Leaving corporate America to run a homebased business is the ideal situation for many people: There's no boss breathing down your neck, no boring meetings to attend and no 45-minute drives in rush hour traffic. Working from home can be a rewarding experience, but it's easy to forget the basic rules of running a successful business when it's 10 hours of just you, your computer and the distractions of home.
To help you stay on track, we've contacted homebased business expert Rosalind Resnick, CEO of Axxess Business Centers Inc., a New York small-business consulting firm. Resnick is a former business journalist who has regularly contributed her expertise to Entrepreneur.com. She's put together eight helpful tips for keeping your homebased business running smoothly.
- Structure your day. The problem a lot of homebased business owners have is that they no longer have a boss standing over them making sure they get their work done, or a tangible start and end of each workday. It's easy to let time slip by as you head to the refrigerator, catch a few minutes of TV, or dive into a project first thing in the morning, neglecting the other tasks you need to perform to keep your business running smoothly.
Create a structure that mimics what you had in the workplace. Structure your day so you have a start and finish time, with certain hours set aside for specific activities. A general rule is to spend the first hour of the day prospecting for new clients. Send your emails, write your letters and make your phone calls first thing so you don't forget to do it later.
Use Outlook or some sort of contact management software to serve as a visual reminder of what you need to accomplish that day. Live and die by your to-do-list. Try to have everything crossed off by the end of the day. Even my own children know that if they want me to do something for them during working hours, they have to put it on my to-do-list or it will never get done.
- Stay connected. Carry an organizer wherever you go. If you're still using a day planner or similar dinosaur, consider upgrading to a Blackberry or other high-tech gadget. You don't need to go crazy and spend a lot of money, but invest wisely in something that will hold everything you need and allow you to instantly access it on the go. Another good idea is to not keep all of your information in one location, such as the hard drive of your home computer. Keep your data hosted on a virtual exchange server so you can access it anywhere that has an Internet connection. A big misconception about homebased business owners is that they stay at home all day, everyday. And as you know, that's just not always true.
- Organize your family time. Once your professional life is organized, you may need to consider organizing your personal life. Maybe you noticed right away, or maybe it's just becoming apparent, that you tend to work around the schedule of your family members. This is especially true if you have children. A lot of people, especially young moms, decide that they're going to quit their jobs in corporate America and work from home in order to care for their children and save on daycare expenses. But in reality, if you're serious about running a homebased business and earning a decent income, you're going to have to make arrangements for childcare in or outside the home. Otherwise it becomes too distracting. Consider hiring a babysitter so you're guaranteed five to six solid hours to get your work done.
- Motivate yourself. Sit down and set some goals for yourself. You no longer have quarterly reviews or progress reports, so it's important to keep track of whether or not you're making progress in your business. It's one thing to set small goals like completing your to-do-list--you also have to set goals to motivate yourself to succeed. Hopefully by now you're making as much, if not more, money at your homebased business than you were at your former job. If you aren't, begin by setting a goal to bring in the same amount of income you were, and slowly raise the bar to increase your income by a couple of thousand a month. Once you've met a goal, make time to reward yourself by doing something fun, which brings us to the next tip.
- Take time out for good behavior. It's not uncommon to find yourself working 60- to 70-hour weeks. But the good thing is, if you want to sneak out and see a movie at two in the afternoon, nobody's going to tell you not to do it. You have that freedom and flexibility as a home business owner. It can be tempting to work all the time when you start seeing how successful your business has become, but know when to relax. You've already established a smooth-running business. Take a break every now and then so you don't get burned out.
- Be a Jack-of-all-trades. There are a lot of roles you play as a homebased business owner: You're the CEO, president, secretary, office manager and tech support. Learn the basic skills of running an office, including how to troubleshoot some rudimentary technical problems. You don't need to become an expert, but make sure you have a basic understanding of tech support issues, bookkeeping, etc. Otherwise it will become too expensive to have to pay someone to do everything for you.
- Network. Network with other homebased business owners in either a formal or informal setting. This is a good way to find service providers, leads and potential clients. Surrounding yourself with people who also work from home will give you the support you need, and refer you to people who can help you grow your business.
- Consider moving out of your home. For a lot of people, working from home is a launching pad. In the beginning, many business owners work from home in order to keep overhead low. If you have more than one person with different roles working from your home office, you should ideally be working in separate rooms. It can be difficult having two people work side by side, even if those two people are spouses and love each other very much. It's distracting for anyone to have someone three feet away from you talking on the phone. Be prepared for expansion. At the point when your business becomes so successful that you cannot efficiently work close together, start considering moving your office outside the home.