From the December 1999 issue of Startups

Cris Ganz used to partake in some serious holiday parties. A former design manager with Blockbuster Entertainment, Ganz would celebrate with hundreds of co-workers--drinks and food flowed, tinsel sparkled and bands played in the background.

Then, two years ago, Ganz headed home to work. But she never lost the spirit. Like her home itself, her home office is decked in lights, ornaments and holiday music. A screensaver sprinkles falling snow across her monitor. This helps Ganz get in the holiday mood, even though she works alone at Gonzo Design, her graphic-design business.

"I get into the Christmas spirit even when I'm sitting in my office doing my day-to-day work," says Ganz, who sends cards and gifts to clients to keep spirits high--and contacts strong--during the season. "I like to be reminded it's the season. I'll do anything to liven up a dull office."

For millions of Americans who work from home, the lack of corporate holiday merrymaking is sorely felt. Your transition from the camaraderie of the corporate workplace to the isolation of the home office can make the holidays disheartening at best, depressing at worst. Combine those factors with the common year-end slowdown in business and the "holiday blues" suffered by some, and it all adds up to a potentially melancholy season.

"For people who work from home, the sense of isolation may really be more profound [during the holidays] than at other times of the year," says Gloria Donaldson, a principal of The Reed Organization, a corporate management psychology firm. Donaldson says the person prone to isolation anxiety needs to plan ways to connect with other people.

The Holiday Circuit
What's a homebased entrepreneur to do? Create some home-office holiday spirit. Head out of the home office to meet and party with others, says John Putzier, president of both SHRM High-Tech Net, a human resources association, and FirStep Inc., a human resources consulting firm. Putzier also suggests calling on past employers, client businesses, peers and partners--and hitting their holiday parties or hosting a party of your own. Or you can ferret out the festivities of the local chamber of commerce or your professional organization.

Don and Sheryl Grimme, owners of GHR Training Solutions, a human resources training firm, share the holiday spirit with those less fortunate. Sheryl volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Don divides his time between three human resource and training organizations, helping to organize and participating in networking and holiday events. In fact, they don't just limit their philanthropy to the holiday season. "What we do at this time of year is similar to what we do throughout the year," Don says.

'Tis The Season to Think Marketing
More than just being in the spirit of a Hallmark holiday, sending gifts and customized greeting cards to customers, clients, peers and allies can be a guerrilla marketing tool, says Brian Norris, a homebased business marketing expert.

Using his PC and digital imagery, Norris creates a playful card (this year, he's pictured wrapped in Christmas lights, with a candy cane hung like a pipe from his lips). It's mailed to some clients, and e-mailed to others. The image is also posted on his Web site.

"Not only do the cards showcase my expertise, but recipients tell me my card is the only one they save every year," says Norris, who also creates creative holiday cards for his clients. "In fact, when I visit a client's office months later, the card is usually still on display."

Making a List
Whenever you feel the holiday blues creeping in, try one or more of these to get the spirit back into your home office.

  • Play holiday music. Use a portable CD player, house stereo or the CD-ROM drive in your PC to play holiday or seasonal melodies.
  • Light up the office. Depending on the religious holiday you celebrate, use an electric Chanukah menorah, Kwanzaa regalia or Christmas lights to brighten the office. Log on to find holiday visual images that can be used as your PC's screen saver.
  • Spread the professional spirit. Read the business section of the local newspaper or scan your mail to find and attend holiday parties hosted by the local chamber, your professional association or other networking groups. This way, you'll have a full calendar for the holidays, getting you out of your home office and providing networking opportunities.
  • Party with your former co-workers. If you left your former employer on good terms, then you might be welcome at its holiday party. This lets you catch up on personal news and old times with former co-workers, and possibly ferret out some new work assignments.
  • Host your own theme party. Get creative. Host a fun holiday theme party at your home office. Ask attendees to bring a food item or dress in a way that represents their ideas of the holiday, or perhaps their ethnic background. Create matching invitations on your computer and send them out to your clients and vendors.
  • Hold a "home-office block party." Know some neighbors who also work from home? Throw a home-office block party to celebrate the spirit of the holidays--and your work-at-home lifestyles. This way, you'll build stronger networking and business relationships that will last throughout the year.
  • Be charitable. Giving back during the holidays is a good way to buoy the spirit. Locate a worthy charity to donate your time to--and then offer your generosity year-round.
  • Get out. Take the laptop, some business reading and the portable phone, and hit the patio or picnic table outside for a little light work. Or invite some home-office compatriots over to share in some brainstorming or networking. Make it festive with some holiday tunes, virgin eggnog or holiday cookies.
  • Got cards? Create festive holiday cards on your PC (using a playful image of yourself with a clever message), or buy cards at a local store. Send some to acquaintances, clients, customers, other business allies or friends you've made through the year. Not only does it spread the cheer (and result in more cards coming back your way), it widens your networking circle and makes a strong impression on new friends. You might also slip an invitation to your holiday party in the envelope.