Laura Benson has been running her home-based business, Jeanne Beatrice -- importing and selling hand-woven Moroccan baskets -- for the past five years. With a 12-year-old daughter and husband at home for the holidays, keeping up with the demands of her business and family life is a juggling act, especially since the holiday season is a key time for her retail-based business.
Atlanta-based business coach Karen Hammons, author of Bringing Success Home, has been working with home-based businesses since 2006 and says while the holiday season can present many challenges to entrepreneurs like Benson, they aren't insurmountable.
Here, Benson and Hammons offer their top five strategies for managing a home office during the holidays.
1. Adjust your expectations. "The home-business lifestyle is a flexible one," says Hammons. While you may not be able to stick to the same work schedule that you do during the rest of the year, Hammons recommends fitting in working hours around holiday events. Benson says she's become very adept at sneaking work into her holiday plans. "I'll make the stuffing then sit down to answer a few emails," she says. Benson, whose family retreats to a cabin for New Year's week, says working in small chunks of time has been the key to striking a balance between family and working time. "I'm never checked out for eight hours straight," she says.
2. Get family to pitch in. For Benson, one of the benefits of having more family around during the holiday season is access to free labour. "I've started asking my daughter to help me put labels on [and] last year when my mom was in town she was stuffing lavender sashes for me," says Benson. Hammons says incorporating family into the business is a great way for entrepreneurs to spend time with family while not neglecting their business. If you think your kids are too young to get involved with your business, Hammons says even small children can find fun in tasks such as sorting or cleaning up.
3. Schedule time off. If the holiday season is a downtime for your business, Hammons says it may be the perfect time to schedule a few days off. "Any home-business owner needs time to rejuvenate," says Hammons. If you do close the office door, be sure to communicate your holiday plans to clients, suppliers and employees well in advance.
4. Turn off devices during family time. It can be hard to separate yourself from your business when it's right there in front of you. Feel like popping into the office to check email during Christmas dinner? Hammons says don't do it. "It takes a commitment to say this is family time, my family is most important to me and the business will still be there tomorrow," she says. Benson says although she prides herself on delivering exceptional customer service, trimming the tree and Christmas dinner are sacred and always tech-free.
5. Control the constantly ringing doorbell. Well-meaning friends and family who unexpectedly stop by during the holidays to deliver a tin of cookies can wreak havoc with your workday plans. "This is a common problem among home-based business operators. People think that because you work from home you have time to sit and chat," says Hammons. To avoid frustration, Hammons advises being upfront with friends and family about the reality of operating a home business. Putting up a sign reading "home business in action" or saying you'd be happy to schedule a time for them to come over for coffee is a polite way of sending the message that although they may be on holidays, you aren’t.