Guest blog post by Sarah Hanstock of Desk to Done
When you’re starting out in business, working from home seems like the perfect solution.
Aside from the fact that solopreneur start-up budgets don’t leave much room for renting office space, who wouldn’t want to swan downstairs at 10 am every morning and sit down to work in their pyjamas after a leisurely breakfast? What could be better than spending an hour or two blogging or sketching out some inspirational designs for your client’s new website, before pottering over to the local café to meet your friends for lunch? How great would it be to curl up on the couch with some tea and cake for a movie marathon, if you weren’t quite feeling up to work in the afternoon?
Sadly, as with many things, the reality of work from home life often doesn’t quite match up to the fantasy. Running a business is tough going and juggling work, home and family soon turns into a delicate balancing act.
You find yourself working evenings and weekends to try and catch up.
Your work-life balance is non-existent, with family time, exercise, hobbies and sleep all taking a hit. The laundry’s piling up, you realise the dog’s not really all that great at conversation and you’re concerned you might be developing a vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight.
Before you know it, you’re so overwhelmed by the daily demands of life as an entrepreneur; you’re wondering if it wouldn’t be easier just to forget the whole thing and go back to the nine to five you couldn’t wait to escape from. After all, you had paid vacation time, health insurance and when you think about it, your boss wasn’t really that bad……was she?
Stop, breathe and re-focus.
Working from home can be the lifestyle change you’re looking for, but there are some things to keep in mind.
Set Your Work Hours
When you started your own business, you were probably craving more flexibility in your life - but to make it work, you need to combine this with some structure.
When you work from home, it’s all too easy to let things slide.
You have the best intentions for what you’ll get done this morning, but by the time you’ve popped on a load of washing, stopped to chat to your sister who dropped by and spent two hours on hold to the house insurance company, there’s not much time left for any client work!
Designating “work hours” for yourself will help you keep things well-balanced and on track.
Either at the weekend or first thing on a Monday morning, block out sections of time for all your business tasks in your calendar or planner. Then build in plenty of breaks, as well as time for exercise, chores, downtime and hobbies.
Don’t forget to leave some blocks of buffer time for when the unexpected happens! Giving yourself deadlines like this, even self-imposed ones will sharpen your focus, create a sense of urgency and boost your productivity.
Being your own boss means that to some extent, you can work within your preferences here.
If you’re at your most creative first thing in the morning, then perhaps that’s when you tackle the content for your new online course. If you find yourself flagging around 3 pm, work on a low energy task like sorting out your inbox, or better still, take a break. If you need to schedule your work time around other commitments, that’s ok too.
After all, part of the reason you became self-employed was so you could pick up the kids from school or take advantage of a beautiful day to head out for a walk on the beach.
You have to be strict with yourself though. If you take time out of your “working day”, plan to make up for it. Otherwise, it won’t be long before you’re feeling the pressure of mounting deadlines and struggling to keep up.
Use Social Media to Stay Social
Working from home allows you to escape office politics and that annoying co-worker who insisted on making very loud, very personal phone calls eight times a day, but it can also be incredibly lonely!
It’s so important to find ways to connect with others to avoid feelings of isolation, which can really start to affect your mood after a while.
Depending on where you live, you may need to be a little creative about this, but there are ways to make sure you’re still making human contact on a regular basis.
You’re using social media to promote your business, but are you using it to make connections?
Joining Facebook groups can be a great way to meet like-minded entrepreneurs who will completely understand the challenges you’re facing. Don’t just be a lurker though, be helpful, get involved and you may find that not only can you share a problem or get advice on a tricky client, you might come across some new business opportunities too.
Twitter chats are another good opportunity to raise your business profile and connect with people in your industry, as well as potential clients. Depending on the group involved, they can be quite fast and furious and may take a little time to get the hang of, but you’ll find that in general most Twitter users are very welcoming and it’s a great place to hang out if you’re looking for some advice or a chat.
Grow Your Network
The idea of networking might make you cringe, but it really is essential, not just to promote your business but as a way to make new biz-friends! You may need to change your idea of what’s involved though.
Gone are the days of hanging around a stuffy hotel room, blurting out your elevator pitch and frantically handing over business cards to everyone you meet. My most recent “networking” event was hiking in the mountains on a beautiful Sunday morning with a really fun crew of ladies!
When you meet someone at a networking event, just engage in normal conversation with them, without the intention of trying to pull the hard sell. Listen and find out more about them and their business, you never know who you might meet!
One of the advantages of our online world is that you don’t have to feel alone in business, even if you live in the smallest of small towns. If there’s no Chamber of Commerce or local business network that you like the look of, join an online community like Women’s Inspire Network. They have a global membership base and because they meet virtually, you have all the benefits of a “real life” group from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Don’t Work from Home
At least, don’t work from home all the time.
If it’s just you and your laptop, locked in your home office day after day with only the cat for company, there is no doubt you will go stir-crazy. It’s crucial to find ways to change things up a bit.
There are so many great coworking and hot desking facilities springing up all over the place now. If you’re lucky enough to live within reach of one of these, why not go and try it out? Apart from giving yourself a change of scenery, you’ll meet and chat with lots of other freelancers who feel your pain! You might also find that a chance conversation sparks a new idea or business collaboration?
If your budget doesn’t stretch to that, there are still ways you can get out of the house. Take your work to the local library, a coffee shop with Wi-Fi or the lobby of a fancy hotel.
If all else fails, on a nice day, go out into the garden and set yourself up to work on the patio. Sounds like a small tweak, but a new outlook can often give your productivity a quick boost.
To work from home effectively, while still keeping your stress levels in check, set your boundaries from the start. Otherwise, you’ll find that you lose all separation between work, family and leisure time and that’s the quickest route to burnout.
Make sure to stay connected and build a good support network for yourself. That way your solopreneur journey will run much more smoothly and you’ll have someone to lean on if you do veer a little off course. Do you have any tips for keeping it together while working from home? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Sarah is the owner of Desk to Done, providing creative support for stressed-out entrepreneurs. Fond of problem solving and plain English, she’ll help you tackle your To-Do list and get stuff done. A mine of useless information, when she’s not herding cattle or eating far too much cake, she’s on a mission to make every word of your copy and content count.
Read more of her meanderings on Twitter @desktodone