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This is not advice. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. The information contained in these articles is for guidance only and should not be relied upon without obtaining professional advice having regard to your direct circumstances.


Some home truths about home based businesses

Working from home is not all beer and skittles. It has its own demands and pressures that need to be recognised and incorporated into the working routines.

In these days of high fuel costs, road rage and increasing commuting times, working from home appeals to many. To those that don’t have a home-based business, what the home-based business owner has appears as a nirvana to others – the ability to work flexible hours to suit the needs of our families, while keeping down the overheads of running a business.

But, hang on ... that’s the nirvana for those of us who actually run a home based business too. The reality of doing so however, is often far from this goal.

There’s plenty of information around about setting up a home based business – and your local BEC can certainly assist you with structures and a business plan. This article will not focus on any of these points, as you can find that information elsewhere. This article is about reality.

Working from home presents some challenges that others don’t appreciate. It can be likened to parenthood – there’s so much that you don’t find out about until it happens to you, and in this article the reality of working from home and issues to consider are revealed, with added insight from Melanie Wass – a Sydney businesswoman who won the HP Award for Best Home Based Business in the 2007 BEC Australia Awards for Performance.

Melanie’s business, Natural Consulting, is corporate training. She works with organisations which value their staff and want to keep their workforce engaged and motivated on the job, and her clients tend to be large businesses and public sector organisations.

“When I set up Natural Consulting, I was conscious that my clients and prospects would have an expectation of me being in a corporate office space,” said Melanie. “I was also conscious that my clients would be highly unlikely to visit my office, but I needed to maintain and project a professional image.” After reviewing the options available to her, Melanie decided to establish her business as a home-based business.

“Working from home is absolutely brilliant,” says Melanie. “I love the fact that I only have fifteen steps from my bed to my office. Travelling time is next to zero and costs are minimal. So working from home worked for me on a number of levels – comfort, convenience, cost,” she adds. But Melanie admits that there are downsides to working from home.

“You miss the occasional chats in the tearoom. You miss not being able to call someone to fix an accounting or IT problem and not have it cost you a small fortune,” Melanie says. “And all the bad habits you never thought you had, become magnified. Time slips easily when no one else is around. You need lots of discipline to make it.”

Discipline in a home based business is needed in two ways. You need the discipline to sit down and get work done. When you’re at home there is always something else to do including domestic tasks – and often more tempting offers of socialising or assisting with other tasks such as school-related activities (and let’s face it, the ability to do these is one of the main reasons we establish home based businesses).

You need to be able to structure your diary so you can balance your work/life commitments. Allocate time to have coffee with friends, go to the hairdresser and other commitments as if they were business appointments. Aim to set a limit on the amount of time you spend away from non-work tasks per week to assist in managing how friends and family perceive your business.

“Other people have interesting expectations,” says Melanie. “There’s the feeling of “Well you work at home so can you just do this” or the unstated expectation of dinner being ready for others because you’re already at home.” One group that can have high expectations from a parent at home are young children. There seems to be an unwritten law of child, that is if mum or dad is on the phone they need to seek attention – loudly!

Practical tips

The following practical tips can assist you with working from home with children especially those pre-school age (note, these tips are from someone who does work around children, not a parenting expert!).

• Routine, routine, routine: By developing a routine for your children and sticking to this as far as practical and you can work in with them to get vital tasks done. If you know that they sleep at a certain time, or will sit quietly through the entire episode of Play School, then you can use this to your advantage by making phone calls or concentrating on the major tasks of the day for which you need to concentrate.
• Make deals with your children: Spend some quality time interacting with them, then promise them another game if you can get a task done first.
• Take regular breaks: Meals are important parts of the day for little people and they will enjoy them even more if you sit with them while they (and you) eat. Plus it gives you a break.
• Invest in a laptop with a good battery: On nice days take you work outside while supervising children play. This is also a good time to catch up with notes or planning.
• Always allow extra time when scheduling tasks: If you know that it will take three days to get a job done, tell the client they can have it after five – to give yourself a buffer for contingencies that may occur.
• Anticipate the needs of children when going to a teleconference or important call, and provide them with safe snacks and something to watch/do while you are unable to see to their needs, and finally
• Make sure you have a cordless phone with a headset so that both hands can be free to cope with whatever arises ... however there are still some places the phone should not go!

The other aspect of discipline is knowing when to stop: “Having the office so available means flexibility can turn into obsession, “says Melanie. “There is always something to do in your business, whether it’s urgent or not, and having the opportunity to just step into the office for a five minute task can see you lost for over an hour – much to the chagrin of those who would like to see you more at evenings and weekends!”

When working on evenings and weekends, only complete tasks that others cannot see when you have done it. (For example, complete an article you’re writing, but don’t email it.) Responding to emails late at night or on weekends gives your clients a time swamp to show you are working, and may lead to expectations that you are always available at that time to respond to messages.

“It’s a conscious struggle to set and maintain boundaries between yourself and your business,” states Melanie.

A further boundary to set considers the needs and privacy of your family. As a home-based business owner, you may invite staff (or clients) into your home. This doesn’t mean that your family has to forgo the right to privacy. Make sure you set clear guidelines about which are working spaces and which are private.

Shut any doors to rooms that don’t need to be accessed. Provide a space for staff crockery and cutlery – it may be in your kitchen – and let them know it is for them. Finally, if you do have young children, set clear guidelines as to how the children are to be treated and how they are to be spoken to (ie, will you accept a staff member telling them to be quiet?).

As well as providing you with support for your business, your local BEC can link you with other home-based businesspeople, such as Melanie, with whom you can develop networks and share tips to make your business more successful. For now, Melanie’s top tips are:

• Set regular work hours. Fit your work into your day – don’t let it take over. Remember, the more hours you work, the less your hourly return becomes.
• Check in with yourself regularly that you are working on productive tasks. It’s easy to be busy but activity doesn’t necessarily lead to results. The right kinds of actions do.
• Keep focused on what you wanted to achieve by being in business. It saves getting caught up in the frustration and busy-ness.
• Set up support systems. Work out what you need.  Is it company? Go to network meetings or set up regular coffee meetings to discuss business with associates. Is it technical support? Get yourself some professional help where you need it eg IT specialists or secretaries.
• Keep organised. A solid set of systems will help you out even if it is only in your business. When you get increasing business loads, those systems will be your saviour! You’ll be able to find just what you need in an assistant.
• Treat yourself as a professional. The image you project is the one that others will pick up on.

By Paula Beare
My Business, September 2008


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