Home business ads consistently emphasize the dream of working from home in your pajamas and not having any boss but yourself. They also promise that you can earn “as much as you want, when you want.” As a self-employed person, I can tell you that this just isn’t the way things work.
I make a decent living, but it’s not because I follow the work protocols promoted by these ads. I’ve learned the hard way that “tiresome” workplace policies like dress codes and standard working hours aren’t in place because managers and executives like to vex their workers. Instead, these policies help employees work efficiently and make companies profitable. Moreover, I now have a greater appreciation than ever for all the administrative tasks I previously could ignore when working for a larger company.
Don’t get me wrong; I love working for myself and working from home. It is both challenging and gratifying to be in control of my income. But I also know that typical home business rhetoric cultivates attitudes that contribute to the high rate of business failure amongst entrepreneurs.
Here are six examples of how the mantras used to promote home businesses can actually derail them.
Challenges of Working from Home
1. “Make Your Own Schedule”
Sounds appealing, right? No more setting the alarm for 6:00 am in the morning. No more sitting in your cube all day and getting a measly hour for lunch. Set your own hours and work when you feel like it. Time freedom is yours!
Except it doesn’t work that way.
The concept of “normal business hours” is probably the most efficient time management tool known to humankind. When your boss tells you to be at work at a certain time and then tells you what time to leave, you know when you are supposed to work and when you are free to pursue other interests or spend time with your family. You can even make plans days, weeks, or months in advance, because you know when you are going to be working.
However, if you play loosey-goosey with your at-home work hours, you may find yourself in big trouble. It’s easy enough to sit at your desk to begin a project, but staying there is a much bigger challenge. Sure, you might get an hour or two of work done before you realize you need to do some laundry or run to the store. You start up again, only to be distracted by another event. You may end up getting a solid eight hours of work accomplished, but instead of working from 9 am to 6 pm (including your lunch break), you now work from 10 am to 11 pm thanks to your “flexible” schedule.
Even worse, if you realize by the end of the day that you weren’t as productive as you needed to be, you may shift today’s workload onto tomorrow’s schedule. Eventually, you may find yourself with a schedule that has you working (on and off) for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, because you don’t manage your time well.
How to Avoid Time Management Doom: Set your business days and hours and stick to them. I’d suggest basing your work schedule on the schedule maintained by those closest to you (i.e. spouse, family, and friends). Not only will a conventional schedule make you more productive, but it will also allow you to spend time with the people you care about. After all, if they work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, they are going to be most available for socializing during evenings and weekends.
If you do decide to stick with the tried-and-true 9 to 5, you’ll still reap some significant work-at-home benefits. Since you don’t have to commute to work, you can still sleep in right up to when your work day begins. Moreover, if you need to run any important errands like taking your kid to the doctor, you won’t have to request permission.
2.”Work in Your Pajamas”
While I like that my “commute” consists of getting out of bed and walking five feet to my desk, the truth is that I’m a heck of a lot more productive when I first walk a few more steps to the shower and then to my closet for some clean, “regular” clothes. I know that pajama work has its appeal, but unless I’m burning the midnight oil, I work better in my street clothes.
- Pajamas and sleep are strongly connected in my mind. When I work in my pajamas, I’m less efficient at getting work done.
- It’s hard to feel clean and fresh in the pajamas I slept in the night before. Feeling clean definitely improves the amount of work I accomplish as well as its quality.
- If I have to leave my home, even for a short meeting or a run to the store, the time it takes to get cleaned up and dressed adds an extra hour to my outside activity. This may not sound like much, but it further breaks up my work day and can make it even harder for me to get back to work. If I am already showered and dressed before I sit at my desk, I transition between activities much more smoothly.
How to Avoid Dress Code Doom: While you should definitely have professional items in your wardrobe for when you meet with clients and vendors, you don’t have to sit at home in a suit all day. Instead, buy yourself comfortable clothing for working at home. I favor soft t-shirts, leggings, yoga pants, and loose dresses made from lightweight fabric for my at-home workdays. These clothes are comfortable and allow me to run to the store without having to break for a shower, or to talk to the package delivery driver without hunting for a robe.
3. “Set Your Own Income Goals”
I suspect this is more of a problem for us single folks who don’t support a family. Still, it is easy to get into the trap of setting short-term income goals and then working the minimum amount to meet them. The danger in this approach is that it prevents you from building up long-term savings, which is something that everyone should have, particularly the self-employed.
While there is nothing wrong with setting a workable monthly budget, you should earn as much as you can within a reasonable work schedule. If you work just enough to cover your bills, you’re setting yourself up for long-term financial disaster.
How to Avoid Financial Doom: Instead of trying to earn a certain dollar amount each day, try to earn as much as you can in your workday. This means setting and sticking to a reasonable work schedule and working it every day, even if you’ve met your “daily goal” by noon. Don’t worry, the excess money won’t do you any harm, and it just may save your bacon if you get sick or hit a dry spell later on.
4. “Ignore Administrative Work”
At my previous jobs, I had to complete a fair amount of inter-office paperwork: time sheets, travel expense reports, and accounts payable requests for freelancers and vendors. Still, this was nothing compared to the total amount of daily paperwork processed by my company. Now that I have to mail my own letters, book my own airline tickets, and balance my own books, I have a sincere appreciation for what it takes to operate a traditional business.
If you think that working for yourself means you can disregard mundane tasks, think again. In fact, you’ll probably end up doing more administrative work than you ever did at your old day job. And don’t even think about blowing this stuff off. Ignoring business basics (like paying your bills, preparing your taxes, and invoicing clients) is a sure-fire way to not only ruin your business, but possibly get into trouble with the IRS in the process.
How to Avoid Mismanagement Doom: Schedule a certain amount of time each day for administrative tasks. Pay your bills, invoice your clients, order your office supplies, and process your mail during this time. Do it every day at the same time so it becomes part of your routine.
5. “Set Your Own Payment Policies”
Not getting paid by clients in a timely manner, or at all, can quickly derail your business. When you work for a larger company, you usually take getting paid on time for granted. You can avoid such issues by setting, and enforcing, clear payment policies. Dr. Phil says, “You teach people how to treat you.” I say, “You teach your clients how to pay you.”
When you send a professional-looking invoice immediately after you complete your job, you make it clear to your client that you expect to be paid. When talking with clients, don’t shy away from talking about your rates and be sure that you come to an agreement about terms. Some freelancers even ask new clients for deposits before beginning work. Since your chances of getting paid decrease over time, it’s important to get in contact with slow-paying clients as soon as they miss a payment due date.
When you don’t follow through on demanding payment, clients assume you either don’t care about being paid or you are a sloppy businessperson who won’t follow up on unpaid bills. Even clients that intend to pay might make your invoices a low priority if they think they can get away with it. Don’t shy away from confrontation over payment because you are concerned about maintaining the “relationship” with your client. Like any relationship, if you don’t set boundaries and expectations, it will eventually go sour. You don’t need non-paying clients.
How to Avoid Deadbeat Doom: Put your payment policies in writing and, if possible, verbally explain them as well. Immediately after you finish a job or complete a task, send your clients a professional invoice, perhaps through a service like Freshbooks. The invoice should state the date on which payment is due as well as your client’s options for payment. Also, offer your clients more than one payment option. For example, I accept direct PayPal payments, credit cards through PayPal, as well as checks and money orders. Make it easy for your clients to pay you!
6. “Eschew Schmoozing and Industry Involvement”
I’ve been to many trade shows and industry events and know they can be tedious. Still, they represent the best opportunity for networking and finding out about what is going on in your field. If you aren’t budgeting for trade show participation, professional association memberships, or subscriptions to trade journals, you’ll eventually lose any edge you have over your competitors.
Remember, you don’t have a marketing department or sales staff to keep your business in the minds of potential partners and clients. It’s just you. So get involved in your professional community and make sure you know what you are talking about when chatting with colleagues.
How to Avoid Ignorance Doom: Go to at least two trade shows per year and spend 20-30 minutes each day keeping up with your industry. Program your newsreader to send you industry news headlines and pertinent blog posts. Volunteer for professional association committees and projects. It takes effort, but clients are impressed by knowledge and commitment, which means more business for you.
There is nothing quite like working a home business, and doing so has a lot of benefits. But don’t believe the hype. Becoming self-employed means that your job role suddenly expands and you have several job descriptions, not just one. While you don’t have to write yourself an employee manual, rethink standard business policies and procedures to see if they can help you keep your home business running smoothly.
If you are self-employed or work from home, what are some of the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis? Do you have a particular style or way in which you get things done?