Sounding Board

I Vant To Be Alone

You know the type: clients who think that just because you work at home, you should be available to them any time, day or night, weekday or weekend. Is there an unwritten rule somewhere that says homebased business owners must keep the same hours as the local 7-Eleven? Terry Pearsall, president of Technical Products Ltd., a homebased aviation consulting firm in Sterling, Virginia, says most clients restrict their calls to traditional business hours. For managing those who don't, he offers these tips:

*Set business hours. Let your clients know that when it's 5 p.m. (or whenever), the home office is closed.

*Have a dedicated business line that routes calls into voice mail or an answering machine. When it's not convenient to answer, let the equipment take a message.

*Use a pager. This is advantageous if you travel a good deal or have clients outside your local area. Pearsall uses a nationwide paging service with a toll-free number and advises clients to use the pager instead of calling his office. Then he decides when to return the call.

*Encourage faxing and e-mail for communications that don't require an immediate conversation but can't wait for regular mail. Keep your fax machine on, and check your e-mail regularly. Reply to all messages promptly during business hours.

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