“How do you find the time to manage all of this social media stuff?” That’s one of the most common questions I’m asked whenever I present. And sometimes, I get the sense that people are hoping that it’s so complicated and time-consuming that they’ll have a great excuse NOT to do it. Not to learn [...]
Home Sweet Office
Whenever I think of home-based business I always remember that famous line, "there is nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning" from the film Apocalypse Now.
Well, having owned a small business for over 10 years, with much of that time experienced operating from a home based office, I can assure you that there is nothing like the smell of dirty dishes in the morning. That sinking feeling that emanates in your stomach after the family whizzes off to their own busy work or school lives, and you are left with the sight of the breakfast mountain pile.
The apocalypse (which means revelation) sets in that 'this is your life' and no cameras, bright lights or celebrities are going to appear and change that. You remind yourself, isn't working from home about the joys of choosing your own hours, flexibility and taking control of your life? Hmmmm???
The benefits of working from home are enormous but it is not for the faint hearted or very disorganised; not if you want to make money (if you haven't forgotten, money is the crunchy stuff that comes in a variety of colours). You need to be disciplined to get up every day and face that two metre walk to the office and not get sidetracked by the endless distractions of unfinished home tasks.
The Spare Room is now 'The Office'
Other common issues for working from home include getting the family to perceive that for certain parts of the day, you are transformed from mum (or dad, cleaner-upperer, friend, confidant) to new super business person, company director or whatever you have invented as your swish business hours' title.
Your home-based business independence can also mean a few more, less desirable titles awarded your way, such as bill payer, child collector, menu planner and rest-of-the-house cleaner. Also, remembering that the spare room is now 'The Office' and not the dumping ground for unwanted junk can be a constant challenge for the family. Tensions can mount when The Simpsons can't be turned down and your deadline looms.
Or, loyalties and marriages are stretched when you need the television with video player to prepare for a client 'pitch' and the footy replay is on. Again you wonder why you left that lovely corporate pigeon hole; at least there some of your co-workers understood the meaning of work.
Just "5 Minutes to Send a Fax" Often Turned Into 3 Hours
Families need to be weaned off (I thought I'd finished all that stuff years ago?) old ideas and updated to the new home office working life protocol. With or without their sanction, your family (and that includes all pets, relatives, permanent visitors and partners in love) are now Directors on your newly instigated Home Office Board. They need to be aware that this house is now a successful home based business and all family matters will be attended after business hours.
This is often a tricky one to consistently apply as runny noses and belligerent teenagers' money needs concede to no known time schedules. As someone whose 'business hours' often extended past tea time, keeping these rules consistent was often confusing for everyone, especially me!
It always amazed my husband how my "just five minutes to send a fax" often turned into three hours. It is important to consider the joys and benefits that working from home can bring, whilst remembering the fact that yes, it can be tough and for some, less or more profitable than working for someone else.
Another classic aspect of working from home is having tasks that were previously shared between all members of the family become your responsibility. You will now hear phrases such as 'since you're home anyway', 'you work closer to the children's school' or the ultimate baddy 'I'm so busy at work, can't you do it?' applied to you regularly as a justification for them not doing things.
I am sure that after I waved my husband off to work in the mornings, he pictured me spending all day just as I was when he left in the mornings, in my dressing gown, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. This meant he never felt guilty off loading all those little 'extra' home duty tasks onto me.
Catching the MD in her pyjamas
At times, you will feel that your family simply does not believe you are in that spare room, hard at it working. No, they will suspect anything from pretending to run a business, through to having a great time twiddling your thumbs. Sure, sometimes running a home-based business I could have done with that excitement, but either way, families rarely understand you and your home-based business. Don't despair, you are not alone.
Panic and improvisation are the cornerstone of successful home-based business operators. What do you do when that forgotten early morning meeting with the bank manager, catches out the Managing Director in his or her pyjamas? (One hopes flannelette stripes are fine for that total corporate look.)
Or, when a client visits unexpectedly, your mum suddenly becomes your executive cleaning service provider even though she only came to visit you for lunch? To survive home-based business, you need to fight back. Arm yourself with plenty of comfort food and drink, shut the door (preferably a sound proof one) and make lots of money.
To assist I have put together my list of Basic Big Helps for working from home that I hope will support you in keeping your loved ones and your business on the happy side of sanity.
Basic Big Help #1 Prioritise or die
Excuse me for the drama but it is amazing how much time can be spent being at work, and that is before you even start working. Go into the office each day with a clear set of tasks to complete and do them before anything else.
I have a big whiteboard where I write my tasks so I can see them all the time. Also, do not make any social calls before you have finished the day's tasks.
Basic Big Help #2 Have a separate telephone line for business
There are so many convenient telephone and fax options for small business today. Ring your phone provider and ensure you are up to date with all the options. Fax and email are almost mandatory conveniences today which may need a separate line too.
If you don't get extra lines, do not block your line during business hours. Clients do not pursue businesses with engaged telephones. I rang a business recently, which was obviously home-based, whose friendly receptionist lets all callers know she is three years old, a girl and proud of it...plus mummy's in the toilet.
Don't let this be your business, as it is difficult for clients to have confidence in such a company or business and you will lose credibility and potential jobs.
Basic Big Help #3 If the phone can't be answered personally...
Get a decent answering machine or answer service with a short concise message. Three minute messages pall for impatient clients after being heard a few times. Another helpful tip is to set aside a specific quantity of time daily where you don't take calls.
You can be much more effective when you are free from the distraction of answering calls. Even an hour a day will help you greatly.
Basic Big Help #4 An excellent professional image is all
I may appear to exaggerate, but for clients, what they perceive is what they believe. The image that you and your company project, whether it is choice of letterhead or the way you dress at the office, will affect your credibility in the marketplace.
Standards in home offices can often slip when you are not surrounded daily by a corporate environment. Have a professional colleague you trust appraise your business and give honest feedback on the image you are projecting.
If improvements are required, do them. Remember too, personal image is interpreted as business image so if you and your clothes aren't projecting the appropriate image it is unlikely that clients will believe your business could help theirs.
Basic Big Help #5 Make family members feel part of your business team
A happy family is more likely to support you and your business. Remind them that their support is an important asset in helping you achieve success, which should mean benefits for everyone.
Also, just because you work from home does not mean every moment you are home, you work.
Basic Big Help #6 Move your body out of the office at least once a day
If it means going to a movie or just walking around the block, get out of that office. I have had phases where I did not leave the home/office for days on end and felt (and started acting) like a bear just out of hibernation. Not good for family morale or client contact.
Basic Big Help #7 Set boundaries around your working hours and aim to stick to them
Set time frames around projects and work out how many hours each one takes. Multiply each job's hours by your estimated hourly rate and ask, 'Is my business viable?' Set a specific cost on your time and treat yourself as a professional.
There was a stage in my home business life where I think my cost analysis (if I could have faced doing it) worked out at five cents an hour!
Basic Big Help #8 Educate friends, relatives and neighbours
Let them know that you are running a business, trying to make money and not just sitting in your renovated spare bed-room waiting for someone to drop in.