Posted in Writing

Lessons in Telecommuting

As discussed in an earlier post, working from home is the new thing. You can hardly throw a rock without hitting someone who says they have their own business. (I’ve never understood that expression. Why would you throw a rock at someone?). But, suffice it to say, everyone sells something, or does something from their home computer. But not everyone is successful at it. I have seen many fizzle and fade, and fold their business. (Sometimes owing a lot of money to the cosmetics company or whatever). Granted, every business is different, and mine is as well. But here are the lessons I have learned from my adventures in working from home.

Don’t be fooled by the, “I can work in the middle of the night if I want,” idea.

You won’t. You have some flexibility in your hours. But, you need to set regular business hours and stick to them. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, most of your clients will be up and about during business hours. As will anyone you report to, directly or indirectly. If you are completely stumped on a project at 2:00 am, whomever you need to call for clarification will not be available. Being available when your clients/supervisors are available, will just make things move faster. Texts and e-mails zoom in and out of your phone as plans and projects change and morph. A successful professional is right there in the middle of it. Secondly, you won’t work in the middle of the night. Don’t kid yourself. You really won’t. And then you will lose clients.

Trick: Get up at a decent hour, shower, dress, eat, whatever. Then go to work. Work until everything is done, or at least at a stopping point. I find a six hour day works best for me. After six hours, I feel I’ve given it a good day.

Keep a log of what you do each day.

It’s easy to get discouraged or confused about what how much you are doing. Maybe you don’t see much actual productivity, but a log will show you that your workday consists of a lot of steps toward getting the work done. That’s fine. That’s productivity. Conversely, you could feel like you are working all the time, but your log shows you’re not really doing much of anything. This is characteristic of the work-at-home novice. They start too late, take too many breaks, and don’t know when to end the day. So, they feel like they are working all the time, when they aren’t actually getting much done. A log will show you this and help you see where you can reign in your time

Trick: I keep a dated Excel file. I’ve got a calendar laid out week by week, one tab per month. Each week, I put the assignments in their appropriate due date. Then, each morning, I put in the steps I will take to get there for the day. This gives me a to-do list for the day. As I complete each task, I turn the type red. If at the end of the day, any black items are still left, I transfer those to the next day’s box. If I do something that’s not on my list, I put it in there anyway and turn it red. That way, I also know what date I did it, for future reference. This also helps me keep organized enough to do non-paid assignments, like work on my poetry book and blogging.

Create or Find a Good Environment.

Your environment will make or break you, and there’s a lot written about home offices. But, if you don’t have a good space in your house, or you can’t ignore the pull of housework or other distractions, then it’s possible to come up with a good “mobile” office. This is all the rage, and some cities have office spaces that work-at-home people can rent a desk. We don’t have those here, but I have route of work environments that I frequent. This includes various libraries, coffee shops, and even the local community college. Each has its pros and cons and I daily choose the locale based on my needs for the day. It’s difficult at times, but in the absence of a good home office, it works. I have a laptop bag that I keep stocked with my computer cord, an extra phone charger, pens, notebooks, a flash drive and headphones.

Learn from Everything….And Then Just Do It.

Sometimes work at home novices are nervous about their new venture. This is understandable, there is a lot to learn and you will continue to learn throughout your career. But, at some point, you’ve got to just do it. Get out there and learn from your own mistakes and your own successes.

Trick: If you’re nervous about starting a new home business, use the “backdoor clause.” Give yourself a time limit and a goal. Tell yourself, “I’m going to give it 90 days/six months/a year…” and set a realistic goal of what would mean “successful” to you. Then, go after your business with the reckless abandon of everything you’ve got. Eat, sleep and breathe that business. If after your time passes, you are nowhere near your goal, then re-eavalute your idea. It may be a good time to shelve it, get more training, or just pursue it as a hobby for a little while.

Get a Good (But Not Overpriced) Accounting Software.

You will need to keep track of your invoices, and clients will expect professional presentation of invoices. The type of software you use, will depend on what you are selling and how. My product is a service, and my clients are businesses, so my invoicing/billing is super simple. I have a basic accounting software called Express Accounting. I found it free online, and it generates and sends professional invoices. It keeps track of everything, and I can generate reports and enter payment dates. It’s easy to use and does everything I need. There are more expensive ones that sync to your bank account, like Quicken and Quickbooks. I find, for what I am doing, I don’t need all that power. But, in a home based business, you will need to be your own accounting office, so keeping track of all of this is essential.

STAY ORGANIZED.

This goes along with the previous point, but I think it deserves its own. You will not get anything done if you have to spend twenty minutes just looking for the scissors. Keep everything you need together, and in an orderly fashion. You will find things move much faster when you do.

Above all, enjoy working from home. It’s a lot of fun, and if done right, can make you just as much money as anything else. As long as you actually do it.

 

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