Escape the “Job” Mentality When Starting a Business

tip-guyPamela over at Escape from Cubicle Nation offers some great ways to get out of the “job” mentality when starting a business.

The first item on her list “Start with What kind of work am I meant to do?, not What kind of business should I start?” is one of the most valuable pieces of advice when you begin the process of searching for the ideal home-based business:

This is a very important distinction that I want you to stop and really think about for a minute. It is related to your greater purpose for being on earth, or if you wish to frame it in corporate terms, your personal mission statement. When I spent some time reflecting on the work I am meant to do, I realized that it all has to do with promoting personal freedom, joy and expression through work.

Most of the folks I talk to that have such a struggle are those that settled for some home-business in a box thing, rather than basing their venture on their unique gifts.

I know I tend to harp on this a lot, but it’s the foundation for everything else. True success comes from doing the right “work” for you. Knowing what that is, and how to put it into action, almost guarantees success.

The Myth of the Sleeping Baby and Other Fallacies for the Work at Home Parent


Myth of the Sleeping BabyOne of the great joys of working from home is being able to be there for your kids. Visions of blissful workdays filled with productivity, dotted by small sojourns of playtime, fill the mind of those dreaming of making the leap into a home-based business. What a perfect setup!

But for anyone who has worked for longer than 1.3 seconds at home knows, the myths of the idyllic home-workday are quickly shattered. Here I will attempt to provide some workarounds (because like with buggy software, there are no real fixes) to some of the most commonly held misconceptions of those making the transition to the Professional Nest Life.

I. Sleeping Baby Myth

“I’ll work while the baby sleeps.” Even after 14 years of working from home (9 of those with kids) and 3 babies, I still find myself believing this one. So it’s hard for me not to buy into it when others say it. The truth is you will NOT work while the baby sleeps. Because scheduling work time during baby’s naptime, is a guarantee that she won’t sleep. At all.

Despite what the experts say, I’ve come to realize that babies only need about 45 minutes of sleep a day. This is done in 3 15-minutes increments – while running errands. Since it’s next to impossible to get work done while running errands, the “work while baby is sleeping” plan quickly falls apart.

In addition, babies have never read David Allen’s Getting Thing Done book. They do not understand the concept of Next Actions or @Waiting. So trying to schedule around them becomes problematic.

Workaround

This may seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised by how many don’t get it – be flexible. The great thing about working from home is the flexibility it can offer. Instead of scheduling critical things like conference calls during a specific time when you think the baby will be sleeping, try to offer a time range. Say something like, “I really have a crazy schedule today. Would it be okay to call sometime between 10 and noon?”

The other thing is to work with what’s going on. If the baby tends to sleep better and longer while you’re rocking him, take the time to do some “mind work.” There’s something cathartic and meditative about rocking a baby, so use it to your advantage. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas, articles, designs, and plans while rocking the baby. If you aren’t good at keeping stuff in your head, keep a small notebook nearby.

II. The Closed Door Myth

For years, I was under the false assumption that a closed door offers some measure of privacy and protection from interruption. Then I had kids.

Though I’ve worked from home their entire lives, they still act as though this is new to them. The rule is that if the door is closed, it means daddy is on the phone or working hard (possible organizing my iPod playlists). The excuse for barging in or pounding and yelling (knocking softly is never considered) is that they didn’t hear anything, so the figured it was okay. They don’t seem to understand that one of the marks of a great professional is to do more listening than talking. It never occurs to them that I could be LISTENING on the phone.

Workaround

To be fair, all they want is my attention. Which is great, because when they’re teenagers, they won’t want it. I love getting visits from the kids during the day. The key is to create boundaries that work.

Many folks have offered tips about hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, so that the kids know that you may be on the phone, for instance. The problem with this is that it gets to be ignored as often as the closed door.

Working off the fact that they just want my attention, I created a sign that uses cartoons to give a message – “Daddy is on the phone. Instead of knocking or coming in, please slide a picture or note under the door for me to see when I get off.” The note under the door approach has worked great (though it has unfortunately expanded to other closed doors, such as the bathroom). They know that they will get my attention, and it’s cool to find the stuff they send under. If I’m working on a critical call or project, I may even add a picture of ice cream, pizza, or the park to let them know what we can do when I’m finished.

III. The Boss Myth

Being your own boss. That’s a big allure for the work-from-home set. The problem is that though you may be the CEO, you have a Board of Directors. A Board that has power.

The Chairperson is the youngest in your household (see Myth #1), and the Vice-Chair is held by your spouse. The Board is rounded out by the rest of your kids, and may or may not include a dog, a cat, or a rodent of some kind.

Workaround

This is more of a “work-with” than a workaround. The point here is to understand that a home-based business is really run by the whole household. Not only are they your Board, they are your investors. They have a huge stake in what you are doing, and it directly affects the lives of your Board.

Make sure you see any issues or complaints clearly as they arise. Take into consideration how your decisions and schedule will affect them. And let them be part of the process. A good Board can help ensure the success of any company.

IV. The Acceptance Myth

Many work-at-home parents that I talk to seem to think that their clients will understand and accept the fact that they have kids at home with them. For some this is true. If you are a family photographer or make children’s toys for example, having your kids with you can be a plus. But it’s interesting when people think that its okay to have kids in the background when dealing with say, a corporate client.

Unfortunately, there are still people who don’t consider a home-based business a “real” business. It’s an old way of thinking for sure, but it’s still pretty pervasive. Though I think it’s adorable that my 18-month old sings “Henry the Octopus” as “Henry the Apple Juice,” I’m not sure my corporate clients would feel the same.

Workaround

The most important thing to remember is to maintain your level of professionalism at all times. Most of my clients are surprised to find that I’m home based. Because of the way I have things set up, I always appear as a competent professional. Which I am. I just happen to be a competent professional who works from home.

Clients will take away from the perceptions you project. If you come across as a professional, most could care less where you do your work. But if you seem like a dabbler who is juggling a crazy household along with the work they are paying you for, you won’t keep clients for very long.

Just like most things, the main goal is balance. When you’re working, you’re the highly skilled professional. When you’re playing, you’re the consummate parent. You can be both – if you find a balance.

V. The Envious Neighbor Myth

This one always is so funny to me. Though not specific to just work from home parents, it actually comes up more often then you’d think. It’s the idea that all your neighbors will be so envious seeing you at home all day, being a great parent, and loving life. It’s surprising how many people consider this when thinking of the pros of working from home.

In actuality, most neighbors will just assume you’re out of work. I tend to get speculative looks when I’m out walking the dog in the middle of the day – unshaven, in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and a hat. I’m sure they wonder how I can afford to live, since I’ve been out of work for so long and my wife doesn’t work.

Workaround

Unfortunately, aside from bragging, there’s not really a good workaround for this one. The main thing to take away from this is that you have to be comfortable with who you are, and not rely on what others think. You have the pleasure of working from home and being there for your kids. What others think is irrelevant.

So the best workaround for the nosey neighbors is best expressed by Skipper the Penguin at the end of Madagascar:

“Just smile and wave, boys; smile and wave.” (MP3)

I hope that I have made some strides is clearing up these common misconceptions. Though working from home can be difficult, especially for parents, it is also one of the most fulfilling and enriching things you can do for your family. Never missing baby’s first step, a game, a recital, or a play is the bonus to doing what you love and contributing something great to both your family and the world.


This post is part of the Group Writing Project over at Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger site. There’s a big list of some really great reads. Be sure to have a look.


The Nest Test Framework

nest-testYesterday, I provided a basic premise for testing your intended home-business as a trial run for the real thing. Today, I’ll outline the framework I use to help folks plan and run their own Nest Test.

In software testing, a test framework is used to help simplify testing. I’m going to use the same idea for giving you some guidelines when planning your test.

The Set Up

It should go without saying that you need to have a pretty clear idea of what your home business is going to be before you can run an accurate test. Though the test can help clarify some of the fuzzier areas of your plan, you should have most of your plan well fleshed out. Start with the basic formula I talked about yesterday (value you provide + something you love + your unique gifts) then use tools like a one page business plan to help solidify your ideas.

The Basic Ingredients

There’s a fine line between investing too much for a test and looking like you’re a dabbler. I always recommend you at least have a dedicated email address, phone number (a cell phone or Skype number works fine), a simple but professional looking Web page, and professional looking business cards. The Web page can be basic, but please have someone who knows what they’re doing design it. It can be a student or a friend, but if it looks like a “pictures of my cats” Website, you will give the wrong impression about your professionalism.

For business cards, don’t get the cheap black, red, or blue raised ink on thin card stock. Your cards can say a lot about your business, so go with nicer ones from the beginning. I do all my printing with PrintingForLess.com. They are relatively inexpensive, especially for the level of quality you get. Their products come out awesome, and their service is great.

This may sound like a big investment for a test, but remember, your plan is for this to be a dry run for the real thing. Even if your plan requires some tweaking based on the results of your test, chances are the changes won’t affect things so much that your cards and site become irrelevant. If so, the site copy is easy to change, and the cards are fairly inexpensive.

There are probably a few more things you’ll need – a place to work and a computer for example (though it doesn’t even have to be yours). There will also be things you’ll need specific to your type of business. Just use your best judgment on how much you need to get started.

Run the Test

Now, here comes the fun part. There’s something liberating about thinking of getting started as “just a test.” The mind is a wonderful tool, but can also sometimes be a difficult partner. Little tricks to get the mind to accept change works wonders. By taking the approach of a trial run, some of the stress and fear associated with launching a new venture is removed. Of course, you know it’s for real. But this approach gives you “permission” to have little setbacks and to make mistakes (what the mind thinks of as failures), without the mind games that can be associated with it.

There are two ways I usually recommend running the test – in a full 30 day run or in 2 two-week runs. The choice really should be based on your preferences and the type of work you are doing.

Either way the goal is the same – to execute your plan and get the business going. If you are doing it part time, evenings (and weekends if you choose) are dedicated to the operations of your new business. This will mainly consist of marketing and getting new customers, creating (if you are writing, designing, or making products for instance), networking, etc. The key is though you are in testing mode, you MUST run it as if it were your sole source of income. In order to get good results, the actions you take need to be “full on.” Making a half-baked attempt will give you half-baked results. Remember, this is your dream, and it deserves your full effort.

Over the course of the test, be sure to take notes of things that come up. As I mentioned yesterday, the point of the test is to determine:

  • What works and what doesn’t.
  • What you like and what you don’t.
  • How things affect the rest of your household
  • Can you maintain your intended plans and goals?
  • What areas seem to be the most marketable?
  • And the biggie – Is working from home for you?

Feedback, Analysis, and Adjust

During the course of your test run, you’ll begin to see areas for improvement. In the 30 day approach, you execute your plans as you outlined them, making notes of those areas. Small improvements can be made incrementally during the 30 days. Any big changes should wait until after your test run. They may either work themselves out, or you may find other big areas for change, and it’s usually better to package all your changes into your live launch.

In the 2 week approach, you do the same thing, but after the first 2 weeks, you implement any changes you see necessary for the second 2 weeks. This approach is almost like a 2 part beta test in software development. The first gets some initial feedback and catches and big “bugs.” The second is more to refine your plans and activities into a polished operation.

The Results

After your Nest Test, you begin to see some things very clearly. You’ll find how much work your business is going to be, where and how you’ll find customers, better ways to organize and improve productivity, and how exhausting but exhilarating running your own business can be.

Unfortunately you may also find that it’s just not for you. Maybe you thought one business was perfect, but have found that it’s not really something you want to do full time. You may not have the drive and enthusiasm you initially had, and the whole thing may just peter out. If this happens you can either try something different, or go back and do some serious soul searching. Working from home isn’t for everyone, and only you can make the decision of what you want your work-life to be.

The benefit of a test run is to see how things will go in a real world situation. All the planning, strategizing, daydreaming, and discussing won’t show you how things will go in the day-to-day operation of a home business. Running a live test gives you real results, helping you to make well-informed decisions regarding your future plans.

Scale Up to the Real Thing

Once you have a clear idea of what it will take to run your business, you’re ready to scale it up to the real thing. For most, this is nothing more than saying, “test over.” For others, you may decide to spend more time on certain things, or increase your marketing efforts. Still others may march in to their cube farm as give their notice (I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions). Just make sure you have enough saved or coming in to buy food. Your family will still need to eat.

Whatever the outcome, the trial run of a Nest Test will have give you the confidence to carry out your dreams of a home business, and give you a solid foundation on which to build your new venture.

The Nest Test: Are You Ready to Run Your Own Business?

nest-testSo you’ve been thinking it through, imagining what it’ll be like, and pontificating on every aspect of your business. You’re ready to make the leap… you think. Time to test your theory.

Now, this is NOT one of those “See if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur” quiz things. That’s not what I mean by a test. Frankly, I think those things are a crock. I’ve known highly successful home-business owners who wouldn’t have “passed” half of the questions on one of those things. I’ve also talked to folks who were struggling to get off the ground and couldn’t understand why – “the quiz in the so-and-so book said I have what it takes.”

If you are planning on running a multi-billion dollar investment banking firm, then maybe they would hold some credence. But when it comes to a successful home business, there’s a simple formula that can’t be measured with a quiz. One that you’ll hear often here, because it’s the basis for everything else:

Provide something of value, doing something you love, that utilizes your unique gifts.

And the only way to test it is the same way you test your secret recipe chili – you give it a taste.

Taking a Little Taste

One of the great things about a home-based business is the low cost of entry. Usually you don’t need a lot of space, or fancy expensive equipment. Depending on the type of business, you can get up a running fairly quickly and inexpensively.

There are going to be aspects of your new venture that will need fine-tuning. You may also decide that it’s just not for you. So by testing your plan in small doses, you can ease yourself into the business and ease the business into your life.

If you have a day job, start by working in the evenings and on weekends. This is how about 80% of home businesses get started. Run your own “proof-of-concept” test to see:

  • What works and what doesn’t.
  • What you like and what you don’t.
  • How things affect the rest of your household.
  • Can you maintain your intended plans and goals?
  • What areas seem to be the most marketable?
  • And the biggie – Is working from home for you?

Give yourself a 30 day trial run. See if your plans and expectations are realistic. It’s like running a small scale model test, before running it on the real thing. You begin to get some measurable results in different areas that you can use to determine what aspects need tweaking.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you a simple framework you can use to design your own nest test.

One Honored, SOB

Successful and Outstanding BloggerA “Successful and Outstanding Blogger” that is. Liz Strauss of Successful Blog bestowed the honor, and I’m trilled by the recognition. Liz provides some terrific advice about blogging and writing, so her kudos is greatly appreciated.

Other blogs who have received the SOB badge – some big, some small – are all wonderful sites, contributing some really valuable stuff. So to be included in their ranks is a true honor.