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What Working From Home Really Means

Does your little home office make you feel like a small fish? Here's what the big fish think of you.
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Stress comes from all angles for the entrepreneur.

One would think that working from the comfort of home would decrease stress. That's not necessarily so.

While many small-business owners value the freedom and lower cost of a home-based office, they also worry about being "found out"--so much so that it keeps them from marketing to the corporate sector, where there are billions of dollars just waiting to be allocated to outsourcing.

"It's just not professional enough, and they wouldn't take me seriously if they knew," one of my clients told me.

She isn't alone in her concern that big clients seem to want to work with other big fish. Does working from home necessarily mean that you can't compete?

Consider this: Econohomes grossed more than $50 million in revenue last year, and was named the second-fastest growing company in Austin, Texas. That growth was in no small part due to the extent to which Econohomes works with home-based business-owners.

"Ninety percent of our business relies on database that is designed and maintained by an entrepreneur who works out of his basement in San Francisco," says Amy Hasbrouck, Econohomes's vice president of marketing & development. "And all of his team members work from home as well."

That's quite a large responsibility to be outsourced, but Hasbrouck sees distinct benefits in working with home-based contractors.

"I feel like there's a lot more flexibility with independent contractors," Hasbrouck says. "They can plug in and pivot quickly because they are not a part of something that is overly structured and complicated."

Working from home also allows for a more flexible work schedule. But does the fact that you work in the wee-hours, after the kids are in bed influence a hiring manager's choice? You may be tempted to bend the truth to keep your secret safe, but that may backfire on you.

"What is most important to us is that the contractors are up front about how and when they work," says human resources manager August Nielsen. "Recently we were implementing a new HR software and our project manager worked from home. We received emails at really odd times, but we knew his work schedule going in so it didn't surprise or concern us."

Nielsen is responsible for hiring more than 1,000 employees for Veterans United Home Loans, a company named the No. 1 financial-services job creator right here at Inc. "Our company has 1,200 employees in 25 offices in 22 states, operating in all time zones," says Neilsen. "We have to be just as flexible with vendors and contractors to make sure we are working with the best."  

Still, there is the inevitable occasional reminder of a contractor's home-office status.

Do the sounds of home create an unprofessional impression for your clients? What if the dog barks or your three-year-old barges into the room during a client call? You may be mortified--but perhaps your concern is unfounded.

"A prospective vendor just did a demo with us from his home-based office," says Nielsen. "During the demo we heard the laundry buzzer go off. Frankly, it was endearing and we have a pretty casual work environment so not a big deal."

But Nielsen warns that some companies might have been turned off by the brief disruption. "Bottom line, working from home isn't going to work for every contractor and the buzzer in the background isn't always appropriate," he says. "But if you know your audience, set expectations, and deliver results it can work."

Hasbrouck is also very forgiving of a little noise in the background. "Are you kidding?" she chides. "I have a room full of sales people who toss around a football right outside my door. A little noise makes me feel right at home."

Do you fret about being "found out" by your larger clients and prospects? Remember this: the fact that you work from home does not necessarily make you appear unprofessional. But the fact that you believe it does certainly could keep you from swimming with the big fish.

Last updated: Feb 11, 2013

MARLA TABAKA

Marla Tabaka is a small-business advisor who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate and start-up ventures and speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.




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