From the January 1998 issue of Startups

Have your friends or neighbors ever asked you to help out by accepting packages or checking on their latchkey kids since you're home all day? How do you let them know, nicely, that you're not a mail center or a babysitter?

Jose Herrera, co-owner of Comptec Inc., a West New York, New Jersey, software design and computer consulting company, discovered you have to stand firm to avoid wasting time on friendly favors. "I had offered to help a friend set up his computer. This individual proceeded to hound me for the next two days. When I finally had some free time and called him to come over, he actually sounded upset because I hadn't done it sooner," he says.

"Since this experience, I put no one ahead of my business. I charge both friends and family for time I spend doing things for them--not at my usual $75 per hour rate, but I still charge them. Now I don't get hounded nearly as much."

Here are a few additional ways to deal with the issue:

1. Acknowledge that no one can force you to take care of their problems unless you allow them to.

2. Post regular work hours, and let everyone know when you will be available for personal projects.

3. Use any free time you allow yourself during the day to recharge, not to do favors for others.

4. Screen your calls. Return nonbusiness calls after business hours.


Lynn H. Colwell is a business writer in Post Falls, Idaho.

Home Remedies

When the pain started in Jean West's hands, she did what most hardworking entrepreneurs do: She ignored it.

"I was doing a lot of medical transcription," says West, who owns Type Right Secretarial Services in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. "Because there were too many interruptions during the day, I'd bang away in the evening in four- or five-hour stints. There were times when the pain got so bad, I couldn't work one more minute."

Today, more people are spending hours at the keyboard, and that means more cases of injuries like tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. These problems result when repetitive motions damage nerves, joints, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue.

West was fortunate; a split keyboard, coupled with less time spent doing intensive typing, led to freedom from the pain in a few months. But the best advice is to avoid these injuries in the first place. Here are some suggestions:

  • Warm up by doing simple stretches before starting any intensive activity. For useful stretches, read Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries, by Sharon J. Butler (New Harbinger Publications, $17.95, 800-909-9795).
  • Take lots of breaks; five-minute breathers every hour should help.
  • Use the correct equipment. Seek chairs, desks and lighting with which you're comfortable. Many people now swear by the split keyboards that helped West.
  • Maintain good posture. If you work at a desk, rest your feet flat on the floor and face straight forward. When using a computer, the desk height should allow you to maintain level, flat wrists, hands and an upright posture. Thighs and forearms should be parallel to the floor.

Write It Off

Last summer's federal budget agreement included a major change for homebased businesses. Those who perform a good portion of their work away from home will now be able to take a home-office deduction, providing they meet two criteria:

1. The home must be used for administrative and management activities.

2. There can be no other fixed location for this business where substantial administrative and management activities are performed. Whatever proportion of nonadministrative and nonmanagerial work you do at another site is irrelevant.

"While the change doesn't go into effect until January 1, 1999," says Sherry Stringer, a CPA and partner in Jones & Co. Ltd. in Jonesboro, Arkansas, "I think there's a good chance the IRS will probably ease up on restrictions until the change is in place."

Contact Sources

Jones & Co. Ltd., (870) 935-2871, http://www/jonescpa.com

Type Right Secretarial Services, (813) 596-2534, impactres@aol.com