs up to date, you need to have a good attitude towards those tasks. Don’t look at your business as merely performing a service or producing a product; consider all the hats you wear – bookkeeper, salesperson, administrator, and wastebasket emptier – as part of the overall more or no less important or desirable than the other aspects of your business. You’ll be happier doing the less glamorous jobs if you think of them as welcome relief from the larger, more creative tasks and schedule them for times when you need a break from production. After all, you wouldn’t have a business for long without them!

The Credibility Gap

Aside from stress, many of the challenges of combining living and working environments revolve around your business image. It’s a fact of life for home-based entrepreneurs that we have to work harder to convince skeptical or suspicious clients that we are really serious about business. Although attitudes are changing, there are still some business people who look down on (or even actively discriminate against) their colleagues who work from home, thinking that if the home-based worker was really serious about his or her business or really successful at it they would have a "real" business location.

In particular, this can be a problem for home businesses serving the corporate sector. Many blue chip clients still cling to the bias that home-based equates with instability (as in just doing this until you can find a "real" job, non-professionalism, or inexperience. Even if they accept the fact that you’re working from home, they assume you’ll pass on your lower overhead to them.

Aside from feeling sorry for the fact that these poor souls haven’t yet clued in to the new economy and discovered for themselves the joys of the home office, there are things you can do to gain their trust...and their business.

Creating a professional image is the first step to gaining the respect of the doubters. Be professional, competent and assured. Answer your phone properly. Invest in well-designed promotional materials, stationery, and a website. And, of course, provide a quality product or service, on time, all the time. (More about this later.)

Some home business owners find that one of the main barriers to creating a professional image, and therefore to their credibility, is spillover from family life. Spillover happens when your Labrador retriever answers the door. It’s the smell of last night’s cabbage and fish dinner seeping under your office door. It’s the sound of your teenagers fighting and playing loud rock music while you are interviewing a prospective customer in the next room. And it’s the frustration described by a woman who manufactures covers for computers and cell phones from her home: “One of my biggest problems is trying to remain professional when someone is yelling, ‘Mom, Mom’ forty times in a row while I am on the phone.”

Now, spillover isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a major factor in the paradigm shift that’s allowing individuals to reintegrate their family and working lives – in a way that’s both healthy for children and positive for communities. If the home business owner is comfortable with this integration, it can be positive on the business side as well, especially in terms of increased creativity and productivity.

You must decide how much spillover works for you and your business. For instance, if clients come to your home, you need to give them your undivided attention in a space that meets their professional expectations. Your telephone communication with them needs to be professional and uninterrupted. Ask yourself if the noises and smells of home will be intrusive to your business activities.

Just don’t assume you have to hide the fact that you work at home. The ambiance that can emanate from a home office can be a welcome change for clients. Consider whether you can make your business location a positive part of your image. Maybe your home location is an asset to your business image because clients can reach you on weekends, or simply because it illustrates that you’re riding the cutting edge of new social trends. One woman I know who used to publish a home office magazine once went to great lengths to convince her readers that she worked from home, when the business actually operated from an industrial mall an hour’s drive away from where she lived!

Children and the Home Office

Similarly, you can view the presence of children in your home as either a challenge or an asset. Try acting professionally when your two-year-old is whining and pulling at your pant leg while you’re talking to a major client. Or when the lost gerbil suddenly is found under your client’s chair.

Much of the advice given to prospective home business owners is that you have to employ a nanny, put the kids in daycare full-time, or lose your sanity in order to work effectively at home. This may be true for some people, but since I believe that restoring the balance between family and working lives is one of the main advantages of working at home, I suggest you consider ways to make the two compatible.

My husband and I started our home business in 1976 in order to stay at home with our two unschooled daughters. I don’t deny that it was a challenge to balance the time spent nurturing children and business. But the advantages to our family life and to our daughters’ development were worth it. I also believe that the business benefitted, since my husband and I weren’t wasting time worrying about how our daughters were faring in daycare (or spending money on it!).

This balancing process does require a degree of skill and tolerance. One young man I know is in the process of launching a home-based consulting business. It is important to family finances that he get up and running rather quickly because his wife is off work, having just delivered their second child. One morning he told me this story. On the previous evening he had worked late. He had just finished transferring some data onto a portable hard drive ready to deliver to a client the next morning, when the baby awoke for her two AM feeding and diaper change. In order to allow his wife some much needed sleep, my friend looked after the baby, prepared the drive for the courier and some dirty diapers for the diaper service, and eventually stumbled into bed. In the morning, his actions of the night before slowly unfolded. While a bewildered diaper service clerk wondered what to do with a computer drive, the client opened a rather smelly package. Fortunately, my friend was able to explain the accident and his client took it all in good humored stride.

There is much more information about balancing family and business in Chapter 9. But at this stage, it’s enough to know that good time management skills, a sense of humor and a solid grasp on your priorities go a long way towards helping you manage living and working under the same roof. An office door and firm rules about working hours and trespassing can also help.

And be realistic. Says one mother of three small children who runs a successful bookkeeping business from home:

“In some ways I believe working at home has been both negative for me and not as positive for my children, as was the original intention. Upon reflection I recently realized this was because I was trying to do too much. I very seldom had a baby-sitter and tried to do most of my work at night and on weekends when my husband was home, in addition to all the housework. But due to client demands, I spent a lot of time working during the days, leaving the children to their own entertainment in the adjacent room. As a result, I spent less quality time with them than when I was working away from home. There is, I believe, a common misconception that if you are a woman running a home business you can somehow attend to your children and home to the same degree as if you were a full-time mother. I am currently looking for a mother’s helper.”

Other solutions for this woman might have been to control the growth of her business, or to discuss sharing housework with her husband.

Family members can be your biggest asset or your biggest hindrance. For this reason, it can be beneficial to involve both children and spouse in the planning of your business. If they feel a part of it, their level of tolerance and understanding about your changing role within the family – and the business’s place within their home – will be much greater than if the enterprise is parachuted into their midst.

When you’re planning your home business, determine both your personal and business needs for space, privacy and accessibility. Then set some rules and structure your business space to reflect those decisions. Most people who work at home feel it is important to have a separate room for the business. Says one mother, “I have a room in the basement which has the advantage of a door to ensure privacy. But, unfortunately, I have to bring clients through the kitchen and toy-filled family room to reach the office.” A work-at-home dad says that his office door has a lock, so when he locks himself inside, the children know he is working and when he isn’t in the office he can lock it and know the little ones aren’t messing around with his papers and stamps. Fortunately for the kids, this dad only works at home when his wife is at home to attend to their needs!

Children can be involved, even at an early age, in your business. Our daughters were a great source of casual labor for our home business, they were always guaranteed a part-time job – at least until they discovered that outside jobs were better for their social lives!

Our eldest daughter – now supporting herself with a home business – became self-employed when she was eight. Since she was home-educated during the years she could have attended elementary school, she received most of her education through our home business. She says she began reading because when she was five years old we were sorting 50,000 copies of Natural Life Magazine for a bulk mailing. The magazines were stacked everywhere in the house, including the bath tub; she says she learned to alphabetize in order to help sort those magazines by postal code so she could have a bath! Aside from participating in menial labor, she and her sister were often included in business brainstorming sessions and sometimes provided very creative, simple solutions to business problems.

Certainly there were times when it would have been easier to have the children in school and the business in a downtown office. But our family weathered the experience with patience, organization, flexibility, employees who knew that reading to children and answering incessant questions were part of their job descriptions, and the understanding that integrating the various parts of our lives was a desirable goal.

But most important of all was our certainty that running a home-based business made an important statement about our priorities in life. It was about the fact that we were part of a movement of people searching for collective solutions to the challenge of finding an economic base that would allow us, as a family, to maintain our cultural and family identities.

By the way, we found that kids can also be a great source of stress relief, providing a reason to take a breather and be silly for a few minutes!

Home Office Isolation

Ironically enough, in light of all these interruptions from others, home businesses can also be plagued by a shortage of people! For some micro business owners, isolation strikes the killer blow to their home-based enterprises. That’s why I stressed self-assessment earlier: It’s important to take a hard look at your personality to see if you can work alone, or if a shared business space might suit you better.

There exists a wide variety of shared business space opportunities, especially in urban areas. A group of home business owners might pool resources to rent storage space or hire administrative help. And in many cities, there are an increasing number of businesses that will, for a monthly fee, provide you with an office, administrative and reception services, photocopiers and other equipment, and use of meeting rooms. Coworking spaces are another great resource, especially for those times when you really need some exposure to other business owners.

Isolation might not seem like much of a problem if the nature of your business is such that you are primarily dealing with clients on a face-to-face basis at their place of work. But even then, as an entrepreneur, you need the creative stimulation of talking about your business to people other than clients. You need to talk to your peers.

Overworkers Anonymous

Another big challenge to some people who work at home is workaholism. Starting and growing your own business is an exciting challenge. But often people become so caught up in their enterprise they lose the balance in their lives. Such people must learn to build some fun time into their schedules – time to be lazy, time to enjoy themselves and their families.

One father who works at home puts it this way, “It’s easy to seduce yourself into thinking you’re being accessible to your children because you work at home, but they never see you anyway and if you’re there, it’s only in body your mind is on your business.”

This is a real trap for many women also, especially those who try to combine a home business with little children. The temptation is to try to have it all. As a result they exhaust themselves, snatching bits of time when the baby is asleep and working late into the night. This is where goal setting comes in handy (and keeping those goals in front of you to remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place). Don’t forget that you are in business for yourself so you can have more control over your life. So don’t let the business take control.

Getting Down to Work

While overwork could be a problem for many home-based entrepreneurs, the challenge for others might be getting down to work in the first place. Surrounded by all the household tasks that are forever begging to be done, those with little focus and self-control worry that they might never stop puttering around the house long enough to accomplish any business. And take it from an accomplished procrastinator: A good deal of will power is needed to work at home. When I am faced with a work deadline, I have the most dust-free house on the block and the sharpest pencils.

Not the least of the temptations to be found in the home environment are calories. Says one corporate executive turned consultant, “I put on ten pounds during the first few months of working at home because whenever I took a break from my work, I just wandered downstairs to raid the refrigerator.”

Once you have mustered sufficient self-control and motivation, and decided on strategies for dealing with all these challenges, you are ready to start work. So squelch the urge to trot down to the refrigerator, or to sharpen up a dozen pencils. We’re going to get down to business!

This excerpt from Bringing It Home: A Home Business Start-Up Guide for You and Your Family by Wendy Priesnitz is copyright (c) Wendy Priesnitz, 1996. This book is now out of print.

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Natural Life Books specializes in adult non-fiction about ways that families and individuals can live and learn on Planet Earth in a healthy, socially responsible, environmentally sound, self-reliant manner. We are the retail division of The Alternate Press, an imprint of Life Media, an independent, family-owned book and magazine publishing house established in 1976.