Home-based business means making some adjustments

First, they had to deal with being laid off. Then the challenge became figuring out how to run a business from a spare bedroom while the kids are fighting and the dog is barking.

Many members of the latest generation of entrepreneurs are people who lost their jobs and decided to start businesses in their homes. It’s safe to say that practically all these new owners face a shakeout period as they learn to juggle a business and their personal lives.

Parents who become entrepreneurs and their children have some of the hardest transitions.

Suzanne Kantra, who was laid off from an editing job in October, is running an online publication called Techlicious.com out of the three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan she shares with her husband and three children ages 1 to 7. When she’s working in her bedroom, the door is closed. For her older children, “knowing I’m home but not available has been an adjustment for them,” she said.

Sometimes the kids forget what that closed door means, and Kantra is interrupted anyway. One way Kantra tries to help them with the enforced separation is not to do any work around the time they come home from school. That way, she can give them all her attention as they tell her about their day.

Learning to live with a home business can be a challenge for older kids, too.

Diane Shader Smith was laid off from a big public relations firm right before Christmas, and started her own Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company under her name. She had to set limits for family members, and, along the way, cope with some guilty feelings.

Shader Smith’s son would show up with several of his fraternity brothers, looking for something to eat. “I have established a ‘you must call first’ rule,” she said. And, she put a sign on her office door that says “working” to deter family members from interrupting conference calls.

Shader Smith felt bad when her parents would drop by with groceries and she just didn’t have time to talk.

“They don’t really mind that I don’t talk to them,” said Shader Smith, who said she’s learned to “just say no” to all kinds of distractions, including the refrigerator and the laundry.

Some owners don’t want clients and customers to know they work out of their homes, fearing that they won’t be seen as being professional enough. But home-based businesses have become so commonplace, and many of them so successful, that they may be worrying unnecessarily.

Still, Nancy Juetten, who runs Main Street Media Savvy out of her Bellevue, Wash., home, said owners should be careful not to burden business relationships with their personal issues. So, if it turns out that an owner has to juggle a client meeting and child care, he or she shouldn’t tell the client, “I have to take my child to the doctor and can’t meet you at that time.” The client might start feeling a little short-shrifted.

Juetten suggested saying something along the lines of, “I have two windows when we could meet. Which works for you?”

Also, children shouldn’t be playing in the room where you talk on the phone with clients or other business associates. Some owners might be worried about the family’s Labrador retriever barking in the background, but Juetten said she laughs about it with clients. If the barking is interfering with the conversation, though, it’s time to move yourself or the dog to another part of the house.

Even single home-based entrepreneurs have to get used to a new way of life.

Stephen Fishman, who started a San Francisco home-based business as an author after being laid off 18 years ago, recalled that feelings of isolation were a big problem during the first few years after he lost his job in a big company. “You don’t have co-workers to interact with,” he said.

“I would often go out to a cafe to do work in the afternoon and just be with people,” Fishman said. And that was long before the days of coffee houses where people could take their laptops and get free WiFi.

When Thomasina Tafur was laid off from a big corporate job in April, she was excited about the prospect of starting a business from her Memphis, Tenn., home. But, she said, “there were a few things that did catch me off guard.”

Tafur described herself as an introvert who likes to spend time by herself. “To go from an office environment where I see people all the time to an office environment where I see nobody, I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed the human interaction with my colleagues,” she said.

Her solution is to try to get out of the house at least once a day for a business lunch or networking activity. And she’s learned to monitor her emotions: “If I’m starting to feel a little funny, a little down, it could be because I’m holed up in my office.”

Many home-based owners get a bit of a rude awakening when they realize they no longer have support staff or people to deal with high-tech issues and keep track of invoices. Tafur recalls thinking, “it’s truly me, myself and I.”

The solution she and other owners have found is to outsource work that they either don’t know enough about, or that distracts them from building the business.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.