From the July 1999 issue of Startups

Remember when you were a kid and you'd spend each waking, sunny moment of summer running barefoot through the grass, skidding down steep hills on your bike or chucking water balloons at your pals?

Of course you do. How could you forget, when there are dozens of kids skipping down your street in childlike bliss while you're slaving away at your computer, licking envelopes and developing an acute pain in your right temple?

Depending on where you live, being a homebased entrepreneur can be more than a bit trying during those glorious summer months. The thought of meeting deadlines and drumming up new business can quickly turn into a case of the summertime blues, when you'd like nothing more than to abandon your work and join those youngsters on the swings at the park.

Obviously, you can't blow off your business--but you can't let yourself reach the point of mental breakdown either. Instead, you'll need to balance the two extremes and find ways to make the best of things.

Get Flexible

For starters, you'll want to set regular summer hours, announce them to your kids, spouse, clients--even your dog, if you need to. Observe them, and make sure they do the same. "If you have regular hours, it's very good discipline for yourself to keep them," says Julian Lange, a management consultant and professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "It works positively."

But beyond that, take a look at how you approach your work--and indeed, all the challenges and opportunities that accompany running your business. Often, those summertime blues can be cured--or at least treated--by taking advantage of the flexibility you enjoy as a homebased entrepreneur.

The key word here is flexibility, say homebased business consultants Paul and Sarah Edwards. "Scheduling solves a lot of the problems," says Sarah. "You can incorporate some of the things you enjoy doing so you don't feel like you're losing out on summer." That might mean scheduling a tennis match, spending the afternoon at the beach, having lunch with your kids--or, hey, running around on the grass for 10 minutes. (Just make sure the neighbors don't see you.)

For those of you who have kids, you'll want to arrange some activities for them to engage in while you're working, even if you have a nanny. But don't neglect scheduling some time with your kids. "You could even involve the kids on different [business] projects," says Sarah. "It can become a family time."

Vacations, too, are crucial. But if the thought of leaving your "baby" for longer than it takes you to grab a snack in the kitchen frightens you, start slowly with an afternoon of vegging in the hammock or picnicking with your kids.

Remember, you also have flexibility in terms of where you work; if possible, take your laptop or paperwork outside or hold business meetings on the deck. You can even leave the premises without losing valuable work time. Many organizations hold annual conferences in the summer; if you can find one that would help your business, go for it. "Sometimes these conferences are held in fun places and offer family facilities," says Paul. "You could tack on a vacation before or after the conference."

Take A Breather

Figure out what works for you, then do it, and do it religiously, without hesitation and without fear that your business will disappear if you sneak in a break. It won't. "There's a common fear that if we take a break or relax, we'll lose our momentum or lose our business," says Sarah. "We forget that once the car is going, we don't have to keep our accelerator [pressed] to the floorboard."

In fact, if you do become your own slave driver, your business will be in more jeopardy than if you took a breather once in a while. "As a homebased business owner, you're your number-one asset," says Sarah. "You have to keep yourself happy and satisfied, and that means taking breaks and vacations and enjoying life. It prevents you from becoming embittered toward your work."

And though mapping out every activity--down to the 2 o'clock break you'll take tomorrow--might seem tedious, it'll do you and your business more good than you could imagine.

"People don't like to feel as if they're on a treadmill and their whole life is scheduled," says Lange. "But setting a schedule helps because there's a beginning and an end to things. You get a sense of accomplishment, and don't feel guilty about taking an afternoon off."

Sure, this perfect balance of summer living and working sounds good, but how does it translate to real life? We asked four homebased business owners how they manage to keep in cool during the long, hot summer.

The Rules

It's not surprising some people say Lindsay Strand works out of a bat cave. She's got a husband, two kids, a dog and a rabbit--not to mention her own company, Lindsay Strand Associates Inc., a 10-year-old Minneapolis firm that provides consulting on media relations, and executive coaching on presentations and interview skills.

So she's found that if she wants to get any work done, she has to hole up in a corner of her house and pretend like the outside world doesn't exist. Says Strand, "You have to erect the Great Wall between the home and the office."

That can be tough, especially when summer rolls around and the kids are home with the nanny, the neighbors are popping in for a quick hello and the dog's yearning to romp in the sunshine. But with careful planning, Strand staves off the frustration that could easily sneak up on any homebased entrepreneur whose abode inevitably bustles with activity during the summer months.

For starters, Strand adjusts her work flow so spring and fall are her busiest seasons, leaving August as a lighter month when she can spend more time with her family and reevaluate business goals. "Summer is an opportunity for growth but almost more of a maintenance period," notes Strand. "I don't expect [to perform at] the highest, most intense level of work, and I don't design such a rigid schedule that if an interruption occurs, I can't recover from it."

Still, Strand is careful to clearly spell out her work hours and rules so interruptions can be kept to a minimum. "You have to establish your summer hours and communicate them to your children, clients and neighbors," says Strand. "Generally, clients are respectful of that."

With careful planning, summer can be a wonderful time for a homebased entrepreneur--if, like Strand, you allow yourself to take walks, spend time with your kids, take a day off--whatever floats your boat.

Another great benefit of being homebased, says Strand, is she's able to expose her kids to a typical work environment. For instance, she might show her 9-year-old son how to use the fax machine or her 13-year-old daughter how to assemble press kits.

Above all, the 43-year-old enjoys the expertise she's acquired over the years that allows her to lighten her summer load and spend extra time with her family. "In 10 years," she says, "I've had a chance to learn from my own mistakes."

Pairing Up

"Summer is my busiest time of year," says Karen Hopkins, homebased owner of Making Arrangements, a special events floral company in Redmond, Washington. "I don't have much choice but to work hard--and it absolutely kills me when it's a nice day outside, especially since we're near Seattle, where we treasure every bit of sun we can get."

Karen's husband, Howard, also works at home as the owner of H.C. Hopkins and Associates, a $70,000 computer programming and consulting company. And though Howard, 54, doesn't have a set time of year when he gets a rush of business, he, too, finds summer to be a bit busier for his 9-year-old firm.

It's for that reason that Karen and Howard have to reach within and find self-motivation. "I also allow myself a reward system," says Karen, 51, whose experience on the homebased front goes back 15 years. "If it's a really nice day and I just can't stand being indoors, I'll allow myself to go out and enjoy it--as long as I meet my deadlines."

To ease her workload, Karen, who projects sales of $50,000 this year, hires help on an as-needed basis and uses the slower winter months to prepare for the summer crunch. But more important, and in addition to any local networking groups they may utilize, the Hopkinses offer each other emotional support and schedule summer fun together and with their friends, two children and two grandchildren.

Vacations have also been crucial. "We've learned you have to take a break--you can burn out if you don't," says Karen, who recalls reaching burnout phase in other businesses with which she's been involved. "That's been a hard lesson for us to learn because we're very work-oriented."

But it's such an important lesson. Without time off, you can lose perspective of your life, says Howard, who, after spending 25 years in corporate America, treasures his homebased status and all the perks that accompany it. "Vacations are a time of renewal and reassessment, when you can step back and decide if there are any new goals you want to set."

The key, the couple agrees, is to constantly remind yourself why you decided to become homebased in the first place and stick by your decision. "Tell yourself 'I'm going to do it, period,' " advises Howard. "You might have to tell yourself a thousand times a day, but if that's what you have to do, then do it."

Indulge Yourself

Through her 10 years of homebased business experience, Heather Martin has learned at least one important lesson about beating those summertime blues: If you get the urge to frolic outdoors, don't fight it. "It's like dieting," says Martin, owner of SuccessWorks, a marketing communications and consulting firm in Bellingham, Washington. "If you tell yourself 'I refuse to ever eat chocolate again,' the first thing you do is start craving it, and then you go off and binge. It's the same thing with working at home--one of the beauties is that you have some flexibility."

So take advantage of that flexibility, and you'll avoid the danger of flipping out and needing more than an afternoon or a weekend of playtime. "You won't feel completely denied," says Martin, "and you won't wake up one day saying 'I haven't seen the sun in days--must take week off!' "

The 30-year-old entrepreneur, who finds herself at her busiest during the summer, has learned to steal pleasure in small shots here and there--an afternoon walk with a fellow homebased friend, a business lunch in the sun, an occasional long weekend.

Whatever the remedy, Martin finds time for it. "If I don't give myself the time I need, the focus problem becomes even worse," she says. "It does my clients--and me--no good if I'm here all stressed out because what I really want to do is go outside for 10 minutes."

Martin makes it sound easy--but there was a time when she'd draw the drapes and bury herself in her work whenever the sun peeped out. She's learned to be gentler with herself, though it's difficult at times. "I still feel guilty if I'm outside between the hours of 9 and 5," admits Martin. "I feel like I have an umbilical cord between the phone, the computer and me--but as long as I balance it and work at peak capacity, then [my breaks] are best for everyone."

Contact Sources

Julian Lange
langej@babson.edu

SuccessWorks
http://www.successwks.com
heather@successwks.com

Karen Hopkins
hopkinsl@aol.com

Lindsay Strand Associates Inc.
lsa@ix.netcom.com