Working at home can seem like the ideal situation – no commuting hassles, more time to spend with the family, the freedom to set your own work hours. In reality, though, combining your home and office environments presents many special challenges. If you want to make working at home work for you, you need to understand those challenges and meet them head on.
Choose the right business. Not every business can be run successfully from home. Consider the appropriateness of your business as a homebased business. A business that involves large machinery, lots of inventory, frequent truck deliveries and pickups, or lots of foot traffic from customers or associates is not a good candidate.
Be professional. Contrary to the popular stereotype of homebased entrepreneurs being able to "work in their pajamas", you must be businesslike and project a professional image if you want to be seen as running a legitimate business. Keep regular office hours, get business stationery printed up, have a business phone and voice mail or message system, and keep your office neat, organized, and attractive.
Optimize your work space. Do not make do with a makeshift work space. Locate your office in an area of your home that can be dedicated to business activities and affords you some privacy. Choose a space as far as possible from street noise and other distractions. Invest in functional furniture and the right equipment and set up your home office in a way that lets you be comfortable, productive, and organized.
Minimize distractions and interruptions. Staying focused is hard enough without the additional distraction of friends calling, neighbors dropping by, and children clamoring for attention. Screen your phone calls and filter your emails. Let your friends and relatives know what your work hours are and explain that during those hours you'll be at home working.
Plan your work and work your plan. Use a "to do list" every day with the tasks you need to accomplish in order of decreasing priority. At the end of the day check your progress, and put any unfinished tasks at the beginning of the next day's list.
Set goals and evaluate your progress. Setting goals and tracking your progress toward them will give direction to your efforts and keep you moving forward. Set both long-term and short-term goals that are realistic given your resources and that produce measurable results, then reward yourself every time you reach one of your goals.
Separate your home and work lives. Keep your work life separate from your home life as much as possible, both physically and emotionally. Keep your work space off limits to household members and ask them to respect your work hours by not interrupting you without absolutely necessary. If you have kids who are not old enough to amuse them while you work, hire a sitter to keep them occupied while you concentrate on work.
Keep your balance. Do not let work dominate every aspect of your life. Commit to a "quitting time" and stick to it without a real emergency arises. Take a break and devote some time to your hobbies, getting together with friends, a change of scenery, getting some exercise, or just doing nothing. You'll come back to your work refreshed and stave off burnout.
Get some help. Do not feel you have to do everything yourself. As your business grows, use some of the profits to hire help. Outsource, streamline, or automate where you can and hire an assistant (or a "virtual assistant") to help you if the work load has become more than you can reasonably manage.