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Know what operating a home business entails

With the way the economy has morphed in recent years, any stigma that once existed about working from one’s home is largely gone. For some, starting a business from home was a survival technique after getting laid off. Others may have just been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and started a business from their home much like Bill Hewlett and David Packard did back in 1939.

Granted, the new economy is also replete with companies that do not have a brick-and-mortar building and instead employ workers in home offices. Still others are given an option to telecommute. I may address these latter situations in a separate column, but for now I want to focus on the work-from-home entrepreneur.

Although working from home has many benefits, trouble spots exist. Therefore, if you’re thinking about starting a business from home, it helps to know what you’re getting into. If you’re already conducting a business from your home, you probably are well aware of what follows, but it may help to know you’re not alone.

I recently contacted some home-based entrepreneurs to learn their thoughts on the matter. I’m leaving last names out, but so you know a little about their background, Jim runs a website that sells merchandise for which he provides all product fulfillment from his house. Gloria works in the highly specialized industry of corporate security, both physical and tactical, such as preventing the loss of critical and sensitive data through theft, leaks or competitor espionage. Marie serves as a resource for childcare centers in one of the nation’s most populous states, and Peter works as a corporate management consultant.

To a person, everyone I contacted said they loved the benefits of a home office.

“I love the 10-second commute,” Peter says.

“I get to be there when the kids get home from school,” says Jim.

Marie echoed that, saying, “I love being able to spend time with my family and pick up my children from school. By working from home I am also able to put my children in lots of activities, which would be next to impossible if my business was headquartered somewhere else.”

Marie also mentioned that sometimes it’s noon before she realizes she’s still in her pajamas. “I laugh,” she says, “because the work is getting done and nobody knows!”

Both Gloria and Peter love the flexibility.

“If I need to work in the evening or on a weekend, I can do it in a way that minimally impacts the family,” says Gloria.

“A long time ago I realized that if I’m prepping for a project, I do my best work between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” says Peter, a self-proclaimed night owl. “Many folks think I’m nuts, but the phone isn’t ringing, the kids are asleep and I can concentrate without distractions.”

Another huge benefit for home offices is low overhead.

“Where else can I set up shop for next to nothing?” says Marie.

“The limited overhead is an obvious plus,” says Gloria. “I don’t think I could have afforded to start my business if I had to pay for a separate office space with all the trimmings.”

Yet with these benefits comes “the other side of the coin.” Everyone noted that setting boundaries is very important.

“The kids want my attention,” says Jim. “And then there are people who know I work from home and think they can stop by ‘whenever’ and expect me to drop what I’m doing and help them with something.”

Gloria says one of the best ways to address this with family is to conversationally remind them that you have work to do. “If your office area has a door, establish the practice of keeping it shut during working hours,” she says.

Peter mentioned that he and his wife are careful to remind their children of all the benefits they enjoy from “having daddy work from home.” That helps the children accept and respect the boundaries.

Another pitfall mentioned by several was “organization,” noting that without clients coming to their home offices, the need for tidiness can fall to a low priority. “That makes it difficult to find things,” says Marie.

James mentioned the importance of physical comfort: “Make sure your office is ergonomically correct. Many companies help you create an ergonomic office, but working from home, you’re on your own.”

Would they like to own their business any other way? Across the board the answer was no.

Marie was rather frank about her reasons: “I am very happy working from home, and I cannot imagine going back to work in an office where I have no choice in my co-workers and have to work with people I do not want to be around.”

Peter emphasizes that the pros outweigh the cons by far. “I love the flexibility and the freedom. I wouldn’t trade my home office for anything.”

Dan Bobinski is a best-selling author and president of Online Train the Trainer, where he teaches managers and leaders to think and act more like trainers. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or [email protected].

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