Tips to survive your business from home

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Workingmother_1.jpgAs an entrepreneur working from home, I can list some distinct advantages: the flexibility of working if and when I want to and being able to dress as comfortably as I like.

As I own my home, the low overheads are a great motivation. There's no real need for clients to visit me at my office, but if the need arises, I choose a nearby coffee shop. Most entrepreneurs and small business owners conduct meetings from coffee shops these days.

And not spending hours in traffic saves time and fuel.

As much as I feel that the advantages of being an at-home entrepreneur far outweigh the challenges, it certainly is prudent to know exactly what those are. One of my top challenges is drawing clear lines between work and leisure, because I use the spare bedroom as the office.

It's helpful to have several cupboards that hold either office stuff or home stuff. This may mean packing away one lot of stuff and taking other stuff out in the morning and then reversing the deed at the end of the work day. The packing and unpacking may sound like a logistical nightmare, but the benefits are worth all the trouble.

However, this has to be done diligently to keep things where they belong and to minimise the risk of important papers going missing or getting disorganised.

Living and working in the same space is particularly trying if you have staff. Several of my clients have staff and share this space with spouses and children. In such an instance, the working space must be kept separate from the living space to avoid distractions and keep relations harmonious.

Clients, friends and even pets should be kept away from staff. Your employees are there to do a job and not to socialise with friends and family or to play with the family dog or cat. On the flip side, being close to your family is great in the case of emergency. Dropping and fetching from school is also easier as children are likely to attend a school nearby.

There is also the matter of your staff having access to your belongings. It's not only about what they may take without permission, but for me it would be about people messing with my things.

Protocols are essential for dealing with different situations and they should be negotiated before things get out of hand and cause tensions in the business. Having dedicated home and office telephone lines and distinct e-mail addresses makes it easier to separate your work time from your private life.

Where possible, converting a garage or a cottage into offices is ideal for separating work and office spaces. This means staff and clients can access a kitchen or bathroom without using your personal facilities. Most importantly, this give employees freedom.

Apart from shared facilities and delineation of spaces, working from home takes immense discipline just by itself. You have to stay focused and set yourself goals and boundaries that you must keep.

It's a good idea to set and keep office hours. Once you've done this, be firm with clients who think that because you are at home you can be called at any time of the day or night to sort out crises. One of my colleagues charges overtime rates if clients phone after business hours. This may be a useful deterrent for clients who pay scant respect to your boundaries.

Another downside of working from home is isolation. Taking time off, not just weekends and public holidays, is useful for socialising and building contacts. And just because you work from home, it doesn't mean you don't need to take time off to recharge your batteries. Organise regular weekends away to clear your mind and keep you motivated. First prize would be to escape for a few weeks without your laptop.

As a workaholic and an insomniac, I have great difficulty in switching off at the end of the day. I often find myself going up the stairs and instead of turning left to go into my bedroom I turn right into my office, where I can often be found working away into the small hours of the night.

This article first appeared in the Business Report on the 14th of May 2009.

Nikki Viljoen is an internal auditor, business administration specialist and the owner of Viljoen Consulting, a specialist Internal Audit company. Viljoen Consulting recognizes the absolute necessity for SMME’s to implement best practices in respect of policies, procedures, flows, controls and other preventative practices, thereby protecting the company from possible fraud and other related losses.

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