This week’s contribution to the series Working from Home and Loving It is on the challenges a home based professional faces when she or he decides on being a serious business builder.

I’ve drawn up a list of nine challenges for the serious business builder. There is no particular significance in the number: it’s just the items that came to me. And although in my previous post in this series I listed twelve things about home based business that give me pleasure, that doesn’t mean of itself that the pleasures outweigh the challenges – although for me they do.

2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland)

The list of challenges was written down off the top of my head and is drawn very much from my own experience. I have deliberately not gone and looked up any of the books I have on small or home-based business, or lists on various websites, although no doubt my list has been influenced by things I have read at some time or other in the past 21 years of my having a home based business. So I accept that there may well be better, or at least longer, lists elsewhere. And I’m really wanting here to focus on listing the challenges, rather than pontificating, well, at least not right now or not as much as I might, on how to handle them.

1. Our mental pictures of business

If our mental picture of what “business” looks like does not include working from our kitchen table or from a corner of our lounge room, or even from a re-organized guest bedroom (hoping we don’t have any guests right now), it’s going to be difficult or impossible to see ourselves as building a business (as distinct from “managing” or “getting by”). If, like me, your early memories of “serious” business are going to work in a big office in the city, it could be even more challenging.

To deal with this we could start by seeking to understand and absorb into our thinking and behavior the NLP principle that “the map is not the territory”. If that map or picture of business we have in our mind cannot accommodate our desire to be serious about building a business from home, we need to find and work on ways to enlarge and enrich our mental map so that it includes a wider range of possibilities about “business”, or about “business and us” than we can currently envisage. Finding examples of people who have built successful businesses from home and focusing on them would be one way of moving forward.

2. Our self-judgement

If there is any one thing likely to keep us thinking small and playing small, it’s our own – often unconscious or sub-conscious – self-judgement. So many of us have had successes in life as measured by how we performed in various roles, whether in business or private life. When we start a business from home, we are going to have to deal with someone who is, for many of us, our sternest critic, ourselves. I’m not going to delve too deeply here, but anyone who these days has read or heard even a little about basic psychology knows how easy it is for us to sabotage our own best efforts through self-doubt and self-criticism.

Taking steps to build our self-esteem is part of what is needed to be able to build a real, even a great business from home. And we need to learn to think like business owners – easier said than done for people who have spent a working lifetime being employees.

3. Lack of skills

When we start a home based business we each have some sort of skillset. We may be strong in administration and in our knowledge of the product or services we are selling. We may have marketing skills. But we may lack some of the skills that in previous roles, in a corporate life, we did not really need to have. And for me, working for so long in the public service, one of the biggest challenges was not having any training, or for that matter skill, in selling or marketing. I’ve since spent a lot of money being trained by experts and a lot of time developing my selling skills, to a point where I no longer feel anxious about that area.

For another person, there may be a need to develop some basic administrative and financial literacy skills. One skill I would recommend highly is knowing how to read a balance sheet and other financial reports. There are books and courses on these things.

4. Lack of capital

II think I’m on safe ground in stating – without any research data to back me up – that one of the realities of home based business is that a lot of us have started our business from home because we did not have the funds to spend on setting up an office or workshop or studio elsewhere, or if we had the money available we did not want to spend it on that. There is a strong element of common sense in that. Spending a lot of money on facilities before you have income arriving to cover it is not usually a smart move. On the other hand, it highlights a factor, lack of capital to grow and expand, which is common to small business and one of the standard reasons offered as to why a lot of small businesses fail.

Business credit is one answer to this challenge and in the current economic climate that is presumably going to be harder to access than usual.  The topic is too big to cover in this short post, but for any business to grow, it will be necessary to work out where the money to underwrite that will come from, whether from a percentage of income, from personal savings, from family loans or financial institution credit.  And for any of those options to have a chance to help produce success, some serious financial planning and business strategic planning will be essential. More skill development!

5. Attitudes of others

I would like to think that in this day and age people generally would understand that a business from home can be a serious business. My hunch is that the reality is otherwise. And I think the reality is that no matter how many people you could produce who generate a six figure income or more from home, people who commute to work and work for others for a wage less than that will still be capable of being condescending about business from home. And then there are the drop-ins: people who would not dream of just dropping in to see someone in a city office without at least a prior phone call or text message, but will feel no compunction about calling by unannounced to someone’s home, even though they know they are working.

We need to let people know, early in the piece, that during business hours we are not available for casual drop-ins but if someone wants to come around for a coffee and chat to just be good enough to call first.

There is actually a deeper issue here. Unless we are made of very stern stuff, we can easily be influenced, often without our seeing it, by attitudes of friends and family. That’s the real reason we need to let people know that what we are doing is business, not a hobby.

6. Being able to set our own times to work

The flipside to having the freedom to work at the times we choose and at a pace we set, not at times and a pace others set, is that we have the scope to fritter time away and be unproductive without always recognizing that. In a former role, we might have procrastinated but we knew that when the report was due we had to deliver it or face consequences. A problem with working from home, for ourselves, is that we have the ability to procrastinate without having to face consequences, or face them immediately.

We do need to plan, to set routines and stick to them, and have a system of reviewing progress. We need to exercise self-discipline and be honest with ourselves in having a clear sense of how what we do and when we do it relates to how we get paid.

7. Family responsibilities

There can actually be some very real advantages in terms of family responsibilities, in terms of working from home. For example, being able to take children to school and pick them up at the end of the school day, rather than heading off in the early morning to commute to a city office or battle your way home through the crowds, strap-hanging on a train or bus. But for someone who has been used to working in a traditional business setting and then has to organize a schedule which takes account of children’s programs, or perhaps involves caring for elderly parents, there can be a challenge in getting into and maintaining a “business-building” mentality.

There may be need for some negotiation. For example, parents may need to sit down with children and set some ground rules – as, when their mother has the door of her office closed, that means she is at work on her business, which provides the food on the table and their clothes and holidays etc. And couples need some “contractual understandings”, such as that one person being “at home all day” does not mean that that person has to do all the housework and be responsible for everything around the house.

8. Lack of corporate resources

One of the best things about working in a corporate environment is that there are People Who Take Care of Things. Whether it is how your salary is paid and expenses reimbursed, or the provision and care of office equipment, computers, Blackberries, there is someone who takes care of it. Not always efficiently, perhaps, but generally in such a way that you can get on with the “serious” work you are being paid to do. And in a big enough enterprise there will be people who can fill in or cover for you, if you are sick, for instance.

Then one day, when you have been relishing having your own home office, you have an Internet access problem and it happens to be at 11 am on a Saturday and you have a proposal to deliver first thing Monday. After you have spent a couple of hours on the phone to tech support and done at least one trip to a local store to get some piece of equipment, you find you have lost a large part of the time you were going to use to work on your proposal. Welcome to the world of home based business, where for all the wonders of outsourcing we sometimes find ourselves wearing hats we are not used to and may not have particular training for. You are now officially CEO, CMO, CFO, CTO and Head Technician.

My view is that there is no simple solution, but we need to be able to work out early in the piece what we can reasonably, sensibly outsource, and what we absolutely have to do ourselves.

9. Team of one

This point, the challenge of being a team of one, is closely related to the previous one on lack of corporate resources. I’m a strong believer in the advantages of getting synergy, which I think of as the higher level of energy and greater effectiveness you can get when two or more people are working together in harmony. In corporate environments, a lot of money and effort is expended in getting teams to work together effectively and productively.

Working from home, many of us have achieved more or less success by teaming up with others who also work from home. I’ve personally found this beneficial in a number of ways: in pitching for business the combined skills of the team can be a deal-maker; you can brainstorm and share the work that needs to be done; you can check and improve on one another’s work. At the same time, there needs to be a lot of trust and you need to have mechanisms in place, in advance, to resolve disputes and misunderstandings.

Do you have other points to add to the list? Or would you parse some or all of the ones above differently? We are all learning and I hope you’ll share.

Picture credit:
2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) courtesy infomatique, via Flickr – Creative Commons

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