Running a small business can be very rewarding and definitely gives you flexibility and a sense of purpose that is far different from what you can get from your typical 9 to 5 office job. It’s not for the faint of heart…not even close. But if you’re up for it, there’s nothing like it in the world.
What about two small businesses? What happens when both are run from home as one-person entities (husband has one, wife has one) and you throw small children into the mix? Chaos? Sometimes. Impossible? No. Interesting? Definitely.
I’m an independent IT and business strategy consultant…a self-professed “Business Solution Designer.” My wife is a professional photographer. We have nine kids and four of them are four years old or younger. And seven of the nine still live at home. Yes, we have some older children at home who can help watch the small ones throughout the day - and yes, we do pay them – but there is a strategy. Here are five tips to make this – or a similar situation - work in your home…
Wear the kids out first
We not only have 9 kids, 2 small businesses, and 4 small children, but we also homeschool our kids. Right now, that’s really just our 14-year-old daughter and she’s old enough that her school is pretty self-directed and it’s all online, thankfully. And our oldest two at home – a 17 year old daughter and a 20 year old son, are CLEPping their way through the first three-fourths of college (saving them a ton of time and us a ton of money) so we have three kids around much of the time who are 14 and older and provide us with a lot of toddler watching assistance. That said, I still make it a point to take all four youngest ones to the park nearly every work day for about an hour to literally ‘wear them out.’ They love it, I get some walking exercise and cherished kid-time, and when I return the little ones are ready for a treat and some relaxation. And they are much quieter than they were an hour ago. That usually means my workday doesn’t start till around 10am (unless, of course, I have something specific scheduled with a client), but I can be productive from then on and interruptions are minimal.
As for my wife, she sets specific days aside for photo shoots, editing, and customer interaction. She only shoots on Thursdays…period. Adhering strictly to that schedule is critical or normal household functionality will fail right along with the business. Organization is a must.
Assign chores and do them
The household must, of course, run smoothly. That means no excuses for a dirty house, laundry lying around, toys all over the place, and messy offices. Everything runs more smoothly and more productively when you’re working in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Assign chores – not just to your kids – but to yourself as well and be accountable and get them done BEFORE the workday begins…unless, of course, you absolutely must be on a 7am conference call. But don’t make the exception the norm, or you will get off track and start the day frustrated rather than energized and ready to perform.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Watch out for the commitments you make. Make them, but don’t over extend yourself. If you’re a single person running a business out of your home, that’s one thing. But when you’re working in the middle of a family with small children and periodic interruptions AND your spouse is also running a business, don’t plan yourself for 100% utilization. It will never happen. And yes, just know that you’ll find yourself working at 2am and on the weekends more than you wanted to, but if you enjoy what you’re doing it works out.
Stick to what you’re good at
You’re good at what you do, right? You must be or you wouldn’t still be in business. But if you’re not an accountant or doing your taxes drives you crazy and takes you away from your business, then hire it out. Get a maid if you have to. Get a nanny to help watch the small children during some daytime work hours, if necessary. Hire a marketing firm to put together some PR pieces and marketing material. If it is a struggle for you and a potential failure point in your business, do yourself a favor and look into hiring it out.
Bounce ideas off each other
If you are two separate people running two separate businesses, use each other as mini-focus groups. Bounce ideas off of each other. Not all day long, of course…and certainly try not to do it all evening long either because you’ll be frustrated having what little free time you might have taken up with helping each other (see the statements about outsourcing marketing and other services above). But you need outside eyes and ears on what you’re doing from time to time. Your spouse may see things from a ‘customer-perspective’ that you would otherwise miss.
Never stop innovating
Finally, never stop innovating. You may or may not be doing all of your own marketing, but always keep your finger on the dial of what is working not working with your clients and customers. What do they seem to be responding to? How can you package your offerings differently to draw in a few new customers who are on the fence? What questions have they been asking you? Every customer question can lead to a potential new service.