With advances in technology making it easier to work remotely every day, many small business owners and entrepreneurs are choosing to combine their professional and home lives by working from home.
Running your business from home has obvious advantages, from saving cash on rent to cutting out a lengthy commute to spend precious time with your family. But there are some obvious traps too, from avoiding distraction to keeping loneliness at bay.
We asked two small business owners who run their companies from home and some business experts for their top tips to make your home-based business a success.
1. Set up a work space separate from your living area
The first step for operating a business from home is to set up a workspace, which is separate from the couch or the dining table.
Finding a workspace that is dedicated to your business is essential, says Tammy May, who founded personal budgeting company MyBudget from her home in 1999 and has been named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and South Australian Business of the Year. “This way you can get some peace and quiet when you are working, especially if you have children at home.”
MYOB human relations manager Rachel Lehmann also says it’s important to set up a proper office when working from home “so you’re not just working with your laptop resting on your lap in front of the TV”.
Lehmann recommends choosing a room with a door, which will make the space feel more like than office.
2. Get into the ‘work’ mindset
Lehmann says anyone who works from home, whether as a sole trader or for a larger company, will get more done if they get themselves into the ‘work’ mindset each morning.
“We find productivity goes through the roof when someone imagines they are at work,” says Lehmann, who recommends setting work hours and sticking to them. “This means advising your friends and family that you are not available during this time.”
Lehmann says imagining other aspects of a ‘traditional’ office-based job can also help. “Work as though someone is still looking over your shoulder and they will be doing a performance review,” she says.
3. Get your technology requirements sorted as soon as possible
Also high on May’s list of tips for working from home is to spend time making sure your technology needs are set up correctly.
“There is nothing worse than being stuck without an internet connection or not having a printer that works, for example,” says May.
May also recommends having a back-up plan to get you through those inevitable internet outages.
“I keep a USB internet dongle spare just in case,” says May. “I can also take it with me when I travel or work remotely.”
4. Set up a safe space to work
Part of setting up an appropriate working space at home is about making sure the space is safe to work in, says Lehmann.
Things such as having a comfortable working chair and a computer stand at the right height are important, as is making sure there are no cords you can trip over.
The safety of the home office is especially important if your employees are also working from home, says Lehmann. “The home office is considered a workplace so if someone trips and falls, it could still be a workplace claim,” she says.
5. Working from home is not an excuse to do the laundry
Just as students who have assignments due are known to have sparkling clean bedrooms or a fridge full of home-cooked meals, May says entrepreneurs who work from home can also fall into the procrastination trap.
“Don’t treat working at home like a licence to do things other than work,” says May. “It’s very tempting just to put the washing on or clean out your wardrobe. But if you were in an office at work, you wouldn’t be able to do these things. They can be distracting and derail you. Before you know it you haven’t really achieved much for the day.”
May suggests acting like you’re actually going to work. This means getting up in the morning, getting organised and not sitting “around in your pyjamas all day if you can help it”!
6. If you have children, structure is a must
Many business owners who work from home do so to create some flexibility around looking after their children.
But Rebecca O’Rourke, who runs her PR firm O’Rourke PR from home, says it’s “really important to have structured care for your child, whether that’s a nanny in the home or childcare”.
O’Rourke started her business from home in 2007 and later moved to an office space, but decided to return to working from home after the birth of her son, who is now almost two years old.
“I am fortunate to have an amazing mother who assists me with William every day at home so I get to spend quality time with them and still feel connected as a mother to my son during these very early years,” says O’Rourke. “When I take a break I will play with him outside or sit down for a nice lunch together. I feel very happy to be in this position.”
7. Connect with outside networks
O’Rourke says working from home can get lonely, especially if you have a business that doesn’t require attending regular meetings.
“Find outside networks and leave the office to catch up with colleagues, mentors and friends at least twice a week,” says O’Rourke. “Otherwise you may start to feel isolated.”
Lehmann agrees, saying regular contact with other people will help keep your work in perspective.
While MYOB employees who work from home are required to visit the office at least once a week to stay in touch, Lehmann says individuals who run their own businesses could look at joining a local small business networking forum to share ideas and meet likeminded people.
She also suggests scheduling any meetings with clients outside of the home office to make sure you break up the daily routine.
8. Set measureable goals
Lehmann says an important tool for working from home is goal setting.
“It’s about setting goals and saying ‘I’m going to achieve this today’,” says Lehmann, who adds measuring output is more useful than measuring the time spent at the keyboard.
O’Rourke recommends planning out your day the night before, as “it can be too easy to become distracted with other activities at home”.
“You need to stay motivated, disciplined and focused as you are the only one who is accountable to what you achieve each day,” she says.
9. Don’t stay inside all day
That being said, May recommends taking time during your working day to go outside and get some fresh air.
“Physiologically, it can be challenge working from home, as some days you might not leave the house and you get cabin fever,” says May. “Try to take a walk at lunchtime or just get some fresh air.”
10. If you’re having a ‘day off’, make sure you actually have a day off
Finally, O’Rourke says small business owners who work from home need to remember to give themselves a day off every now and again.
And if you are having a day off, “pack up the laptop and go and do something just for you”, she says.