Home office, real office

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from home-based business owners is that they often feel their companies have a perceived lack of respect strictly because of the fact that they're operated out of a home, rather than an office building. This can be frustrating on many levels, but there are ways to combat this misperception and they all start with you.

Consider your own personal outlook. Do you consider your home-based business to be a legitimate business proposition, or a hobby? Your mindset and your words and actions are vital to the overall perception, as well as health, prosperity and long-term success of your business. If you don't project an air of professionalism to yourself and to others, you lose credibility.

Don't compromise. Sure, it may seem like no big deal to answer a business phone call while you're multi-tasking at the grocery store, to allow your teenager to play video games on your computer, or to have your office double as a guest room for Aunt Bertha's visit. But when you start to make these little compromises, you begin to erode the fabric of the professional image you've established, and the lines between home and work begin to blur. Maintain the status quo and you'll be able to mentally and physically keep work/home boundaries in place.

Don't be guilt-tripped. Work-at-home professionals are often guilt-tripped by those closest to them family and friends. Although easier said than done, it is vital that you set boundaries and stick to them. Repeat this mantra: "I'm sorry, but I'm working right now and I'm unavailable until..." It's honest, straight-forward and non-offensive. Make it your go-to phrase when you're asked for favors, inundated with visitors, harried by non-work-related phone calls and an over-abundance of requests for your time.

Don't under-value your services. Many home-based business owners set prices far below their more traditional competitors, thinking this approach will attract more clients. While home-based businesses are definitely in a position to price competitively due to lower overhead expenses, charging far below market value can make you look like an amateur. Instead, research the going rates for your products and services and price yourself accordingly.

Don't promote the stereotype. How many articles on home-based businesses have you read that feature a photo of a man or woman in a bathrobe sitting in front of a laptop, drinking coffee and smiling? Sure, we've all done it, but let's face it, this image doesn't scream, "I'm a professional!" We can collectively bring legitimacy to home-based professions by dispelling common misconceptions and misperceptions about home-based offices whenever we get the opportunity.

Reserve some level of conventionalism in the way you conduct business. You may not have to run proposals by a board of directors or confer with a staff before pitching a client, but you can add to the legitimacy of your business by following some basic business protocols: professional dress at business functions; common courtesies in placing and returning phone calls, e-mails and other communications; formalities such as putting estimates and contracts in writing, etc.

Don't waiver from your plan. If you've been following this series, you know I'm a big advocate of dedicated work space, dedicated work hours and an overall professional projection of your business at all times. Don't be tempted to waiver. Establish an environment of professionalism in everything you say or do and maintain it. This includes a business phone line, professional website, a simple business-like e-mail address and professionally-produced business cards and letterhead.

Maintain an air of professionalism at all times. It's true that many people leave the 9-5 work world and start their own businesses because they don't want to be governed by others' rules and regulations. Regardless, if it is important to you to be taken seriously and for your business to garner respect, you must develop your own rules of conduct and standards and stick by them.

Dave Archer is chief executive officer of Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Contact him through www.NCET.org.


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