If hindsight is 20/20, then it’s no less true for an at-home business. Taking a look back over my decades of working from home, I certainly can see things now that I wish I knew when I had first started.
Yes, those years of self-experience are one way to learn important lessons along the way. Smart people learn from their own mistakes.
But I’ve also come to know an equally important concept: Geniuses learn from the mistakes of others.
So I’m here to give you a head’s up on lessons that took me a while to learn, but will only take you a few minutes… if you just read on. Here are five things I wish I had known when I first started working from home.
1. Support is crucial.
Don’t believe the egos of business owners who claim to have pulled themselves — and their businesses — up by their own bootstraps. I’m here to tell you — it didn’t happen that way. It never does. And I can say such a blanket statement with confidence, because there’s always someone who helps in some way along the path of every area in life, including one’s business.
And if you know that going in, then you won’t fight it — which would be a good thing. That help is necessary for your success.
Personally, I’ve always been the type who likes to be “independent” and stand on my own two feet. The reasons for that run pretty deep, and I won’t bore you right now with those details, but if people tried to help me when I was young, I consistently resisted.
In my older age, I’ve slowly come to realize that I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done in my life without help. Over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten much better at letting people who want to help me do so, because that’s very important.
I think the knowledge of this reality is quite humbling, and produces a strong sense of gratitude. We business owners all have been blessed. The sooner we recognize it, the better. And in recognizing that support is crucial to your success with your business, you’ll find that you’ll put up less resistance against such help.
2. Focus is everything.
I have a little note on my computer. It says:
“Want to finish a journey? Then don’t change directions.”
If you want to reach a goal, then you can’t change directions. You have to stay on the path. It might be a winding road, but you still need to stay on that road that ultimately will lead to success.
Multitasking is a myth. Back in the 1980s, the big interview question was: Can you multitask? And everyone would say yes, of course — as that was the answer employers wanted to hear.
But the correct answer was really no… Because no one can truly multitask successfully.
While I’m the queen of being “multi-passionate” and I enjoy juggling several topics and businesses at one time, I’m fully aware that I can only do one thing well at a time. What you focus on is what you will achieve. Everything else is just in the way.
So stop trying to do it all. Do just one thing well, one thing at a time, and accomplish it, before you move on to achieve the next thing.
3. Good people make success and growth easy.
When support comes from good people, a business owner has it made. Good people are the backbone of your business.
How do I define good people? They must have the right skills, for sure. I’d say that’s a given. But being good goes way beyond just being able to do a job well.
Good people have integrity. They are honest. They are trustworthy.
They are positive thinkers. They work hard and take pride in their work. They enjoy what they do.
They are service-driven. They think first about the client or customer and what they can do to provide excellent service and quality products.
When they make mistakes, as all humans will do, they own those errors and take responsibility for their actions.
When you have this sort of person providing services and products for your clients and customers — you don’t fear growth. You look forward to it. You can feel confident that your employees or subcontractors will not let you nor your consumers down.
4. Fear is the enemy.
Speaking of fear… It is and always will be the consistent, perpetual roadblock. Every time you fail to take action, you can bet your bottom dollar that fear is what held you back.
While I feel strongly against using clients as Guinea pigs without their knowledge, I do think it’s good to push yourself through new challenges and stretch developing skills as much as possible. Better to try and do, than to do nothing at all, simply out of fear of failure.
Perfectionism is stifling. It will keep you in your place and you will never improve. Maybe you aren’t yet the expert — but you’ll never get to that level of expertise, if you don’t start DOING.
Now, you can also be sure that fear is going to happen. The key is feeling the fear… and doing it anyway.
Don’t let fear of anything hold you back. You business can only grow if you take risks and extend yourself and your capabilities. Most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you really can achieve.
5. Creating boundaries is essential.
Early in my at-home career, I had a client who would call me on my home phone at all hours of the day — even later into the evening when I’d be spending time with my family.
But I had no one to blame but myself for her behavior. I had a separate phone line for business, but I gave her my home line as well. And then I made the additional mistake of always picking it up when it rang. Basically, I had invited her to call me at home and allowed her to interrupt my home life. I was foolish to think that she would somehow “police” herself and have empathy for my situation.
One evening she called me right in the middle of dinner. I told her what was going on — that she called me during dinner time with my family. She just laughed and said, “Oh well! I guess that’s the life of a freelancer.”
No — that’s not. That’s the life of a pushover.
I stopped answering my home phone after 5 p.m. and forced her to leave a message every time she called. After a while, she stopped calling me in the evening. I guess she finally got the picture.
But more importantly, I finally stopped allowing her to abuse my off-work hours.
From that time on, I became particularly good at drawing boundary lines — both physical and virtual. One reason I work my own business from home is so I would be able to make my own hours and define when I would work and when I would NOT. I work my own business so I have some control over my work life and career. I work my own business so that I can spend more time with my family, not less.
This same client did try to verbally shame me in front of other freelancers over not answering the phone during my family time, calling me “lazy” for not being willing to work nights as well as days. But I was already entering a period of my life when I didn’t really care what other people thought of me. That’s a boundary drawn as well, albeit it mental and psychological. I wouldn’t and won’t consent to being made to feel inferior.
If you elect to have a business that’s open 24/7, that’s your choice. But for me — I have specific working hours that need to be respected. And when you draw boundaries, believe it or not, that time IS respected, because you’ve decided that it’s worthy of that respect. Others will simply follow your lead. Creating boundaries is an area we as business owners must be bold about — otherwise, our clients will give your time as little respect as you do, and walk all over you.
Some of these lessons I’ve just enumerated came quickly to me. Some took a little longer. But if you can take them all to heart now, they can help clear the path to a more enjoyable and successful career at home.