Your children and your business

Running a home office is never easy. If you have children, it can be even more challenging. This article reviews some tips and tricks for making life on the home front more conducive to business by involving your family in the process, rather than shutting them out.

Making the change from working a “traditional” job to launching your own homebased business can be difficult. Many of you made the decision to work at home because you wanted to improve your quality of family life and your interaction with those special people. But, once the decision has made, it’s often difficult to remember your reasoning, especially when the three-year-old interrupts you for the fourth time in five minutes to “look” at that same something again. Before you lose your cool. . . try these tips.

It is easy to remember what makes it difficult for us to work at home. We are working on marketing plans, designing web pages (possibly for the first time), organizing that little corner of a room for business use, getting creative with financing, learning new skills, or rethinking our “professional identity.” What is not so easy to remember is that the spouse/significant other and the children are also affected by our choice. Before the stress of your business makes you lose your cool or you begin to think your homebased venture is impossible, try a few of the following tips.

Discuss your “approach” on a project with your spouse or significant other. Working from home can be a solitary existence, so it helps to pull in some outside advice, and you should begin with the people on the other side of your office door.

Tell the children about your decisions.

Explain that they are a big part of why you want to work from home. Even the youngest children will understand that you want to be closer to them. Let them know that it’s going to be tough work, and it will require sacrifices, but that they are worth it.

Keep them informed of what you are doing.

My own sons, prodded by questions from friends, had to ask me what I did all day at home. I should have had the foresight to tell them! All they knew was that I worked “on the computer.” Make sure that they understand, in simple terms, what you do and why. Make them comfortable answering questions by peers. (Besides, focusing your business description so a child can understand it is a wonderful way to define your business when creating your own marketing materials and networking with adults!)

Share your success.

Let your children share the excitement when you land your first contract, or make your first sale. My own children, who had been bemoaning the fact that I was “always working on that computer,” gave me ecstatic “high-fives” when I told them that I’d landed my first contract. After that, they would check in to see if I had any more clients or prospects and would inquire about my current project’s progress. Talk about built-in external motivation!

Ask for their opinions.

Let your family know that you value their opinions, not just with family issues, but on a business level. And make the questions age-appropriate. For example, if you are designing a graphic for a client and have narrowed the shades of blue to two that you like, let the youngest decide which of the two is prettiest, and use their suggestion. With older children, you can might let them read a copy of your text and ask them for their advice on the choice between two ways of saying something. (Ask which adjectives they prefer, which are more vivid, and why?)

One day my 13-year old son listened as I complained that I couldn’t properly relay what I wanted in my logo design to an online graphic artist. Then he asked me to sketch it. I did, and he got on a paint program on the computer and created a great logo for me — exactly as I had described. I sent it to the designer to clean up the rough edges and it’s the one I use today. My son and I are both quite proud of that fact!

Note that adolescents can also be “hired help” for filing, copying and scanning. Pay them a base salary for work they do well and keep the records to minimize your taxes at year-end.

Establish an “open door/closed door” policy.

Begin with as few hours a day “locked away” as possible, and expand them as you need to so the children become gently accustomed to you being off limits certain hours of the day. Explain that you are not available if the door is closed, and are available if it is open. Then be sure that the door is open occasionally. When you are filing and doing routine tasks, be available. Reserve the closed door for creative and intensive work when you cannot tolerate interruptions. When it’s closed, a good rule of thumb is: “If it’s not something that you would have phoned me about when I worked in my office outside the home, don’t knock.” Keep a notepad near the door for non-emergency situations that can be discussed later. When you open your door, review the paper and discuss it with the family member who posted it.

Take time to help your children understand.

When my 11-year-old became frustrated because I could not be interrupted while doing creative work on product descriptions for a Web site, I decided to show him why I needed the uninterrupted time. He loves writing poetry, so I asked him to write a poem for me. Once he started, I kept calling him for this or that reason–all nonessential interruptions–until he became quite frustrated. Then I sat down with him and asked him what was wrong. He told me he was angry because I kept interrupting him. He said he would start to write something, and before he could get it down, I’d interrupt him and he would lose his train of thought. About that point he looked at me and a light bulb went off. I asked him if he now understood why I became frustrated when he interrupted me. He smiled and nodded. He has been much more thoughtful about unnecessary interruptions since that little “exercise.”

Have designated mealtimes.

Enjoy mealtimes with your family–all three meals. Begin your day with an unrushed breakfast, visit with your favorite people, and nourish one another for the busy day ahead. Close up shop for lunch at the same time each day and spend that time with the children. And finish your work in time to close up shop for the evening and eat dinner with the family.

Spend time with the family.

From dinner time until the kids are in bed, spend that time with them. Yes, you are swamped! That contract is just “hanging there” waiting for you . . . there is more marketing to be done . . .you ought to check your e-mail . . .the office line is ringing, and so on. So. . .invest in an answering machine for the office phone, power down the computer, and CLOSE THE DOOR to your office from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Enjoy your family!

Sure, you can return to work after the little ones are in bed if you must, but don’t get so involved in your business life that you forget your life. And remember: If the family sees you working, understands what you do, and is asked to help, then what you do when you are “locked away” becomes less of a mystery. And they become more accommodating!