Draw The Line

Setting Limits

Most homebased entrepreneurs wouldn't--or couldn't--go as far as Melnick in actively integrating the family into the business. While they might rail at having offices that double as playrooms, they understand that a plumber's visit might interfere with their work schedule and that toys sometimes spill over into their offices just as their papers sometimes spill over onto dining room tables.

What creative compromises can homebased entrepreneurs make to keep the fuzzy line between business and home from becoming a blur?

*Take advantage of the 24-hour day. Coming in at eight in the morning and leaving at five in the afternoon may be the standard for corporate America, but it's never been the golden rule for entrepreneurs. In fact, for homebased entrepreneurs, it's unheard of. When, on occasion, home life eats into the day's work, many people start calling clients in different time zones at unheard of business hours: 10 p.m. or 3 a.m. Others, like Allen Shulman, president of Northstar Homes Inc., a custom homebuilder in Northbrook, Illinois, return to their offices after the family has settled in for the evening, put on some favorite music and handle the paperwork.

*Make it a family affair. Kids who are routinely involved in a parent's homebased business have an appreciation of what being an entrepreneur is all about. At first, maybe they can only open mail, make copies or lick stamps. But as they get older, their involvement can increase. "Kids are eager to learn," says Liane Lemons, who started her Boise, Idaho, CPA practice in her home when her children were young. Now, her children file, make bank deposits and even act as her secretary when needed.

*Hire a helper. Think of creating a new position within your firm and your family--a life helper. CeCe Peabody, president of Peabody Advertising Co. Inc. in Wayne, New Jersey, has found such a gem in Dorothy LaPenna. LaPenna started at Peabody Advertising as an outside salesperson, but she became so valuable to the home and business that she got promoted to life helper. What does she do? "Everything," says Peabody, "from running the office to getting groceries. She even helped me clean my house before a big party once. The best thing is that she keeps me organized and anticipates what needs to be done."

*Don't go out for milk. Distractions, from an overflowing laundry hamper to exercise equipment beckoning to be used, can draw you away from the focus of your business. "The first year I worked from home," says John McDonnell, "I used to hop into the car to get [groceries] whenever we ran out." It could have meant two or three trips a day to the grocery store for the writer/editor, whose freelance business is run out of the Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, home he shares with his wife and four children. He soon realized if he wanted to get any work done, he couldn't do that. That's why he and other homebased business owners have found that setting aside specific time for home duties and personal pleasures works well.

*Live by the rules . . . whenever possible. Linda Johnson, president of Morning Star Organizational Development, a human resource and diversity development firm in Queens, New York, tries to block out her work time, her family time and the time when she'll combine them, like phoning a client while she's preparing dinner. Others put "Do not disturb" signs on the office door. Still others establish "office hours." Naturally, in cases of emergency, these self-imposed rules don't work. But they're useful in establishing patterns and habits.

*Take advantage of technology. Mute buttons were made for those moments when you're on the phone and all hell breaks loose between your kids in the kitchen. Home observation systems, with their video components, allow you to glance in on children and babysitters without interruptions. And, of course, having two phone lines, with the business one off limits to the family, is a must.

No doubt about it. The line between home and business is fuzzy for most homebased entrepreneurs. But that may be just what many want--the loose integration of the two worlds, not a rigid separation.

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