While no firm statistics exist on the number of entrepreneurs who work from a home office while caring for their children, it's safe to say that this number is on the rise. Through my years of coaching entrepreneurs, I've been at the side of many parents who have built multi-million dollar businesses. Unfortunately, have seen just as many struggle and fail.
There is an art to juggling the commitments of full-time parenthood while growing a profitable small business. Below is my list of the difference-makers. Master them, combine them with a great business model, and you may join the ranks of the stay-at-home-parent/entrepreneur (dare I say parent-preneur?) superstars!
1. Set realistic expectations
You are on a different timetable than home-based entrepreneurs who are not raising young children. If you have a startup that is capable of generating six-figures or more with, say, two years of your full time attention, you may have to double--even triple--that timetable. Modeling your goals after that single guy who built a tech sensation out of his garage in under two years isn't going to bode well for your self-esteem.
2. Apply focus to productivity and parenting alike
Maintain the flexibility of your at home status to be in the moment with your children, leaving thoughts of your massive to-do list behind as you engage with them. Each time an unexpected interruption occurs, take a moment to move thoughts of work to the back of your mind and switch your attention entirely to your child. This may seem difficult and frustrating, but I promise that it will save you stress, time, and the hero-mom or dad reputation you have with your kids.
3. Create a dedicated workspace
While there will be times that working from the kitchen counter is the best choice, you still need a private space with a door if at all possible. In addition to the obvious, there's a strong psychological benefit to closing the office door during family and rest time. It also helps to create boundaries as your children get older.
4. Ignore the stigmas
I remember, not too long ago, when parents working from home would bury themselves behind the clothes in the closet to take work-related calls. The fear of being "found out" by a client or prospect was a constant stressor. Thankfully, things are changing, yet there seems to remain a social stigma for you dads out there. In my opinion it begins with the common reference to dads who stay home as Mr. Mom, alluding that they are pretending to be mothers. These guys are fathers--period. They are not fathers who are trying to replace the mother. Own it guys! Be proud of a remarkable achievement that was once primarily reserved for moms.
5. Define roles and set expectations
I'm not sure there will ever be a solution to the "I'm exhausted; you're exhausted" parenting problem. You've been with the kids all day long and you need a break. Your partner has also been working all day and he/she is ready for some downtime as well. Addressing this issue in advance will prevent the resentment that can grow out of this situation. Create schedules, define household chores and agree on who's responsible for each of them. Talk about individual needs for a girl's/guy's night out, and don't forget date night!
6. Be more organized than you ever thought you could be
While flexibility is the key to success, organization is also critical. Make sure that you are crystal clear on your vision and goals. Maintain meticulous lists and do your best to keep the children on a nap and meal schedule. After those unavoidable interruptions to your schedule, you will be able to refer to your list and pick up right where you left off. If you have the tendency to toss a hundred tasks in the air and work on the one that lands first, it's a habit that's worth changing.
7. Get childcare help when needed
While the idea of working from home may be partially about saving money, you may still need to spend money to make it work. The parents I've seen succeed in their business with the greatest ease are those who are willing to hire a sitter or use part time daycare (if family and friends will volunteer, that's great, just make sure they are reliable). You must have days or partial days where you know that interruptions will not exist. You may be tempted to work in lieu of sleep, but sleep deprivation leads to poor decision making, a tendency toward depression, and even a decline in health.
Are there any stay/work-at-home parents out there who have tips you'd like to contribute to the comments section? We're all ears!