Dealing With the Unexpected

You thought you knew what working from home would be like--until you came face to face with problems you hadn't planned on. Here's what you can do to solve your homebased dilemmas.

By Paul and Sarah Edwards

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Not unlike a thunderstorm that surprises even the local weather forecasters, unexpected problems will arise when you work from home. Have any of these five situations happened to you--or could they? Read on to find out what you can do if you encounter the unexpected.

Problem: Zoning Restrictions.When you bought your house, you had a job and didn't expect to be working from home, so you had no reason to check your local zoning laws to determine if they allowed homebased businesses. But now you work at home and a neighbor has told you're not in compliance with the zoning laws. You suspect she may report you.

What You Can Do:First, check for yourself what the zoning ordinance actually says. Cities vary when it comes to which homebased businesses they allow and disallow. If you find you're out of compliance, first check your other neighbors' feelings about your working at home. If they'll support you, you can apply for variance or conditional use permit.

Problem: Noisy Neighbors.You've been working from home for some time when your next-door neighbor decides to open a day-care center in their home. It's so noisy that you can't work much of the day. You find out that local zoning laws allow day-care centers in your neighborhood and though you might be willing to change your schedule to work nights, you just can't--your customers need you during normal working hours.

What You Can Do:A combination of techniques can make your home office livable again. Rearranging your office so your desk is as far away from the window as possible will lower the decibels you hear. Floor-length draperies over the window--which you should weather-strip--will also help. For a more expensive option, you can replace your standard windows with those that contain newer, triple-gazed glass. A gurgling fish tank, a cage of songbirds or playing background music can help, too.

To reduce your need for space, consider outsourcing parts of your work to other businesses or independent contractors, or hire an employee who can work in his or her home. Renting storage or warehouse space for the "stuff" of your business is another possibility that may free up needed space.

Problem: Chatty Friends and Family.When word gets out you've quit your job and are now working from home, your mother, your sister and several of your nonworking neighbors keep dropping by or calling to chitchat.

What You Can Do:Let family, friends and neighbors know your work hours and when you're available. When they come by unexpectedly, let them know you're working and suggest they come by after five or that you two visit over lunch and tell them you'll be over at noon. To manage phone calls, consider screening your calls by letting your answering machine pick up. Caller ID can help, too, by allowing you to identify, in most cases, just who's calling. Also, if you haven't done it already, set up a separate phone line for your business calls and ask your friends and family not to use that line for personal call.

Problem: Needy Neighbors.You're starting to get requests for favors from a few of your neighbors "since you're already home anyway." And while signing for an occasional UPS package isn't much trouble, being asked to pick up a neighbor's sick child from day care when you've got deadlines to meet just isn't going to work.

What You Can Do:You need to establish clear boundaries and let people know you can't interrupt your work schedule to take on personal tasks for them. With some people, you may need to be pretty forceful and let them know that while you'd like to help, you just can't get away from work and that you hope there won't be any hard feelings.

Problem: No Elbow Room.Your business is outgrowing your home office, but neither moving to a larger home or renting an office is a good option for you.

What You Can Do:Since moving to another location is out of the question, you can either find ways to optimize the space in your home or outsource some of your work. Professional organizers can help you do more with the space you have. You can find an organizer in your area from the National Association of Professional Organizersor the Independent Association of Professional Organizers.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are homebased business experts and consult and coach on the subjects of the 16 books they've written. Their latest book is The Best Home Businesses for People 50+. Free portions of their books are available at

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