Tag Archives: Work at home

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.


Start your own company — with your iPhone

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1Now would-be entrepreneurs have a new tool to make launching a business easier: the Start Your Own Company app for the iPhone. This .99 application offers a streamlined, step-by-step approach to becoming your own boss — and is the first iPhone app to actually walk users through that process.

The Start Your Own Company app  is like a series of flash cards, with a basic step on the front  of each card– and more information on the back about how to tackle that step. (You can see a video of our young copywriter doing a demo of the app on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/startercardvideo .)

The app is actually a mini-version of the printed Start Your Own Company deck we developed for Starter Cards, the division of Tribe we opened recently to develop tools for entrepreneurs. If this version is well-received, we’ll release the full 52-card deck as an iPhone app down the road.

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1aAnyone who’s ever started a company knows there’s no shortage of information out there about starting a business. Enough information, in fact, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Our goal with this app was to present the information in bite-sized pieces, so that it’s easier to see the bare bones of the plan. Like any major goal, launching a company can be broken down smaller, more manageable tasks. Take the process one task at a time, and before you know it you’re up and running.

Our other goal was to offer some help to the many people who now find themselves accidental entrepreneurs. Some of us always dreamed of running our own show, but in the current economy, many frustrated job seekers are deciding that the best way to replace their income might be by creating it themselves.

Know someone who’s been kicking around the idea of starting a company? This app could be a great first step for them. And if they have any comments or suggestions for improvement, we’d love to hear them.

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.

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.

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.