Let’s just start off with the truth: there are no rules for working at home. It’s your sandbox, your rules. FULL STOP. That’s probably one of the reasons you started a work-at-home business to begin with (or if you haven’t yet started it, the reason you are willing to give up a regular paycheque and go out on your own).
So there are no rules, just like there’s no book on how to be a work-at-home entrepreneur, BUT if you want to avoid the common pitfalls of working at home, then you may want to implement these do’s and don’ts in your work-at-home routine (speaking as a work-at-home entrepreneur of well over a decade, both before and after becoming a mom).
Do: Set Regular Office Hours — Set a schedule that fits your family or lifestyle needs, typically school hours for work-at-home parents, but not necessarily. Structure is important as it’s easy to lull yourself into a lazy morning routine only to find yourself racing the clock before the kids get home.
Don’t: Work All the Time — Make a commitment to yourself (and your family) to turn it off outside your regular office hours. It’s easy (and very tempting) to kind of, sort of work all the time. It’s “just one email” you say, but before you know it, you’ll be checking your email and taking client calls 24/7. Stick to your boundaries here and avoid letting work creep into family time.
Do: Create Separate Work and Living Space — If space allows, set up a completely separate area for your official office. It doesn’t mean that your laptop can’t move from that space, especially if your official “office” is nothing more than a secretary desk that folds up when your office hours are done for the day.
Don’t: Mix Business and Personal Finances — Keep your bookkeeping and banking separate! Besides making your year-end accounting a LOT simpler and cleaner, it is essential if you want to maintain your company as a separate corporate entity (Elizabeth Potts Weinstein explains why in this video).
Do: Have a List of No-No Office Hour Activities — Avoid activities that distract from your work focus. For example, throwing in a load of laundry between client calls is probably okay because it doesn’t take up much time, but even turning on daytime television should be avoided.
Don’t: Start the Day Without a Task List and Focus — Take 5 minutes at the end of each day to decide your focus for the next day and set your 2 to 3 must-do tasks. This is especially important if you are trying to squeeze a full work day into school hours or nap time so you don’t end up frittering away precious focus time deciding what to do.
Do: Establish Rules of Engagement — Create a clear set of rules of engagement and share those rules during the preliminary client meetings. Your rules can be whatever you like. For example, if you don’t want to work during the summer, let your potential clients know that you won’t be available July and August when the kids are out of school.
Don’t: Be Afraid to Fire Bad Clients — Learn how to recognize the warning signs of a good client turned bad and be prepared to firmly and fairly say good-bye if and when the time comes. This rule goes hand and hand with the above rule about establishing your rules of engagement. If your clients aren’t willing or able to work within that framework, they are not the clients for you. Period.
Do: Set Money Goals for Your Business — Decide how much you want (or need) to make in your business and break that number down into concrete goals. Ask yourself how much hours you need to bill or units you need to sell and then do the math on how many prospects or leads you have to generate to meet that target.
Don’t: Forget to Stay on Top of Money — Consider managing the money your #1 job! That means sending invoices to clients promptly, tracking outstanding accounts, and sending polite reminders to avoid those aging accounts receivables turning bad debt!