3 key challenges to running a business from home

One of the good things about running a business from home is the 30 second commute, which is as long as it takes me to get from the breakfast table to my desk and computer. It sure beats the 40 minutes each way in traffic that I used to face every working day.

There are other good things, such as the lower overheads from not having to own or rent separate business premises. And flexible working hours.

Also, there is no question in my mind that developments like cloud technology have enhanced the attractiveness of running a business from home.

But there are challenges too. They include especially:

  • A sense of isolation
  • Interruptions by family and friends
  • The risk of stress, ill-health and strained family relationships

These three challenges can all be managed

And from long experience in running a business from home I can say it is much better to address these challenges from when you start your business, and set systems and agreements in place then, than to wait and see if they emerge as problems.

Sense of isolation

There is no doubt that, social animals as we are, a traditional workplace can be a great place to be for business success. Provided we are in a happy, cooperative workplace and our workmates are reasonably well-adjusted, working with others can be very satisfying and can help us be creative, productive and fulfilled in what we do.

And I can recall many happy experiences of socialising with workmates at lunchtime or after working hours.

By the same token, running a business from home, for all its benefits of freedom and flexibility, can lead to a disempowering sense of isolation.

That sense of isolation can have serious negative effects, not only on the productivity and profitability of our business, but on our own health and general sense of well-being. And that in turn can make us less confident and assured in serving our clients and seeking new business.

A vicious spiral.

Everyone will deal with this challenge of potential isolation differently, depending on circumstances and personality.

Some ways I’ve found that work for me are:

  • join and participate in professional associations
  • schedule coffee catch-ups or lunches with friends and colleagues
  • attend local and regional events in business generally and in your field of expertise
  • take breaks during the day to just chat and have a laugh with friends on social media

Participating in professional associations

Participating in professional associations, whether on a face to face basis or, if there are not enough people in our locality to do that, participating virtually, helps us to keep up with thinking and practice in our field.

I’ve also found that making some real contribution of time and expertise to maintaining and growing the association, for instance by taking on some executive or committee role, can provide a very “non-isolated” feeling of being connected and a sense of pleasure in being able to help others.

It’s also easier to ask and get good advice and support from professional colleagues when they know you are contributing time, knowledge and skills for the good of the profession generally.

Schedule those coffee catch ups

We need to recognise early on that coffee catch ups and lunches with friends and colleagues are not trivial activities. Nor are they, or some form of relaxed social interaction with friends and colleagues, say a game of golf or other sporting activities, optional extras.

It’s too easy when we are starting a business from home – typically on our own or with at most one other – to be very conscious of the deadlines and generally to have our heads down, working at projects, or marketing our business at every available moment.

So we can easily put off the social contacts that in our previous employment would have been just part of the weekly round of keeping up and staying connected.

Which is why we need to consciously and deliberately schedule those catch ups.

It’s also important to not restrict such catch ups to when we want something from the other person, or want to pitch something. It’s not necessarily helpful to be always in full-on pitching and selling mode. And it’s my experience that great ideas and great referrals can come from very relaxed, “agenda free” get-togethers.

Local and regional events

I firmly believe that, no matter how connected we become virtually and via social media, there will always – or at least for the foreseeable future – be local chambers of commerce and other business-focused gatherings and groups of professionals wanting to get together offline to discuss matters of shared interest. These are often free to attend or may have a modest charge to cover refreshments.

Even when we have a business which does not have primarily a local or regional market focus, attending local and regional events in our field of expertise and also in business generally is a great antidote to any feelings of isolation. It can also deliver business leads in sometimes surprising ways.

Again, as for professional associations, taking on some more active role in local business associations could be a sensible move and yet another defence against any sense of isolation. But especially for those of us who are solo or two person businesses, it is important to not  to be over generous with our time to the point where we become overstretched, neglect our own business and family and disappoint everyone, ourselves included.

Take breaks

One of the great boons for people running businesses from home is the way social media provides instant access to entertainment and conversation, as a break from the more demanding aspects of running our business.

Of course it requires discipline not to just waste hours, but this whole post is really about the various disciplines we have to learn and practise to help us run our businesses successfully.

Interruptions by family and friends

One of the toughest calls on anyone running a business from home is the need to set boundaries against interruptions by family and friends.

But we have to do so if we are not to risk the success of our business.

It’s particularly challenging for people with young children, and more so for sole parents. But, to take one example of  why this issue needs attention, the reality is that not every client is going to be so family friendly as to be relaxed about having a serious business conversation, via telephone or Skype, derailed by the sound of a child insisting on the business owner parent’s attention.

Well, maybe once, but not as a regular occurrence.

I acknowledge it’s often going to be hard for parents to enlist the cooperation of young children in this, but as with friends it’s surely better to have the conversation before behaviour becomes a problem, rather than risking a blowup if and when it does.

And friends and family members need to understand that, although we are working from home – and quite probably in very casual attire – that doesn’t mean we are available for unexpected, unannounced and extensive drop-in chats.

This is not about getting people to embrace fully the idea that we really do have a business to run. We have to face the fact that some will never take that seriously, because their mental picture is that if it’s at home it’s not a real business. But we need to help them understand that for us it’s a real business and sometimes we just won’t be available.

Stress, ill health and strained relationships from working excessive hours

Because in running a business from home we have flexible working hours, it can be a short step for that very flexibility to lead us into working excessive hours, being “always on” and neglecting our health and family relationships.

READ: Why staff should stay home when they get sick

The fact that I can start work just after I get out of bed in the morning doesn’t mean I should. That may be the best time in the day for quiet reading, or for some fresh air and exercise. The fact that I can work at my business into the early hours doesn’t mean that’s a good idea. And unless it’s a rare occurrence, chances are it will be a very bad idea for family relationships.

In our daily conversations with a significant other or any family member, we have to remind ourselves that they may not share our enthusiasm for or preoccupation with our business and probably won’t want to have every dinner conversation or other family time dominated by talk about the business.

So we need to set up our own healthy, family-friendly regime of time spent with the business and time for our own health and well-being and that of others. And make sure we take a real interest in what other people are doing and what they are concerned with.

It’s not always going to be easy to have some separation of business and other home life, and if we don’t have a dedicated part of the home for our office work it could be exceptionally challenging.

But if our financial future and that of our family depends on getting that scheduling right, then surely it’s a challenge worth meeting?

Other thoughts?

Do you have experience of other challenges for people running a business from home? I’d love for you to share that experience – and how you have dealt with it – in the comments.

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  • Des, you nailed it! I do feel isolated and I’m sure that affects my productivity. I used to think not having the distractions of the workplace would be a benefit – and it was for a time – but now I find myself needing the social stimulation a workplace provides. To remedy that I do get out to a coffeehouse now and again, though all too infrequently.

    Even though we don’t have children at home, we do have a dog and three cats, which can be distracting. Aside from that, there are plenty of other distractions anyway.

    To your point about working hours, I used to be a workaholic, but have changed that behavior in the past year. Now, I try and make plenty of time for family. But, being a soloentrepreneur, that can be difficult as there are always deadlines to meet.

    Thanks for your great tips and sagely advice. I appreciate it very much, and I know other home-based business folk do, as well.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this, Paul.

      On the positive side, your comment reminded me of one of the advantages of running a business from home, i.e. usually not having to go out on the road in bad weather. I know Louisiana is no stranger to extremes of weather and when we get some cyclonic onslaughts here, I am always very pleased that I can just stay indoors and get on with things, and not have to risk life and limb in torrential rain and wild winds on the highway,

  • Hi Des,

    Working at home is one of those things we fantasize about when we’re in the midst of that 40 min or longer commute everyday. But you’ve hit on the challenges that can diminish our productivity and home business success.

    My challenge in working at home is difficulty in shutting off my business once I get rolling. Once I get started my challenge is staying on task and not being distracted by email and bright shiny objects.

    To help give balance to my work-at-home life, I start off the day with a walk. On alternating days I walk with my neighbor; on the days I walk alone I have coffee at my turnaround point and read for pleasure for a while before returning home. attend two different networking meetings each month and go out to lunch with friends and or colleagues on Fridays. Adding to all this, doctor, dentist and beauty shop appointments helps add normalcy to what could otherwise become a hermit’s life.

    • I’m sure you’re not alone (me, for instance!) Flora, about the being distracted by email and bright shiny objects!

      That’s a great formula you have, starting with the walk. And I like the “reading for pleasure”. I’ve started doing some of that again and I think I’ve got over the guilt feeling. Anyway, if I only read about social media and business and coaching I am quite sure my brain would turn to mush.

  • You have said it all!
    – apart from the fact that in some areas we can’t get online, even in this day and age apart from with expensive satellites. This means the working day is shortened as the data charges ramp up, so you have a window to be productive in and that helps the structure of the day.
    I find setting goals helps keep me on track, I never feel isolated as long as I have an internet connection as many work mates are there for help, advice or updates.
    If the internet connection is off then I do feel isolated, terribly. I don’t think I could work from home without it even if my business didn’t need it. The mere fact I can attend conferences online saves me thousands of pounds every year, saves hours of travel and a lot of carbon…
    If I need to meet someone its scheduled for skype, and that also saves a lot of time and money when you live in a remote area. Its vital we get connectivity to everyone, even rural areas, so that many people can work from home. It will save the country a fortune in transport alone. I think the downsides are far less than the alternatives. It just takes a dose of thinking about and a bit of discipline and organising, but it beats commuting hands down.

    • Chris

      I’m sorry I missed this great comment at the time. It should be read by anyone considering working from home.

  • It’s great to be able to combine a work/life balance from a home office, especially if you have young kids. I find it really helps to allocate dedicated time to work and time to play with the kids and when you are doing either make sure you give it 100%. It also helps to have a good lock and a sound-proof door on the office!
    Tim Johnston

    • Tim

      I think one of the hardest things for parents working from home must be the need to explain to young children what “working” means and why it is a problem when “working” is interrupted.

  • I love working for myself based in my home office. I don’t suffer isolation, so much, as I have regular clients who I phone or visit. The problem I have is when my family is home and I’m in my office working. They constantly pop in to chat to me,which is great but not when I’m fully involved in my work. Of a morning, I fulfill my mum duties, pick up a cup of tea and announce “I’m going to work now, bye”. Just as if I’m leaving the house. This indicates to them that I am now off limits. It’s taken some training but they get it now. I also have to learn when to switch off from work mode and back to mum mode. The temptation to pop into my office to check emails, just do a bit of bookkeeping, etc etc makes it hard to walk down the hallway and past the office door. Discipline, dedication and and enjoyment are all part of the work at home ethic and I sometimes think it takes a special kind of business operator to suceed in a home environment. Not everyone can do it.

    • GC Mobile Bookkeeper

      You are right, it takes discipline and dedication and not everyone is up for that. But for those who are, the freedom is rather special, isn’t it?

  • I feel the same way Mr. Walsh, thanks for this post. There are times that I feel lucky to be working at home with less stress on many things, but, lately I have realized that there are different kind of stresses that you encounter even when working at the comfort of your home.