I went to visit a friend who had quit the corporate world to start his own art-based business. This was a guy who wore, if not a suit, at least a tie and jacket to work every day for a decade. All the curtains in his house were drawn and his bed was littered with color samples, catalogs and all the assorted detritus of a home-based business. With his unshaven face and sunken eyes, he bore a frightening resemblance to Tom Hanks in “Castaway”. He leaned over and, with a wild glint in his eye, whispered “I haven’t taken a shower in three days.” That close to him it wasn’t difficult to believe but I couldn’t figure out why he felt the need to tell me.
A couple of years later I got it when I too had swapped working for the man for the pleasantly unstructured life of a home-based entrepreneur. I was on my way to a Networking luncheon and slipped some dress shoes on only to find that my feet had apparently grown two sizes. My sneakers and my fluffy slippers fit just fine but they didn’t go with my little black suit. I understood then that his confession had been more than a need to share his personal hygiene issues with me. He felt compelled to share the horror of what he was becoming.
At some point every back bedroom entrepreneur has an epiphany that they might be a little too far gone along the do-it-yourself continuum. For me it was the shoes. For my friend it was the orange water pouring out of his groaning shower head when he finally found a reason to shower.
If you’re just starting out with a home-based business and still euphoric over getting to conduct business in your pj’s or being able to take a Judge Judy break – be aware that there is a dark side. One day you, too, will run slap up against a moment of clarity when you see your formerly civilized life slipping away from you and realize that you may have taken the ball and run with it just a little too far.
It’s a tricky thing to get the balance just right. There’s so much to do in setting up and maintaining a business. And, mindful of the fact that 80% of all small businesses fail in the first year, you’re probably anxious to do as much as you can as fast as you can in order to start bringing home the goods. There are several balances to be worked out – all of them tricky. When do you outsource and when do you do it yourself? How much can you work and still have a life and a family at the end of it? What do you absolutely have to do first and what can wait? There are many excellent books and articles on what to do to set up your business. This isn’t one of them. This is about how to be as you do those things. How to be kind to yourself; available to your family and friends and enjoy life even amid the uncertainty and stress of creating your dream from scratch. How to profit the whole world and keep your soul.
So here are a couple of tips to keep you present and focused. Some are practical; some more touchy-feely. All of them useful. Six things you can do to avoid singing the Home-Based Burnout Blues.
1.Find your Purpose.
This may sound pretty basic but it’s so basic many people don’t do it. Your Purpose is not the same as your goal. Your goal is what you want to do; your Purpose is why you want to do it. Your Purpose is larger and inclusive of all aspects of your life. Why do you want to do what you want to do? Why are you uniquely qualified to do it? If you don’t know this and can’t explain it to yourself how are you going to be able to market yourself? (Are you still laboring under the illusion that you won’t have to market yourself?) Your goal may be to sell $200,000 of widgets this year. But your Purpose may be to sell $200,000 of a fine quality product with such integrity and appreciation for your customers that they will provide you with return business which will in turn provide for a good living for you and your family. Once you find your Purpose write and post it everywhere. Stuff it in your sock drawer so it’ll surprise you when you least expect it. Definitely stick it on your TV. Read it every day. Don’t lose your Purpose in the minutiae of daily tasks.
Don’t go unconscious to it. Everything you do is a structure to either move you towards it or away from it. Ask yourself periodically. Am I in line with my Purpose? Is playing with your kids in line with Purpose? Sure, if it keeps you sane and healthy and nourishes your family. Is watching back to back episodes of Cops in line with your Purpose? Probably not if you slump on the couch and come to three hours later wondering where the time went.
There’s an old Buddhist saying: “If you seek enlightenment do not waste your time by day or by night.” Switch success for enlightenment and you’ve got a pretty good mantra for business. But if you’ve been working your rear off and you decide that some mindless TV is just what the doctor ordered to rest your brain and give you a rare treat then vegging on the couch may actually be in line with your Purpose. It’s really about whether you choose the couch or the couch chooses you.
2. Once you find your Purpose plot a road map to it.
My husband and I once took a road trip which went through 8 beautiful Western states including Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah . I had exactly two weeks of vacation and knew when I could leave and when I had to be back. In order to get back in time we had to budget a certain minimum amount of travel time per day and there were things we wanted to do along the way. We went to AAA and, with maps of all the states we’d pass through, we plotted the best route. We also scheduled in time for detours and hiking and just lolling around. It was a great trip. Had we just set out on the fly without a plan we could have ended up stressed out hundreds of miles away from home the day before we were due back or we could have zipped through some beautiful scenery and found ourselves with time to spare in Vegas. Not an appealing possibility.
So plan the best route to your Purpose. Take your day planner or a long sheet of paper and break your day up into appointment blocks. Two hour increments work great. These appointments are not negotiable so be on time and ready to go. Make appointments with yourself to do the tasks you have prioritized. While you’re at it make appointments to clean house, do yoga and walk the dog. Write them down. Otherwise time will seduce you. These are contracts with yourself and you need to keep them with as much integrity as you’d keep any contracts with clients. No matter how much fun you’re having doing a task it should end when it’s supposed to end. It shouldn’t take on a life of its own. In fact, the more you like doing it the more structure you need surrounding it. We all like to do pleasant things that we’re good at. But they may not be what needs to be done right now. Have definite starting and ending times for your day. Make yourself an appointment for something active every few hours so you’re not sitting on the phone or computer for 12 hours straight. If you have a problem with forgetting to eat or drink enough water – schedule those too. I might schedule two hours of writing on my articles then a half hour appointment to clean the kitchen which would stretch me and get my circulation moving (and get the kitchen cleaned!). Back to the computer for answering e-mails and client paperwork and bookkeeping. Another hour scheduled for a quick lunch and walk in the park with the dog. Client phone sessions would be scheduled with ten minute breaks in between. Finish work at 6 PM. I could easily work until 11 PM and have done many times. But that’s not healthy and not sustainable especially as I share my life and home with others. My particular Purpose includes having the energy and peace of mind to enjoy the results of all my hard work at the end of the day.
3.Put it in writing. Put what in writing, you ask?
Everything. Purpose. Ideas. Outlines. Lists. Deadlines. Goals. Studies show, by the way, that only 3% of us write down our goals. But of the 3% of entrepreneurs who do write down their goals a stunning 97% achieve them. Get this stuff out of your head and onto paper. Make it real. You’ll save energy because you won’t have to worry about forgetting things or keeping track of ideas. So find a system and run with it. Get a Daily Planner. Don’t forget to write down your Mission statement, Vision statement and Business and Marketing Plans. Look at them weekly.
Figure out your hourly rate and factor that in to every decision you make. I mean every decision. It’s great to be able to build your own website. You can save a bundle if you’re already computer-savvy and there are many excellent softwares which will help you. I made my first with a program I got from my website host. I put $14.95 on my credit card, downloaded it and within minutes was working on my site. I did it myself and it looked decent. But it took me close to six weeks. I wasn’t working on it full-time but when I wasn’t I was thinking about it. It was a lot of fun and a major distraction. There was a learning curve so I first had to learn the software then implement it. I knew nothing about color or fonts or placement or keywords or meta tags. I lost time that I should have been using for marketing and in the end the whole exercise was more a character building exercise than a website building exercise. I survived and so did my site. But had I added up all the hours I worked on it (including the “hidden” hours when I got up at 3 AM to fiddle with it) and paid myself I probably didn’t save any money and I would have gotten a more professional looking site with a designer.
When you decide whether to do something yourself or outsource it be sure to also factor in the time it takes to learn the software. This can be substantial. Add up the missed marketing and promotional opportunities and add in the stress and aggravation factor. If you want to outsource design work try a community bulletin board like Craigslist.org ( a stomping ground for many unemployed web designers). There’s now a Craigslist in pretty much every major city. Remember, too, that you don’t need to even have a web designer living in your home state unless you plan on suing them over the end product. elance.com. is also great for home entrepreneurs. You can post your project online and receive bids from vendors. Check out their portfolios; interview them and go with the right one. If you’re good with graphics and hellbent on designing your site and cards, letterheads etc. yourself set a deadline and stick to it. When I was starting out I figured out my hourly rate was about $75.00. I got in the habit of calculating how long it would take me to do something; learn the software and experiment by trial and error. I tried to factor in the frustration factor to me and the lost time to my family and other areas of my life. If I could hire a professional to do it for less I farmed it out.
5.Which brings us to money. Don’t get caught in the “I can’t afford it” trap. You may not have much money to spend but everyone has a little. Allocate it wisely. You have to spend money to make money. Maybe this is a Universal law because it thins the herd right at the outset. If you don’t invest in yourself why should anyone else? Most of us have an ego mind which has mixed feelings about our success. One way to put a tripwire in front of what should be our stunning rush to success is to tell ourselves we can’t afford to do what we know we need to do. Then it’s not our fault if we don’t make it. We didn’t make the cut because we didn’t have the money to start our business right not because we were afraid or unwilling to risk.
If you don’t have the money to pay for something – barter it or ask for terms. Get a credit card and use it specifically for start-up expenses. Getting into a little debt isn’t so terrible.
If you have equity on your house take out a home equity loan or refinance it. Talk to a relative and ask them to swing you a short-term loan. There are many organizations out there which will loan to small businesses with a Business Plan. (You do have a Business Plan, don’t you?) Try Charo. The SBA is also a great resource. Come from a place of abundance (hope) and not scarcity (fear). Assume and believe in your success. Then take the steps you need to take to be successful. There are certain elemental things you’ll need for start-up. Website. Business cards. Phone line. Make a list of bare necessities and find a way to pay for them. Don’t buy or invest in anything else no matter how interesting or fun it might be until you’ve covered the basics.
6.Build a team and a support system.
A one man band can usually play many instruments passably but none of them well. Find out what you do well and get help with the rest. Even if it’s only online. Find people you can network with locally. There’s probably a professional organization you can join. If not – join Toastmasters or your local Chamber of Commerce. Ask for help. Get a Coach. If funds are tight do a Google search for Training institutions for Coaches. Contact them and say you would like some pro bono coaching and ask to be put in touch with a student Coach. Most Coaches starting out need all the experience they can get and it’s difficult getting people to pay you when you don’t have a track record. In addition, if Coaches are going to go for ICF certification they need a ridiculous amount of verifiable Coaching hours to qualify. If you’re persistent you should easily find a Coach who will offer pro bono or at least a substantial sliding scale discount.
Get out of the house and rub shoulders with people who are doing what you’re doing. Ask for feedback. Do you know how many people would like to help you to succeed? Do you know how good it feels to give support to someone struggling to make something of their lives? Give your friends, and even strangers, this opportunity. Find someone you admire in your field and write or call them. Tell them you would like to be where they are. Ask if they have any words of advice. If they respond be sure to send them a thank-you letter. Then follow-up and let them know how their advice has helped you. Don’t fall into limiting belief scripts that they wouldn’t be interested; you’re bothering them etc. Don’t make their decisions for them. Think how you’d feel if your expertise helped someone and they took the time to thank you. You breathe the same air as your mentors.
Finally, when you hit a roadblock be kind to yourself. Setbacks can hurt. Faith in anything, God, ourselves, the future is a solitary pursuit. Keep in mind that every moment is a fresh one and carries within it the seeds of tremendous fortune and change. The next contact you make could turn your life around.
Your life isn’t wallpaper to your daily grind. It goes on whether you pay attention to it or not. Might as well be aware and alive to all possibilities. Best to stay awake if you want to reach your dreams.