When working from home, you're always conscious of the fact that your professional situation is delicate. If you were working outside the home at a steady 9 to 5, you'd have personal responsibilities, but the check would be regular, come rain or shine. When you have your own business, each client is super important and their appreciation and approval of your work dictates when and if you get paid.
That being said, working from home and being your own boss doesn't mean you're a slave to your clients and have to stop what you're doing, any time—day or night, to keep them happy. And, trust me, there are clients out there who will expect it...if you let them. Once that precedent is set, it's very hard to change.
Your clients need to know there are boundaries in your professional relationship. And, no matter what your business is, it's important to recognize yourself as a professional. You are providing services and being paid for their delivery. Your time and personal life are just as precious as your clients', and you deserve the same respect. Right? Right.
Setting boundaries with your clients will help you to keep your working and family lives more separate. It's true that when you're working from home there will always be some blurring, but you can lay down some personal rules to keep them from completely overlapping and driving you mad.
So, how do you set these clear boundaries with your clients?
Figure out your schedule. Part of the beauty of working from home is never having to worry about how your kids will get to and from school or switching hours with co-workers so your daughter can be a member of the local soccer team. You know when these things will be happening and can plan your work hours around them. Sit down with your calendar and decide what work hours are the best fit for your home life.
Write up a contract. Contracts aren't just for big business. If you want to be respected as a professional, you have to make things clear, on paper. Be specific in your contracts, not only about the service you're being commissioned to provide, but the time frame in which you will complete it. A standard part of every contract should be a section outlining your regular work hours and paid consultations outside of those hours. Yep. You read that right. If your “workday” ends at 4 p.m. on Friday and your client has an emergency at 9 a.m. on Saturday, you should be paid for that individual consultation, and any extra work that results from it, at a predetermined, clearly specified rate. Set a clear cost per hour (or project, depending on your situation) that will be incurred if your services are needed outside of your regular hours. This will not only get you compensation for your hard work, but will keep clients from bugging you if their need isn't truly important. It's a win-win.
It's important to note here that if you are working past your normal “office hours” on a project that has already been contracted, you wouldn't charge additional fees—unless the extra hours are due to a change made by your client, and he is absolutely aware of the extra expense. If your son had the stomach flu, and you were busy tending to his needs all day, your client isn't at fault for your adjusted work hours.
Stick to your guns. Once you have your boundaries set, it's important to stick to them. You're not working for fun, you're working for work. If you stray from your plan and let your clients have too much leeway, you'll find that it's harder to rein them in and reestablish your professional boundaries.
There are many benefits to working from home, but there are also a few drawbacks. One of the biggest is having your two lives, professional and home, mix and mingle. Setting clear boundaries for your clients may seem tough in the beginning, and you might worry about upsetting them, but the bottom line is your business is a business. You deserve to have uninterrupted time away from the computer to be with your family when business hours are over.