Let’s Introduce Ourselves
This article doesn’t strive to be the ‘end all and be all’ when
it comes to advice on running your own business, or on running your own
business from home. What I will do is share with you a little I’ve learned
in the hopes that it might be of some help. You’re about to embark on a
grand adventure and it doesn’t hurt to start with a few friendly tips.
Let’s begin with a few assumptions. I’m assuming that you
are ready to start up a business at home, and already know what you want to
do. I am also assuming that you’ve looked into some of the resources that
are out there to help you to get moving towards your new career in home
entrepreneurship, like registering your business, developing a business
plan, or applying for funds. What I’ll do is share some of the ups and downs
of having a home-based business, so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls
Now that we’ve dealt with my assumptions, let me tell you
a little bit more about myself. My background is in social work. I graduated
with my HBSW (Honours Bachelor of Social Work) in 1987 and worked for five
years in the field before returning to school to take my Masters. After
completing my Masters, I worked again for about five years (is there a
pattern here?), had my fill of working for other people (you know what I’m
talking about), and started my own business.
Selfishly named after me, my business is called KDM
Program & Management Services. KDM is in its fifth year (hmmm). What I do is
hard to describe because it is different from everything out there - but in
a nutshell, I provide administrative and program support to non-profit,
charitable organizations. I have tended to work mostly with organizations
that serve the disadvantaged, which is consistent with my past work
experience. However, my clients are now organizations, not the people they
serve. I work mostly from home, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Nitty GrittyOkay, we’ve made it through the introductions, now let’s get to
the nitty gritty. Here are my tips for starting on the path towards a
successful home business career. Some are philosophical, some are practical,
and some just give you something to think about.
Location, Location, Location
Give serious thought to where you’ll be working, and how it
relates to the rest of your home and household. In this day and age, work
routinely encroaches on one’s home life, and this is all the more relevant
when you work where you live. If you can have a room of your own for your
work – preferably with a door you can literally and symbolically close at
the end of your workday – this is most ideal. You’ll associate work with
that room; when you are out of that room, you ‘leave’ work and are at home.
Give some thought to other factors that might affect your
workday – such as noise and light level. Think radical. I spent my first
year working downstairs. My New Year’s Resolution was to move my entire
office - at that time spread between three rooms – into a large bedroom
upstairs. The move meant I could fit everything into one room, had a door to
close, was away from the noisy TV, and had the sunshine streaming in to keep
Set Your Expectations
The most frequent comment I get from friends is, "I could never
work at home. It takes too much discipline!" And they’re right – it
does. To help you get used to what likely will be your least rigid job
environment, set down some basic work expectations. For example, decide how
many hours you should work each day, and when your day will begin and end.
How much structure you need will depend on your own level of
self-discipline. But don’t be too hard on yourself – be sure to also enjoy
the freedoms that having your own business afford you (like taking a break
for a walk around the block or to play with your cat)!
While the challenge for some might be not working enough,
for other it may be putting
an end to the workday. This is a particular challenge when you work at home.
In this case, the most rigid rules you may want to set for yourself are when
you won’t work. For example, my rule is, "No work on weekends." I
will occasionally work in evenings but only when the matter is urgent. I
need these limits to keep from working too much.
If you’re a borderline workaholic, an at-home business
might not be the best option for you. You might want to consider setting up
an off-site office to resist the temptation of working all the time.
Establish Some Routines
Establishing work routines will help you ‘think work’ at home. For
example, start your workday by checking email and returning messages. End
your day by recording your work hours and updating your ‘to do’ list. These
routines will give you something familiar to help you distinguish between
work and non-work hours … a constant challenge when working at home.
A Rule for Procrastinators
On of the most important rules I’ve learned to live by is Do what
I’m Avoiding FIRST. Take it from someone who knows. If you are tempted
to put off a particular project or task, do it first and then reward
yourself with something you enjoy. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy
thinking about what you haven’t done, and it will call to you from your
office no matter where you are in the house. Trust me on this one. You’ll
feel great having it done and being able to concentrate on more enjoyable
You may find that, at first, it seems that your family doesn’t
respect your workspace – or work time, for that matter. Keep in mind that
this is a new experience for them too, and help them to understand that you
need their respect. If you have set up times for work and time for home, be
sure your family knows the schedule. If you want them to respect your
workspace, make sure they know the rules. Or better yet, involve them in
setting the rules so they have a better understanding of your issues.
Remember that changes in your family’s routine may also
affect your work schedules. (For example, March break or summer holidays
will mean your children are home during your usual ‘workdays.’) Anticipate
these changes and make special plans to get your work done and spend
time with your family.
Company can also throw a wrench in your work routines. Be
sure that visitors know if and when you have to work at home. Perhaps you’ll
want to plan activities they can pursue on their own, or with other family
members, during your work time so you don’t feel you are a negligent host.
Only the Lonely…
If you are used to a ‘normal’ work environment (if there is such a
thing) you may find that working at home can sometimes be lonely –
especially when you feel the need to share your triumphs or frustrations.
Unless you want to end up having lengthy discussions with the cat, you’ll
want to ensure that you have opportunities to talk to other people about
your work. There are different ways you can do this – work out of your home
office once and a while; foster relationships with colleagues who are
willing to share mutual sounding board privileges; link up with other
home-based business owners through local associations and networks; if you
volunteer, look for social opportunities; be sure to spend time with friends
when you’re not working.
Remember the Basics
When setting up your office, make sure you have the basics, and have
them nearby. The ‘basics’ may include a computer, internet access,
telephone, fax machine, working space, filing cabinets, office supplies,
stationary, etc. Make sure you have what you need to do the job and,
ideally, have them in your office so they are easily accessible. Consider
setting up an account with an office supplier if need be. If Staples
delivers to me in Pontypool, they’ll deliver anywhere!
Call Display & Call Answer
Of all the tools I have enlisted in my home office life, none have
been more beneficial than call display and call answer. Well worth the
investment of a new phone and a few dollars a month, call display and call
answer allow me to set limits on both my work and home lives when necessary.
Having call display means having the choice to answer only work calls during
my workday, and personal calls during personal times. And the added bonus of
call answer is that it will take messages when I am on the phone, using my
fax or surfing the Internet – so customers are never greeted by a busy
And Most Important, Enjoy the Freedoms
It is important that you take fully savour the benefits of working
at home. Don’t be too rigid a boss – enjoy the special perks. My favourite
taunt to nine-to-five out-of-home workers is to return their calls from the
deck or garden (the wonder of cordless phones), and then telling them what a
lovely, lovely day we’re having. I mean, what’s the point of working at home
if you can’t enjoy, and celebrate, the freedoms you have over a nine-to-five
office job? Don’t lose sight of the benefits!
Kristin Duare McKinnon
has diverse front-line and administrative experience in non-profit
organizations providing health, social, and community services. She now has
her own business, KDM, which offers program support to the non-profit
sector. Kristin's special interests include leadership and service
excellence, public and media relations, volunteer management, and working
with seniors and people with disabilities. She can be reached at KDM, P.O.
Box 429, Pontypool, Ontario, Canada. Phone (705) 277-3262; Fax (705) 277-2921; Email
Copyright © 2002-2007
Kristin Duare McKinnon.
All Rights Reserved. Published 12 Mar 2002
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