A Guest Post by
Successfully Working From a Home-based Office
It didn’t take long for me to make a mistake when I first started working from home. It wasn’t an obvious “You were wrong” kind of mistake, but the painfully subtle realization that I was going about this whole working from home thing with the wrong attitude. I took the opportunity to finally get a dog, set up a plain desk in the living room, and worked whenever I wanted. And who can blame me? Working from home ranks right up there with passive income – the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant in the Internet marketing world. It’s supposed to be easy right?
Internet workers (especially writers) tend to embrace the idea of working from home. Businesses increasingly favor it as a logical alternative to stuffing hundreds of workers in a cramped office space. In fact, the United States Small Business Administration estimates that around 50% (or about 16 million) of all businesses in the country are based at home.
Oddly enough, we also tend to forget the basic rules of success. Working from home is not a license to relax – there are still challenges to overcome; work that must get done. The discipline you must show when working from home is unmatched by the office environment. You only get paid for work – no wasting five minutes at the water cooler here, checking your Facebook page whenever the boss isn’t looking there.
So, what were the critical mistakes that I made when I first started working from home? You might be surprised at just how many of these strike a bit close to home in your own situation.
I Tried to Work Regular Eight Hour Days
The funny thing about doing creative work from home is that you can only really do so much before your brain completely fries. This is especially true with writers. Most writers get to a point in the day when, no matter how easy their next article is, quality takes a severe dive.
The cap for most writers is about 4,000 words of high quality content per day. After that, it can be tough to come up with new ideas or stay true to your style. It’s tremendously easy to put big projects off until the last minute when you work from home, even easier to think that writing 8,000 words on Monday will give you the day off on Tuesday to go to the beach.
When you choose to work from home, forget everything you know about the Western approach to working, and take the opportunity to find what works best for your personality. Ultimately, you might find that even 6 hours is too long of a day for your work, and you’d rather work in four hour long sessions with 20 minute breaks between. You might also find that you are the kind of person that can work two 20 hour days and enjoy the rest of the week off (lucky…).
No matter what, set a schedule that works best for you and stick with it until it gets boring. Then, try switching it up a little. There’s usually nobody to tell you when to work when you work from home, especially if you do freelance work.
I Took Shortcuts on Internet Service
When you work from home, nothing is more important than a stable, clear wireless Internet connection. I was flat broke when I started working from home – more of a choice of desperation after losing my “normal job.” So when I finally landed a writing job, I rushed to find a cheap Internet service.
If you work from home, buy the best Internet package that you can afford. If you only get paid for the tangible work you actually perform (instead of hourly or salary wages), any time lost waiting for pages to load is wasted. Even worse, losing your connection for even a single day can cost you hundreds of dollars in lost wages.
I remember one day when my Internet went out. The call to my ISP didn’t help (I think they’re trained to just say “we’re doing testing in your area” or “we have reported outages in your area” to get you off the phone). After yelling at the poor customer service rep for at least five minutes, I managed to secure a $1.72 refund on my next month’s bill. I spent the rest of the day drinking coffee at McDonalds, pillaging their Internet connection and ignoring the “why are you still hanging around” glares from the staff.
I Didn’t Keep My Home Office Separate
Granted, I lived in a one bedroom apartment with very few options for separate living space and a home office. But when it came down to it, I cleared out a walk in closet that I was lucky enough to have, found other storage for clothes and such, and used the closet as my office. Sure, it wasn’t as welcoming as a 30th floor office surrounded by windows, but there were great reasons that I ultimately decided to go this route.
As a work from home entrepreneur, you will constantly fight a battle between your work life and home life. Allowing the two to blend can spawn more distractions than you can handle. If you have a family, make it clear that your work time is private time – they should act as if you aren’t even there unless it’s an emergency.
There are also, of course, financial reasons for setting up a home office separate from your living space – taxes. According to Entrepreneur, you can write off a portion of your home or apartment that you use exclusively for business, even if you’re renting. This is the same as writing off utilities used for work, or even writing off your cell phone bill if the majority of calls are made as part of your job.
Although you’re supposed to have a contractor measure your home office space and provide a signed letter (useful if you get audited) verifying his or her measurements, I measured myself and prayed that no audit letter would come. So far, I’ve been lucky.
When you work from home, you will make mistakes. The temptation that comes with a flexible work schedule is like going on a diet – you become very good at convincing yourself that taking that extra donut (or taking yet another break) will be good for you in the end. Few people enjoy their job 100% of the time (does anyone, really?) and not having a direct supervisor to keep that television off can spell disaster for even the strongest of wills. In the end, the most important aspect of working from home is to bring the focus that you had in the office, and combine it with the freedom to spend more time with your family and work on your own schedule. Only with that balance can you get closer to finding that Holy Grail for which you’ve been looking.
What works best to get your home office working for youi?
Rachel Carlson is a writer and student that works from home. While she spends a lot of her time writing, she also helps different companies like Clear Wireless with gaining exposure through various blogs and websites. She has recently started a new Twitter account and is finally going to give it a real shot. She can be followed at @carlson_rachel.
Thanks, Rachel. Even the seasoned pros at home need reminders like these!
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!