This is part two of a three part series on start-up success. The first blog post was about developing a life plan before writing a business plan. This post is about being a successful home-based business. Part three will be about the top reasons why start-up businesses fail and how to avoid that fate.
When you are starting out in business it is best to keep your overhead expenses as low as possible. One great way to do this is to work from home. Your spare bedroom, basement or kitchen table will do just fine as an office until you are making enough money to pay for professional office space.
One of the key considerations in working from home is – can you handle it? One really is the loneliest number. I have a few tips for evaluating whether you are fit to work from home. Sometimes when you work from home, the people closest to you might not take your work seriously. I remember when I first started my business, my boyfriend who is now my husband of more than a decade, would call in the middle of the day to ask me to grab his shirts from the dry cleaners. (By the way, he’s been getting his own dry cleaning, for years now.)
That is a perfect example of how those close to you can unintentionally get you off your game. In business, your time is the most important thing you can give anyone, but lay down the law with your friends about when they can call you.
Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself before deciding in which part of the house to set-up shop.
- Are you good at setting a schedule for yourself?
- Are you self-disciplined enough to do your work and not procrastinate?
- Are you good at communicating when there is limited visual feedback?
- Can you fight the temptation to run errands?
- Are you really a social butterfly that needs to talk to someone as part of your work process?
- Can you set boundaries with your family & friends or will you just chat on the phone with them?
- Will you be able to separate work life and home life? Many entrepreneurs are workaholics, and working from home really facilitates being that way.
- Will you still be able to afford childcare help? Babysitter is not of those 10-12 jobs that entrepreneurs can do well, and run their business.
Now if you are still thinking that becoming a home based business is for you, here are a few tips to help you manage.
Build a cell phone check-in list. It’s good to have regular conversations with a small group of people who know what it’s like to be working from home. You may find out that your friends who still work at jobs can’t relate to you as much as they used to. Build your network of other home-based business owners, and when you get the urge to turn on Oprah, spend two hours on Twitter or worse take a nap, dial-up sometime who can help you get back on task.
Everywhere you go, talk up your new business. By talking up your business, you will attract customers to you, and it will keep your confidence up. Sometimes when you don’t see other people often, you can get a little rusty presenting yourself. Try talking about your business at your local nail or hair salon, local business association, supermarket, even your child’s daycare – and at your old job. Promote your business to any and everyone, especially those closest to you.
Develop strategic alliances with complementary businesses. Find other small businesses you can partner with in order to help each other grow in business. Develop joint promotions, trade tips and resources. Work out a formal referral fee agreement, so there’s no misunderstanding about compensation for leads. Not every entrepreneur will be eager to partner with you, but you will never know until you ask.
Get out of the home office at least twice a week. Go to networking functions, schedule client appointments, and try to find yourself a place to work outside of your home with your laptop. Bookstores or libraries are good options. Coffee shops and bakery stores such as Starbucks or Panera Bread even offer free wifi. They are all great places to hangout and get work done.
Having a home-based business is like opening any other business except that your business happens to be headquartered in your home. Just get a plan together so that you can be successful working from home.
Do you have any more suggestions for working from home successfully? Please leave a comment.
Melinda, your series is great. It’s killing me, but its great. A life plan? I need a day plan. Am I fit for working from home? I’m unemployable, so I sure hope I can work from home. But on many days, as a small biz owner, I’m more fit for an insane asylum…. Excuse my attempts at humor… 😉
Great tips Melinda. I think it is a little easier if the job you had before setting up a home business was one where you could take initiative and didn’t need to be told what to do and be given the deadline.
I have worked from home – full time – for about 4 years now, and I can say without a doubt that you are spot on with your tips. The few things I think you left out though are little details like setting up your office so it is tax deductible and how to recognize / treat burnout. Outside of that… proof reading helps too 😉
I especially like your tip about getting out of the home office to networking events. Not only will it serve to allow you to talk and meet with people but you’ll be growing your business at the same time. The best of both worlds!
Hi Melinda, These are all great tips. I have been working from home for 10 years and it is important to put your kids in day care to give yourself the time to work. When I stared working from home, my child went from being in day care 5 days a week to 2-3 days a week, so I was very happy with the balance.
I think if you find yourself drifting off, and going to watch TV, or other activities that take you away from work, you’re not really doing what you are passionate about. If you love what you do, you’re very driven to do it. If I’m done with errands and still have 10 minutes before I have to get the kids from school, I’ll go home and work. Every minute that I’m working is productive.
I think reading industry blogs is important and don’t consider it slacking off, but that I’m better informed and a better business woman.
I always have a to-do list and usually create it the night before so I’m ready to go with my priorities the next day. I put *’s next to the items that must get done.
As a work-at-home mom, grocery shopping and picking up the dry cleaning is part of the privilege of working from home and part of the deal, so I have no problem with that. I’d rather shop alone anyway, then with 3 kids.
Another important thing to recognize when you work at home is when you need help and when you’d be more efficient when you’re paying another work-at-home person to help out. This will help your business grow.
There’s a lot more that I’ve learned, but those are the things that jump out at me.
Thank you for this great post. Good timing, too!
A little over a year ago I moved my office to the house. I do like having a home office, and my expenses are certainly less.
However, I think that I’m on the cutting edge of a new trend;
“Stay At Home Dad’s With Businesses To Run”
I wonder if I’m alone. My wife works full time, we have a teenager in Jr. High School, and I have a consulting business to run.
It used to be that Stay At Home Mom’s or Dad’s did the housework, ran a few errands, and did school pickups and drop offs.
Now, add the time and pressure of running a full time business out of the home. Some days it’s just too much.
I find that I do have to really force myself to get out of the house to do some face to face networking and meetings, these days.
I need to just do it. Especially with some nice weather on the way.
Again, great topic!
The Franchise King
anyone is fit to work from home. All they really need is to stay organized and make a very clear distinction (in terms of time) between work and… home.
Moreover, I found it useful to separate the working space, that is to set a home office.
As for procrastination, I think if you really procrastinate, you do it irrespective of the place where you work.
Do you see a trend of new type of work spaces, between home and office, e.g. co-working space and other “third places”?
Wow! This is a fabulous article. Melinda you did a great job! I too have worked from a “home office” for over 10 years. I recently published a self help booklet: “Working from a Home Office Successfully” ~ Best Practice Tips. (On Amazon) http://www.outskirtspress.com/homeofficeguru My goal is to help others learn how to work from a home office. Inc Magazine recently quote me and this is another great article:http://www.inc.com/guides/set-up-a-home-office.html
I conduct 45 minute webinars if anyone needs more help. Melinda thank you for doing such a great job!
The tips were great! I loved the scheduling time outside the home office bit. The pajamas temptation can be too strong! At the Empowerment Group blog, we touched on more specific parts of the challenge:
1) Our guide to working from home when you get an office snow day: http://blog.empowerment-group.org/2010/02/snowed-in-guide-to-working-from-home.html
2) Out guide to creating a productive home office:
I hope these help any stay-at-home entrepreneurs out there!
Those are hard questions to answer, but they put the reality of the home office in sharp contrast. I agree wholeheartedly that you have to talk up your business to everyone (confidence is contagious) and get out among your peers frequently. I have a lot of success scheduling lunches to touch base and network with locals. However, I would say that a 20-minute power nap is one of my best tools for recharging and hitting it hard during the second half of the day.
Great article. I still struggle with getting my mother to understand that even on days when I can meet her for lunch I have to go back to work.
I so loved, and related to, the comment about getting out of the home office twice a week. I have found if I stay in my office too long I become socially-shy on my first outing as a “big girl”. I tend not to talk as quickly, fail to know WHAT to say to others, forget how to have a normal, friendly dialog with another breathing human being. Thank, it was funny AND true!
have worked from home since 1986 … i almost never use teh teleophone any more (too disruptive) … i also DO NOT get out to meet folks face to face more than once or twice a month (it no longer is neccessary) … i have many clients that i have never met or vene talked to on the phone, have only exchanged emails ..
A nice little checklist you have there indeed Melinda, I am relieved to know that I don’t have any serious issues that need addressing!
I will pass this onto any of buddies who are thinking about setting up an online business, I am sure they will be very greatful =)
Your tips are helpful. I try and read everything that you put out. I am starting-up my business now. I am a Bookkeepper that can provide many financial services.
Working from home truly requires a disciplined approach – which may be a better fit for some than others. The checklist provided in this post is very valuable in this perspective. I try to complement working from home with networking events to get out there in a more social environment – excellent tip!