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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:
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."
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.
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?
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"
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
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 [email protected].
Questions and reader response can be emailed, or write to: PO
Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504.