Archive for the 'Home Business' Category

My Calling

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

There have been times when I have envied people who work for large corporations. They can count on getting a regular paycheck ““ that is until the CEO acts irresponsibly causing the company to fail. Then I think of all the hard working, dedicated employees who are left without a job and I don’t feel so envious. Even if they knew the ship was sinking, there is nothing they could do about it. They had absolutely no control over their future.

But I am in a very different situation”¦and thankful for it. In our business, what I do today directly affects the success of our business tomorrow.

It’s taken me a while to appreciate this. For the first three and half years since we started our business, I sporadically made new business calls, but I dreaded doing it. I saw it as a distasteful event and that once I made it through the new prospect list I wouldn’t have to do it again (“thank goodness that’s over”) until Steve carved out the time to design another promotional mailing which probably wouldn’t happen for another six months.

Mostly, I spent a lot of my time staring at QuickBooks on the computer. Particularly if we had a slow month and I was stressed out about paying the bills, I would get so focused on the numbers that I would almost be paralyzed in front of the screen. I’d open the “Company” file in QuickBooks, then I’d open the “Household” file, then I’d go back to the “Company” file hoping the numbers would be different. I’d repeat this five or six more times until I could barely remember what business we were in. Of course, obsessing didn’t add one more dollar to the balance in the either checking account.

Then something changed. I don’t really know what to attribute it to, maybe it’s a combination of turning 50, divine intervention, and some guidance from Steve, but my attitude about calling is different. I realized that calling is positive action that I can do that counteracts my stress about our finances. I have accepted that getting new business is my job and it’s going to be an ongoing effort. And like anything else, whether it’s lifting weights at the gym or picking up the phone to make calls, the more I do it, the easier it gets.

Plus, there’s nothing like success to serve as motivation. It’s taken about three months since I started our latest concentrated telemarketing effort, but it is literally paying off. We’re getting meetings with potential clients, responding with proposals, and seeing some of those turn into business. And now that I’m on a roll, “It’s get out of my way, I’ve got calls to make!”

It’s also nice not to be starting from scratch. There are people on the list who didn’t have need for our services the first time I called, but they were receptive, and said to check back with them. It really makes the job a lot easier to know that unless the person I’m calling is really having a bad day, I won’t get a “go away and die” response.

I wish I could say that I’m completely broken of the habit of switching back and forth between QuickBooks screens in the hope that the red ink heals and turns black. But I now know that’s not what makes me valuable to our business. Steve tells me I have found a calling”¦in calling.

So Happy Together

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

When I tell friends that my husband and I work together from a home office, it’s not unusual for them to comment, “I don’t know how you do it.”

I know they’re not talking about the challenges I might face in doing the “work,” or even the disruption of my domain caused by having a “home office.” No, it’s the “together” part of my statement ““ the concept of spending all-day every-day with your husband ““ that they think would require an almost impossible amount of patience. I think they imagine that it’s like always being with a demanding toddler, except that when it’s your husband, you can’t send him for a time-out when you don’t like the way he behaves.

On the other side of the coin, I’m sure there are equally as many times that Steve tells someone that he and his wife are business partners and he gets the same “I don’t know how you do it” response. I think they imagine that it’s like always being with a premenstrual teenage girl, except that when it’s your wife, you can’t send her to her room for a good cry.

Although there are certainly days when Steve can be somewhat urgent in his demands (“Is it ok if I wait to send the Fed Ex package until after I’m out of the shower?”) and my pre-menopausal moodiness makes me more than a little snappy (“The damn package will go out today”¦honey.”) all in all, we are both grateful to be working with each other.

No one is more surprised than I am, that I can spend every waking and sleeping hour with anyone, no matter who it is, and not break out in a rash. In college, I’d start getting pretty prickly after about a day with my best friend. But for most of every day, I am less than two feet apart from Steve. And not only do I manage to tolerate it, I truly enjoy it.

Even though there is the occasional chafing. “Do you have to sneeze so loudly?” I know that we are able to overlook those inevitable irritations because we have pledged to love and honor one another.

So, my statement for most people who spend eight hours a say with somebody who just happens to be in the same profession as them is: “I don’t know how you do it.”


Say Goodbye to June and Ward

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Maybe it was a result of watching too many “Leave It to Beaver” reruns after school, but as a young girl I wanted my married life to look a lot like June and Ward Cleaver, minus June’s pearls and Ward’s pipe. The clearly defined roles of the parents made their lives looked so neat and ordered.

In that world, Dad leaves at 8:00 am to do some kind of important work in a mysterious place called “The Office” and returns at 5:30 with his white shirt as crisp as when he left. For all we knew, during the day Ward could have been selling secrets to the Soviets, but when he arrived home, he had left the problems of the Cold War back at the office and was ready for roast beef and mashed potatoes and a rousing game of checkers with the Beav ““ at least I guess that’s what people did at night before there was Taco Bell and DVDs.

And while Ward was at work, June was at home ““ queen of her domain. I’m sure she kept busy with PTA meetings, mending Wally’s favorite flannel shirt, and baking cookies to have waiting for the boys after school. And if June ate as much cookie dough as she baked, no one was the wiser.

For many years, our married life certainly had some of the same characteristics. Even though Steve worked for himself, for 20 years he drove off in the morning to an office and returned home ““ sometimes 12 hours later particularly if it was a Friday and he was driving north out of San Francisco. He worked hard to bring home paychecks and to leave the stress of the business in the city. And while he was gone, the house and the kids were mine with only the cats and dog to answer to.

Then about 3½ years ago, after much discussion with me, Steve reinvented his business. For the first time, I was a going to be a partner in it (not bad, considering my resume has some big gaps in it, but then again, I did sleep with the owner). And instead of finding office space somewhere, we were going to set up shop in what was formerly our formal dining room.

That’s when my life got less rigid”¦and a lot better.

Now that we work for ourselves out of our home, the distinct separation between what Steve does and what I do is more flexible. It’s not just Dad goes to work and Mom stays home. Now, what we’re able to build in our business ““ and in our family ““ is a shared effort.

Of course, in the business context, Steve’s the one with 30 years of experience and the gift for marketing, so the lion’s share of the responsibility falls to him. But now, I can take on some the burden. He tells me that even something as simple as me answering the phone really helps. It gives him a little bit of a buffer and a few seconds to collect his thoughts before he takes a call from a cranky client.

And no one is more surprised than me, that I am evolving into the “biz dev” part of the team. Even though I still have to gird my loins before I start making cold calls, when I succeed in getting us an appointment with a potential client that then turns into real business that puts a few more dollars into the checking account so I can write us a check at the end of the month, I definitely feel the rewards of ownership.

And on the household front, when Steve offers to pick up one of the kids, I’m starting to gladly accept his help and relinquish a bit of my control. I realize I don’t have to carry the full load of mom chores and contribute to the business. And when I’m more flexible about who does what, everyone is happier. I’m not drained from 16 chauffeuring trips and Steve’s gotten a much needed break from the computer.

However, there are times when it just doesn’t make sense for us to trade tasks. For instance, Steve has offered to scrub toilets on a Saturday morning. While I appreciate it and I’m sure he’d do a great job, his skills are put to better use writing a marketing proposal than squirting Lysol on porcelain. And besides, cleaning bathrooms is where my skill set really shines.

Unlike the Cleaver’s, our kids experience firsthand the kind of work that Dad and Mom do during the day. They hear Steve fielding a difficult phone call from a client about the cost of their website and hear me struggling through my telemarketing list. There’s not much that insulates them from the realities of running a business. They see the rough days, like when a client’s business cards and letterhead are delivered from the printing company and the colors are drastically different that what they approved (“Mom, why is Dad hyperventilating?”) or when the cash flow is down to a trickle (“Dad, why is Mom weeping at the QuickBooks screen?”).

But they know that it buys them iPods and gymnastics classes.

June and Ward lived a stiff but very tidy life. Our’s is messier but undeniably real. Steve and I often wonder how living with the ups and downs of running our own business will affect our kids’ future careers. Will they vow to only work for big companies that promise regular paychecks and two weeks paid vacation or will they follow in our footsteps and create their own way to make a living?