It’s national Home Based Business Week! We know the tales of tech giants that began in garages, but did you know that over 69% of ALL businesses started at home? And, the work from home trend continues to grow. Today, I’m sharing the secrets I’ve learned to successfully work from home for 20 years.
Whether you own a home-based business or work from home some of the time, you are a part of a growing trend.
The Small Business Administration says that half of all small businesses are home-based, and that number continues to rise. In fact, new studies show that 50% of millennials work at home and only 27% work full time at a company’s workplace. (Even for corporate workers – the ability to work from home is becoming a sought-after benefit. The workforce, just like consumerism, is shifting homeward.
Working from home can have tremendous benefits, but you’ve got to be organized not only to succeed in business, but also to LAST!
I personally understand the art of the work from home business, not just from 20 years of consulting every kind of enterprise you can imagine, but also because Restoring Order itself has been a home-based business for two decades! We operate our business from our family farmstead Dream Acres in Sherwood, Oregon.
Our Reasons for Working from Home
I want to share with you some of the reasons why we have chosen to operate our business from home. If you’re already working from home, I hope this will shore up your resolve to make it work, and if you’re considering it, I hope it will give you the courage to take the leap.
When Trevor quit his job in 2006 to stay home with our first-born son, we consolidated our efforts, combining our collective parenting, work, and creative power. It wasn’t easy in those first few years, but by the grace of God we overcame the bleary nights and long days. We found that what we “lost” in two incomes, we made up for in the “cost” of going in two very different directions. Coming together at home, and making this our platform from which we serve others, has been one of the very best decisions we’ve made.
Similarly, our consultants are home-based and they simply leave for their client appointments straight from home. There’s no need for them to “report in” on a daily basis, and I love giving them the freedom to be deployed and return back to their own nest. And yet, they have a sense of “home” here at our farmstead, too. They love coming “home” to Dream Acres for a monthly team gathering full of support and continuing education, plus our annual summer and Christmas party.
Home Based Hospitality
When you work from home, you have the wonderful opportunity to open your home to your team (whether they’re employees or contractors, or just colleagues), and create a second home for them. Essentially, working from home affords us the opportunity to create a safe, non-corporate space where people automatically feel more at ease.
Think of it: because you are a business owner who has a place to offer, you can become a “hub” of activity and creativity! You can use your household hub as a haven of fun and support for others. In a world where so many come from fractured families, you might be surprised how much it means to people to have a place to feel at home.
In addition to combining earning power and creating a vibrant community from home, we’ve found one of the best benefits of working from home is simply being together as a family.
Day-to-day, Trevor and I get to work to our full potential, meanwhile “covering” for each other, while working toward a common goal. We free each other to work in our strengths all while we are raising our kids and inviting them into everyday work life with us. They are learning to serve their family, their businesses, and the community by example and through full immersion!
OK, now I’ve shared the WHY behind our home-based business…I will share some keys to making it work.
1. Steward Your Time
Office Hours vs. Off Hours
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say that to work from home you must set “office hours.” Either I’m doing it wrong or that model just don’t work for the way our family is wired!
From the moment we get up to the moment we head to bed, our family is in motion. Whether we are making a meal together, cleaning up, running errands for the business, or hosting a client or event at Dream Acres, we are productively moving things ahead. At the same time, we love reading, enjoying a fire in the woodstove, and playing UNO over dinner. As I write, all my guys are outside playing “flashlight wars.” Yes, we work-from-home, but we also play-from-home.
We don’t set office hours, because we intentionally blur the lines between work and play in our family. We believe that work is a way for us to share our purpose with the world, so it doesn’t feel like a chore or something we want to “get through” until 5 pm. We love what we do. We intentionally live an INTEGRATED life of personal and professional worlds, rather than a rigid life with strict lines “not to be crossed.”
Granted, a few times each week, I really NEED uninterrupted time for conference calls and client appointments, and for this purpose I have a separate space (with two sets of doors I can shut!). I even have a little private desk upstairs in my bedroom where I can retreat if things get rowdy. Yet, overall, I am pretty available to my family.
Instead of setting OFFICE hours, our family finds that it’s more useful to set OFF hours – times that we are DONE with work and we set aside our technology and projects. In those times, we read or watch a movie or take a walk together.
Rigid work hours don’t always honor your family or household needs, and one of the main benefits of working from home is being available.
Prioritizing Your Time
In addition to having non-work FAMILY time in our OFF hours, we also block out time for the important stuff. A key to home-based business success (and LIFE success!) is prioritizing.
First off, I have ONE conjoined calendar that includes both personal and professional activities. I color-code my activities, so I can see how much of my week is administrative, how much is with clients, and how much is dedicated to family enrichment. Having a visual calendar also encourages me to add in time for self-care and health reclamation activities.
I also block out on my calendar dates with my kids. I’ve discovered that these can be combined with work sometimes. Now that the boys are pre-teens, they come with me to my weekly television appearances, and afterwards we have a private “coffee date.” They each love the one-on-one time (and sometimes I get to take them both!). As a home-based worker, you have the freedom to combine work and play and make them both fun!
Whatever calendar system you use, my advice is to RULE your calendar. I add everything to my calendar. I block out time to work on projects before they’re due and I break down big projects into smaller work chunks on my calendar. For me, working-from-home is a privilege that affords me an integrated life, and I take dominion over my calendar so that I’m not distracted or wasteful with the hours I have. My advice to every work from home entrepreneur is to figure out the best calendar system for you – paper or electronic, app or software- and then rule it!
Keep it Picked Up
A side effect of working from home is that we are actively inhabiting several key rooms (namely the kitchen) all.the.time, and things get messy. The morning egg pan needs to get washed. The dishwasher needs to get emptied and reloaded. The mail lands on the counter.
Some people (let’s not name names) can live with a messy work space all day. I cannot. Not only do I live here; I work here! So, I like to keep things tidied up on an ongoing basis so I have a nice place to work.
It used to irritate me that I was “wasting” my time cleaning up all the time until I realized that this is actually part of my choice to work at home.
You have to accept if you work from home that a) you’re signing up for more clean-up than those who are gone all day and b) it may not always look or feel the way you’d like. I find that the longer I work from home, the more I enjoy cleaning up our mealtime messes and enrolling my family is keeping things picked up ongoingly. (I am pretty sure they wouldn’t tell you they enjoy it, but we all take pride in having a lovely home that is always open to hospitality.)
Keeping things orderly day-to-day also brings the work-at-hand into focus. If you keep your home and workspace(s) clear, it is easier to THINK and apply your time most effectively. A clear and tidy space is empowering, and keeping things picked up and put away is a big part of work-at-home clarity of mind.
2. Set Up Shop
Ok, now that we’ve raved about working from home and had a heart-to-heart about prioritizing, calendaring, and tidying, let’s talk about your workspace.
Being a professional organizer has given me the opportunity to drop into hundreds of homes over the last 20 years. I have observed every kind of work-from-home scenario, and I can tell you that the folks that take their work seriously take the time to create a proper office at home.
My advice is to carve out a special, organized space in your home that is dedicated to your work; don’t just float on the couch and at the kitchen table.
Having a dedicated space ups your professionalism. It signifies to you (and your clients, though they may never visit) that you’re serious about your work. It not only gives you workspace and storage space, but it also offers a backdrop for video calls for the business you can do virtually. Finally, it gives you doors you can shut when you need to focus and give your full attention to something or someone.
When setting up your space, establish distinct areas for your:
You need a large enough desk to spread out your papers and project and store your in-progress work. I find that a 24-28” deep desk allows you the back half of the desk for in-view project storage and the front half of the desk for work flow.
I don’t know about you, but I still need to store lots of paper, and most of our clients do, too. Insurance paperwork, vital records, employee files, equipment paperwork and annual financials all need distinctive storage.
I created a bookkeeper’s desk at our home office space that is dedicated to storing most of this business paperwork. People often underestimate how much file storage they need. At minimum, I’ve found that most home offices need at least 8 file drawers: 4 for their personal files and 4 for their business files. I have about 10 file drawers for paperwork, and another 6-8 file drawers for supply storage
Most offices need a place for the auxiliary equipment to live: the printer, postage meter, 3 hole punch, etc. If you can get these clunky items off your desk, you will clear more workspace.
Even when folks are very digitally-minded, there are usually reference items that need a home in their workspace. I have 4 bookshelves forming our household and work “library” of reference. Others just require a single shelf with key reference. Store these items as close or as far away as you need from your desk based on frequency-of-use.
Some people have a satellite office supply store in their home offices! Since home offices are often housed in a spare bedroom; I will commonly use the closet for supply storage. This keeps distinct zones for work and stock supplies. Taking the time to organize your supplies can save you hundreds in unnecessary purchases as you steward what you already have on hand.
As pictured above in this darling home office, many home-based businesses are products-driven and require inventory on hand. If your business relies on inventory, keeping those products organized (and beautiful) will keep your ordering pipeline more active. The more you empower yourself to move product, the more financially “productive” you will be!
Manage Paper Flow
Some businesses can conduct most work electronically, but many of us still use paper and binders and trays to process our work.
Rather than spend too much time in this home-based-business blog on the MASSIVE subject of paper management, I thought I’d share some resources with you if you need help in this area, because successful paper management really is a huge part of running your business smoothly.
Here is our paper management playlist on YouTube that will give you some visual tips on creating paper systems. Please share any of the videos you find helpful!
Now, onto the double-header of home office systems…the people and the profits….
3. Systematize Contacts & Cash
In my view business exists to serve people. If we miss that mark, we have slid into some selfish arena of self-advancement that comes at the cost of humankind. Good business must somehow serve others.
There are many groups of people we serve in business: our own team (employees, contractors, co-workers); our service providers (bookkeeper, web designer/host, accountant, etc.); our customers; and our community.
Remember, if we focus on serving, we will succeed because – as the adage goes: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. When people know you genuinely care about them beyond a transaction, they are willing to let you into their world. You may never exchange commerce with them, but perhaps you can give a referral, share what you’ve learned, or help another colleague along their journey.
In the end, your caring heart, good name, and benevolent reputation will reflect well on your business; that’s a guarantee. We don’t serve to get, but we cannot help but be blessed when we consistently bless others.
Systematize to Serve Better
Because business is about people, we need a good system to manage all the people we know. If you’re in home-based-business, you’ve got to have a good app or software for your CRM – your customer relationship management database.
Some versions integrate finances and selling activities, others just store contact information and appointments. It’s worth shopping around to find the right system and investing in this critical asset. Be sure you select a system that will allow you to easily export OUT your contacts should your needs change over time. Additionally, consider the per-user fee if you plan on growing your company.
Corral Your Contacts
Then, manage your contacts like a boss. Every business card, contact, email, and notecard we get or send is documented in our CRM. We categorize all our contacts on many levels and document the relationship.
This makes client transitions between our professional organizers go smoothly and offers our customers a consistent experience over two decades of service! We also include all our service providers, prospects, former clients, and friends. It’s a massive collection of our tribe, worth careful stewardship!
In business, we’re not only responsible for caring for people, but also for creating a profit.
Profit actually means “to advance.” No one wants to be in business to stagnate or just “get by,” we all want to make a difference and see an increase year-to-year.
While self-employment is no guarantee of an upward arrow in revenue, if we practice wise financial management, we are more likely to profit.
Track Down Tools
Get a good financial management software or app, preferably one that can produce dashboards and reports. Then, schedule the time to enter all the income and expenses on a weekly basis. If you can’t or don’t want to do this, hire it out. The first hire I made was a bookkeeper and that was 18 years ago!
Your type of business will determine the best financial management system. Consider what you have to sell: inventory or consultancy or both and then choose a system that will usefully allow you to code and report back on your various offerings. (Search for review blogs that compare different software and apps to determine the right fit for your business.)
Prioritize Getting Your Financial House in Order
If you can get a handle on your contacts and cash early in your business, you will quickly see advance in relationships and profit. But, it’s never too late if you’ve started your business a long time ago and are still buried in business cards and receipts. You’ll just need to carve out time in your calendar to tackle each of these KEY systems.
Dedicate the next few months to tackling contacts and following months to financial management, and you’ll begin to see a dramatic uptick in business.
4. Mix & Mingle
Working at home is a lifestyle choice – and often a financial choice – but it can be isolating.
The reason co-working sites are increasingly popular is because work is often more pleasant in the company of others. Let’s face it: most things are more fun done in community.
My advice to home-based business mavens and mavericks is to GET OUT of the house sometimes and work from a coffee shop. Changing scenes can be refreshing and bring new focus. The smell of coffee and goodies someone else prepared, along with the buzz of activity, can be invigorating to many. The idea is to “mix it up” sometimes and energize your work.
Mix it Up
Some of the most productive work sessions I have with my marketing assistant are conducted at the local nail salon! We bring our laptops and coffee and tea and get exfoliated and polished while we are updating the website and collaborating on projects. It’s a double win!
Even if you don’t leave the house, collaboration is key for us work from home entrepreneurs. I’ve found that using video conferencing platforms to convene with our team, clients, and partners is another way to keep the professionalism and productivity high.
I hope you’re inspired to carve out a fabulous work from home office and take control of your calendar, contacts, and cash. Organization will empower you to optimize your home-based business and live out the integrated life.
I’d love to hear from you! Share in the comments what YOUR work from home secret to success is!
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