This is a guest post by Kathleen Bottagaro. Kathleen loves to share messages that empower working moms, promote resilience, and challenge the limitations that come from self-doubt. You may reach out to her through LinkedIn.
I started working from home 20 years ago, before working from home was a thing.
I was a director and shareholder in my law firm, leading the charge on multi-million dollar real estate financings. I had two young daughters and wonderful daycare. I had a husband who sent me roses every anniversary – a dozen for each year of marriage.
To the outside world, I was a put-together professional who had a happy marriage, cute kids and a solid career. But I was good at hiding my struggle to maintain a work-life balance.
My husband was ill and had a checkered work history. I was juggling a lot of balls and was the primary income-earner in my family. And yet, on the precipice of returning to work from maternity leave, I walked into the office on New Year’s Day 2000 and resigned so that I could stay home with my kids. I would figure it out.
The law firm offered me the opportunity to work from home, and I jumped on that as a way to get some work-life balance. Based on what I learned through many years of successfully working from home, I offer my top 10 list of work-from-home tips.
For a complete step-by-step guide on how to start a home business, check out my book Make Money From Home.
1. Be Committed To The “Work” Part
For any work-from-home arrangement to be successful, your co-workers, clients and customers need to know they can count on you to deliver the same high-quality service or product you would if you were sitting in an office.
Yes, your laundry may be piling up and the floors may need vacuuming, but working from home is not a permission slip to catch up on household chores. While you may be able to run a load of laundry while you’re on a call, you must remain professional, committed and willing to overlook the dust bunnies in the corner.
2. Stay Connected To Other Humans
I lived 40 minutes away from my law firm, but went into the office every Tuesday. This wasn’t my most productive day of the week. However, staying in touch with colleagues reminded people that I was part of the firm’s social fabric and encouraged their buy-in to my arrangement.
Whether you are a one-woman shop or work with colleagues in other cities or states, carve out time for check-ins with other humans. Meet clients for coffee or use tools like Skype and Zoom.
3. Have A Dedicated Workspace
It’s hard to be productive if you’re trying to get your work done at the kitchen table while your kids are asking for snacks. Having a space dedicated to your business signals to your family when you are working.
I was lucky to have a separate home office. A dedicated space could also be a corner at your dining room table. Or a desk in the spare bedroom.
Beyond providing a place to focus, setting physical boundaries helps you maintain a sense of professionalism. My kids knew that if I was on the phone in my home office, they could not interrupt me.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
One of the key work-from-home tips is to prioritize communications.
My arrangement worked well because I was proactive about communicating with clients. Show your clients that they can count on you to respond to requests promptly. Manage clients’ expectations so they know you will respond during your business hours or within a certain time frame after they reach out to you. Even if you don’t have an answer at your fingertips, you should acknowledge their email or call, and promise you’ll follow up – and then do follow up.
Communication with your family is also vital. If you have an important call or presentation scheduled, plan ahead to make sure your dog or kids are safely engaged out of earshot.
5. Be Flexible
Technology may be cranky, and last-minute demands may come into your inbox. You may need to run to the doctor with a sick kid.
These things can happen with any job, but their impact may seem heightened when you’re juggling your home business. Maintain a sense of humor, and know that these are temporary hiccups.
6. Show Up With Integrity
When you are working from home, you’re on your own. No one is standing over your shoulder to make sure you’re staying focused and productive. When you work on your own, it’s even more important to plan your time and honor your schedule.
You owe it to yourself and others in your work universe to show up with integrity and not spend your time shopping online. Be accountable to yourself, and be accountable for producing results.
7. Get The Help You Need
I was lucky to have help from my mother and a trusted babysitter when my daughters were young. My kids knew that these other adults were in charge of handling all pleas, complaints, and demands when I was working.
I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have in-home care. If you don’t have access to good daycare or family support, you might be able to trade time with friends. As my kids got older, I took advantage of after-school trades for play dates and carpools.
8. Minimize Distractions
Distractions are everywhere, from pop-up messages in our inboxes to news alerts that divert our attention as we’re doing online research. It gets trickier and trickier to stay focused because so much of our work is at computers and online.
It takes a lot of discipline, but you must stay focused to be productive.
9. Be Kind To Yourself
Working from home, especially if you have young or school-age children, can create all sorts of mom guilt and inner conflict. You may be working from home as a way to prioritize family and spend more time with your kids, but you feel torn when the client calls needing a contract asap.
Stress comes from dealing with the imbalance, but know that no matter what, you are doing your best. Give yourself grace to make mistakes, and don’t judge yourself for falling short of “perfection,” whatever that means.
10. Carve Out Time For You
When you’re in the throes of juggling work and kids, it can seem self-indulgent to carve out time for yourself. However, it’s true that you need to put on your oxygen mask in order to be fully present for others.
I found that carving out at least 30 minutes each day for exercise was critical to my personal and professional sanity. My most creative ideas often come to me as I sweat on the elliptical.
You may find creativity in yoga or meditation. Take the time you save in commuting to spend some time on your mental and physical well-being.
Dr. Seuss reminds us “that Life’s A Great Balancing Act. . . . And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”
Working from home is a balancing act that brings both joy and challenges. Embrace the highs and the lows, adapt these work-from-home tips to your special circumstances, and pat yourself on the back for the many successes you are sure to have.
If you’d like to learn more about building a successful home business, that won’t take all your time, join the Work-At-Home Resource Library. You’ll get access to tools, a supportive community, and more. Click below to get started!