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The house rules

Dave Archer

Perhaps one of the greatest myths about home-based businesses is that it’s easy to set your own carefree hours after all, you’re always at home. The only problem with this is … you’re always at home.

Operating a home-based business most certainly does give you the theoretical luxury of setting your own hours. Many small business owners, however, find they can quickly lose sight of the boundaries separating their home life and their work life. This can result in problems down the road. Here’s how you can avoid some of the most common pitfalls:

Create physical and psychological boundaries: It’s crucial to have designated workspace for yourself, no matter how small. It’s best if you can physically separate your work space from your living space, if not with doors and walls, at least with a partition, a drape, or even a sheet thrown over the computer table you’ve stashed in the corner of your bedroom. This will help you mentally separate “work” from “home.”

Set designated work hours: This is probably the hardest thing for entrepreneurs to do stop working. At the beginning, you’ll probably find it’s impossible to work a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule. After all, a growing business needs constant attention. However, once you’re up and running, remind yourself that your work will never be “complete.” Your business is an ongoing endeavor, and you must set designated work hours for yourself, or you’ll quickly get burned out.

Get into a professional mindset: While you can certainly forego the three-piece suit and high heels as you commute from your bedroom to your home office, there’s something to be said for preparing for your workday in a professional manner. Having a set routine each day where you get dressed, have your coffee, and head into the office, will help you get into your “work” frame of mind.

Leave the housework alone: It’s tempting to try and multi-task work and home life when you run a home-based business, but that kind of distraction is best put off until after you’ve established a solid work routine. Stopping work to put in a load of laundry, run the vacuum or take the dog to the vet interrupts your professional momentum, and you can find your workday quickly frittered away. During work hours, focus only on work.

Set rules for family and friends early on: Of course, many people start home-based businesses because they want more personal and family freedoms. You may be one of many people working from home in order to care for a young child or an aging parent. While this can be a wonderful way to create a work/life balance, it’s still important to set working parameters that everyone in the family understands and abides by. Establish firm guidelines and don’t deviate from them unless absolutely necessary.

Always maintain professional boundaries: In the same way you expect your family to respect your work space and your work hours, you need to establish guidelines for your clients as well. In a traditional office setting, a client would probably not ask for weekend or after-hours work, but you’re far more likely to get that kind of request if you’re a home-based business. Remember, this is your business, and you get to set the rules. Consider the pros and cons of how available you want to make yourself and then stick to your guns.

Limit the number of clients you see in your home: Many home-based business owners find it helpful to conduct client meetings outside their home office environment. A diner, coffee shop or rented conference space can be a much more professional, and safer meeting space, than your home.

Think “outside the house”: Even the most solitary workers can find themselves getting cabin fever if they’re without human contact for too long. Consider joining professional associations or networking groups as a way of keeping touch with the “real world.” Not only will it provide some variation to your workweek, it could introduce you to new business prospects.

Next month, we’ll go more in-depth with establishing your client base and marketing your home-based business.

Dave Archer is chief executive officer of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Contact him through ncet.org.