It Takes A Village

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This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Subscribe »

If you were running your business 25 miles from where you live, you wouldn't give a second thought to hiring people to help you run your home . . . or your business. You wouldn't give up a day's work and perhaps a handsome commission to stay home waiting for the carpet cleaners. Nor would you scrimp on having the technical support you need to keep your computer system up and running if it were the heart of your operation.

Why, then, do some people treat themselves differently when they run a business from their home?

If you're tired of being so self-sufficient and are contemplating hiring help, you're probably asking yourself this question: Is it worth it to pay for people whom you have to manage when one of the reasons you're running your business from home is to simplify your life? Most certainly, says Jennifer White, president of The JWC Group, a Cincinnati success coaching firm, and author of Work Less, Make More (Kendall/Hunt Publishing). If you focus on what's important to you --regarding your business and your personal life--you'll get more pleasure out of and be more successful with both.

White calls this hired help the "support team, not the sabotage team." To her, a support team is composed of people who support you and what you're trying to do. They're the people who allow you to focus on your top priorities by taking over your other responsibilities. "If you spend 80 percent of your time focused on things you do well and enjoy, your business will be profitable," White says. "When people stick to that ratio, they have no problem integrating their home and personal lives with their businesses."

Patricia Schiff Estess is a contributing writer to Entrepreneurmagazine and the author of Kids, Money & Values (Betterway Press).

Help Wanted

Who are these "life helpers"? Every homebased business owner's list is different, of course, but some of the most important support people include:

*A child-care provider, for those with young children. The hand that uses the computer often can't be the one that rocks the cradle, too.

*A person to handle housekeeping. You want someone who has the same gusto while vacuuming and ironing that you have when working on a deal.

*An accountant or bookkeeper (or both, depending on the size of your business) who understands accounting isn't your forte or your primary interest and doesn't chastise you for not doing more of it. You'll need someone who's smart enough about your business to offer financial advice when needed.

*A technical support person who's on call when your computer crashes and lets you know what new programs have been released to help you operate more efficiently.

*An assistant who comes in on a regular, part- or full-time basis to do anything and everything you might need, including walking the dog, getting a mailing out or going shopping. This person understands that, for you, marketing doesn't mean going to the grocery store.

*A personal trainer, either at a gym or one who comes to your home, to help you keep you strong and physically fit.

Finding the Right People

You have to set minimum standards, and be resolute in not settling, no matter how long it takes to find these people. Having someone who's going to work with you in your home is different from hiring an office employee. As White points out, "This is someone to whom you may give the keys to your front door."

So what should you look for?

*A person you'd like to have around. "Trust is the most essential thing for me," says Susan Trainer, CEO of Trainer Public Relations in Danville, California, and an employer of eight. "I'm trusting these people with my most precious commodities: my family and my business."

*A person who's comfortable with how you work and think. If you're serious when you say "This needs to be done right away," and an assistant is too much of a perfectionist to stop what she's working on to handle this urgent matter, you're going to go out of your mind. The same is true if you're concerned about your children when they're on the play equipment in the backyard and your child-care provider is cavalier about their safety--the match is obviously wrong.

*Someone with a track record. "Simply saying you can do something is different from actually doing it," says White. Someone's prior experience reassures you he or she can handle the job.

*Someone who's coachable. Even though experience is important, your way of operating may be what makes your business (and your home) successful. You want someone who understands the rationale behind your thinking and who's in tune with you and your desire for success.

*Someone who's willing to commit to the long term. Interviewing and coaching are time-consuming tasks. Unless you want someone for a temporary assignment, it's best to hire people who see this job as something they want to do for quite a while.

You can, of course, advertise for life helpers. And that sometimes works well. But an even better way of finding them is to talk to people you trust who know you fairly well. People won't usually refer someone unless they're pretty certain about that person's character and ability.

Keep in mind that recognizing you need help to operate a successful business out of your home isn't a sign of weakness--it's a sign you have your priorities in order. "I'm not interested in the `corner office,' " says Trainer. "I care about earning a good living and maintaining autonomy in my life. Having the right people in my life has made that possible."

M & M & M...

She calls them her eight M's. And while Susan Trainer can't explain why all her life helpers have either first or last names beginning with the letter "m," she does know that without them, she wouldn't have the time or energy necessary to run Trainer Public Relations, her company in Danville, California.

"Some people might think all this life and business support is a bit frivolous, but it makes good economic sense for me," says Trainer. "Without [my support team], I wouldn't be able to focus on work, which is very lucrative, and my husband and four kids, who are very fulfilling."

Here are Trainer's eight Ms and, in her own words, what they do for her:

"Marina Malayan is my Alice of the `Brady Bunch.' She does the shopping, goes to the dry cleaners, makes breakfast for the kids, schedules carpet cleaning and does everything [a spouse] would do.

"Maureen Yajko watches my three- and four-year-old [children] during the day. She was the first person I hired.

"Mary Miller is my accountant who works with me every quarter.

"Bev Meyer is my bookkeeper, but never comes into the office. We communicate solely through voice mail, fax and e-mail.

"Martin Harris is the billing person who works with us `remotely' every day.

"Melanie Bentley is a personal shopper who finds my work and non-work wardrobes. She understands my style and is very considerate about staying within my budget.

"Michelle Biggs is the fitness trainer I see [twice a week] who ensures I stay feeling good about myself.

"Marta Zelaya-Cuevas is the hairdresser I see once every six weeks. She manages an important part of my overall image."

Contact Sources

The JWC Group, (800) 853-6218,

Trainer Public Relations, (925) 837-5503,

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