According to the Small Business Administration, more than half of all U.S. small businesses are based in their owners’ homes.
If you ask small business owners or solopreneurs who have built thriving businesses working from their home offices if it’s the way to go, I’d expect most would tell you that, overall, it rocks.
I love working from home. It has served me incredibly well over the past five years. But along with the upsides, a home office has its downsides. It isn’t right for everyone. I’ve seen other professionals flounder and fail in their home office environments.
Some people quite simply aren’t wired to work from home and/or their physical and social surroundings aren’t optimal for running a business.
If you’re starting a home-based business, or if you’re contemplating transitioning from an external office to one in your house, prepare for the pros and cons.
The good, bad, and downright ugly issues of working from home
- It’s more cost effective than an external office. You’ll save money because you won’t be renting space or buying fuel to commute. Also, you most likely won’t need to invest as much in your professional wardrobe, nor will you spend as much cash on coffee and lunches. Plus, there’s the home office deduction on your income tax return that decreases the amount you’ll owe to dear old Uncle Sam.
- It’s conducive to a more flexible work schedule. For the most part, you can come and go as you please if you plan well. Aside from client meetings and phone calls, you can probably work at night or early in the morning to pick up the slack if you’ve taken time off during the workday.
- It gives you more time to get the job done. How sweet it is to have the option of jumping right into what needs to be done with no time wasted commuting back and forth. Or bothering with shaving. Or doing your hair and makeup.
- You can enjoy a less stressful, quieter work environment. When it’s just you, you can usually set the tone and atmosphere of your surroundings.
- It can be difficult to separate yourself from your work. With your office always a few footsteps away, you might find yourself compelled to take care of unfinished business tasks during your downtime. Unable to escape for some mental rest and relaxation, you could end up burned out and overwhelmed.
- Undone tasks around the house might distract you from your work. I’ve had numerous conversations with people who’ve shared something like this, “I could never work from home. I’d be tempted to pull weeds, or vacuum, or watch Days of Our Lives.” Distractions abound when working from home. It takes discipline to ignore their lure.
- You risk feeling all alone from a lack of social interaction. Working from home becomes lonely at times. It requires independence and a high degree of self-motivation to rise to the occasion when you don’t have anyone else there to bounce ideas off, or hold conversations with.
- Not everyone will take you seriously or support your decision to work from home. Not being taken seriously as a small business owner can be frustrating, and a real motivation killer.
In my experience, clients have rarely been the problem in this respect, but it took time for some of my friends and family members to grasp that I’m running a business here.
Heck, some still don’t quite get it even though I’m five years into this self-employment thing! You’ll likely encounter that to some degree with someone in your circle of friends and family, too. Prepare for the occasional misunderstanding, and even some jealous reactions.
Some people will think you’re running a business from your home because you can’t find a “real job.” Some will think you don’t actually have a business if you don’t have employees. A few will think you spend your days playing on social media (except, of course, when you’re watching Jerry Springer reruns).
And some people will believe it’s okay to pop in any time to visit, or they’ll expect you to drop everything to go out with them for a cup of coffee or a midday trip to the mall.
No, not everyone will appreciate your hard work and ambitions.
How to deal with the ugly
While there’s no magic formula for making people understand and accept your decision to work from home as a self-employed professional, you can minimize frustration and hard feelings by setting expectations and boundaries.
- Tell them when they can best reach you. If you let them know you won’t be available to answer their calls until after 6 p.m. on weekdays, they probably won’t call you at 10 a.m. And if they do, they won’t be as inclined to get angry when you don’t respond until later.
- Have a separate business email address. By keeping the recipe chain emails and animated kitten gifs out of sight, you won’t feel obligated to respond.
- When you’re working on projects, close your email tab on your browser and put your smartphone in another room. That will prevent you from getting distracted and thrown off course by calls and notifications.
- Minimize your exposure to (or completely separate yourself from) blatantly unsupportive people. Sadly, I’ve had a few friendships slip away after I started my business. Without sharing common goals and interests, some friendships naturally and respectfully ended. And then there was one person who became resentful and verbally combative when I couldn’t give her the time and attention she felt entitled to. It escalated to where I had to tactfully, yet firmly, explain it was in my best interest to no longer associate with her.
When you’re starting and growing a small business, outright negative people can suck the life out of you and your aspirations. Who has time for that? Not me, and surely not you.
Make working from a home office work for you
Ultimately, the key to overcoming the downsides of working from home lies in your discipline and determination to make it work for you. Set ground rules for yourself and abide by them so you stay focused and avoid distractions.
You can’t expect others to respect your business if you don’t take it seriously.