With an estimated 2.1 million businesses based at home (a number which is growing fast), many of them operating in a family environment, more and more small business owners are torn between concentrating on a successful career and meeting the needs of a family.
Many small businesses are successfully started up from home, and there are huge advantages of doing this while you get your business off the ground.
The biggest benefit for a small business is that you do not have to fork out on the cost of premises in the early days. You also save huge amounts of time in looking for premises. Another advantage is that you can create more time to work on your business because your commute will be taking a few steps from the kitchen!
But the downsides are huge too. As a new business owner you will, very probably, be putting in some very long hours. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself burning the candle at both ends, and constantly ignoring your family in favour of your new venture.
Working from home brings every business owner their own unique problems, but there are some fundamental tips which should help you to create a healthy balance between work and family duties. Follow these golden rules and you be able to successfully work from home, even if you’re a workaholic:
Have a separate area for work
You hear entrepreneurs talk about starting up from the kitchen table – the reality is a little different. To function properly our business needs its own permanent separate space.
Ideally, you would dedicate a whole room for this but as new business owners soon find out, it’s not an ideal world. Consider if a garage or conservatory can be adapted, or a desk squeezed into a spare room.
Depending on your budget, you could also consider setting up a garden office to ensure you have a real physical divide between work and the home.
If you don’t have a separate room it is essential to have a physical divide between your working environment, and the rest of the house. Even if your desk is squeezed into a corner of a small bedroom, you need to keep the immediate area around it free of any household junk or potential distraction.
Businesses generate huge amounts of paperwork and mess, and should be kept away from domestic life. Not only will that help the whole family understand basics like the computer in the office being for business only, but it should prevent important paperwork from being being doodled on!
Using a room or piece of furniture for both business and domestic use will eventually lead to a nasty clash of the two. You don’t need to spend a fortune preparing a room.
The space you need will depend on the work you’re doing – you can’t assemble mechanical parts in your lounge, and a domestic garage may not be big enough. And if you are going to be talking to clients on the phone you’ll want a space that’s well away from the family.
Manage your family
One of the other advantages of a separate space is that it’s clear for your family to know when you are and aren’t working.
It can be hard for them to leave you alone while you are at home, especially for children. Set clear rules that while you are in the office, you shouldn’t be bothered for trivial things. But also be clear about what time you will “leave” your office and rejoin the family – a clear deadline that you stick to will make it easier for everyone.
By the way, if you think you can run a business and child mind at the same time – very few people can. Children and small businesses have competing demands, and it’s not healthy to try and focus on both at the same time. The stress of trying to do this can adversely affect both you and your little ones.
Manage your time
One of the hardest parts of working from home is managing your time. It’s as easy to “just pop into the office” and spend much of your weekend working, as it is to waste time during the working day.
Setting yourself a fixed routine will help you to be more productive. One of the beauties of working from home is that you can set your own hours. You may well work better late in the evening, or in the morning. Think about what suits you, and fit the family around these hours.
Set yourself some golden rules:
- Start and finish work at set times (even if it’s still a 14 hour day set times will bring much-needed structure to your day)
- Shut the office door at the end of the day to escape work and avoid the temptation to return
- And the number one golden rule: never, ever switch on the TV during the working day. It will suck you in and waste your time.
Try to keep the timetable the same each day, as it’s easy for your day to descend into bedlam unless you are strict. For example, you might decide to work from 9 until 3 during the week and then devote a few hours in the afternoon to the family.
If you have school age children, chances are you’ll find it easier to fit in your business time while they’re out of the house.
Whatever you decide, make sure everyone understands that you aren’t to be interrupted during these hours unless there’s an emergency. This not only applies to members of the household, but also to answering the front door or dealing with personal calls and interruptions.
Keep your motivation levels high
Working and living in the same space can, after a period of time, actually become quite de-motivating. You can feel that you never leave the house, especially if you don’t need to call on clients to run your business. And if your partner has a job, at the end of your day you’ll be itching to get out of the house, just as they want to stay indoors and relax.
The trick is to balance your time in your home. Using your separate space and shutting the door on it at the end of the day can help you separate the two aspects of your life in the one building. Take regular breaks during the day where you get away from your work space – a 10 minute walk will actually increase your productivity.
If you need to work in the evenings, use a laptop on the kitchen table. This will help you feel you are doing a little extra work, not just sitting in your office again.
Consider joining local business groups like your local Chamber of Commerce, the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) or a networking group. Yes it’s good for business, but it also means you’ll develop a network of contacts that you can use to stop you feeling lonely during the day and keep you in touch with real life.
If you’d prefer not to network over business, join your local Round Table or Rotary Club and give something back to your community. Taking a little time out from your business will help your growth in the long-term.
Ensure you have back up copies of your documents
Imagine how devastating it would be if you had a fire or you were burgled at home – your home and business could be destroyed in one go, so keep copies of vital documents off site.
You could keep paper copies at a friend or relative’s house, or these days it’s more practical to make use of technology to ensure copies of your documents are kept safe.
For a few pounds a month, you can easily set up an automated online backup system for your computer, such as Oobu or Mozy. It will ensure a copy of your PC’s contents are automatically backed up, helping you get your business back on its feet quickly in the event of an emergency.
Other tips to running an effective home office
Finally, a few other tips to ensure working from home is a good experience. Consider any possible impact on your neighbours. If you have lorries pulling up day and night to deliver items, they may eventually get sick of it and could even seek an injunction to stop the noise and disturbance.
If you use a part of your home purely for business, you may be liable for business rates on it – check with your local council. You should also check your insurance to ensure you are covered for working from home, and check there are no restrictions in your mortgage or rental agreement.
Follow these tips and you’ll give yourself the best chance of successfully running a business from home, while still being able to enjoy the space with your family.
More help on ByteStart
For more on the subject, read;
- Working from home guide for small business owners and their employees
- Working from home? Watch out for these insurance policy pitfalls
More tips on starting a successful small business
And if you are starting a new business, for lots more practical advice and help to get you up and running, make sure you read these great ByteStart guides;