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The small business authority presents a map to success in America's fastest-growing business entity. This book provides set-up information--turning a room into an office and choosing equipment--discusses legal matters specific to home-based operations--including zoning ordinances--and features success stories demonstrating how many of today's giants began in the home.
Home-Based Business Opportunities.
Planning for Success.
Setting Up Your Home Office.
Marketing, Advertising, and Selling.
The Price Is Right.
Record Keeping and Taxes.
The Personnel Question.
An ever-growing number of employed persons are realizing the limits of working in corporate America. After years of battling their way through daily commutes in gridlock traffic, tolerating office politics, and sacrificing their personal lives to meet deadlines and satisfy others' expectations, they have decided that enough is enough.
Home-based business is providing a way for these people to realize their potential. Perhaps the oldest method of entrepreneurship, it is growing in popularity every day.
If you have been compelled to forfeit your personal or family life to make a living, you can now look forward to having the best of both worlds.
As people head home in droves to start businesses, another change is taking place. People used to think that if someone worked at home, it was because he or she couldn't get a job or had been laid off or fired. Now, working at home and starting a home-based businesses has become not only acceptable but a sign of individual capability.THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The number of home-based businesses has grown dramatically. Some of the many advantages home-based business offers include:
Thanks to technology, people can work as productively from a spare bedroom, den, or garage as from any commercial facility. As we increase our focus on efficiency and value, home-based entrepreneurs can be proud of their ability to avoid the high costs associated with industrial/ commercial start-ups. Their new found flexibility allows them to devote more time to their families.
THE HOME-BASED ENTREPRENEUR
The word entrepreneur conjures images of bold risk-takers, creative pioneers, and determined spirits-- individuals who look at things a little differently from everyone else. The word is French in origin, but the entrepreneur has definitely become an American phenomenon and represents one of our greatest natural resources.
Just what kind of person is a home-based entrepreneur? There is no stereotype. All kinds of people are starting businesses from home-- twenty-somethings, octogenarians, city dwellers, suburbanites, country folk, college grads, and high school dropouts. All types of people can find success from home.
Entrepreneurs share at least one thing in common: the willingness to take a risk and start a business. Cut from a different cloth, home-based entrepreneurs are not professional managers who want to work for someone else. They are self-starters who want to take control of their own destiny. Now, more of them are finding that the home offers an environment better suited to that goal.
Home-based entrepreneurship comes at a price. Although there is a great deal to gain by making your home the shared focus of your personal and professional life, you must be prepared to work hard, make sacrifices, and press the limits of your self-control to make your venture successful. Every entrepreneur encounters obstacles during start-up. By taking the home-based route, you can avoid many of the hurdles traditional start-up businesses face, such as facility and location requirements and costs. At the same time, you take on a whole different set of responsibilities:
Each of these items will be discussed at greater length in other chapters of this book. All of these responsibilities will require your attention. Neglect any one of them and your enterprise may never get off the ground.
This chapter will help you understand some of the intangible aspects of working from home. It offers you some proven strategies for tackling some of the less obvious problems you may confront.
As home-based entrepreneurs with families will attest, running a business from home creates a spirit of pride within the household. This "all for one, and one for all" way of seeing the business as a family enterprise makes the family willing to endure financial and personal sacrifices to benefit from the long-term goals of the business.
Entrepreneurs who achieve success are able to strike a careful balance between family and business life: the two enhance each other, bringing out the best in both. The family goes into the venture with an enthusiasm that grows stronger as the business grows stronger. Successful home-based entrepreneurs have learned to place the concerns of the family at the forefront of their lives while not letting these concerns interfere with business decisions that must be made.
IS THE HOME-BASED OPTION FOR YOU?
How many times have you thought to yourself, "I'm going to do it. Today, I'm going to get started with my plans for my own business," only to shuffle that ambition into the recesses of your mind for future consideration? The thought of starting a business is frightening for most people-- even those who eventually do it successfully.
Starting a business forces you to come to grips with the feasibility of your ideas and the proportions of your own strengths and weaknesses. Self-doubt and second-guessing of your potential for success and financial security are often the results. That's why the question "Are you ready?" becomes much more poignant. Only by confronting your fears and hesitations can you begin to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and the type of business that might be most suitable for you.
Facing your insecurities also forces you to ask yourself why you want to be in business for yourself. Although the answer may appear obvious to you, upon closer examination you may discover other, more pertinent reasons. Did you know that the primary motivating factor for many people isn't money, but opportunity-- opportunity not offered to them by the corporate world? A home-based start-up is one of the best ways for entrepreneurs to maximize their opportunity while minimizing their costs.
The corporations' loss is definitely an economic benefit to the small business community as growing ranks of entrepreneurs contribute their unique visions and talents. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), home-based business is the fastest growing segment of small business.
Starting a home-based business is the American dream for a growing number of entrepreneurs. To take advantage of that dream, however, you must consider some factors before embarking on your own business venture. These include:
Numerous money-making concepts are presently on the market. You may have an original idea that you would like to develop. Ultimately, the decision of what type of business you're going to start rests with your own ambitions.
What type of business will give you the most satisfaction? Which concept will allow you to achieve your goals and is that idea marketable? You should aim to start a business that you will enjoy running, one that is in a growth industry that has accessible markets in your area, and one that will allow you to develop financial freedom.
An old saying states, "Businesses don't fail, people do." A business is merely a reflection of the people running it. If the people running the business are strong in one area and weak in another, the business will show that. This correlation is even more apparent in small businesses.
As the owner of a small business, you will have to handle many different responsibilities within the operations of your company and cope with a variety of situations. For some of these situations, you will have only limited experience, if any at all. As an entrepreneur, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses so you can compensate in some way for the areas in which you are not proficient.
To determine your entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses, take the time to evaluate the major accomplishments in your personal and professional life and the skills that enabled you to complete those tasks. This evaluation involves three steps:
Use the following sample checklist to audit your personal and professional attributes. By putting together a resume and a list of your attributes, you will have a fairly good idea of your likes and dislikes and your strengths and weaknesses. Once you know these things, you will be able to identify what qualities you will bring to the business and what areas may require training or additional help.
Some of the key attributes you need to possess are:
Some of these attributes are inherent; others can be learned. Successful home-based entrepreneurs strongly suggest joining associations, subscribing to magazines, and reading small-business books (especially in your area of interest). See the appendixes at the end of this book for lists of these resources. Ask other people in the same type of business about situations they've encountered and how they handled them. Learn from their mistakes so you won't make them yourself.
Many entrepreneurs go into business to meet a set of personal goals they've established for themselves. For some, it's as simple as having the freedom to do what they want when they want, without anyone telling them otherwise. For others, achieving financial security is a major personal goal. Whatever they may be, your personal objectives play an integral part in selecting a business that will be right for you.
After all, if you start a business that doesn't meet your personal objectives, chances are you won't enjoy it. Sooner or later, it will become just a job; you'll lose interest or you won't put enough work into it to make the business work.
When forming goals, whether personal or business-related, consider their most important characteristics:
Once you've set your personal goals, decide which ones are most important to you. This will help you examine your entrepreneurial desire and how it relates to other important aspects of your life.Risk Assessment
Every business venture, regardless of timing, products, services, personnel, and capitalization, has inherent risks attached. The first two tasks you should complete are (1) assessing those risks and (2) taking steps to diminish them.
Once you have a clear picture of the risks involved, you can make an educated decision on whether to proceed. Some techniques for assessing risks include:
When starting a business, proper planning and research are absolutely necessary. There is no other way to succeed. Many people get into business, put up the needed money, and then fail without ever knowing why. If you don't take the time to research your prospective business, you may fall victim to one of these common start-up blunders:
Don't let any of these blunders occur. Do the required market research, as detailed in Chapter 3 and do the necessary business planning. Your first research and planning steps are to assess your start-up requirements and calculate how much income you are going to need to get your business off the ground.
How Much Money Will You Need to Start?
There are a great many philosophies regarding the actual start-up costs associated with a business. Some entrepreneurs have begun successful operations with next to nothing, often using the start-up financing techniques discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. There is nothing wrong with that approach if you're willing to sacrifice yourself and spend a great amount of time and energy making your home-based business work. But under-capitalization is one of the primary reasons for business failure.
You must make sure that all your start-up costs are accounted for-- not just your opening expenses, but your initial operating expenses as well. Generally, these numbers can be estimated from similar businesses operating in an area that is comparable to the one where you wish to open, or from trade associations, trade periodicals, suppliers, and other industry sources described in Chapter 3.
Although every business has unique costs associated with it, some start-up costs are general to most home-based businesses; these are described next.
To determine how much money you have available to invest in a business, evaluate your credits (assets) and debits (liabilities) by using the Personal Balance Sheet on page 22. List all your assets and their value in the top portion of the form: house, car, jewelry, and so on. Then list all your debts in the bottom portion: credit cards, mortgage, bank notes, personal debts, auto loans, and so on. Compute the ratio between total assets and total liabilities to determine your net worth or degree of indebtedness. This ratio is assets;liabilities, or line A;line B. The ratio should approach 2;1, or, if you are like most people, 1;2. This is generally referred to as the acid-test ratio or quick ratio. If your assets exceed your liabilities, you should be able to keep the creditors from knocking on your door.TIME MANAGEMENT
The responsibilities of a home-based business owner are vastly different from those of a corporate employee. When you work for someone else, you are responsible only for carrying out your particular duties. A home-based entrepreneur, however, must also pay the bills, seek out new clients, and market the company.
To perform all these tasks and still maintain a professional image, a home-based business owner may need to make some sacrifices. A key factor is how you manage your time. This takes discipline and knowing when and what to delegate. Time management is important not only to the psyche of the owner, but also to the bottom line. Without it, your business can suffer. Follow the guidelines below to stay on schedule.
Logging Your Personal Time Use
Realizing the importance of time allocation and its influence on your business is definitely the first step in establishing a time-management system for yourself. You'll want to begin by exploring your personal uses of time. Once you become more aware of the ways in which you spend your time, you can remedy your less efficient approaches to various tasks.
The only way to track your use of time is to keep a log. Record your work segments in this log for as long as it takes to get a good reading of your typical usage of the workday. (One or two weeks should be sufficient.) Aside from its obvious concrete benefits, keeping a log is an extremely important practice because it creates awareness of the way in which you run your business.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself at the end of each logged workday, to make the most of the process:
That last question is very important. Time wasters must be identified and eliminated by looking within yourself and assessing your time profile candidly.
Let's deal with interruptions. There are two types: necessary and unnecessary. That distinction is more important than it might appear. To test this, just ask yourself, "If I did not have a single interruption for a month, where would my business be?"
Many interruptions are necessary; the way in which we choose to handle them allows them to bog us down. If we go into a situation knowing full well that there are going to be interruptions because they're part of the business we're in, then we can create ways in which to deal with them effectively. For instance, instead of allowing your incoming calls to be the variable that ultimately determines your daily schedule, you can let your answering machine or answering service take all calls and then choose which ones you will return at a specified time during the day. In that way, your time is yours rather than someone else's.
After you have completed your daily log of activities and identified your own personal time wasters, divide them into categories so you can classify and conquer them. Most time wasters can be categorized as self-imposed or system-imposed:
Self-imposed time wasters or those you create yourself. These include:
System-imposed time wasters are those things that the business system or other external forces (like other people) bring upon you. These include:
Many things believed to be system-imposed are really self-imposed-- or a combination of the two. For instance, if a neighbor drops in to chat, you have a time waster caused by others. But if you invite that kind of behavior by being open to it or failing to discourage it, then you are also bringing it upon yourself, at least to the degree to which it occurs. Observe your own behavior in these instances. Did you in any way initiate these visits or prolong them?
Keep Visits Brief
A drop-in visit is common in the home office setting, and it can be a real time-waster. Here are some tricks you can utilize to ensure that its toll on you is minimal. First, arrange your furniture in a way that does not make people feel overly welcome and comfortable. (If you deal regularly with clients, however, this advice does not apply.) If someone remains a chronic, unwelcome drop-in, diplomatically let him or her know that you have work to do and will socialize only after office hours. It might help to have a script arranged if you are afraid of floundering. Don't feel bad. Remember that this is one aspect of running a business. The other party should feel apologetic for not demonstrating more sensitivity where you are concerned. Another method you can implement when people stay just a bit too long is to have a few closings that will help them get the picture. You might say, "Before you go . . ." or, "Before we wrap up, is there anything else you wanted to cover?" Be as businesslike as possible at all times.
Keep Phone Calls Brief
The telephone should be handled in much the same way. Many people keep stopwatches or clocks handy and when a certain number of minutes have elapsed (7 to 10 minutes seems common), they begin winding down the conversation with closings like those mentioned above. Let people know you're ready to conclude. Take charge. State your goals at the beginning and summarize them at the end.
If you think you receive an excessive number of phone interruptions, solving the problem may require you to do the following:
When the person you are calling is not in:
Make a telephone appointment for a specific time, such as 3 P. M., to return the call or have it returned to you. Many people treat telephone appointments with the same attention given to in-person appointments. The only difference is that the meeting takes place on the phone.
In these situations, ask yourself, "Does this encounter help me complete my objectives?" If not, it must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. (The aforementioned diplomacy will go a long way in making sure that people continue to work with you rather than deciding to go elsewhere. If they fail to understand the importance of getting work done rather than socializing, then perhaps they are not the right people for you to work with.)
Keep Meetings on Schedule
These same principles apply for meetings. Even though you probably won't have employees in the beginning, you will have meetings with clients, vendors, and suppliers. You will want to set a businesslike tone without being officious. Many people mistake businesslike for unfriendly. In the ideal working environment, people work together on goals in a businesslike fashion. This cooperation shows up in the bottom line. Set time limits on your meetings and make everyone present aware of them. Make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear. Develop and distribute an agenda, and establish firm time limits for each subject to be discussed. Encourage people to get their points across in as little time as possible. Another way to cut down on meeting time is to make sure that only the people who really need to be there are present. Make sure your meetings start on time. Much time is wasted when people who show up on time must stand around waiting for a scheduled meeting to begin. Don't schedule meetings unless they are really necessary. Most people spend too much time in meetings simply because too many unnecessary meetings are held.
Do your homework before any meeting. Jot down notes on the agenda, and organize your thoughts so that you don't waste time once the meeting begins. Request that others do the same. Postpone the meeting if everyone is not prepared. Take personal responsibility for the productivity of a meeting. Participate in ways that fulfill both the purpose of the meeting and your own needs.
When you need to keep notes of a meeting, try to record them as the meeting progresses. You won't have to invest time doing it afterwards, and you'll be less likely to leave out pertinent points. Write legibly. If necessary, have the notes typed immediately afterward so that they can be of value right away to you and to the people to whom they are distributed.
Organize Your Paperwork
Most desks are a disorganized mess that contributes to the time crunch in an obvious way: Valuable time is spent just finding things. In the long run, many people begin to believe that they are as inefficient as their messy desks. In other words, organization and time are quite closely linked. Solutions to the problem of office organization have filled volumes. Here are a few tips:
You may feel comfortable using form letters for some of your correspondence. They may not be personal or impressive, but form letters provide fast and concise information that may be more valuable than a personalized letter. They also save the time it takes to personally compose a new letter for a repetitive situation.
Keep your correspondence as brief as possible, cutting out superfluous words and phrases. Whoever said, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter," understood that clear writing is a skill that requires a lot of practice and attention. Say what you mean; don't make your reader interpret vague references and suggestions. Use your dictionary. Be clear about what you want and you're more likely to get it.
You can do other things to discourage clutter. Establish a message center on a bulletin board or some other central place, so that messages don't get misplaced. Make sure your phone lists are current, and keep pads and working pens by the phone. (How often have you spent time searching for those?) Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day tidying up. This will ensure that you will not only start each day in a fresher state of mind, but you will prevent mounds of clutter from accumulating.
Identify Your Objectives and Priorities
Earlier, the issue discussed was priorities. In keeping your time log, for instance, you will be forced to determine which of your activities are more important for meeting your greater objectives, and which are less important. That kind of prioritizing must be done because it is the only way you can determine which of your waiting tasks should be done ahead of the others. But, by definition, you must determine your objectives before you can prioritize them. If you've already written your business plan (discussed in Chapter 3), you will have a clear vision of your ultimate goal. Your business plan should highlight your short-and long-term goals for your home-based venture. One short-term goal might be "Turn over the initial inventory by June." A long-term goal might be "Expand the business to overseas markets within the next 10 years."
By creating a list of both of these types of goals, you can determine which ones take precedence over others. The more comprehensive your list is, the more thorough your planning becomes. Your list should serve as a guideline, but it isn't engraved in stone. You can revise it as is necessary to maintain your focus.
Your list will come in handy during your daily operations. Time puts double pressure on a person torn between two projects that seem equally important. Should you take care of the filing or make an appointment to finalize a client's contract? One may seem more immediate because assorted paperwork is piled on your desk, but the other could put money into your bank account. Weigh the two tasks according to your needs, and according to how significantly they will contribute to your long-term goals.
Once you have outlined your long-term and short-term goals, explore what you must do to accomplish them. You might make a daily "To Do" list, with each specific duty highlighted. You should incorporate both your personal tasks and your professional responsibilities in the list, and indicate when you need to carry out each activity. For example, making your bed in the morning is not as important as making a call to a client in another time zone. Some activities can be delayed; others cannot.
Next to your list of activities, put numbers indicating their order of importance. If you need to carry out an activity by a specific time, list a deadline. These notations will help you keep your schedule in order. On some days, you may find that two or three things need to be done at the same time. When that happens, try to delegate some tasks, or, if possible, adjust your schedule.
We've mentioned delegation as a method of time management. In this section, you will learn why it's important to use this often-overlooked tool.
Delegation is vital to a one-person operation. Without it, important first clients could be lost forever, and your reputation could be damaged. Delegation is a learned skill, not a trait business owners are born with. It's important for you to seek out as many clients as possible and perform work for them, but you can have too much of a good thing. With delegation, you can take a step back and evaluate your operation more objectively, fine-tuning your business as you go along. There are three types of projects you may encounter:
No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to handle all the projects you want to finish yourself. Some people are afraid to let go of work because they feel that (1) it won't get done, (2) it won't get done properly, or (3) both. This is where home-based operators should take a second look at the part-time employees they hire or the service bureaus they contract with. Are they really not worthy of additional work because they can't do it? Or can they do it, but the owners are just afraid to delegate? Can you hire someone to deliver important paperwork instead of doing it yourself? Will you allow a service bureau to mail out your products instead of trudging to the post office each day yourself?
Delegation is not a dirty word. It can help home-based business owners manage their own time and help others learn about the company they work for. Here are a few simple steps you can take to put delegation into practice on a day-to-day basis:
Just about everybody procrastinates, so there's no room for guilt or bad feelings where this issue is concerned. There are steps you can take to conquer this element of modern life. Without understanding and dealing with procrastination, writing down goals for the rest of your life will help only minimally. You've got to get over the hump that may be preventing you from carrying them out.
Procrastination is doing low-priority things (or nothing) when you know you should be doing high-priority things. One of the many reasons for procrastinating is that you simply don't have your priorities straight. After you have completed your detailed priority list, assigning a sequence to the tasks should no longer be a problem. The most common reason that people procrastinate is that they are putting off the prospect of dealing with a potentially unpleasant task. (Often, they actually enjoy the work once they take the first step and dive in.)
What are the best ways to face unpleasant tasks head-on? If you own your own business, try calculating the amount of money that your delay is costing you. Delays are very expensive. If you delay handling an inquiry, for example, you could lose a customer and the potential for hundreds of dollars. If you delay servicing a machine when it needs it, you could end up with a very costly breakdown. Sit down and calculate the costs. Seeing the actual dollar amount will be surprisingly effective. If you lose a machine for a day, for instance, you're looking at lost productivity hours as well as emergency repair bills. And the frustration of knowing that the work loss could have been prevented probably won't help much.
Promise yourself a reward for finishing an unpleasant task. Even a small one might help you get there sooner. Just as you wrote down your goals, let other people know about your tasks, particularly the ones you are having difficulty accomplishing. That method could help your resolve as well. Give yourself a deadline--an early one, if possible-- and stick to it.
One of the best ways to tackle difficult projects is to break them up into smaller, more manageable pieces. Anything is bearable for a few minutes of time. Arrange to do an unpleasant task for just 5 or 10 minutes. Chances are that once you get started, it won't be so difficult. You may even find yourself enjoying it. The hardest part is always getting started. The dread that accompanies a future project always seems to build on itself, making the project much worse than it was to start with. The trick is to get started, any way you can. Divide the task into time segments or individual units.
If you are avoiding a certain task because you fear you may not be good at it, that is an entirely different issue. If you can assign the task to someone else, then do so, rather than wasting time debating whether you can do it. As a home-based business owner, you can assign certain tasks to independent contractors who are experts in their fields: advertising, sales, public relations, computer graphics, and so on. You'll be using the delegating principles outlined earlier to maximize your efficiency.
These techniques provide excellent ways of dealing with the procrastination that haunts everyone. They can be put into practice time and time again. The underlying element that must be changed, though, is your overall attitude about the things you have to do. Your "Do It Later" attitude has to become a "Do It Now" attitude. Most entrepreneurs count themselves among the "Do It Now" people. If they aren't born that way, they make sure they become that way. Things don't just happen for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs make things happen.
The first step is taking initiative-- turning an idea or thought into reality through action; making something happen that might not otherwise occur.
The initiative process is characterized by:
Entrepreneurs are masters of their own time. They have separated their priorities from their commitments, they have learned how to set long-term and short-term goals, and they have learned to schedule their valuable time in a way that allows them to act on those goals and still retain the flexibility necessary to be open to change and growth. In short, they have learned to manage time.
Time Management Tools
Here are some of the many tools available to keep you focused and working efficiently:
BALANCING HOME AND BUSINESS
Though the advantages are attractive, maintaining a successful home-based business is not easy. In the beginning, especially, demands on your time and assets will be considerable, and dedication to the success of the business is critical. These demands may increase the stress already present in operating any business, and can take their toll on family relationships, creating tension both during and after work hours.
The privacy and freedom gained from home-based business ownership often lead to problems. The absence of outside scrutiny also means insulation from outside input and suggestions, and can result in stagnation and a failure to keep up with the newest market trends. All of these factors can prevent growth and future market success. Separating family and business life is an important step toward the successful management of both. By setting boundaries for proper roles and behavior in each setting, it is possible to head off role carryover problems before they occur. Family members need to know what to expect from you when the arena changes from home to work.
Family/ Business Boundaries
You can establish fair and reasonable family/ business boundaries in a variety of ways. Work out guidelines together, creating a family/ business "creed" or "mission statement." Central to the theme of the document should be the fact that business decisions must be based on what is best for the company, and that family politics and problems should not interfere with your business operations. By the same token, business should not dominate your home life.
All family members should be present when the creed/ statement is done. Family goals should be set first and can be placed in the document as a preamble to the guidelines. Once goals are set, specific guidelines for achieving this success should be outlined.
Once goals and guidelines have been set, it 's a good idea to create physical boundaries as well. Separate areas of the house should be designated as work-only areas, separate telecommunications should be installed for business use, and traffic and noise levels must indicate respect for business hours in the home. Chapter 6, "Setting Up Your Home Office," gives some valuable suggestions.
Here are some simple tips to keep the family and business separate:
Turning Your Home into a Business Site
Some home-based entrepreneurs feel that starting up a business is as easy as making a declaration that they are in business. Every part of the house is used to accommodate the business. Every drawer is used to stash receipts, invoices, and other items that deal strictly with the business. Friends, family, and just about any other persons stopping by the house are free to interrupt the businessperson at the drop of a paper clip. These home-based businesses suffer from a poor image. Is it any wonder that many of these businesses don't last?
Not all home-based entrepreneurs conduct business in this manner. In fact, with the influx of corporate refugees into the home-based arena, a new wave of professionalism has hit the home office. Specific rooms are now set aside as offices only. Within those home offices, business is conducted away from the disturbances of family, friends, and day-to-day distractions. Accountants and lawyers are consulted. Separate phone lines are installed, and cutting-edge office equipment is put in place. What eventually transpires is a metamorphosis of a room in a house into an office where business is conducted in a professional manner.
The first thing you have to do when setting up a home-based business is to establish-- for yourself, your family, and your friends-- rules that separate your home life from your work life. The first rule involves the office space. It marks the boundary where home life stops and work life begins. When you are in your office, you are conducting business.Your home and business should not mix: They should coexist. Isolating your office from your family life allows you to conduct business without distractions. You can start creating boundaries by approaching your home business as a business. That means developing a sense of professionalism. One of the most significant but least tangible problems home-based entrepreneurs face involves creating and maintaining a professional image. Here are some things you can do to build professionalism:
The home-based business basics listed above may seem very conventional and somewhat restrictive, until you realize what you expect from the businesses you deal with. What would your reaction be if a toddler answered the phone when you called a corporate client? How would you feel if a supplier sent you an invoice written on a piece of scratch paper? As a businessperson, you take certain things for granted. You assume that the businesses you deal with will fulfill certain professional conventions.
As a home-based businessperson, you may feel tempted to skirt those conventions. In fact, being unconventional may be what prompted you to work at home in the first place. Even so, disregarding the basic rules of business won't work to your benefit in the long run. "Making do" without printed stationery and a well-planned phone system may not cut into your productivity, but it won't boost your image much. For most home-based businesses, taking advantage of every opportunity to foster a professional image is critical.
A retail operation develops its image in a variety of ways. Its merchandise, its location, its signs, its window dressing, its salespeople-- all of these factors add up to the public's perception of the operation. But if you conduct business from your spare bedroom or den, you have access to none of these attention-getting devices. Your business image depends on whatever limited interaction you may have with clients (and potential clients)-- and that means every detail counts.
How will your business come into contact with the outside world? One way is in print, so pay close attention to your logo, stationery, and business cards. Although a company logo may seem like a trivial decoration, a cleverly designed, attractive logo can go a long way toward helping your company stand out in your customers' minds. If you aren't artistically inclined, hire a professional to design your typography.
If you find it's almost impossible to pry yourself away from your desk when the clock chimes closing time, you're not alone. Home-based business owners know quite well the temptation to keep working through the night. In fact, several factors inherent in running a home-based business fuel workaholism. At an outside office, there are clear divisions in the day-- you see people leaving at 5 P. M., and the cleaning crew comes in around 7 P. M. At home, you don't have the obvious cutoff points.
Home-based business owners may be overworked simply because so many of them are start-up or one-person operations. Still, workaholism left unchecked leads to some real dangers. Excessive business hours can be a tremendous intrusion on family life.
The key word is balance. Having your work at your fingertips 24 hours a day can be an advantage if handled correctly. Being able to work at night after putting children to bed is a definite plus.
To keep some balance between your business and your family life, follow these guidelines:
Many parents choose to start a home-based business in an effort to spend more time with their children. And although some people are able to successfully meet that goal, others find it difficult to master the roles of parent and at-home entrepreneur. Combining business ownership and parenthood under the same roof can lead to trouble. Children can create inte rruptions that take your attention away from your business, and they can undermine the image of professionalism you try to convey. On the other hand, your business can become all-consuming, keeping you from giving your children the attention they need.Making Your Office Child-Proof
To better balance the responsibilities of raising children and running a successful home-based business, keep the following general rules in mind:
WORKING WITH YOUR SPOUSE
When married couples start home-based businesses together, office romance takes on a whole new meaning.
More and more couples are considering home-based businesses as their route to living happily ever after. Unfortunately, a large number of these couples overlook the fact that they have much more at risk than just business failure. If things go awry, they could end up in divorce court.
Most husband-and-wife business owners agree that the personal relationship has to be a super-strong if the business is to survive. Young marriages often make for unsuccessful businesses. In general, an established marriage has a better chance of making a business succeed at home.
When entrepreneurial success is at stake, love alone can't keep your business together. To make your partnership work, Dennis Gaffe, owner of Changeworks, a family business consulting firm in San Francisco, and author of Working with the Ones You Love (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press) says, "You must do a fierce audit to determine whether each of you has what's needed to run a business. Desire isn't enough."
Though it may seem an obvious step, many couples don't objectively examine whether they have the complementary skills to make the business partnership viable. Just because you love each other doesn't mean you have the skills to run a business together. Before starting a home-based business with your spouse, ask yourselves the following questions:
If you answered no to any of these questions, you should re-evaluate your plans to go into business together.
One of the major issues facing married home-based business owners is defining clear boundaries-- both physical and psychological. To preserve your sanity, you must be able to separate the pressures of your work life from your personal life and vice versa. The first step toward attaining this goal is to agree to solve problems together instead of blaming each other for them. You must learn to communicate effectively under pressure. And when problems can't be nipped in the bud, couples have to agree not to deal with business situations at home on weekends.
You must also strive to keep your independence from each other intact. It's difficult to complain about your business partner after a stressful day if your partner is the person you're talking to. Spouses need separate friends, individual hobbies, and sometimes just plain old space. After being together all week long, some time apart on the weekends is a good idea. There has to be some separation, otherwise there's a danger the marriage will become nothing but the business.
There is one area that demands solidarity: housework. You have to be as explicit about home responsibilities as you are about business responsibilities.
Even if you believe you have all the ingredients for a fruitful partnership, don't take any chances. Draw up an agreement that outlines what will happen to the business in case of divorce.
Once you get past all the messy details, a business-and-marriage partnership can be extremely rewarding.COPING WITH ISOLATION
An often-overlooked negative aspect of working from home is the sense of isolation you can feel during the workday. You might take for granted the buzz that permeates a traditional office. The sounds of phones ringing, the drone of employees talking, and the barking of an irate manager may all serve to drive potential business owners into work for themselves. However, these noises may not seem too bad compared to the silence of an empty house. Without human interaction, people tend to feel lonely and isolated. Without someone with whom to discuss your ideas or from whom you occasionally receive a pat on the back, a home-based business owner can become discouraged.
There can never be a replacement for the human interaction found in the traditional office. If you can accept this fact, you can work to find your own motivational stimuli and you will function just as effectively as you did as an employee.
Only you can take steps to find others who can motivate you in your work. There are certain activities you can engage in to find prospective clients and build professional alliances. A few of these are highlighted next.Meetings
Meetings are an important aspect of any business, but they serve a dual purpose for the home-based business owner. First, and most obviously, they allow you to communicate directly with your present and future clients. Second, they help you establish rapport with people who can help you in both your professional and personal life. By taking the time to schedule and attend a meeting outside of your office, you demonstrate your willingness to go out of your way to present your products or services to your clients. A home-based business owner who takes the time and effort to put together a presentation and deliver it in person shows a confidence not necessarily conveyed over a phone line or on paper.
Meetings should be structured; don't schedule them just for the sake of getting out of the house. However, if you find yourself frequently speaking to certain clients on the phone, ask yourself whether it would be better to meet them in person.
Some meetings are impossible to schedule during normal work hours. Your clients may be too busy to host a sales call, or inundated with proposals from many of your industry colleagues. This is where a little extra effort on your part is advisable and will help break up the daily routine you may find monotonous.
Business meals are generally more relaxed than more formal meetings, and an invitation to lunch could put your client in a more receptive mood toward what your company has to offer. You can also establish friendships and professional networks this way.
Even if your business isn't conducive to meetings, you can still schedule some luncheons with business partners and focus groups-- or with a friend-- to break up a hectic day.Professional Organizations
Some business-related organizations have been created specifically to get people out of their work environments and into more comfortable settings for personal interaction. The National Association of Home-based Businesses, for example, offers more than 25 programs and services through its HomeBiz Global Center franchises as well as annual events specifically for home-based business owners. Other trade-related groups can offer you information on your specific industry and help you find your business voice through their lobbying efforts. Chambers of Commerce and networking associations can also fulfill your need for social interaction. See Appendix A for details on these associations.
There are trade associations for nearly every industry you can think of, from craft-making to mail order to desktop publishing. A publication by Gale Research, The Encyclopedia of Associations, is especially valuable. Many libraries have this publication in their reference sections. See Appendix B for other useful books.
Consider subscribing to any trade publications serving your industry. Not only will they keep you abreast of news concerning your industry; they can also provide information on other organizations you should join. Appendix C lists many helpful publications.
Community newspapers, local business journals, and other publications can keep you informed on local events affecting your business, and let you know about any local associations you might want to join.Organize Your Own Group
Even the most reserved of entrepreneurs can start up their own focus group, networking club, or trade organization in their area. You would fill a need not currently being addressed by the industry, and that in itself could cause others to join. With a little promotion through a local business journal (perhaps a calendar listing of the date, time, and location of your meeting) or even a flyer at the local library or business resource center, you may find some interested parties.
A meeting can be a structured event or simply an informal "meet and greet" at your home. Once your group becomes a little more established, you may want to alternate locales or request permission to use a room in the local library or a meeting hall. Low attendance doesn't signify failure; indeed, some groups are better small. The point is that you would be networking with your peers on a personal and professional level.The Art of Networking
Home-based operation in and of itself is not conducive to networking. This does not mean, however, that networking is impossible. Indeed, you have an opportunity to network every time you interact with another human being.
Let's take one entrepreneur's typical workday as an example. A desktop publisher starts her morning by taking her son to school, stopping briefly to talk to his teacher about a science project. Her next stop is the office supply store, where she picks up her order of toner cartridges, a ream of paper, and a stack of file folders. After a brief stop at a client's business to drop off a contract with the secretary, she is off to meet with a printer about a newsletter job. She then goes home to work on a brochure for a landscaping service. She encounters a question related to the job, so she calls the client and gets his assistant, who promptly answers the question. She finishes the assignment in enough time to pick up her son from school, spending a few minutes with an old friend picking up his daughter. They talk for a moment, and she leaves to drop her child off with her husband, after which she attends a meeting for her marketing focus group.
How many times during this workday was the desktop publisher faced with a networking opportunity? Answer: At least six, if you don't count immediate family members.
Every person you encounter could be a potential client. You never know whether people you've talked to on a regular basis could use your services unless you tell them what you do. Whenever appropriate, make sure everyone knows your business specialty. Even if they don't need your services, they may know someone else who does. At the same time, do not make yourself or your work the center of the conversation.
On a practical note, take samples of your work (if possible) and plenty of business cards wherever you go. You never know when you might find an excellent potential client.