Home Rules, By Lisa Kanarek

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The phone is ringing, the dog is barking and your kids are walking in your office from a long day at school, just as the call you’ve been waiting for all day is coming in.  While at this point maintaining a professional image, keeping your clients happy and meeting the needs of your family may seem impossible, there’s hope.

Designate a specific place for your home office. Don’t locate your home office in a high-traffic area.  The kitchen, family room and any other space that attracts your family on a regular basis isn’t ideal for working from home.

Set work limits. The advantage of working from home is the freedom to work any time, day or night.  The disadvantage is the same. It’s common for someone working from home to go from one extreme—working non-stop—to the other—working when the mood strikes.  But by mentally creating a boundary between home and work, you can focus on work when you need to, and attend to your personal life after hours.

Set realistic hours for client contact. Corporate employees aren’t expected to answer their phone at all hours of the day, so why should you be available around the clock?  Meeting your clients’ needs is important, but at what cost to you and your family? One of my clients complained that clients called her at all hours.  I made her realize she had trained them to do that.  When she stopped answering her phone at night—she was a CPA, not a doctor—her clients called during the day.

Maintain your professionalism. Establishing a professional image is key when starting a new business.  That includes everything from being accessible during normal business hours, to making anything that leaves your office top notch.  Stationery, marketing materials and even your outgoing message cannot be anything but professional. Also, a separate phone line (land line or cell) is a must. Clients don’t want to talk with your children when they need to talk with you.

On the surface, finding the right balance between home and office should be easy.  After all, they’re in the same place.  When you’re pulled in several directions with little to no place to escape either aspect of your life, setting rules for your business and personal life is crucial to your business success and sanity.

Lisa is one of the nation’s leading home office experts and the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home. She also writes the blog, Working Naked (www.workingnaked.net).