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How to Manage Your Home-Based Online Business

by Steve Scott | Join Him On Facebook

Working from home.

Being your own boss.

Choosing your own hours.

You got it—those are just three of the many advantages to running your own home-based online business, and they’re usually the first advantages that come to mind when people start daydreaming about escaping the rat race once and for all.

There are literally dozens upon dozens of advantages to running your own business, but a lot of people incorrectly assume that working from home means hardly working. If you want your home business to succeed, you’ve got to realize that’s just not the case. I definitely have a flexible schedule but I also put in my fair share of sixteen-hour work days. (Caffeine really can become your best friend!)

Create Rules and Guidelines to Follow While You’re Working from Home

If you had a regular job, your friends wouldn’t show up at the office unexpectedly, call you to go out for a snack at 2 PM or ask you to baby-sit for them during the day … but that stuff happens when you work from home.

People might accept the fact that you really do work during the day, but they also assume you’re always available to chat on the phone, go out with them at the spur of the moment, or do them favors because you don’t have to ask a supervisor for time off.

It’s understandable that stuff happens—I’d definitely help a family member during my “work day” if an emergency came up—but in order to run a successful business, you need to create rules and guidelines to follow while you’re working from home. There are a lot of things to consider in addition to your daily schedule, so I’ve created a list of information that business owners need to realize.

Work Schedule

•        Set regular business hours. If you’re going to work from home, you need to set regular business hours. They don’t have to be 9 AM to 5 PM, but you need to choose some sort of regular hours to follow each day, especially if you’ll be dealing with “mainstream” clients that are only at their offices during the day. A regular schedule will also help you reduce the urge to sleep until noon every day and help you avoid lounging around on the couch watching TV.

•        Work during your business hours. Speaking of watching TV, make sure that you actually work during your business hours. It’s really easy to get sidetracked on StumbleUpon, YouTube or Facebook, but you need to tackle the projects that need to be taken care of. Especially if you want to pay your bills and eat!

•        Tell people when you will be working. Don’t be afraid to tell friends and loved ones when you’re working, and don’t allow them to interrupt you unless it’s an emergency. Caller ID and voicemail were both invented for a reason—use them! You can check messages later. In my experience, if someone’s having an emergency situation, they’ll call back repeatedly until I pick up the phone.

Workspace

•        Create a dedicated area for work. It doesn’t matter if you stick a cheapie desk from Wal-Mart in a corner of your bedroom or you set up shop in your basement, but you need a dedicated area for work and work alone. This doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally take your laptop to a bookstore or a coffee shop to get some work done, but for the most part you’ll be working from home and you need an “office.”

•        Organize your workspace. Even the tiniest small spaces can be completely organized and you don’t have to spend a fortune doing it. Keep pens and pencils in an old coffee mug. Keep your notebooks, books and magazines in a dedicated spot as opposed to tossing them all over the floor under your desk. If things are organized, you’ll be able to find stuff as soon as you need it and become more efficient in the meantime. Also, here are some tips for organizing up your workspace.

•        Keep a paper trail of everything. We’re living in a digital age but it’s a good idea to keep a paper trail of everything you do. Write the date on your hand-written notes about projects and print things out if they are important. If you don’t have a file cabinet, buy yourself some banker’s boxes at an office supply store and keep them in your workspace.

Finances

•        Track what you spend. Keep track of everything related to your business finances. This will come in handy when you try to make a major purchase that requires financing, such as a car, or when you try to lease an apartment or buy a home. You will have to prove that your home business earns money.

•        Open a separate business bank account. A lot of self-employed people register a corporation or form an LLC for legal and tax purposes, but even if you choose to work as a sole proprietor you should open a separate checking account for business purposes. This will keep your earnings separate.

•        Keep financial records. Separate bank accounts will help you out when it comes to bookkeeping. You also want to know if you’re “in the red or in the black.” Are you earning as much as you thought you were? Are you even making any money when it comes down to it? You’ll need these financial records when doing your income taxes, too.

•        Build a nest egg. A nest egg is a good idea for everyone because we never know when our car will break down or when we’ll need to buy a new washer or dryer when the old one quits working. Nest eggs are especially important for self-employed people because they don’t get sick pay or vacation pay. If you get sick and can’t work, you won’t be earning money. If you want to go on vacation without working, you won’t be earning money during your trip.

Your Double Life

•        Have two phone lines, if necessary. If you’re working in a field that requires people to speak with you on the phone, it’s a good idea to have a business phone number so clients, potential clients and any general weirdos out there in cyberspace don’t have your home phone number or your personal cell phone number. You can get a second phone number cheaply and easily with Magic Jack or Skype.

•        Have separate email accounts. It’s also a good idea to use a separate email account for work purposes. It helps you stay organized and looks more professional. Besides, clients won’t want to receive emails from “snugglebunny1975” or “hotstudmuffin” or the like.

These are a few of the most important guidelines for running a home business. Some are no-brainers and I’ve learned others through trial and error. I can’t repeat myself enough, though—if you want your business to succeed, you’ve got to treat it as a business. Be organized, have rules and guidelines and most importantly, stick to them!

Take Action. Get Results.




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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Fran Aslam

Hi Steve:

Great post. I liked it because it tells you how to organize and work with your business in an optimal environment and I do a more than half of them. The rest are easy to follow too.

I like the nest trail and paper trail of everything. I do that, but there is so much paper garbage. Throw it or keep it is the question for me.

Have a good one.

Fran A

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Steve Scott

I think these days it is safe to keep the Majority of your records digitally. As long as you KEEP records and back everything up. Of course it is always better to ahve some things that are kept primarily as paperwork, but you never need to worry about volumous paperwork like you might have 20 years ago.

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The Vizier

Hi Steve,

I agree with you fully that when it comes to a home-based business, it is easy for people to get the idea that you can help them at anytime since you have “flexi-hours.” This is why it is important to be disciplined so that you don’t get all side tracked from what you have to do. There is probably no way around it. Unless it is an emergency, we have to let others know that we are busy working in a tactful manner.

Having a work schedule as you suggest is indeed helpful. At least you know how to allocate and use your time wisely. I have found that when I have no plan or schedule, I waste a lot of time and end up getting little done.

Having a dedicated workspace is also a must for me. This helps me to get into the working mode quickly and easily. I probably have to work on the paper trail since that is something I don’t do enough of.

Thank you for sharing this great article!

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Steve Scott

Irving,

In an emergancy it is true that our schedule may be more “flexible” than that of someone with a 9-5 job. So in some situations, it is, of course, fine to help out. But when you become too easily distracted it can be a nightmare to get work done. It is all about being professional. When I shut the door to my room I consider myself to be working, just as if I were at a job and consider that calls I wouldn’t get at work, I shouldnt get at home during this time.

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Mark of Success

Steve,

You mentioned an interesting point… that people would assume that you are always available for them. And that could be a pretty significant risk to relationships if you fail to explain to them that work actually gets more critical when you are your own boss.

Talking about the advantage of being your own boss, I think for me it is something to be worried about. Not that I don’t like myself bossing over me, but rather I like working for myself so much that I forget to even take the much needed frequent breaks. Besides this one concern, I am really looking forward to working for (only) myself. Your mention about setting regular business hours would actually help me the other way around, so as not to overwork myself :-)

Cheers,
Mark

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Steve Scott

Mark,

It can work both ways. My business hours are fairly short. At least a fair bit less than 40 hours a week. I do often work more than that though…or at least I will again soon. You should have a MINIMUM and once you get a business going a maximum amount to work. I did spend my share of 18 hour days getting my main affiliate marketing stuff off the ground and I think that can be needed. But long term that just leads to burnout.

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Mark of Success

Yes, I know what burnouts are… I’ve probably spent between 35 to 45 percent extra time into my profession over the years, and the sad part of it all is that it was for someone else’s “business”. I think it is going to be not at all a problem for me to do a repeat performance, but with the long-term benefits coming my way this time :-)

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Matthew Needham

Very sensible suggestions Steve.

Many people assume that working from home is going to be like having a day off. That’s clearly not the case. It doesn’t matter where you work, work has to be done. Whether that’s in an office, a coffee shop or at home.

Good stuff, Matthew

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Steve Scott

Really it is much MORE important to be rigid at home. Most people understand that you shouldnt be bothered when at work, but they do not have the same feelings about the time when you are working.

Thanks for the comment Matthew

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Murlu

Besides the “blackout” periods that I’ve been setting up for myself while working; dry erase boards have become my best friends – I have a “dailies” and a “major projects” board and I don’t add or erase anything until it’s DONE now – no more tacking on new projects – just pure work.

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Steve Scott

That’s really good. It is easy to get distrated by bright new and exciting projects, but that just leaves a lot of things 1/2-2/3 done.

That last bit can sometimes be the hardest part.

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Jimi Jones

This is a great list, Steve and I could not agree more with what you have listed here.

If you want to be a serious business person then you have to be serious about the business. Maintaining a work schedule is very important, we cannot just dabble around when we feel like doing something constructive.

I have a separate office and I often close the doors and take limited phone calls. Someday I’d like to have a 4 or 5 hour workday but to accomplish that, we have to work our tootsies off for a few years first.

Like Murray, I use a white board to keep me on top of the really important stuff and keep a list in the corner of my bathroom mirror as a “first thing in the morning” reminder. :-)

If we are serious about working from home we can be highly successful, so long as we are disciplined and take continual action.

Thanks for the post!

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

Jimi,

Yeah, most people that are successful at a home business know how to do the separation of business and pleasure. It is something that people who have never done it may think is an easy thing when in reality it really isn’t.

Well….it is not really difficult either, it just takes a little bit of discipline to make sure all distractions are filtered out. Most people who are successful have done it because otherwise it would be hard to get the concentrated thought to become successful

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Steve Youngs

G’day Steve!

In my opinion, working from home (or being your own boss) is a hell of a lot harder than working for somebody else. If you’re not highly self-motivated, disciplined, organised, and have a good routine, you’re doomed to fail. Or struggle endlessly, at least.

I know of some people that go so far as to get dressed into office clothes, and then start work. Just to get them into the right frame of mind. Another guy I know that works from home, gets up each morning, has his breakfast, kisses his wife and kids goodbye, and out the front door. He then walks around to the back of the house and comes back in through the back door. It’s his way of “commuting to work” which puts him into “work mode”.

I guess you don’t really need to go to those lengths, but hey, if it works…

Kind regards.
Steve

P.S. Gotta get me one of them “hotstuffmufin” email addresses :-)

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

I am not sure if it is harder, but it takes a very specific discipline that it is impossible to succeed without. So for some it could be easy as pie, others nearly impossible. Most of us likely fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

I like some of the methods you brought up that people use for “tricking” themselves that they are in a working environment. I have never tried any of these myself, but it seems like they would be really good ways to enforce the point that work time is for working.

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Ryan Biddulph

Hi Steve,

I like your tips.

Setting a strict schedule and setting a designated work spot are 2 biggies in my book. Each practice creates order in your mind and environment.

Contrary to what brick and mortar office workers thing, work at home doesn’t mean hang out at home. It’s a business. As you note it requires you to work long hours to get your business up and running but the sacrifice is well worth the rewards.

Thanks for sharing and have a powerful day!

Ryan

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

Very true Ryan,

Dedicated workspace and having a schedule are the two biggies. People in your life may be a little “put off” when you tell them you are “working” and should not be bothered during those time frames, but over time and with some patience they should be made to understand.

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Tristan

Sticking to regular hours is something I always try to do but fail horribly at. Sometimes I’m psyched about what I’m doing and want to get up at 6 to work on it. Other days I’m tired and sleep in till 10 and then not even start working till noon. I suck at planning and sticking to my plan.

I AM pretty good at keeping my workspace organized, though. I’ve got a little plastic filing cabinet thing that works great for all of my papers.

And I wouldn’t mind getting emails from snugglebunny1975 :) Just kidding. But seriously…

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Steve@Lifestyle Design

Nothing wrong with the getting up early. That is one of the good things, but if possible it may help to have a mandatory time to start. Nothing so early that it is “difficult” for you to make it but enough to get in the hours you need.

Not that I am perfect at this myself. I have been doing way too much “hanging out” and not getting enough work done since I have been home. So I know exactly where you are coming from.

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lesley

Steve, there was a lot of good advice in this post as always. With two kids and my mother in the house I have had to establish working hours, but now I find that it is a problem. It’s not that I am working too little, it’s that the personal stuff isn’t getting done because I have been working too much.

Keeping a paper trail is vital but I think we’ve found a good solution in a service called Shoeboxed. You send them all your receipts and they digitize them and categorize them for you. I’ve found ti very useful, you can easily check through your receipts online and designate some to be business and some personal.If you want you can keep the paper trail as the ultimate backup, but all the organization is done for you.

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Steve Scott

Lesley,

Showboxed sounds like a pretty efficient method to keep track of the online receipts. I might have to look into that.

I think you are right that it can go the other way too. It can also be easy to “overwork” also because of the ease of access. Few people are going to drive into a job to put in “just a few more hours” but that can get to be a very tantalizing idea with online work. Sometimes it is a good thing…but certainly if you personal life suffers as a result it is definitely something that has to be reinforced the OTHER way.

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lesley

Here’s the link to shoeboxed. No, its not an affiliate link. http://www.shoeboxed.com
Hope you find it useful.

Reply

Steve Scott

Thanks Lesley! I appreciate the link. Will check it out! :)

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Tito Philips, Jnr.

Thanks for the tips Steve, It’s a fact that many Home based business owners tend to think working from home wouldn’t require them to put in much hours as though they were working in an actual office. But the reality shows us otherwise.

Equally important, is the discipline required to wade off all forms of distractions working from home do attract. One good way I do this is by locking myself up in a separate room and putting my phone on silence and far away from me.

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Alex@Jocuri

Hey Steve,
I always supported the idea that if you want to work from home, you should always maintain a schedule with everything you have to do every day. Not having one can make your procrastinate and be less productive.

Also, I do know what you are talking about people thinking you are not actually working when you are self-employed and work from home. They all assume you just sleep and do nothing all day, and that they can ask you favors anytime : “You are doing anything anyway…”.

Separating your business from your personal life, like other phone numbers, bank accounts, etc can help manage your earning and expenses while also can keep you somewhat focused on differentiating betweeb work related problems and personal stuff.

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Steve Scott

Alex,

Very true. It is SO easy to procrastinate. For most people if given a little room they will procrastinate like crazy. ( I know this is true for me.) Being firm to yourself and others until it becomes routine is a great way to avoid that.

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Alex

Great Post Steve!

You touch on some very important points, and although I have made an effort to consciously seperate the work and the play, I have not done this on all levels, like phone and bank etc.
It is still not working for me, and I think its because I have not seperated everything.
Great tips mate

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Adam Paudyal

Steve, caffeine is my best friend to tell you the truth!

You are absolutely right, need to be serious about the business if one wants to succeed.

Setting up a dedicated area to work makes a huge difference. Recently I moved my work area from main bedroom to the spare bedroom so that I can concentrate more on the things I do…and hey it works wonders!

Nest egg – aha, another great addition to my vocabulary. And you are so right my friend; You never know what is going to come up..

Very awesome points Steve.

Later.

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Steve Scott

Yup.

I am all for flowing where life will take me, but it is also important to plan for some situations. A little bit of prep avoids a lot of pain and suffering.

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will

happy thanksgiving Steve!

Thanks for the previous post :)

I have a question though. What are all the kinds of software you need to manage your online business. Especially the finances. I am guessing quickbooks. I don’t know enough about it to know if it tracks everything like sales on clickbank to money going to paypal. Does it or do you have to manually input it?

And yea all the software for online biz management would be great to know too.

Thanks!

William

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Jennifer Barry

Hi Steve, you’ve really covered the major issues here. The financial section is key, because you have to file business taxes even if you work for yourself with no employees.

I think the hardest part for me is making people realize I’m working and interruptions are bad. Sure, it’s nice to have a flexible schedule but I can’t get anything done if I can’t stay in the groove. I (mostly) ignore the phone and I have my email set to not bother me for hours. It can be difficult to resist the lure of social media though. :)

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Jessica

Good job Steve.It’s really an awesome info you’ve got in here. You just thought us how to managed right the home based online business and i really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing this to us. More power to you.

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Terje Sannarnes

Great tips and advices for people, who are going to organize home based business. All recommendations are helpful, but most of all, I like an idea of using separate email accounts for work purposes. Great deadlines, thanks for share!

Reply

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