Work-at-Home Success

Coping with Isolation

How Will You Cope With Isolation? Most entrepreneurs say that launching a business is a lonely endeavor. Starting one out of your home can be lonelier still. The upside: You won't be distracted by coworkers or water-cooler gossip. The downside: You won't be distracted by coworkers or water-cooler gossip. Whether you're reclusive or wildly social, all of us benefit from human contact -- adult human contact, that is -- and work-at-home moms must go the extra mile to maintain their lifeline to the working world.

That may mean joining a professional organization or simply meeting peers or former colleagues for lunch on a regular basis. You'll need to work hard to maintain the kinds of relationships you took for granted at the office. Why? Because everyone you know, both personally and professionally, is either a customer or a lead to a customer, so you can't afford to isolate yourself. "Home-based doesn't mean housebound," Parlapiano cautions. "You have to make an effort to get out to meet other people and to make yourself -- and your business -- known."

Fortunately, over the past 10 years, there's been a vast increase in the number of networking options available to home-based entrepreneurs. Priscilla Huff, for instance, uses a community room at a local bank to host an annual meeting of local businesswomen. The event gives work-at-home moms the chance to meet, exchange business cards, and create relationships and alliances that can help them build their business. It's easy enough, Huff says, to organize a similar event in your own community. She also recommends tapping into one of the Women's Business Development Centers, which are partly funded by the Small Business Administration, for advice and access to networking opportunities.

Virtual communities can be enormously helpful as well. Check out Web sites such as www.bizymoms.com, www.mompreneursonline.com, and www.en-parent.com. These sites offer chat rooms and message boards that allow you to communicate with others who are involved in similar endeavors.

You can also look on the Web for articles on starting and running your business. To obtain a list of resources for home-based business owners, contact the American Association of Home-Based Businesses, at www.aahbb.org.

Are You Able to Create Boundaries? One of the most attractive elements of a home-based business can also be the most challenging: the lack of clear physical and psychological boundaries between your work life and your home life. If you don't clarify those boundaries, you're likely to sell yourself short in both camps. "You have to think of yourself as a businesswoman, even though you may be sitting in your kitchen in your sweatpants and sneakers," Parlapiano says. "Be protective of your work time, and be able to tell people no."

That goes for neighbors who insist on dropping by to chat during working hours as well as volunteer recruiters who assume that just because you're home, you're available. Sure, working at home gives you the flexibility to, say, help out at school regularly, but unless you pick and choose your activities, you may find yourself volunteering full-time. You're better off making a specific commitment and then fitting it into your schedule on a regular basis.

Of course, the biggest space invaders live inside your home. Your children, provided they're old enough to understand, need to learn to respect your work time. Parlapiano recalls putting a sign on her door with "Mommy is working now so don't come in" on one side and "Okay to come in" on the other. She also allowed her children to bring the mail to her office, and she made it a point to take a midday break to have lunch with them. Keep in mind, particularly if you have in-home child care, that it may be easier on your child and your caregiver if you keep your days relatively predictable. It's important for your spouse to recognize your boundaries as well. If you're serious about starting a business at home, your days can't be dedicated to laundry and running household errands. With your spouse's help, work out a plan for dividing household chores and spending quality time together.

If carving out time to work is difficult, then knowing when to stop can be harder still. If you find yourself working on weekends, checking e-mail in the wee hours, and hauling your laptop to soccer games, force yourself to stop: You're on the path to burnout. You'll also lose credibility with your family. Who, after all, will believe that your home-business plan was conceived with your family in mind if you spend all of your time working? Remember to keep the focus on your ultimate goals: You want a business of your own, but you also want a family life.

Eager to launch your home-based business? We've got 5 steps to get you started.

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Copyright © 2002 Donna Fenn. Reprinted with permission from the March 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

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