5 ways to a happy home business -- and kids

5 ways to a happy home business -- and kids

If you're reading this column, chances are you're giving serious thought to a home-based business. And it's likely you have children in varying numbers and sizes around that home.

Hold on. Does this spell the end of your work-at-home fantasies? Are kids and home-based businesses like oil and water, or politics and polite conversation?

By no means. I can attest to that. I've owned a home-based business for about 20 years and for more than half of that time I've had one (and, later, a second) kidlet in the work vicinity.

But that's not to suggest that children and home businesses fold together naturally. It takes some planning, flexibility and, perhaps above all, guidelines. Here are some tips to get you started.


Break the news that you're in business.

"You should cover everything from friends coming over during business hours to whether they can run the vacuum or the dishwasher," she says. "If you don't, these topics can flare up four to six months down the road."


Tackle the "who's on kid duty" issue.

However you set things up, don't assume that working from home eliminates the need for child care. If you're an ambitious, focused entrepreneur, that thought may never have dented your skull, but, for others, it's a serious misconception to think that, since you're working at home, child care is a fait accompli.

You will find that in this instance you can't walk and chew at the same time -- particularly if your children are young and require a fair amount of ongoing supervision. So, one of the first issues you'll confront as a home business owner will be child care.

If your spouse is available, you're in luck. Trade off child-care duties so that at least one adult can see to job-related responsibilities.

Often, your spouse will not be available. Arrange for a sitter for a few hours every day, so you have a block of time for uninterrupted work. Arrange for the little one to go to play school, or even trade play dates with a neighbor. Follow more than one route, and get creative. For instance, one young mother I know set up a play group with neighbors that gave each parent one morning with all the children, and four mornings free for work.


Rethink your work hours and your productivity quota.

Along those same lines, consider carefully how much productivity you're willing to give up. As a home-based business owner with kids careening about, it's important to acknowledge that you occasionally may not get all the work done you'd like to get done. If that seems a small price to pay, fine. But if you cringe at the notion of changing diapers while your voice mail takes customer messages, give serious thought as to whether working from home is a good idea at all. Even if you have child care, it's a guarantee that disruption will figure into your daily work routine.

In many ways, the mix of a home business and kids drastically alters the very definition of a work schedule. Pursuing the uninterrupted 9-to-5 workday regimen is akin to rooting for Don Knotts to get the girl -- don't bank on it. Moreover, if you're thinking about a business that's confined to "usual" business hours, as many service-based operations are, chances are your children will eat into the hours you're able to work each week.

But here's hope: If you're willing to approach a home-based business with some flexibility, kids and work can happily coexist. For instance, if your kids demand some attention during conventional workday hours, schedule a deliberate break during the day and then do some work in the evening, after they've conked out. Another strategy is to use "fun time" as motivation for sterling behavior -- the kids give you four hours of continuous, hissy-fit free work time in exchange for an hour or so at the skating rink or swimming pool.

You need to be flexible and unbending at the same time. If you're organized in your approach to an uncertain schedule, your productivity goals won't suffer so much.


Create an official "kid-free" workspace -- with rules.

There are other strategies and tactics that you can employ to ensure a happy union of commerce and kinfolk. One essential item is an office or workspace that's completely separate from other parts of the house. Setting up an office not only guarantees some sort of privacy; it can also be used as a clearly drawn line in the sand. This is the room where the kids simply are not allowed to go.

Laying out a reasonable lineup of rules also helps in managing children and workspace considerations. Let your kids know in no uncertain terms how they are to behave if and when they're allowed in the office. If you have younger children, try to enlist older ones to help with guideline enforcement.

And if you'd rather not have your kids come into your office at all, post a pad or pencil outside your door. That way, short of nuclear conflict or dismembered limbs, you find out what the kids want at your discretion. A little iconography can help, as well. One of Gordon's clients puts a "Hush Bear" (a carefully chosen teddy bear) outside his office door. That way, his twin daughters know silence is an absolute must.


Discover the opportunities, too.

While kids and work at home may seem to boil down to constraints and compromise, bear in mind the possibilities that the arrangement can offer. Again, my family is a case in point: Discouraged by our school system, we recently decided to begin home-schooling both of our children. Had I worked in some cubicle in an office complex outside my home (an image that turns me to ice), home schooling would have been out of the question. But, with my office only a few feet away from our "classrooms" (our dining and living rooms), I have the joy of watching and taking part in my children's growth -- physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Yes, I make some trade-offs. But I get a valuable experience in return, made possible because I work at home.


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