Tag Archives: WAHM

Home office: Open in case of medical emergency

SwingEven if you have fabulous office space and enjoy going in every morning to be surrounded by your crackerjack staff, it’s not a bad idea to maintain a functional home office as well. I worked from a home office for the first several years after starting Tribe, and learned this week how lucky I was that I kept it largely intact after we leased real office space.

I’ve spent this week in that home office, thanks to the swine flu. I came down with it Monday night, my fever broke Tuesday night, and I thought staying out of the office for 24 hours after my temperature returned to normal would be a gracious plenty of time to stay away.

However, my entire staff voted to keep me home for the rest of the week, and then assigned my business partner the task of talking me into that. Nobody wants to catch H1N1. We also have two pregnant employees. One of them went in for her weekly check up and when she mentioned that her boss had the swine flu, the doctor went ape. Apparently, pregnant women are at elevated risk for complications with this virus.

So I set up shop in my old home office, where the wireless still works, the printer still works, my cell phone gets a good signal and the coffee machine is just a few steps away. I opened up all the windows, let the dog settle in at my feet and then I got down to business. I’ve kept up with the constant flurry of email. I’ve worked undisturbed for long stretches. And when I needed to touch base on projects with people in the office, we did it by phone or iChat.

Yesterday was such a gorgeous sunny fall day that I spent the afternoon on the deck with my laptop. I could hear the birds singing, feel the breeze in the trees, enjoy the rich colors of the potted mums waiting to be planted. Midway through, I took a break to walk up to the school to collect our fourth grader. Sam started in on homework and I got back to my work. Later, I could see him out of the corner of my eye on his homemade bag swing, figuring out ways to use a ladder to make the swing go higher and further. Once in awhile, I’d respond to a “Mama, watch this” request.

It’s a nice way to work. I might miss my home office on Monday.

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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.


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.

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.

How to work with a kid in the office

mom with baby office doorSure you can. You’re the owner; you can do whatever you want. Will it be easy? Probably not. But there are times it’s well worth the trouble.

I took my baby to the office until he was one. At the time, the ad agency I owned with a friend was housed in an old turn-of-the-century plow factory. The place was drenched with character, from the soaring ceilings to the distressed brick walls to the wide-open space. Too much open space is not good when you have a crying baby. So we turned the only office with a door into the nursery. Sam’s nanny met us there every morning, and I would take breaks to nurse him every few hours.

We’d always brought our dogs to the office. How much harder could it be to have a baby? I remember a friend predicting it would be more stressful for me than anyone else. I sat through every client meeting terrified that Sam would start wailing at the wrong moment, and that the noise would assault the conference room.

But it was worth it. For me, it was much better to have my baby in the next room than a commute away. For Sam, he had me nearby for that critical first year. Shortly before he turned one, when he was suddenly mobile and could toddle over to an employee’s keyboard and erase a day’s work, my business partner and I agreed that we needed to figure out something else. 

Older kids can learn a lot from your business. The guy who owns our pest control company brings his preteen daughter along when he comes by to spray during the summer months. She may not have as much fun as she might at sleep-away camp, but she sees what her dad does all day and how he interacts with his clients. I’ll wager she’s learning a good bit about professionalism, business ethics, and building client relationships.

TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR CHILD TO THE OFFICE

Occasional is better than perpetual. Bringing your kid to the office on a teacher workday or an odd bank holiday is much easier for your employees to tolerate than having a kid parked in the conference room all summer. When your child shows up only rarely, he or she will be greeted like a V.I.P. If you drag your kid in every single day, the novelty will wear off pretty quick, even being the boss’ kid.

Manners count. When you bring your kids into the work environment, it helps tremendously if they treat people in the office with courtesy and respect. Please and thank you are musts, and grabbing things off people’s desks verboten.

Don’t assume your employees will double as babysitters. In a small company, it’s not uncommon for employees to pitch in to help the boss with personal tasks, even when it involves watching your kids for a few minutes. But they’ve also got their own work to do. If your assistant offers to run them down to the cafeteria downstairs, great. But don’t let the kids wear out their welcome.

Give your kid some work to do. It could be something that really does need to be done, like making photocopies or running mail through the postal meter. Or it could be a stack of copier paper and some colored pens for drawing. Just keep the kid busy, and before you know, it will be time to go home.