QUESTION: One reason I wanted to start a homebased business was to have flexible hours. How can I work when I want to work and still be available to my clients?
ANSWER: More than any other factor, the kind of business you choose determines the flexibility of your hours. If you're an artist or a craftsperson, for example, you can usually work at your own pace during the hours of your choosing.
But service businesses, such as massage therapy, image consulting and professional organizing, usually involve appointments, so you lose a certain amount of flexibility. If you develop regular clients, some are apt to want their appointments at a particular time of day or week, but you do have the ability to negotiate appointment times with most people.
Often, you can schedule clients at times that are mutually convenient. In fact, one way of specializing is to offer appointments during nontraditional hours, like at night or on weekends. After all, 40 percent of full-time employees work nontraditional schedules themselves and may prefer appointments on their way to and from work.
Many other businesses don't require particular hours and aren't appointment-centered, but clients nevertheless demand that work be delivered on deadline. In fact, we, along with Lisa Roberts, found in the national survey we did for our book, The Entrepreneurial Parent (Tarcher), that meeting deadlines was the challenge entrepreneurs most frequently mentioned.
Deadlines are a particular issue for one woman we know who subcontracts with ad agencies to do PR work for their construction industry clients. She chooses the hours she works, but she must meet the ad agencies' killer deadlines, even if it means sometimes putting her life on hold.
If you want to keep specific hours for yourself, you can follow the example of another entrepreneur we know. She tells people she has a commitment during the hours she doesn't want to work. During the "non-working" hours, e-mail and her voice-mail system allow clients to contact her.
If you are willing to be "electronically tethered," as so many corporate employees are today, a cell phone, a pager, and newer multipurpose handheld devices such as Handspring's Treo 300 and the Danger Hiphop can enable clients to contact you regardless of time and place. That will give you the flexibility to go about your life and still be available to clients who must reach you.
Ultimately, finding a satisfactory level of flexibility depends on what flexibility means to you, and what trade-offs you're willing to make.