Running your own business from home can be fun and fulfilling, but what do you do when the cabin fever finally gets to you?
How idyllic to work where your longest commute is from the dining room to the spare bedroom - and there's real coffee on tap all day, the winter sun pours through the window into your office, you can work in your casual wear and call all the shots. No wonder more and more people are taking advantage of the huge advances in technology and the new focus on family commitment and lifestyle creation to jump the corporate ship and work from home.
But the undoubted benefits of having a home business go hand-in-hand with a variety of unique challenges. While working solo is very productive if you are disciplined enough about your work habits, it can be a serious drawback both socially and professionally. Successful home businesses recognise the problem - and take positive steps to maximise the advantages and overcome the challenges it poses.
While in the early stages of working from home it can be difficult to turn away friends who come visiting, a home business can be a lonely enterprise. Without the daily exchanges taken for granted in a workplace, from puerile water cooler gossip to management meetings, it is easy to lose touch with what is going on in the world, with trends and techniques, and with other people's opinions. There is also no longer a social group of workmates to which you automatically belong, and it can be hard to meet new people.
Professionally, too, many home businesses are isolated. Without regular exposure to fresh ideas, current trends and formal training, it is easy soon to fall behind in your area of professional expertise. One of the reasons for this is that it costs relatively more for an individual to subscribe to all the recognised publications, to attend relevant events or invest in individual training. There is no-one who offers a second opinion, no chance to learn from a colleague by osmosis, no legal, marketing or other department to come up with ideas or provide feedback. Home businesses can die from professional isolation!
Another aspect of this isolation is the "invisibility" of many home businesses. Unlike a business with even small premises, home businesses often have no overt presence. Though some announce themselves with a sign outside their home or a pavement sandwich board, council regulations can curb or prohibit these forms of advertising and neighbours often object. Many operators prefer to safeguard their privacy or may not welcome unexpected visits even by prospective customers.
So do home business operators sit engrossed in their work, lost and lonely, holed up in their homes, battling to draw customers or make friends? Not a bar of it! But the way they go about overcoming the challenge of isolation is different to the way their corporate counterparts or small business brothers and sisters do.
As with any challenge, recognising the problem is already half the battle won. It's important not only to recognise if and how you are becoming isolated, but to define what you want to achieve. Depending on your own personality, life situation, significant others (including life or business partners), the nature of your business and your long-term goals, solutions could include steps such as:
- attending business gatherings and networking functions
- making and keeping contact with a few other local home business operators
- joining - and attending gatherings of - local professional or industry organisation
- tapping into business and networking resources both online and offline, such as BizInfo, local Enterprise organisations, Business in the Community (a mentorship programme), HomebizBuzz.co.nz, the local Chamber of Commerce, business women's groups and so on
- reading newspapers and magazines, especially business ones or those focused on your industry or area of expertise
- scouring your local library or bookshop for relevant and popular books on business or your specific niche, and reading or at least skimming these
- attending training courses, seminars and conferences (and not just the free ones) both on your area of expertise and on business skills
- advertising, if you need to, via pamphlets, mail drops, on the internet, in publications, and in a variety of other ways as appropriate for your business.
You will soon find your circle of friends and acquaintances growing, be better informed about your field, and find new customers knocking at the door (at least figuratively).
Remember, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy - and Jill an equally dull woman. Joining an organisation, club or group which has nothing to do with your work - for instance a sports club, craft class or school board - is a great way to widen your circle of acquaintances, learn new skills, develop other interests and be involved in your community.
You'll be amazed at how many business contacts you make through your involvement, and you'll be able to talk to friends, family and customers about more than just your work! Working from home will be enjoyable, productive, profitable - and sociable.
Heather Douglas is the owner of Home Business New Zealand Ltd. This article was originally published on Bizbuzz.co.nz which provides free information, resources, tools and an online community for small and home business owners throughout New Zealand.
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