Carving Out Your Business Image
When I first started my business from home one of the most difficult issues I had to deal with was how friends and family "see" me and my business. Although you may see yourself as a business person, the business image can be especially difficult for mothers who may have small children at home. It can be a challenge also for women whose husbands are professionals or high-end earners, because their world of social networks and family are inclined to see their business as "extra" family income, or a "hobby," or "non-essential" work.
This image issue will show up in your business as an impediment. You may find people "dropping" by to see you at all hours without calling ahead to see if you are available. You may find family or friends scheduling you in to handle someone's children with little or no notice, because they assume you "have nothing else to do."
When "surprises" such as these occur, you must be assertive and firm with family and friends while taking care not to burn any bridges of support with them. To assert your new business image and set it in the minds of your family, friends and community, here are some things that will help:
Set up an "office" in your home that has an established area in the house; preferably a separate room. [This will also help you calculate deductions at tax time.]
Put a sign on the door that establishes hours of operation and keep the door open or closed appropriately.
Do not allow family members to come into your office with games, television, or miscellaneous "stuff" to clutter your work area.
Implement, and heavily use, a phone answering service. Whether this is your own second line into your home with a simple voice mail system, or a virtual assistant to answer your calls live, be sure to get the phone answered regularly during your business hours.
Consider whether you need to change your landline number or current cell number to modify the behavior of undisciplined "friends." If you have any friends or acquaintances who insist on calling your personal line over and over until you answer, then you will want to change the number and give them ONLY your new business number. Then when they call, they get the business answering service during regular business hours and you get your peace of mind the rest of the time.
Unless you intend to have clients come to your home office to meet with you, do NOT answer your door during the day. This helps family and friends to "see" you as unavailable for miscellaneous stuff that will chew through your work hours.
Discipline and Order At Home
The discipline of your household and its members will affect your home business and will have a tremendous impact on your success. When anything significant happens in our household, all members of the family must pull together or I get off track with my business. If my child is terribly sick and I have to nurse him, my work is affected and I have no choice but to enlist the help of others, or call my client and bump the non-urgent things forward.
Here is a list of practices that will help you to stay ordered in your home business, and disciplined all around:
Take the time to do preventative medicine, such as vitamins, minerals, healthy eating, and checkups. Put these things on your schedule, if you must, but do them -- because the exchange is tremendous and the payoff is efficiency and higher income.
Get everyone to bed at a set time and up at a set time every day [even weekends]. To the traditional worker this seems like an "of-course," but to the work-from-home business owner, bedtime discipline can become very blurred when everyone knows that mom is home every day, and if she works late, she can sleep late to recoup from the work. Your family will tend to slip into a non-schedule just from your at-home status, unless you enforce the discipline of a set bed time and breakfast time.
Keep the household, itself, in order. If you are working all the time in your business to make it get up and running, then you may feel overwhelmed, overworked, and out of time for basic cleaning. If your kids are old enough to implement a cleaning schedule of set responsibilities for them, then make your family a chart and post it on the refrigerator. Tell them this is their contribution to the family business and everyone must do their part. If the children are not old enough [around age 8] to handle this type of demand, then spend some of your earnings in a twice a month maid service. My son was barely walking when I began my business and I scheduled a maid service every other Thursday afternoon, so my weekends were free of work and I could enjoy him. The cost was $150 a month and a well-spent investment for my family, my leisure time, and my own sense of well being. My burden was relieved and I did not resent my position. I "recovered" on the weekends from my exacting work load in the week, and I had a tangible reward -- time with my baby -- for all of my hard work. If your house is not clean, you will not function well in your new business and your clients will sense that you are not organized.
Lunch breaks, dinner breaks, and afternoon breaks will help to keep your creative juices flowing. If you are handling your company's work load in the beginning, remember breaks help people to get their blood circulating and to be more productive.
Go home when it's time to go home. After four years in my own business, I am still guilty of not doing this with enough consistency to really enjoy my down time. But the better you can do this, the happier you and your family will be.
Children and Family Responsibilities
Our children and our families are only with us for a season; they grow up, and move out, and get married, and life goes on. You will not get another chance to enjoy your children as children. So, make time to enjoy them, and all of your family, so that you don't hate your life down the road, resent your work, or regret the time you spent building your business.
Business Hours, Family Hours
Very few things in life are truly emergencies. If your child breaks his arm, then he has to go to the emergency room to reset the bone. But few things in business equal a broken bone and can be moved forward to a better time.
The best and happiest business people I know, who are always open to people and friendly to everyone, are the people who keep their business time, business -- and their family time, family.
As a kid we had neighbors whose daddy ran a cement company. The daddy was up everyday at 4 a.m. and worked until about 4 p.m. all week. He was a hard worker and a busy business man. When he came home, the first thing he did was find his wife and take a nap with her for two hours before dinner. They did this everyday like it was mealtime itself. Our family did not do this, so this seemed strange to me. But their children knew the only reason they could wake up mommy and daddy was if there were literally a fire in the house. All of those years, the kids never woke up their parents during this time of the day. If the phone rang, they answered it. If someone knocked on the door, they answered it. If they fought with each other (there were four of them), someone got to "win." If someone made a demand on one of the kids, they just simply had to wait for mom and dad to wake up. The kids were not going to wake them up -- for nothing.
Expanding Your Business
To expand your VA business there are some preliminary steps you need to take. Most VA businesses begin as most American businesses do -- as a sole proprietorship. But as your business prospers, you will want to change your business legal structure to something that better fits a growth pattern.
If you plan to remain the sole owner of your company, then check into changing your structure to an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation), or Incorporation. This is vital to expanding your business, because when you are ready to expand and want to talk to the bank about a loan, moving the structure to one of these formats will position you to receive your needed loan. As long as you are a sole proprietor, then your business credit is dependent upon your personal credit. You may have perfect personal credit, but you still may be turned down by the bank because of other factors, such as your income to debt ratio. These factors can limit the amount you can borrow or cause you to be turned down.
When you incorporate, or become an LLC, then Dun & Bradstreet establishes a new credit file for your company and your company credit is no longer dependent upon your personal credit file. So, as your company takes on credit responsibilities, your business credit builds. When you are ready to borrow to expand your business, it will be easier to qualify for your loan.
Hiring new people is another area important to both expanding your business and your business credit. When planning to expand, you will want to take a preliminary step that many sole proprietors do not do until they change structures, and they must: Write company checks to yourself for your salary. This will be a weekly or monthly check that is designated as "salary" and paid to you. Writing checks to yourself for salary helps to establish you as an employee later. It also helps you personally if you need to prove income for credit purposes and saves you having to go through your tax returns to everyone you want to buy from.
When you hire employees, you take on the risk that your clients want to shed. Especially in the VA business, your clients want to side-step the costs of having employees.This may seem harsh to say here, but if your clients don't want employees, why do you?
An employee or two may be necessary for credibility in your particular niche or boutique operation. But, if not, then consider growing your business with contract workers.The big drawback to contract workers is that federal tax laws outline that you cannot have any control over the time or activities of a contract worker; the minute you try to control them, is the minute you have become an employer and they have become an employee.
If you serve a particular industry or profession, then you may want to expand your business and open "locations," or small offices, to serve your clients. If your VA business is designed to handle the more personal services needed by executives and professionals, then you may need an office or multiple locations. If you design your VA business to serve other small businesses that need actual "virtual office space" where they can access a meeting room on demand to meet with their clients, then you will need office locations.
Leasing a virtual office for your own VA business is also a possibility and very do-able for around $300 per month. Your locations and office needs are determined by your business design and the needs of the clientèle that you serve.