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AZRIELA JAFFE

5.26.99  
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 people think."

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 professional.

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.

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