By our very nature, entrepreneurs are hungry to achieve more and are very often married to their businesses. So, as Adrian Gore, founder of Discovery Health, once said at a talk I attended: “There is no such thing as work-life balance for entrepreneurs“. Running a home-based business presents its own unique issues in this balancing act. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way that I hope can help those of you who work from home to manage this.
- Choose a business model that is conducive to working from home:
If you can, choose a business model that can be run easily from home. Then within this framework, identify a business idea that you’re passionate about, that meets an unmet market need and that can make money. I run www.MBAconnect.net, a social network for MBA alumni and current students from all business schools worldwide. I chose this for a number of reasons: Hubby and I wanted a flexi-time business that I could run from home while looking after our 2 toddlers; I was passionate about connecting people with positive opportunities; and after completing my MBA, I recognised an unmet, monetisable need for a social network to serve this attractive target market. A website is easy to run from home because it doesn’t keep office hours and you can run it at any time of the day. This means you can work around your kids’ school routine, and you can work at night when they’re asleep. Other businesses that require a lot of office-hours face-to-face time with clients, e.g. consulting or sales, are harder to run from home.
And you don’t need to think small and local when running a business from home. Some of the world’s top businesses started from home or a garage in one: think of LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Ruth and Elliot Handler of Mattel, Kevin Rose of Digg, and Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack.
- Compartmentalise your work location and hours:
Children need routine and structure to give them security. You help give them this by keeping set hours and a set location in your home when you work on your business. For example, I work in a study that we try to keep off limits to our kids when I’m working and I do a lot of my work when they’re at school or asleep. Establishing a work routine based on set times and location allows you to compartmentalise your business and your family like you would if you worked for an office-based employer. Training your children to respect this work routine is critical, however inevitably kids will test these boundaries because it is hard for them to accept that they cannot come to you when you’re just a closed door away from them. This work routine enables you to improve the quality of your family and work time during their respective time slots.
- Build strong support systems and have time off for you:
To make your business-family routine work, you need your alone time to unwind, as well as strong support systems. We have a fantastic helper who looks after our kids if needed, e.g. during school holidays or if I have a client meeting. Their only-too-willing grandparents help too. Because we’re both entrepreneurs, my hubby and I can share the load when it comes to taking the kids to and from school, extramurals and playdates.
- Business meetings at the coffee shop:
Working from home can create the impression that your business is small, under-resourced and less professional. I cringe to think of the time that I was on the phone with a client and my 4-year-old ran into my office shouting “Mommy, I made a pooh – can you help me wipe my bum?” Luckily there is no need to bring your clients to your home office. Nowadays it is common business practice to have a meeting with your clients at a business-oriented coffee shop – most such as News Cafe or the Baron have wireless and are popular with business clientele.
- Tap into virtual resources
Even if you work from home to save costs, there is no need to be understaffed. Nowadays you can find qualified, hardworking virtual staff to do just about any task for you and at a fraction of the cost you’d pay to have someone physically working for you in your office. I have an MBA-degreed virtual assistant in India that I sourced through global freelance site www.elance.com. She charges $5.50 (under ZA R50) an hour and does Internet research, admin tasks and other work that can be done online or via email. The time zone differences mean that if I email her a task at 5pm, it is in my inbox the next morning. Elance also allows me to see ratings and references for her previous work, reducing the risk of hiring virtually.
There is no one routine that works for everyone – you have to find one that works best for you. Once you do find your routine, sticking to it helps your kids find structure and security, and gives you balance, while enhancing the quality of your family- and work-from-home time.