Doing Your Home Biz Homework
by Rob Spiegel
Running a business from home is the dream of many, and it definitely has its advantages. But as great as it is to be able to take off the afternoon to spend time with your kids, the tradeoff is often working in the early morning hours to make up for it.
When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I work from home. I explain that I have my own business, make my own hours, and I frequently take a big chunk out of a business day to go on one of the kid’s field trip. Most times, the person who asks then says, “I sure wish I could work at home.”
The grass is always greener. While they marvel that I get to work from home, I envy their ability to come home from work and really be home from work. When I go off on a field trip, I’m stealing time away from piled-up work. I’ve taught myself to not feel guilty about slacking off. But when I get home from the field trip, I dash for the computer to answer emails from clients who are wondering where the heck the expected work is. “I’ll send it in an hour," I write back then put on some early Rolling Stones and furiously get busy.
Chances are, I also woke up at 2:00 a.m. that morning so I could get a good chunk of work done before the kids got up. Early Yardbirds, Van Morrison and live Led Zeppelin help keep me awake during those desperate mornings. And I have a good stack of CDs – as well as a five-CD player so I can work for hours without changing the music. I keep it all handy because those ungodly dark mornings come two or three times each week.
I’m not complaining. Just pointing out that my green grass has its share of crab grass and a bit of freshly-painted green dirt. I conduct my business with smoke, mirrors and midnight music. A friend of mine who also runs a business from home regularly complains, “It’s like I always have homework.”
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t remember any longer what office politics were all about. But I do know I quit jobs because I wasn’t quite able to rise above them. I also can’t remember what it’s like to sit down in front of the TV and watch “Meet the Press” without feeling guilty that I am missing work without even the chestnut excuse of spending time with the kids. I did enjoy “Shrek II” this summer because it was a good movie and the spend-time-with-the-kids” duty trumped the guilt of letting a project run late.
I have too much work lined up. I have too much work on purpose. If I didn’t have too much work, I would spend every spare second drumming up more work. When you work for yourself, you can afford to have just enough work. If you have just enough work, one bump and you’re back scrolling through Monster.com and HotJobs.com, answering every ad for every job you could possibly do from home.
There is no solution to this. When a home business works right, you have a constant flow of projects. If you have half a wit, you churn through your customers until you have a stable of clients that expect work from you every month. I’m fortunate. I haven’t had to look for new work for more than a year. That also means I haven’t been caught up in more than a year.
The old saw goes: you’ll have dirty laundry in your basket the day you die. Yep, and I’ll also be three days late on my monthly article for “Automation World.” I’ve had my own business – both successful and unsuccessful – for more than 20 years. I think it’s normal to quit working when I just can’t take it anymore rather than quitting when I’m done or quitting when the click strikes 5:00 p.m.
I’m blessed to be able to work at home. I’m blessed to be able to take time off for field trips and ballet practice. But it comes with a price. I always have homework. But the homework comes with a consolation. When I was a kid, my mom didn’t let me listen to the Rolling Stones while I did homework. Nowadays, I can’t get it done without listening to the Stones.
Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.