Some people think that hiring a home-based professional to help their business is a gamble. Home-based entrepreneurs aren't productive or professional enough, right? They get distracted easily. There's always a kid needing something, so the work you need may not get done on time.
Of course, those statements aren't true, but those are the types of concerns some clients have when considering whether to hire a home-based professional. "There is a stigma attached to being a work-at-home, an unwritten belief that if you've made nurturing your children a priority, you are somehow less of a businessperson," says Pat Williams, a home-based virtual assistant.
Your job is to convince them otherwise.
- Play the part. The best way to show potential clients how professional you are is to prove it from the very beginning.
"The work-at-home stigma has stuck with me," says Karin King of The Telecommute Resource. "Some people may believe they can take advantage of your time because you are at home, and nothing can be further from the truth. There were times when my ex would just leave the kids with me while I was trying to program, and others would call all day long. Now I just have my emergency phone and business phones on during the day."
Set firm boundaries with friends, family and neighbors upfront. Don't be afraid to say no to neighborly favors during work time. Politely let them know you'd be happy to help when you are off work at 4 p.m.
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- Have the right equipment. The kind of software and hardware you are going to need varies considerably, depending on what type of work you do from home. Generally, a computer, fax, phone line and internet connection are the minimum requirements. You may also need to be able to communicate through IM, or instant messaging. Similar to a chat room, IM is a fast means of communicating with one or more people in real time over the internet. Yahoo and AOL offer programs, as does Skype.
- Have the right environment. A dedicated space is mandatory, and its helpfulness cannot be overstated. If you are taking calls from your client and you can't find what you need, or she can hear the washing machine in the background, you may be presenting a less-than-professional image.
- Watch your marketing. "If I am going to hire a virtual assistant, I want to know how efficient you are, how good a job you will do for me." says Scott Stratten, the mind behind Un-Marketing Viral Marketing consulting. "When I hire you, it's about my needs. When you trumpet the fact you are a work-at-home mom, you are sending me the message that your kids will take priority.
"Your current family situation is irrelevant to me as a potential client," Stratten says. "I need to know about your professional experience. I don't want to know whether or not you have distractions."
That's why Jessica Smith, chief mom advisor at MomForce.com, doesn't mention motherhood when she markets herself. Instead, she describes herself as "a consultant who happens to work virtually."
- Gather support. Growing numbers of moms are finding that working from home is extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. While some may fear becoming isolated by working at home, there is more support than ever for mothers who are business owners, with groups such as HireMyMom.com, the National Association of Women Business Owners and Home Based Working Moms, an online community and professional association of moms who work at home or want to.