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Running a Home Business Like a Big-Company Office

Source:WSJ.com Author:Kelly K. Spors Date:03/25/14 Click:

Renee O'Brien of Pottstown, Pa., was excited to work from home when she became an independent distributor for a women's slumber-party hosting company in 2005.

But the transition wasn't as easy as she expected: Friends would call while she was working, assuming she had ample time to chat. And she'd find herself trying to squeeze in household chores like washing dishes during her work hours.

To keep herself in check, she now carefully schedules her work time using Microsoft Outlook's calendar feature, and keeps an egg timer next to her desk to limit time spent on tasks like phone calls and checking email to 15 or 30 minutes.

"The timer startles me enough to say, 'OK, enough time on that,' " the 43-year-old Ms. O'Brien says.

Running a business from home isn't always as liberating as it sounds. With all the distractions of home, like young kids, errands and dirty dishes, competing for attention, many home-based entrepreneurs find managing their time and concentrating on work particularly daunting.

But business coaches say there are ways that entrepreneurs can make working from home a more successful experience. Here are some suggested solutions.

Have a Detailed Plan

It's tempting to treat working from home informally, since nobody's watching over your shoulder. But that's an easy way to fall off track, says Alvah Parker, a Swampscott, Mass., career transition coach.

She suggests at-home entrepreneurs write a detailed business plan that includes not just projections for the business itself, but also specifics on how you'll manage working from home. This includes laying out a regular work schedule and describing in advance how you'll handle specific scenarios, such as if a friend or relative calls during working hours or your child interrupts during an important phone call. You might even designate a time during the day or evening for household tasks, errands or recreational activities you'd otherwise be tempted to do during work hours.

Be realistic. You don't want to build a business plan where you're planning for more work hours than you can handle or ignoring obvious interruptions that are going to detract from your work time. One option: Assume that times when young kids are awake will be less productive, and plan to get the bulk of work done during nap times or when the kids are being watched by someone else.

And now the hard part: sticking to the plan. Many entrepreneurs find keeping separate to-do lists for work and home chores helps manage their time and keep the two psychologically separate.

But it's also about forcing yourself to leave the office at the scheduled time each day, since it's tempting for home-based workers to constantly be ducking in and out of work, even late into the night.

"Working at home requires you be very disciplined and really know what you have to do and when," Ms. Parker says. "That's why the plan is so important."

Broadcast Your Plan

As much as you adhere to your own grand plan, it's not always easy getting other family members or friends on board. They might see you as accessible and available to run errands, chat or do chores since you're conveniently based at home.

It's often just a matter of letting family know your regular work hours and that you expect to be working during those times. Geoff Kulesa, the 37-year-old owner of a four-employee sports-betting prediction company in Golden, Colo., discovered this when he started working full-time on his business at home in 2005. He often had to hush his three young sons while taking customer calls or ask them to go downstairs when they were running around the house.

But once they got accustomed to knowing when Dad needed to work, "it wasn't such a big problem," Mr. Kulesa says.

Some at-home entrepreneurs shut their doors during work hours or put a sign up when they need to not be interrupted, such as during an important phone call.

Find Your Own Space

Where your office is located in the home can play a big role in how distracted you become. Ideally, office space should be removed from the hustle and bustle of the home and in a separate room, with a door that shuts.

Moreover, it's best to keep a separate business phone line -- one the kids aren't permitted to answer -- and office equipment so you're not jockeying for time with other family members and there's less chance you'll be spending time answering personal calls during the workday.

Outsource Duties

One way to stifle the urge to do nonwork tasks is hiring someone else to do them.

Particularly for home-based entrepreneurs with young kids, getting in-home childcare for at least part of the workweek or taking kids to day care occasionally can keep you from being torn between work and home responsibilities, says Lesley Spencer Pyle, founder of Home-Based Working Moms, a Spring, Texas-based online community for mothers who work from home.

Also getting a housekeeper to come once a week to keep things orderly can free up work time you might otherwise be tempted to spend cleaning house. She adds: "You sort of have to pre-think out situations that might prevent you from getting your work done."
Copyrighted, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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