Tag Archives: Home office

After a baby, is starting a company a better idea than going back to work?

babyMaggie would really rather be at home with her new baby, but went back to her job after a standard maternity leave because she and her husband decided they couldn’t afford for her not to work. Several months into it, she’s figured out that after paying for childcare and other expenses associated with the job, she nets about $300 a month. So, in her words, she’s working “to pay for a couple of tanks of gas and some groceries.”

Is there not a better way to make $300? Maggie is the sister of a friend of mine, and I’ve only met her once or twice, but I can’t quit thinking about her situation. I remember what it was like to have a new baby and be torn away by work. And I loved my work at the time, although I understand Maggie is not crazy about her job. I do know she comes from an entrepreneurial family, so the idea of starting her own business is probably not foreign to her.

What sort of business could she start that would mean limited time away from her baby? We’re not talking about the kind of all-consuming startup that requires 80 hours a week or depends on venture capital to get off the ground. To quit her job, Maggie would only need to create $3,600 a year in net profit. That’s not so hard to do. Let’s look at some hypothetical possibilities, making some huge assumptions about what sorts of skills and talents she might have to offer — and the kinds of things she’d actually enjoy doing.

A good solution would be something she could bill by the hour, for only a handful of hours a week. Let’s say she’s a talented tennis player and could give tennis lessons, or fluent in French and could tutor high school students, or a math whiz and could serve as an SAT coach for kids trying to raise their scores. If she charged $50 an hour, or even $35, she could work a very short week and clear her $300 net, even if she had to pay a babysitter. Although, she also might schedule some of those hours during the weekends when her husband could be with the baby.

Let’s say she’s been keeping the company books on Quickbooks at her current job. So many small businesses use that accounting software, many of which might not be large enough to have a full-time bookkeeper but would like to outsource the accounts payable, accounts receivable and basic financial reports. She could handle the books for one or two small companies by going in just a morning or so a week and come home with that $300 or more.

What about starting a company that would provide something needed by other mothers with young kids? I remember several years ago a  woman in New York had the brilliant idea of an exercise class in Central Park that incorporated baby strollers (and babies) into the fitness routine. Maybe Maggie was a lifeguard and swim instructor in her youth and could start a group swimming class for mothers and babies using her mom’s backyard pool.

One trick to making this plan work would be choosing a business that offers the chance of recurring income from the same clients month after month. In other words, she signs up one student for tennis lessons and sees them once a week for months on end. Or connects with a small business who could use a freelance bookkeeper and continues to do their books until they’re large enough to need someone full time. Otherwise, she’ll need to spend a large amount of her time marketing her services so she can create new clients over and over.

Selling your hours adds up more quickly than selling a thing. Particularly a thing that requires hard costs for materials or equipment.  This is not always true, but I think would be for the types of things I can imagine someone like Maggie selling, like homemade greeting cards (she’s very crafty) or hand sewn baby bonnets or fresh-baked birthday cakes. She would have to sell a whole bunch of any of those to make her $300 each month. If you have a skill or talent that allows you to charge a significant hourly rate, that can be an easier path to doing without a paycheck.

Starting a company as a mompreneur doesn’t have to be complicated. If you don’t need to rent office space or hire employees or buy expensive equipment, the startup doesn’t have to cost much either. This is not meant to be a pushy plug for our products, but the Start Your Own Company application for the iPhone is just .99 and could walk Maggie through the basic steps of launching a business. Or she could try the more comprehensive Start Your Own Company printed deck from Starter Cards, which also includes information on the Launch and Follow-Through phases as well as the Launch phase. Either one could be a simple first step to creating a life-sized business that works for this stage of her life.


Jobless at 58 sounds like an entrepreneur to me

Yesterday the New York Times ran a headline that read, “At 58, a Life Story in Need of a Rewrite.” The article was about Michael Blattman, who’s been out of work since January of 2008. Blattman is a 58-year-old MBA with a strong resume in financial services who once earned $225,000 a year.

After a year and a half of an unfruitful job search, it seems obvious that this guy should start his own gig. It’s unlikely that the financial sector will be in a hiring frenzy anytime soon. Blattman has applied for 600 jobs, according to the Times, and has scored exactly three interviews, only one of which was in person. It doesn’t look good for him being gainfully employed at a hefty salary anytime soon.

startercards.0626When I hear about people like Blatmann, first I want to shake them and then I want to find their address and send them a deck of our Start Your Own Company cards. He clearly has experience and expertise to share, having worked with the Federal Reserve and the Sallie Mae student loan program, as well as teaching business classes at the University of Maryland.

Why is he not starting his own company, or at least hanging out his shingle as a consultant? The cost of going into business for yourself needn’t be much of a hurdle, in an age when you can incorporate online with LegalZoom for $139 and launch a website with a free template. Perhaps there’s a growing need for guidance in applying for student loans, or maybe he could consult with schools on some aspect of providing financial assistance. Or it could be that his real passion is wine or carpentry or backpacking or piano and this is his chance to start a company doing what he loves.

He’s clearly got time on his hands that might be put to better use. He mentioned to the Times reporter that he had “zero” planned for the coming week, and he admits to driving two towns over for groceries, just to kill an hour or so. Blattman is divorced, but has given up on computer dating sites for now, because women apparently don’t show much interest in 58-year-old guys who are unemployed. It seems his life could use some positive momentum.

Blattman comes across as intelligent, likable, capable. He has years of contacts and a strong reputation in his industry. Why not use the thick skin he’s no doubt developed over his 18-month job search to sell the services of his own company, rather than trying to get hired by someone else?

He may have excellent reasons for continuing to job hunt rather than creating his own income. But I wonder if he just doesn’t realize that starting a company doesn’t have to be that hard. When I run into someone stuck in that spot, I want to get up on my soapbox and shout about how Starter Cards take you through the process, one manageable step at a time.

This is the era of unintentional entrepreneurs. People who never considered themselves the entrepreneurial type are creating their own work when they can’t find suitable jobs. But unintentional or not, every entrepreneur has to summon the guts to take that first leap.

Like anything else, launching a business can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks. If you know a Blattman out there,  send him or her to the Starter Cards website  for that Start Your Own Company deck. And if you’re Michael Blattman, give me your address and I’ll mail you a deck as my gift.

What does it mean to run a life-sized business?

man porch computerA life-sized business is a company that supports the life you want. A company that requires you to make lots of compromises in the way you live your life is not.

I’ve done it both ways, and can say both have their benefits. When I started my first ad agency, I was fine with letting my life play second fiddle to my business. I was younger, and could pull those 60-hour weeks without too much wear and tear. I didn’t have kids. My parents were healthy and didn’t need any help from their daughters. My husband was very focussed on his career, too. We didn’t even have a dog. I loved those years. I enjoyed the adrenaline of building a successful company from nothing, and being consumed by work I loved.

But after my son was born, I began wanting a different sort of life. I wanted to be around for him. I wanted to see sunlight more often. I wanted to feel healthier. I wanted to be more relaxed. So when I started Tribe, it was with the very clear intent that this business would fit in around my life, instead of vice versa. 

Every entrepreneur’s definition of a life-sized business will be different. For most people, in most stages of their lives, it means a business that supports their life balance. It means giving you the sort of flexibility you wouldn’t have working for somebody else. It means having control over your time. It might mean being more involved with your kids. It might mean being able to train for an Ironman, take daily yoga classes or compete in ALTA tennis. It might mean running a sustainable company that gives back to the world. Or it might mean just being able to work with your dog at your feet, instead of leaving him home alone all day.

A life-sized business can also include financial benefits. There’s no reason a business has to be difficult for you to make a lot of money. Besides paying you a good salary, the company can also provide you with all sorts of perks, paid pre-tax dollars. You  might want to lease yourself a nice car for business. Or hold your management meetings in a beautiful resort. Or have a healthy lunch brought in every day. I’ve done all those things at Tribe. 

Other entrepreneurs care more about the pace than the perks. A public relations firm owner I know turns away some clients, just because she doesn’t want to get big enough to service them. She likes the way her company runs just fine if  she goes for coffee with her husband in the mornings instead of rushing into work, or takes Friday afternoons off to ride horses.

It also helps if your company is profitable. You can’t lounge around living a life of leisure if you’re not making the income to support it. That’s not to say you have to work long hours to be successful, although sometimes that’s what it takes. What you have to do is offer something of value to people who can pay for it, and to sell enough of it to make money.

But the best part of a life-sized businesses is loving what you do. If you wake up excited about your day, whether it’s a workday or a weekend, then you’ve got a business that works for your life.

Small Business Strategies: Simple Feng Shui for your office

Guy in suit meditatingMaybe it will increase your financial success and maybe it will just make your office a more pleasant place to work, but a little Feng Shui certainly can’t hurt. At Tribe, we hired a Feng Shui expert to help with our new office when we were in the middle of its design. She nixed a few things I’d planned, like putting the accountant in a tiny office with no windows and cool blue paint in the lobby and common areas. (We made the windowless office a meditation room instead and chose a warm adobe clay color of the lobby walls.) I can’t say if it’s had an impact on Tribe’s success, but I know that when I’m there, I generally feel both relaxed and productive.

Here a few things you can do to add a little Feng Shui to your workplace, whether you work at home or in office space:

1. Make sure your desk is positioned for power. That means you don’t want your back to the door or a hallway. You should be able to see people coming, so that symbolically, you can’t be attacked unawares. You also don’t want your back to a window, which is too exposed and doesn’t offer strong backing behind you.

2. Activate your wealth corner: The far left corner, as viewed from the entrance to your office, is considered your area of wealth, symbolically. Put something green and growing there, like a tall potted plant, or maybe wind chimes, to create movement. Same goes for the far left corner of your desk. Place something there that means financial success to you. In that corner on my desk at home, I keep a paperweight that used to sit on the desk of a friend of mine, who not only enjoyed great wealth, but also used her financial resources to benefit many people. 

3. Activate your helpful friends: The near right corner of your desk, and of your office, symbolizes helpful friends. That’s a great corner of your desk for the phone. If cords and phone jacks make that problematic, try your Rolodex or your Blackberry or a stack of business cards for key contacts. 

4. Choose the power seat in meetings: For a client presentation or any meeting where you’ll want as much power as possible, choose a seat about midway along the side of the conference table, facing the door. Many people assume the head of the table is the power spot, but trust me, the middle of the table puts you in a more powerful position. 

5. Get rid of the clutter: This one is perhaps less interesting than the preceding tips, but it’s hugely important. Do whatever you have to do to keep your surfaces clear of clutter, especially old, inactive clutter. If you’ve got stacks of paper on your credenza for a project you’re actively working on, that’s one thing. Piles of old mail or unread reports or other inactive clutter are surprisingly draining. Get rid of them, and you’ll feel a surge of new energy.

When you work at home, do people think you aren’t really working?

home office woman cell phoneOne downside of working at home is that sometimes people forget that you actually work for a living. When you don’t have that visible demarcation between work and home, when you don’t set off each morning to an office across town where you’re largely unavailable to family and friends, it seems to blur the lines for people. 

My mother still doesn’t get that my sister has a successful and demanding career in ad sales. All she sees is that Amanda’s at home all day, so she assumes her daughter is at her beck and call to drive over and do whatever an old lady might need at the moment. She’ll call in the middle of the workday to get Amanda to accompany her to Costco or come catch a cat and stick it in the pet carrier to go to the vet. 

I have a friend who’s an awesome realtor, with an office at home. She schedules showing houses and closings around her kids’ schedules, so she’s able to pick them up after school and be around in the afternoon. But sometimes her family has a tendency to forget she’s not a stay-at-home-mom. Her daughter forgets that she can’t volunteer at school quite as much as the moms who don’t work. Her  husband occasionally has to be reminded that she works too, so he’s going to have to pitch in with the grocery shopping and other tasks that keep a household going. Friends, too, seem to think they can drop by in the middle of the day and have her available to hang out. I can’t imagine that happening if my realtor friend worked in an office off-site.

When my husband first moved to his home office, I was guilty of the same mistake. Because he was there, I would just assume that I could leave for an early meeting before the nanny arrived, or that I could be a little late getting home at the end of the day. He was actually much more easy going about it than I would have been if the tables were turned, but eventually he called me on it. How did I know he didn’t have a breakfast meeting himself that day? How could he know whether he could fit in a bike ride after work if he had no idea what time I was coming home?

Here are a few thoughts on how to help your family and friends understand that your workday is not optional for you:

1. It’s up to you to mark your boundaries: If you always give in to whatever anyone asks of you during your workday, then it will be much more difficult for them to get the idea that you’re sometimes off-limits because of work. 

2. Practice some non-martyr-like reminders: Try not to make a big emotional deal out of it. You can offer gentle reminders that you’re busy too by saying things like, “I’ve got a conference call at 9, so I’m going to get in the shower now,” or “I have a deadline that afternoon, so it might be better if you pick up the kids.”

3. Respect your own work hours: If someone asks you for a lunch you know will be a long drawn-out affair and you usually power through lunch at your desk with a quick sandwich while you’re working, you can say that you don’t take a real lunch so you can be finished up with work before your daughter’s soccer practice. When you get an invitation to one of those parties where you’re supposed to buy the clothes on display in your friends’ home, it’s perfectly fine to say you’re so sorry, but you can’t take that afternoon off work. 

4. Use the same language you would if you worked for a boss in an office: If someone calls and asks what you’re doing, say “working” instead of “hanging out here at the house.” When someone asks you to do something, say you’ll see if you can “take that time off.” Call your office your office, even if it’s a corner of the den. 

5. Don’t forget that this downside is also an upside: One of the great things about working from home is that you are able to blur those lines between work and home sometimes. Let’s say your son wakes up with the flu. It’s really great to be able to stay home with him and not have to explain that to your boss. Once in a while, you might even want to blow off the afternoon to go to a movie with a friend. It’s nice to have that flexibility.

Home office strategies: Working with your kids underfoot

Baby with cell phoneOne of the best reasons to work at home is being there for your kids during the day. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be times you’re pulling out your hair. When my business partner Jennifer had a home office, she once spent a very long client phone call with her son Colin perched on her shoulders, using her scissors to cut up a $20 bill. Really. At least it was keeping him quiet, and she realized she would gladly pay someone twenty bucks to keep Colin from screaming his head off during that call.

Sometimes it’s tricky, but it’s doable. You just need some strategies for getting your work done amidst the inevitable chaos. Here are six tips to make it easier:

1. Email is God’s gift to WAH parents. Handle as much business communication as possible by email instead of phone. In cyberspace, no one can hear the screaming kid standing beside you.

 2. Naps are good. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish while your child is napping. We enforced an hour or so of afternoon quiet time with Sam until he was at least five. Usually, he would sleep, but sometimes he would play quietly in his room or look at books. He knew he was forbidden to cross that baby gate across his doorway until I came to get him.

 3.Give your child some work to do. You’ll have an easier time getting your work done if your child is busy too. Older kids things that are actually useful, like stuffing envelopes or stapling papers. Younger ones can have a little desk next to yours for coloring. I used to keep a basket of books in my home office for Sam to look through. I also filled a small set of index card drawers with little toys for him to explore. He’d rifle through them to find plastic cars, rubber frogs, and odds and ends from around the house that were too big to swallow. Even a baby does better with something to do. Set the bouncy seat facing the wall where he or she can see the shadows of the leaves outside blowing in the wind.

4. Get a nanny, babysitter or neighborhood kid to help. There are only so many parts of your job that can be done with children underfoot. Unless your kids are in school most of the day, you probably need some uninterrupted time to work. Even if you can only swing that help a few hours a day, you’ll know you’ve got that time to get the most important stuff done. I’ve learned from experience that it’s very difficult to be an attentive parent when you’re focused on writing or other intense work.

 5. Have a plan for important phone calls. If your children are old enough to understand, you can explain how important it is to have quiet when you’re on a business call. But for the younger ones, bribery can work. I used to keep a bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer in case a client called while Sam was around. He knew that as long as he was quiet, I’d dole out one M&M every minute or so. 

 6. If all else fails, leave the house. Sometimes there’s just no reasoning with a colicky baby or a whiny two year old. If another adult is at home, grab your cell phone and drive up to the corner to have that phone conversation. If no other adult is handy, you might try locking yourself in the bathroom to take that client call.

Small Business Strategies: Is it time to lease office space?

Glass officeMany entrepreneurs find that having a real office is key. There’s certainly a lot to be said for housing a startup at home, but in certain industries, or when your company hits critical mass, leasing office space can be important to your growth.

One key advantage of a real office is the conference room. That was my main motivator for moving my home-based company Tribe to a glass high-rise. Our clients often have us come to their offices for meetings, but it was getting embarrassing not to have anywhere we could host them. It didn’t seem right to ask someone from a Fortune 500 company to meet us down at Starbucks, or to try to crowd into my tiny home office.

The virtual office has its limitations. For several years Tribe had staff members and freelancers all working out of their own homes all over Atlanta, and eventually, that began to drive me crazy. Although communication by email and phone had worked well for years, I realized it would make the work process a million times easier to have us all in one place.

A real office also makes some clients more comfortable. Call them old fashioned, but a lot of clients prefer knowing you have an actual office and not a converted spare bedroom. Maybe it strikes them as more legitimate or more permanent, but I remember several clients expressing relief after we leased office space.

It creates a separation of work and home. Unlike the home office, which is notorious for leaking into family space and time, having office space in some other building somewhere creates a beneficial boundary. When I worked at home, I spent a lot of time deflecting my young son during the workday. Once we moved to office space, I was able to give myself more fully to both work and family. When I was at the office, I didn’t have to worry about a toddler interrupting a client phone call. And when I got home, I was really home. I was able to switch gears on the short drive home and could be immediately attentive to my son.

Office space offers a more professional environment. Working at home requires the entrepreneur to accommodate the disturbances and interruptions of residential life. Leaf blowers, barking dogs and car alarms come to mind, for starters. An office building is built for work, and that can help you and your staff get more done more easily.

Don’t underestimate the value of camaraderie. Having people around all day can be a really nice change, if you’re used to working alone at home. Standing around the coffee maker dishing about the morning’s lead news story can help keep you sharp.

A company office promotes a company culture. It’s more difficult to create a culture without having your tribe bump up against each other day to day. It’s much easier, as the leader of your company, to communicate the values and goals of your company in person and in action. The funny stories of the early days, the inside jokes and the good-natured teasing are all part of your company’s heritage and culture. The office gives that culture some geography – and some room to grow.