A good friend wants to quit her business and get a corporate job. She is sick of uncertain income, no holiday pay and working by herself each day. Like many home-based business owners she is suffering from isolation, a more dangerous problem than many realise.
Developing a weekly routine that forces you to mix with others can help prevent isolation.
Isolation can leave them feeling flat, unmotivated and hopeless. If it persists, isolation can trigger anxiety or depression. I suspect it is a key reason why many home-based business owners, like my friend, get a company job again, even though if often involves a pay cut and little recognition for general skills developed running a small business.
Being able to work by yourself for several years is a tremendous skill. How would you cope working 50 hours a week by yourself in a small room at home, for days, months and years on end? Talking to clients each day by phone or email is no substitute for personal contact.
I meet many business owners who rave about the joys of working from home: more time, freedom and money seems like a dream, at least at the start. Then their business slows, and being on your own with less work is excruciating. Or they simply crave professional interaction.
What’s your view?
- Have you suffered from isolation in your home-based business?
- How did you get out of your rut?
- What advice could you give other business owners to reduce isolation risks?
Here are 10 suggestions for those thinking about, or currently working from home, full-time. Some cost money, so may not suit cash-strapped business owners. Other ideas cost nothing and could make a big difference for those feeling isolated.
1. Plan for it
Have a strategy to deal with isolation risks. Develop a weekly routine that forces you to mix with others – and stick to it. If you can, allocate a day each week to meet contacts, prospect for new clients, and get out of your home office.
2. Get a mentor
Mentors are especially important for home-based business owners who are serious about their venture. Find someone you trust who can provide business, career and personal advice, and connect you with others.
3. Consider a business coach
I have seen struggling, unhappy small business owners transform their venture – and themselves – with the advice of a good coach. Yes, it can be costly, but so too is making decisions about closing a business when you are feeling blue.
4. Do a part-time university subject
If you can afford it, allocate a night a week (over two semesters or 24 weeks each year) for a relevant undergraduate or postgraduate business course. It is amazing how learning new ideas and skills, and meeting new people, can boost self-confidence and motivation.
5. Form a small group of like-minded business owners
A colleague organises a monthly meeting for half a dozen entrepreneurs. It is little more than a coffee or beer, but meeting other business owners and hearing their opportunities and problems is refreshing. Alternatively, join a business association or club.
6. Consider co-working
It is no surprise that co-working is more popular with Generation Y freelancers who meet at night in inner-city locations and work together. Older home-based business owners can do their own version of co-working by sharing the cost of office space among, say, five or 10 people. That way you can work from home and still have a low-cost office to go to when you crave working near others.
7. Plan to meet new people
Set a goal to make a new contact every week. It is easier said than done for a home-based business owner who feels isolated or is time pressured, but networking is critical regardless of venture size, and incredibly energising.
8. Don’t be a sloth
You can easily let yourself go when working from home. Regular exercise is important for physical and mental wellbeing. Every home-based business owner should allocate at least 45 minutes a day for exercise, preferably at a gym or another form of exercise where you mix with others. Get out of those daggy pants, consider your personal grooming and keep your office clean. Change your workspace at least once or twice a year.
9. Set boundaries
The big danger of home-based business is too much blurring of work and professional life. Make sure you leave the house when you have a day off. Working all week from home and spending most of the weekend at home is a sure way to feel isolated over time.
10. Seek professional help
Get medical help if feelings of isolation, sadness or lack of motivation persist. It is too serious a problem to rely only on the suggestions above. Recognise if you are starting to withdraw from social contact, or working all the time in your home office to avoid mixing with others or deal with other problems.
- The national depression initiative Beyond Blue (www.beyondblue.org.au) has information that can help entrepreneurs deal with mental health problems.
- The Business In Mind project (www.businessinmind.edu.au) from the University of Tasmania has information to help managers recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in themselves and their employees, and provides tips for addressing mental health issues.