What do you think of when you hear the phrases “home business” or “work from home?” How has that image changed in recent years?
In the 21st century, working at home no longer means someone working out of the garage or the spare bedroom until making it big – think Apple, Amazon or Disney. Although those kinds of success stories are inspiring and still happen, more than 50 percent of American entrepreneurs continue to run their businesses from home long after they are established.
Thanks largely to the Internet, home businesses are flourishing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 about one-fourth of employed Americans did some work at home.
Home-based workers fall into several different categories. Some are solopreneurs, and others are businesses with employees. There are people working at home temporarily while they care for a child or an aging parent, and there are those who combine office work with telecommuting, spending time in both worlds.
Whether you are your own boss or reporting to a boss, working from home provides many rewards. These rewards generally focus on the flexibility most work-at-home schedules offer and the time and money saved from commuting to an office. Savings can include transportation costs, to be sure, but can also include savings on wardrobe expenses, meals, rent, utilities and daycare.
However, working at home can also present some interesting and often unexpected challenges. Here are eight tips for working at home successfully and effectively.
Set Aside a Space Devoted for Work
The nature of your small business and the size of your home will dictate how much space you need. However, it is important to carve a space that is reserved for your work.
Find a spot that offers comfort and good lighting. Invest in items that will helps keep you organized, such as wall racks, shelves or cabinets. Even if you live in a small studio apartment, you can designate a certain chair and table as your workspace.
Speaking of a chair, if you will be spending many hours working in front of a computer screen, it is important to invest in a chair that offers good support. The human body was not designed to sit for many hours a day, and standard office chairs do little to support the lower back.
Be sure to take frequent breaks during your workday to stand, stretch and move around. A simple walk around your home office can help your back, neck and legs feel better and help maintain your concentration levels.
Make a Schedule
One of the perks of working at home is that you can work early in the morning, late at night and on weekends. One of the downfalls of working at home is the same thing.
Use the flexibility you have as a home worker to your advantage, but do not overdo it.
Resist the urge to be available 24/7 by scheduling in downtime. Set limits on your time for friends who may assume that since you are home, you are always available for a chat or a favor. Get used to saying, “I’m sorry, but I will be working then” or something similar until they get the message that you are busy.
How do you know when to knock it off for the day? Try keeping a running to-do list for each day. Set realistic goals for each workday and cross them off your list when you accomplish them. When you have completed your set tasks, reward yourself with something simple such as a walk around the block or a visit with a friend.
Get Dressed and Out of the House
Notice the rewards in the last paragraph involved getting away from work for a while. Some work-at-homers get burned out because they lack the change of scenery involved with going to a workplace. You can adjust for this “same old, same-old” feeling by scheduling in time away from the office. Take a run or a swim as part of your lunch break. Meet a friend for coffee rather than chatting on the phone.
In addition to finding time to get out of the house, it can be a mental boost to get dressed each day for work. Sure, one of the advantages of working at home is that you can start work in your jammies, but there is something that happens to us mentally when we shower and dress for the day. The process boosts your productivity.
A 2012 study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, found that we act differently depending on what we are wearing. Study participants were more attentive when they were wearing medical lab coats, for instance.
Aim for a flexible, casual wardrobe that you can dress up with the addition of a jacket if you need to meet with a client. Dressing the part reminds everyone – including yourself – that you are a professional and that you are on the job.
In addition to getting up and getting away from the screen on a regular basis throughout the day, people who work for home need to pay attention to their health in other ways.
Is the supply of snacks in your kitchen tempting you? If so, you may need to keep the cookies, chips and ice cream out of the house and stock up on healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks instead.
Schedule workouts at the gym or runs in the park just as you would if you were working in an office –during lunch or before or after hours. Just because you work at home does not mean you should not take care of yourself.
Think of creative ways to get in your exercise. Meetings don’t have to be held over meals. Could you meet a colleague at the park to discuss a project while you walk together, for instance?
Don’t let working from home isolate you. Find ways to network. You can join online professional organizations or LinkedIn groups to stay connected with those in your industry. When you comment on posts and receive feedback, you will establish a connectedness that can boost your business.
Another idea is to join local organizations that have physical meetings. Consider joining community-based non-profits and/or service groups as ways to meet new people and to broaden your horizons as someone who works at home.
Set Limits for Family Members
One of the reasons many people, especially women, work at home is to be more available for their family’s needs. However, the downside of this availability is that your family can take advantage of you.
Children, even young children, can learn not to disturb you when you are busy. Think of ways to communicate when you are available and when you are not. Perhaps a paper stoplight on your office door would work well. A green light means you can talk if needed. A red light means you are available for an emergency only.
Instruct older children and your spouse not to interrupt you during certain hours unless it is important.
Keep Careful Records
It is an important part of any business to keep records, and a home business is no exception.
For example, if you are operating a small business out of your home, you may need the appropriate tax registrations, business licenses and permits from federal, state and local governments.
According to Forbes writer Richard Eisenberg, even though an estimated 26 million Americans have home offices, only 3.4 million taxpayers claim their home office as a deduction. Eisenberg theorizes that many people worry that the deductions will trigger an audit, but that usually is not the case.
In general, if the square footage of your home office equals 10 percent of your home’s square footage, you can claim 10 percent of these expenses. You also can deduct expenses associated exclusively with your home office, such as the purchase of a work computer and office supplies. You also can deduct a percentage of your mortgage, rent, insurance and utility bills.
To learn more about tax deductions for home business, consult the IRS’ website.
According to a study by the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA), more than 50 percent of home-based business owners are underinsured. About 40 percent of the survey participants revealed they are uninsured or underinsured primarily because they thought their homeowner’s policy covered their business.
State rules vary on insurance coverage for home-based businesses. One option is to add a rider to your existing renter’s or homeowner’s policy. However, if you have special equipment in your home that is associated with your home business, you may need more coverage.
For more information, visit http://www.rmiia.org/business/home_business_insurance.asp.
Working at home is not for everyone. Some people really like the atmosphere of working in an office setting and feel distracted and unproductive at home. In addition, some businesses do not lend themselves to being operated or staffed by home workers. However, if the concept of working from home appeals to you and your business allows it, then it may be just the working arrangement you need to achieve an optimal work-life balance.