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Just Because I'm Working from Home Doesn't Mean I'm Available

© 1999, by Azriela Jaffe

Stacey J. Miller runs a successful public relations agency from her home in Randolph, Massachusetts, specializing in helping nonfiction authors and publishers put together national book-promotion campaigns. She recently shared a frustration:

"When friends and family find out that I have a home-based business, they often respond by saying, "great, that means you can drop what you're doing at a moment's notice to chat, have lunch, run important errands for me so that I don't have to take time off from my job, walk the dog, etc." I've been asked to attend a chemotherapy session with a neighbor whose husband couldn't take a day off or work (I said "certainly"), attend an art museum exhibit with a friend during working hours (I said, "sorry, no"), and everything in between. The challenge for me is to draw lines firmly but kindly, and understand when, and why, I can treat myself to saying "yes."

"Recently I was in the middle of a 3-way conference call. My call waiting signal sounded (my local phone company doesn't offer voice mail services), and my sister was calling to wish me a happy birthday, at the worst possible time. Sis and I still aren't speaking because of the incident.

"Yes, I was brusque with my sister -- she deserved it. I've tried, time after time, to establish limits (if it isn't business related, call me before 8:00 AM or after 6:00 PM) and win respect for my home-based business activities, but it's tough. There's a real sense that my job "doesn't count." My sister co-owns an upholstery shop; the fruits of her labor are visible. How do I prove the worth of what I do - encourage her to read the Cosmopolitan issue in which a quote from a client appeared, due to my efforts?

"Self-employed does not mean unemployed. I have clients to answer to, and those clients pay me for my time. I don't wear a business suit except on the rare occasions when I have an outside meeting, but I take my business seriously. If it's an emergency, I can get away. I have that flexibility. But it's not a piece of cake for me to do that like so many people think."

Stacey, I hear your pain and frustration, and I can also imagine the hurt your sister feels that her birthday wishes were not well received. You are crying out for recognition and validity from your family. The need to "measure up" in your family's eyes compounds your feelings of frustration and hostility when your family -- or anyone else -- doesn't take your work seriously. If you didn't believe that these phone calls or requests to run errands were a show of lack of respect for who you are and what you do, it wouldn't be as unnerving to you. Each phone call or neighbor dropping by appears to you like one more piece of evidence that you are not a respected professional. With that interpretation, it is no wonder that these interruptions are so difficult for you to accept. Apologize to your sister for your hostile response -- life is too short for this kind of rift, and she meant well, even if she wasn't respectful of your boundaries. She doesn't "get it" so you have to be the bigger one.

Your family might not take you seriously until you land a big gig -- or not even then. Focus on how your clients feel about what you are doing for them -- they are your source for approval, not your family. Stop looking in a dry well for water. If your family and friends don't understand what you do, and why it is pivotal in the lives of your clients, that's a shame, but their approval isn't necessary for you to be phenomenally important to your clients. Imagine the family members of your clients getting excited when you land a big deal for them!

Get two phone lines for your home -- one for business and one for home -- no excuses. Insist that all non-business folk use the home line so that you keep your business line free for business calls. Then, don't answer the home line when you are working. If you insist that two phone lines is impossible, get rid of call waiting. It puts you in the awkward position of interrupting business calls for personal ones, and then insulting your family and friends by telling them you have to take a "more important" call.

If you receive a personal call and you want to keep the line free, don't respond with hostility. In a friendly warm voice say, "I'm so glad you called and I'd love to catch up. I can't do that now, I'm up to my eyeballs in work and I'm waiting for a crucial call for one of my clients. When can I call you after 6 P.M?" If you do this often enough, nicely, most people will stop calling at an inconvenient time. You are being tested by the people who are disregarding your request.

As for requests to lend your time, set aside a certain number of hours per week for "being helpful" outside of work. Decide how you wish to allocate these hours each week, depending on requests and your workload. If you get a request that goes beyond what you can give, respond: "I wish I could help you. Unfortunately, I'm already booked with another commitment and I am not available. Sorry I can't help." Be firm but polite. Don't interpret it as a judgment about you and your business. They are short on resources and time and desperate for a solution. It's not personal.

These issues work themselves out over time. Meanwhile, be patient with those who don't get it, and stick by your guns -- kindly.

Azriela Jaffe is the founder of "Anchored Dreams", and author of "Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples" ( Harper Business 1996), and "Let's Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering" (Avon Books 1998) and Starting from No: Ten Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Suceed in Business. (Dearborn 1999). For a free online newsletter for entrepreneurial couples, or for information about her syndicated column, "Advice from A-Z", email . Questions and reader response can be emailed, or write to: PO Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504.

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