I'm No Slacker, I Work at Home
How to get people to see your home-based biz as the real thing
Stacey J. Miller runs a successful public-relations agency out of her
home in Randolph, Mass. Her specialty? National book-promotion
campaigns for nonfiction authors and publishers. She recently shared some
frustrations common to many home-business owners. Here's an edited version
of her account, published with her permission:
"When friends and family find out that I have a home-based business,
their reactions often boil down to this: 'Great, you can drop what you're
doing at a moment's notice to chat, have lunch, run important errands for
me so that I don't have to take time off from my job, walk the dog, etc.'
I've been asked to attend a chemotherapy session with a neighbor whose
husband couldn't take a day off work (certainly); attend an art museum
exhibit with a friend during working hours (sorry, no); and everything
in between. The challenge for me is to draw lines firmly but kindly, and
get them to understand when -- and why -- I might say 'yes.'"
"Take this incident. Recently, I was in the middle of a three-way conference
call. My call-waiting signal sounded (my local phone company doesn't offer
voice-mail services, unfortunately). It was my sister calling to wish me
a happy birthday -- at the worst possible time. Sis and I still aren't
speaking because of the incident.
"Yes, I was brusque with my sister -- she deserved it. I've tried time
after time to establish limits. (My rule is: If it isn't business-related,
call me before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.) I get a real sense that my
job doesn't count. My sister owns an upholstery shop with a partner. The
fruits of her labor are visible. How do I prove the worth of what I do?
Should I encourage her to read the issue of Cosmopolitan that quotes one
of my clients, thanks to my efforts? I don't wear a business suit except on
the rare occasions when I have an outside meeting, but I take my business
seriously. If it's an emergency, I can get away. I have that flexibility.
But it's not a piece of cake for me to do that, contrary to what so many
It's not hard to relate to Stacey's pain and frustration -- or to her
sister's hurt feelings when her birthday wishes weren't well received.
No wonder she's frustrated and hostile when the family -- or anyone else
-- seems not to take her work seriously. Each phone call or neighbor dropping
by appears to be one more piece of evidence that she's not a respected
Stacey, with that interpretation, no wonder these interruptions are
so difficult for you to accept. Apologize to your sister for your hostile
response -- life is too short for this kind of rift, and she meant well,
even if she wasn't respectful of your boundaries. She doesn't "get it,"
so you have to be the bigger person. Your family may not take you seriously
until you land a big gig. They may not even do so then. Focus on how your
clients feel about your work. If your family and friends don't understand
what you do, that's a shame, but their approval won't make you less important
to your clients. Imagine how excited your authors' families are when you
set up a big promotional opportunity for them.
On the practical front, get two phone lines -- one business and one
personal. Insist that all nonbusiness callers use the home line. Then,
don't answer it when you are working. If two phone lines is really impossible,
get rid of call waiting. It puts you in the awkward position of interrupting
business calls for personal ones, and then insulting your family and friends
by telling them you have to take a more important call.
If you receive a personal call, and you want to keep the line free,
don't respond with hostility. In a warm voice say: "I'm so glad you called,
and I'd love to catch up. I can't do that now. I'm up to my eyeballs
in work, and I'm waiting for a crucial call for one of my clients. When
can I call you after 6 p.m.?" If you do this often enough, most people
will stop calling at an inconvenient time. Those who disregard your requests
are testing you.
As for requests to lend your time, set aside a few hours per week to
be helpful to your family and friends. If you get a request that goes beyond
what you can give, say: "I wish I could help you. Unfortunately, I'm already
booked." Be firm but polite. Don't interpret it as a judgment about you
and your business. People who ask are short on resources and time, and desperate
for a solution. It's not personal.
These issues work themselves out over time. Meanwhile, be patient
with those who don't get it, and stick by your guns -- just don't be so
quick to fire them.
Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.