Increasing numbers of aspiring entrepreneurs are parents who hope their businesses can thrive under the same roofs as their families. Numerous national organizations are now devoted to offering networking possibilities and financial and business advice to parents who run businesses from home.
Is it possible to have it all? Are homebased entrepreneurs able to achieve their dreams of bridging both worlds? The seven tips that follow come from experts and parents who've been there.
1. Consider starting a family-friendly business. John Slevens is a regular on the hospital and school circuits as the homebased proprietor of Uncle John's Traveling Musical Puppet Show in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. His business allows him to take his children along to shows and to honor his commitment to structuring his work around their schedules. "In my business, being a work-at-home dad with two kids adds to my credibility," Slevens says. "And when I say I can't do shows after 3:30 p.m. because I need to pick up my son, schools understand." Slevens is grateful his homebased business has allowed his children to have a parent available at all times. "My kids have a strong, guiding parent any time they need one--when they get into trouble or call out in the middle of the night. They're happier and more confident now that I'm at home."
Peter Baylies, editor of "At-Home Dad," a quarterly newsletter for fathers with homebased businesses, advises parents considering starting a homebased company to choose a business in which they can stop working momentarily at any time, preferably one that doesn't involve constant phone calls. "When you're on the phone all the time, kids know you're not paying attention to them," he says. "A business where you can use e-mail as much as possible helps, because you're able to communicate at any hour of the day or night, when they're asleep or occupied elsewhere."
2. Make the most of child-free hours for tasks that require concentration. One of the greatest advantages of a homebased business is flexibility: You decide when you work. Jeanette Lisefski, founder of the At-Home Mothers' Resource Center and the National Association of At-Home Mothers in Fairfield, Iowa, suggests scheduling important phone calls and tasks that require focused attention during your child's nap times. Parents of preschoolers may consider trading babysitting with another work-at-home parent to gain additional "focused" time. "Don't let anything else distract you during this time," she says. "Be ready to jump right in when you have that precious, uninterrupted time." Save simpler tasks for when you must work while your children are present and you can more easily handle distractions.
3. Take control of your telephone calls. "Each mom and dad knows a ringing telephone is a signal to his or her children that their attention is about to go to someone else," Lisefski says. "They'll immediately and desperately need you!" Invest in a quality answering machine or use a voice-mail service so you can return business calls at a time when you won't be interrupted. "For calls that you need to take, keep a drawer near your phone full of little `phone-time' surprises for your children," she says. "These can be stickers, modeling clay, Silly Putty, small toys or healthy snacks."
4. Schedule your time and prioritize. Sherri Breetzke, owner of The Creativity Zone, an Internet gift-shop business in Melbourne, Florida, uses a timer on days when she needs to get a lot of work done. "I set the timer and work for 45 minutes, then set it for 15 minutes to take a break with my 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, until the timer goes off again," Breetzke says. "We've gone several hours that way when I'm really backed up. We have pillow fights, play ball--whatever she wants to do."
Lisefski reminds homebased entrepreneurs to avoid the "Supermom" or "Superdad" syndrome by being realistic about the time they have to do everything. "Delegate household tasks," she advises. "Keep reminding yourself of your priorities, and don't let the business take over. Don't be tempted to work every night and all weekend. Turn on the answering machine, close the door and take time off, just as you would if you were working outside the home."
Lisefski also suggests setting aside regular time with children to promote their happiness while you're working at home. "Make sure you can stop work when children come home from school so they'll have your attention as they unwind and tell you about their day. After they've reconnected with you, they'll be more willing to let you get back to work without interruptions."
5. Establish your office in a separate area from the kids. Setting up your office in a private area will help your children respect the time you spend there. This space should not only have everything you need to run your business, but it should also be baby-proofed. "Mixing toddlers and office equipment can be dangerous," Lisefski says. "Put as much equipment out of reach as possible, cover disk drives to avoid food and toys being inserted and use electric-outlet and plug protectors."
6. Create a child-friendly office. If you're uncomfortable having your children out of your sight, you may want to let your child create his or her own "office" with a child's desk and chair next to your own desk, so you can supervise as needed. Breetzke believes the best thing she's done to keep her 3- and 7-year-old children happy has been to replace her dining room table with a used desk filled with craft supplies for the kids to work on while she works.
7. Share successes with your kids. "Remember that owning a homebased business is a lifestyle that affects the whole family," says Lisa Roberts, author of How to Raise a Family and a Career Under One Roof. (See "Home Improvement" on page 8 for ordering information.) "Share your victories, challenges and rewards as often as possible. If your children feel like they're a part of what you're doing, they'll be much more supportive than if they see your business as something that's just taking you away from them." Roberts often celebrates her career-related victories with her children. "Many times over the years I've hung up after a business-related call or finished reading an e-mail bearing positive news, turned on the stereo and danced happily with my preschoolers," she says. "I don't think it matters what the news is--the details go over their heads, but the mood penetrates. Spontaneous moments like these are a unique benefit of working at home."
Carolyn Campbell, a home-office entrepreneur for 20 years, has written more than 200 magazine articles.