Working on a home business while raising a family is not easy. Let’s face it: raising a family and growing a business are both full-time jobs. Work schedules can often overlap and priorities conflict with each other.
While most adults — whether employees or entrepreneurs — experience difficulties balancing work and family life, conflicts with family becomes common because the work place is just a few steps away from the family space. With no receptionist or downtown corporate office to separate family and work, the easy accessibility of other family members to your work area can become a nightmare particularly if you are faced with tremendous pressures and deadlines.
Given the peculiarities of home-based businesses, you have to create boundaries to make sure you have time to do your work. However, you also need to understand that part of running a home business is the flexibility, and that flexibility can sometimes be called to order.
Work-Life Balance: You and Your Family
Every work-at-home entrepreneur should first and foremost understand that it is easier to run a home-based business surrounded by family harmony than it is to run a home enterprise where you are continually emphasizing your boundaries. Remember, one of the biggest draws to home employment for the working parent is the opportunity to spend more time with the family.
As the work-at-home parent dedicate more hours to the business, particularly during the crucial start-up phase, it can have significant implications for nurturing the children. While time is often the greatest concern, there is also the psychological impact of work on home and home on work. On the positive note, a hard-at-work parent can send positive workplace role models to the children. Historically, children who are raised by entrepreneurs do tend to become entrepreneurs themselves.
How do you tell your children that mommy and/or daddy is at home, but should be given space and time to work? It will be necessary to explain to your children that even though you are at home, you are, in a sense “not at home,” that you are working. This does not apply to an emergency, of course, but for nearly all-ordinary moments it means they are not allowed to disturb you. When children, or even spouses, could easily interrupt, make it clear what is an acceptable interruption. You may even have to lock the door that leads to your work area.
On the other side, there is the situation regarding other adults in the household, from whom you might want some help from in running the business. One home business book described this as the “honey-do” problem: honey, do this; honey, do that. It’s best to come to some understanding with your spouse (and any other adult in your home) about just how you are going to handle this problem.
If you feel you can incorporate your family into parts of your business, it might help them to better understand your needs and constraints. It is one thing for your spouse or children to see you completely stressed out; it’s quite another for them to be in your office when that high-volume order comes in on short notice. Especially for children, it is a good idea to demonstrate your commitment to your work.
It’s quite sensible to desire the help of those other capable adults because they can take some of the burdens of the business off your shoulders. However, from both a business viewpoint and from the human relations viewpoint, it’s best to have a clear understanding with each of them as to what kind of things they will and should do (answer the phone, open mail, pack and ship merchandise, etc.) and what they definitely are not to do make payments to people without your authorization, make agreements, deals or contracts without asking you). Such advance agreements can avoid a lot of aggravation and make everything go much more smoothly.
Managing the “Toddlers”
If you have two or three kids with age range of 3 to 5, you will definitely be up to your neck. While often restless and cannot stay put for a minute, it does not mean that toddlers cannot be trained to cooperate with you while you are working. I know of a friend who was able to manage these ‘coyotes’ perfectly during their supposed ‘office hours’.
My friend installed three tiny office desks beside her own office desk. These tiny offices were complete with a toy telephone, bunches of coloring books, Nursery Rhymes, Bible Stories, Children’s Picture Books, a generous stack of ‘writing paper’. Their snacks and beverages are prepared and kept in the refrigerator for them to go and pick it up whenever they are hungry.
When mom is sitting at her desk working, the kids are instructed to work silently at his or her own desk. Everyone must show the ‘assignments’ to mom during breaks. Breaks are timed every hour, to allow the children time to play with each other and with Mom. After two weeks of firm implementation, the children automatically reported to their own little office space after breakfast and everyone silently did their own share of what mom has assigned them to do.
You Work from Home … But When Do You Stop?
One of the most common complaints against home-based entrepreneurs is that they sometimes never know when to stop. After dinner, the entrepreneur in the family will rush off to his or her computer to check emails, maybe do some book keeping chores or perform a hundred other business-related tasks – instead of interacting with the rest of the family members. Scenarios like these could result to resentments from other family members; becoming the common source of family arguments. Remember, you need your family’s support, even if it seems as if your family has no idea what pressures you’re facing.
There are countless ways for families to resolve this problem. First and foremost, you need to realize that you can only give so many hours to the business, and the business need to develop at a pace that matches that contribute effort. You would not want to reach the situation when you would be made to choose between spending time on your business excessively and keeping your family intact.
One solution is to set aside a special time each day or week that is designated as “family time.” During this time, you will accept no phone calls, set no appointments, and not even think about your business. You will probably not even want to stay near your home office, Think about going to dinner and sharing the three best things that happened to each family member during the week.
What should you do in the event that a client or customer wants to meet during one of your special family times? You can handle it in one of two ways: first, you could rearrange your family time. But a better solution might be to simply say, “I am already meeting with a client at that time … is there another time that works for you?” Others will respect your attention to commitments, and you never have to offer an explanation for whom you’re meeting with, and why.
Another solution is to establish a compromise: your family can allow you to work long hours for the first few months during your start-up phase. When the time is over, you will agree to reduce your work hours by either hiring assistants or reconsider whether the business is worth the trouble and strife.
This problem should never be ignored. If you ignore the situation, you may cause larger problems in your business, your family – or worse, for both.
“Hello, this is Daddy’s business”
One of the complications to running a business from home is when a fairly small child answers the phone for a business call. Some business owners see this as a disaster, while others do not see this as a problem.
Whether this is appropriate or not depends on the nature of your business, the nature of your clients, and the training your child has with the telephone. “No, this isn’t the Copeland’s Enterprises, this is my house” may throw a business associate calling your “office” for a loop, temporarily. Most people react quite graciously to this, but it does point up the advantage of having a separate business number that rings only in your work area and to instruct your children not to answer the business line. In the age of voice mails, business communication can still reach you without necessarily having a live person answer the phone.
Sometimes though, a small child can be handy in answering phones if you are busy on another line or somewhere else in your home place. However, you need to consider the impact to a new client when she or he hears a child yelling, “It’s for you, Dad.” For a more professional first impression, it is advisable to rely on voice mail instead of a small child.
You will need to develop the skill to work around any obstacle or challenge, and the best way to accomplish a good balance between work and home life is to follow a time-management program. Scheduling your time is the best way to make sure everything gets done. The rest is just recognizing that it is possible to have two loves: your business and your family.
Recommended Books on Work-Life Balance:
- Life Matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work, family, time, & money
- Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
- Stop Living Your Job, Start Living Your Life: 85 Simple Strategies to Achieve Work-Life Balance
- Life Is Not Work, Work Is Not Life: Simple Reminders for Finding Balance in a 24/7 World