From One Who's Been There …
Advice on Running Your Own Business from Home

by Kristin Duare McKinnon


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 out there.

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 Gritty
Okay, 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 me motivated.

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 tasks.

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 signal.

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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