So You Want to Work From Home ...

What to Consider Before You Make the Move

To anyone who currently works in an office, it may seem as if the answer to life's happiness lies in working from home. After all, the hours are flexible, you can wear sweatpants while you work, and you can avoid being manhandled onto the subway every morning during rush hour -- what's not to love?

Yet if you're currently considering turning your kitchen table into your home office, make sure you are prepared to address the challenges that come with the territory of working from home, before leaving office life behind.

Consider the following:

How will you separate work life from home life?

If you've ever read "The Shining" by Stephen King, you know what a bad case of cabin fever can do to a person. Consider whether it will bother you to live and work in the same space, and how you will create a separation between the two functions of your home.

Keeping a professional routine and breaking up your day will help in making a distinction between the time that you're at "work" and the time that you're at "home." For example, in the morning, get dressed, have coffee, read the paper and check your e-mail, just like you might do if you were going to work in an office. At the end of the day, pack up your workspace, close the door to your office, and change out of your work clothes.

Melinda Emerson, author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months", also suggests starting a "small business support group" of sorts. "It's good to have regular conversations with a small group of entrepreneurs who know what it's like to be working from home," Emerson says. "Your friends who still work 9-to-5 jobs can't relate to you as much as they used to. Having a network of other home-based business owners can help you get back on task when you get the urge to turn on Oprah, spend a few hours on Twitter or take a nap."

Do you have children that may interrupt your work?

Working at home can be a great solution for busy parents. You'll be home when your kids get out of school, and your flexible schedule will make it easy to hold up your end of the carpool deal.

However, if you think that working from home will eliminate your need for child care, you may want to think again. It can be difficult to balance the needs of your kids with the needs of your work, and young children often won't understand that even though you are at home, you are still working.

If your children are school-aged, arrange your work hours to coincide with the school day. During school vacations, enroll them in a local day camp or arrange for a babysitter. If your children are still too young for school, hire an in-home sitter to help you during the day, or look into a daycare program.

How will you create a sense of professionalism?

Whether you're running a home-based law firm, financial consultancy or event-planning service, you'll want your business to appear professional on all fronts. Having an address in a residential neighborhood or rural area, or hosting conference calls while your parakeet squawks in the background may present a challenge in establishing credibility.

Fortunately, a variety of services exist for small business owners looking to pack a professional punch. For example, consider looking into a mail-forwarding system, often provided by executive office-space companies like Regus Professional Services. Mail forwarding assigns home-business owners a prominent business address (i.e. in a city or office park), which can then be used on stationary, websites and business cards -- while all your mail is automatically forwarded straight to your home address.

Where will you hold client meetings?

Another issue to take into account when setting up a home office is where client meetings will be held. Do you have a space in your home that is appropriate for meetings? Meeting space should not only look professional, but should also have computer access, telephone-conferencing ability, and should occupy a quiet space in your home where you won't be interrupted.

Again, if no such place exists in your home, there are other options. Consider having meetings at the client's office or off-site at a hotel or coffee shop.

Will you be lonely?

Laments like "the only person I talk to all day is my mailman" or "I test all my best ideas out on a focus group of me, myself and I before presenting them to my client" are common for those who work at home. On one hand, you won't have to deal with the various neuroses co-workers can serve up; on the other, it can also be tough to leave the camaraderie of office life behind.

To combat any loneliness, make sure you plan social activities in your free time. For example, while you may have looked forward to a solitary treadmill workout while you worked in an office, you might want to consider taking a kickboxing class or joining a recreational sports league now that you work from home.

Additionally, says Emerson, "Schedule breakfast meetings, go to networking functions and try to find yourself a place to work outside of your home with your laptop. Bookstores or libraries are good options. Some coffee shops and bakeries even offer free Wi-Fi. These are great ways to be around people and get real work done."

Still can't wait to start working from home? Consider this final piece of advice: "Having a home-based business is like opening any other business except that your enterprise happens to be headquartered in your home. Treat it just like you did your paycheck job and you'll get even more done," Emerson says.

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