Home Business Foundations

Is Your Business Real or are You Just Playing?

I recently had a friend say to me “…now that you’re not really working…” about the fact that I work from home.  I’m not sure she was prepared for the vehemence in my reply – that I was in fact working harder than I ever had when I was an employee.  How I worked more and later hours then I ever had.  How my learning curve was practically vertical.  And how I was fed up with people assuming that ‘working at home’ was synonymous with ‘drinking coffee with friends and watching television all day.’

When I stopped for a breath she looked at me apprehensively and said “Uhhh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”  The problem is that she did mean it.  And it’s such a common attitude among those who haven’t ever worked for themselves.

That we spend our days socialising, doing housework (ok, not me for that one), playing with the pets, shopping and other non-work activities – while the money just rolls in.  If I mention that I went for a run this morning, I’ll get told “You’re so lucky you can do whatever you want during the day”.  However when I add that I was up until midnight the night before working on the website or blog posts, and probably will be again tonight, I get asked “Why don’t you get a real job with normal hours?”  (Yes, these ARE real conversations I’ve had)

And I know I’m not alone.  In 2008 I did a survey of 105 Work At Home Mums.  Here are some of the responses about other people’s attitudes:

…having my family and others realize and respect that working from home is still working and not just a hobby

People saying “But Mums don’t run businesses!” and people not taking me seriously because I’m young

most everyone–friends, family, the general public–will consider your work at home “just a hobby” and will not take you seriously

[People] will want your knowledge and products at a great discount or at no charge since “you really aren’t working”

Even in the recent Drive-by Shooting critique on this site, Harry from Men With Pens made the comment “Women who work from home … have a hard enough time being taken seriously…

So what to do?  How can you be taken seriously when you work and live in the same place?

Act professional – Set yourself business hours and stick to them.  Refuse to accept invitations or non-work phone calls within those hours.  Be a professional business owner.  Every time you mention your business or have contact with a person, either in real life or web, remember that you are representing Your Business.  How you act and speak is a direct reflection of your business.

Have a professional attitude – this ties in with #1.  If you see yourself as a real business then other people are more likely to as well.  If you have trouble with talking about your business, look at what it is that you’re uncomfortable with and fix it.  If you are awkward about your business then people will pick up on this and question the validity and genuineness of it.

Have a good-looking and effective website.  You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars setting a website – however you do need to spend enough to have it looking professional.  It is very obvious if you pick the cheapest option (usually DIY or family/friend does it) and this can turn off customers and clients.  What does a cheap looking website say about the profitability and viability of your business?

Keep your branding professional and consistent. Customers should be able to recognise your business at a glance when they see flyers, business cards, websites, documents, invoices, advertisements etc.  It should be blindingly obvious who you are and what you do, no matter what form of communication the customer is seeing.

Have a good tagline and elevator speech.  Know exactly what you do and be able to communicate that to someone else quickly.  It shouldn’t take you ten minutes to explain what you do.  Talk about benefits – not features.  How do you help people?  What problem do you solve and for whom?  The tagline should be on your website header, your business cards, your email signatures, forum signatures (check that advertising is allowed) and any other form of non-verbal communication.  Need a good tagline?  Have a look at this article.

These are just a couple of ways to present your business in it’s best light and be taken seriously as a genuine, on-going, responsible business.  What else would you like to add to the list?

Melinda Jameson

Melinda is the founder of SuperWAHM.com and started this site to share her best work from home ideas to help other Work At Home Mums become more financially independent and able to spend time with their families.

10 thoughts on “Is Your Business Real or are You Just Playing?

  • Excellent piece! It is timely as we are undergoing a full branding review at the moment.

    I think for me, the ironic thing is that I am taken far more seriously for home schooling than I am for my businesses. I guess people see the role of teacher more tangibly than that of a ‘CEO’ or ‘Managing Director’. Is it perhaps that people do not understand what it is to be the top of the organisational chart that means they are not aware of all that is required from a self-made businessperson?

    Often, when out and about, someone I know will ask in conversation what I am up to. Most recently, I mentioned I was going to India on Trade Mission later this year to build our trade relations over there for my importing/exporting company. Their response is ‘Oh, are you still doing that?’ Seriously, do people think you are going to bring tons upon tons of products in and out of countries and then just sit the ‘couple of boxes’ in the corner of the garage with the unused cot and baby clothes just to ‘tinker with’ for fun when you find a minute?

    Just because a person chooses to work from home does not mean that they cannot be very serious business professionals. Crikey, I should, all going to plan, be retired in 10 years effectively halving my working life just in time to take my then teenage boys globe-trotting to see the world! This would not be a possibility if I did not work for myself from home.

    Thanks for the thought put into this piece – it is a great ‘hands-on, how-to’ piece. I expect that I will be linking back to this page!

  • I totally agree with your post for many reasons.

    I am trying to build up my ‘home’ business so that I can leave my ‘real’ job some time next year. The looks I get from some people! Even though my ‘home’ business is something that is my real passion – a passion that I am good enough at to support myself and my family with.

    I also agree you need a professional image. Spending a few dollars early on so that you have a decent website and business card (for all the networking you need to do!) is well worth it.

  • @ Caroline. LOL at the Puritanism!

    That reminds me of a quote I saw once, something along the lines of “My boss is a maniac – and I’m self-employed!” Still makes me giggle.

  • Puitanism – the secret fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.
    I do wonder if that’s some of where these sorts of comments come from – I know I’ve had my share over the years. Cos face it – self-employment is a labour of love – any employer who demanded the hours we work, the committment we give, would soon find themselves with a workforce of zero.

    And those who see us doing what we love – and making money at it – maybe they think we shouldn’t be, that if they are miserable in their jobs, we should be. That if we don’t have a boss to upset us, we ought to have.

    And maybe they have the feeling that they couldn’t do it. Or that they are too afraid to try.

    Smile at them, pity them…or use the burst of irritation to prove the b*****s wrong and scale even greater heights. Then they’d REALLY have something to moan about 😉

    Caroline’s last blog post..Feminism, the free market and the perception of handmade

  • @ Janice. Please no, don’t list the insults! I don’t think I have enough bandwidth to keep the site going. LOL! Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate them. (((((hugs)))) back at you!

    I love your response to the cashier. Maybe not the nicest, but hopefully it got her thinking. I have been known to say similar….

    @ Maree. You mean photographers don’t just wander vaguely around all day taking happy snaps? You WORK? Wow, who knew…. LOL!

    I hear you on the ‘doing it all’. I think your percentages are pretty close to what I do too. 80% is the background stuff, and only 20% is actually direct money-making work. But all the background work needs to be done to enable the other 20% to work….

    @ Samar. LOL at the mentally slapping! I think I’ll use that, it might release the tension that deep breaths don’t help with.

    My DH is quite techie with the actual hardware side of computing, but he couldn’t put together a website to save his life. Or change dns, or write an e-book. He just doesn’t get that side of it. However, like your DH, he supports and encourages me with what I do. My biggest fan.

    Your DH sounds lovely, non-techie and all! The good guys are such a blessing!

    @ Marc. I didn’t know you were engaged! Cool! 🙂

    I don’t even attempt to explain what I do to my parents, let alone the in-laws. *rolls eyes*

    @ Bec. Nodding in agreement with you. Totally. Sucks doesn’ t it!

  • I’ve only just started working from home, but it strikes me that people take you just as seriously as a work at home mum as they do when you’re a stay at home mum. We must have all the time in the world to run their errand because what you do at home is just completely unimportant.

  • Ahh the myths of freelancing/work-at-home jobs. Don’t we just love to hate them 🙂

    I’ve given up trying to explain it to my father. My mother doesn’t really understand anything much to do with the Internet and my fiancée keeps asking me why I haven’t done any chores despite not having to work all day. *Sigh*

    Don’t get me wrong, she’s very supportive in her own way but she just can’t grasp the concept of self-employment being far better than working for someone else. Which is probably what’s holding her back from doing her own Interior Design business.

  • I’ve been freelancing full time for just over 6 months now and I’ve come across the same attitude. As such, apart from my immediate family, I don’t mentioned that I’m a freelance writer.

    But for every off hand comment that brushes me off as just a bored housewife, I have my family who bucks me up and a husband who – even though has no idea what a blog or an e-book is (yep, those men still exist) – brings me coffee in the middle of the night when I’m busy tapping away trying to meet an impossible deadline.

    An advice I’d like to add: Everytime you get down for not being taken seriously for your work-at-home status, concentrate on the people who do take you seriously, believe in you and want you to succeed.

    Oh and mentally slap the offending people silly. It’s immature and unprofessional but it helps me more than taking deep breaths!

    Samar’s last blog post..What Travelling Means to a Freelancer

  • Great post- couldn’t agree more! I must say alot of people I know think I am out taking photos all day long. What they don’t realise is my business is SO much more than taking photos! Infact I estimate about 80% of my work is business related (marketing, strategy, planning, admin) and 10% taking photos! Other 10% is proofing and constructing the client galleries for online viewing.

    I think what alot of people fail to realise is that when you have your own business you DO IT ALL, or you spend time/money farming some work out to others to do it for you.

    Anyway now I’m getting on my high horse LOL- just wanted to let you know that the post really resonated with me.


  • Huge pat on the back all the way from Scotland! It won’t surprise you that I could add to your list of insults with the collection I’ve received over the years but I’d rather focus on how briliant I think you are.

    You share your skills, your words and your talents with the whole world. I bet your kids are proud.

    We are the new pioneers, the community builders, the peace missionaries, the international envoys that represent our homelands. We are online teachers, entertainers, inspirers, revealers, filters, human googles, counsellors, ears that listen, hands that hold. These people who have underestimated and misunderstood you may not get it, but God does.

    I’m not an evangelist or a member of a specific religious group, but I’m a hug pusher, addicted to spreading love and support. International bloggers are hugging the world by reaching out to people all over. Right livelihood is a concept that crosses religious borders. We want to make money with meaning and integrity while giving our kids the best care we can, and your tips above are the kind of thing we need in our toolboxes.

    May I add a one? Make your family into managers of departments in your company. My husband is a senior manager (He takes care of technical stuff beyond my grasp!) My kids are t(w)eenagers and I’ve turned them into allies. My son gives great neck rubs and helps me simplify and hone my online work by constantly asking “What’s that for? And “Why?”. My daughter’s praise for my website is worth a million comments or subscribers. If I’m doing anything online, they now realise I’m working. For them, it’s enough that I’ve explained the slog of business building to them. They don’t assume that hours spent at a computer equate with pure fun or with a swelling bank account. They bring me silent cups of tea if I’m doing something when they’re home. (I try not to, but time zones are often a factor.) If I’m on a call with the door closed, they’ll ask their dad if they need something; they assume it’s a private coaching call. They tell their friends I’m working. My daughter asked if she could spend Take your Child to Work day with me. The school grilled my daughter about what it was I did exactly, but she explained and insisted. We had a great day and she went on to write a brilliant description of networking, homelife coaching and coachwriting and managed to make my day sound wonderful. Amazing what another’s paradigm will do!

    I’ve also found that if people are going to be unpleasant, bitter, resentful or jealous whatever you tell them, then you may as well go for it. Last week a supermarket cashier said “Are you not working at the moment, then?” I said “Does shopping for my dad and my family count?” “No, I mean do you work?” “Yes.” “Where?” “At home.” “Oh, so you’re a housewife?” The sneer she gave me helped me decide between my usual smiling short answer or the pulling myself up to my full height answer. “That, and a full time mum. And a tutor, a translator and a writer. And a homelife coach.” Silence, then “I suppose that gives you a bit of pocket money.” “I made $49 while I was sleeping last night. Cleared £100 an hour for a coaching class by phone last year. What do you make an hour, if you don’t mind me asking? It’s just that I helped one of your colleagues leave and start a business last year and you don’t sound very happy.”

    It wasn’t my finest hour. It was a terrible advert for coaching, even though I did it all with courtesy and a smile. But it’s moments like those that are making it easier to talk about what I do with those people who aren’t sneering.

    Nice post, Mel. You always get me thinking.

    janice’s last blog post..Choose the Right Words and Change your Life

Comments are closed.