Sometimes businesses at trade shows would snub Renae Christine when they found out her company was run out of her home. "They were only interested in brick and mortar businesses," she says.
But that was in 2006, pre-recession, and with the recovering economy she has seen a shift in attitudes. So many people have since been interested in how she built a six-figure-income business in her home that she began to teach people how to set up a home business. She did it first in the blog RichMomBusiness.com in 2012, and now it has expanded into her primary at-home business.
In addition to the surge in interest in her success, a divorce in 2013 that hit her "like a semi-truck" she says, left her scared and concerned about how she was going to support herself and her three girls 4, 5 and 10 years old. "Suddenly I had to really practice what I preach," she says. "I asked myself, 'Can I really support us from home?’ ”
Like many other people across the country, Christine found that she can make enough money with an at-home business. The Bureau of Labor estimates there are 18.3 million home-based businesses in the United States. Other estimates place that number near 38 million, according to the Department of State’s Family Liaison Office.
But deciding to start a home-based business isn't a choice without consequences and compromise. There may be feelings of doubt and guilt. But Christine and others say there are also compensating benefits of freedom, flexibility and even more money.
One of the more obvious reasons for working from home is the ability to be there for children. "My kids are the reason I work from home," says Orit Pennington, a stay-at-home mom who is also the stay-at-home owner of TPGTEX Label Solutions, a company that helps produce labels and bar codes for specific markets.
"I raised four kids working from home," she says. "I could go to their school activities, stay home with a sick child, etc."
Joshua Steimle agrees with Pennington's sentiments. Steimle runs his Web search engine optimization business, MWI, from his home in Salt Lake City and loves being able to see his kids grow up. "I get to eat lunch with them and interact with them throughout the day," he says. "And every day I realize that this is something most dads don't get to do, and they're missing out on so many amazing moments."
Steimle also says that because working at an office can have a lot of interruptions that he tends to be two to three times more productive at home. Pennington likes how she can be in control of her own destiny. "No one can tell me how to run my business, when to work more or less," she says. "I love that."
There are also more measurable perks, according to Andrew Thompson who runs a business training company, Peak Performance Inc., from his home in Chicago. "Overhead costs are minimized when running a business out of your home," he says. "There is no additional expenses for office space, utilities or gas for travel. We've even saved money on taxes with additional deductions."
But working from home also brings its challenges.
Although flexibility may be a benefit of a home-based business for some people, Renae Christine says that running a business can take a lot of time. Every other activity — such as volunteering at a child's school — has an opportunity cost attached to it. "If I said yes to that, I am saying no to part of my income for my kids," Christine says.
In her business that shows people how to set up home businesses, Christine says the biggest obstacle to making them work is doubt — especially among mothers. "Moms feel business and kids don't mix," she says. "Moms have a really hard time believing in themselves. And if you don't believe you can, you can't."
Guilt is another big problem home-based business owners face, according to Paul Mancini, director of the small-business consulting firm Communis Vox, which he runs out of his home in Burlington, Canada. That guilt comes, he says, because a person who goes into an office and has a non-productive day will still at least feel like he went to work. "In your mind, you're at work, and you're working," he says.
But what happens if a person working at home has a less productive day?
"That mental switch never happens at home, so your regular daytime time-wasting activities truly feel like unproductive time, which in my case initially provided a lot of guilt," he says. "If you have a less-than-productive day when working from home, you end the day feeling pretty bad."
One way to overcome that guilt and to solve other basic problems of working at home is to set definite borders between home and work at home.
Home work borders
One important work/home border to set is a schedule. Pennington says working from home gives a lot of freedom. "Yet you have to be extremely responsible; no one can 'cover' for you," she says.
On the other hand, Pennington says it is easy to get absorbed in work — sitting for hours and forgetting that it is time for dinner.
Leah Stimmel maintains a balanced life between her kids and home business by having set work hours. "Work hours can be adjusted for family but not the other way around," says Stimmel, who runs her photography education business, TheThrivingPhotographer.com, from her home in Brush Prairie, Washington. "At the end of the day I turn off the computer (so I would have to boot it back up again to work more) and close the door behind me."
Steimle and his wife decided he gets off of work at 5 p.m. "At 5 I stand up," he says, "and walk out of the office, barring an emergency. Then I spend the evening with the family."
If more work needs to be done before morning, Steimle will get back to work after everyone in the family is asleep.
Closing that office door at home, of course, requires a location specific to the job that doesn't interfere with the rest of the family. Anisha Bailey, an Enrolled Agent (a federally licensed tax professional) has two rooms designated for her business in her home in Beavercreek, Ohio. "Once I leave the home office, I'm at home and once I re-enter I'm back at work," she says. "Having work papers, mail and equipment spread throughout your house can make you feel like work never ends — that's not good."
One of the more obvious problems when working from home is having kids interrupt business phone calls. Paul Mancini in Canada says it is almost like kids have "conference call radar" and know just when to yell, scream and ask a million questions.
"They won't bother you all day," he says, "but when you get on that ultra-important sales call where you are working to demonstrate to a prospective customer that you run a legitimate business they inevitably find you."
Renae Christine says, however, to never apologize for your kids because it is their home, too. But try to call when they are occupied. "There are certain times as a mother when you know they are not going to bother you," she says. "But if things are not ready for you to pick up the phone, don't even attempt it, because disaster will strike every time."
One way of getting the kids on board is to make them part of the business or to see its results. Christine does this by taking the kids to the Disney Store to buy something whenever she brings in a large sale. "So they actually see work bringing in stuff for them too. It is almost like they work with me. Their job is to play so that mommy can work."
Andrew Thompson in Chicago treats his boys (ages 10 and 11) like independent contractors — giving them jobs to do to help the business. They will shred documents, clean windows and do other jobs.
"I'm teaching our boys about my business and how to run a business," Thompson says. "Both have expressed interest in wanting to run their own business someday, and they are getting a daily education that you wouldn't be able to get any place else."
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