At home with the kids

Balancing babies and your home business can be difficult. Set ground rules for success.

If you’re like many home-based business owners, you have more than calls and customers to keep in line-you also have kids.

Darrin Wheeler, CEO of D.W. Leather Imports, has four children, but still manages to run his Philadelphia-based import/export company efficiently.

What’s his secret? “Knowing when to take a break,” says Wheeler, whose company imports leather handbags, briefcases and wallets from India and Thailand. “You must allot sufficient time to develop your home business, but by the same token you must not get so engrossed in your work that you start neglecting your children. Whenever I feel that I’m making headway, I break for at least 15 minutes to spend time with my kids.”

Many entrepreneurs set up shop at home so they can spend more time with their children. But combining kids and a home business is not easy. Here are some ways to make the balancing act easier:

  • Get your kids involved. If your kids are interrupting your work every 10 minutes, give them a small task to do within your business, such as getting lunch, faxing and copying documents, or filing papers. The young kids can open junk mail or flip through old catalogs.Sally Cherry, a medical technologist and owner of Cherry Consulting Network in Joppa, Maryland, enlists the help of her 15-year-old daughter, Shervonne. “She has been my receptionist ever since she was six years old,” says Cherry, who provides medical and laboratory training/consulting for organizations. “She folds papers, answers phones, licks stamps and sorts mail.”
  • Take regular breaks with your kids. Set aside time that you will devote entirely to your kids. Give them your undivided attention. They will appreciate the time, and respect your need to work later on.
  • Set a work schedule. Create a schedule that you’ll follow every day (except in emergencies, of course). If necessary, set office hours and post them so family members will know when you’re working.
  • Plan telephone calls. If you have small children, try to schedule calls during nap time or when they are less active. Also, give them a toy or their favorite video to watch while you talk.
  • Childproof your office. To avoid mishaps, make dangerous items inaccessible and safeguard important ones. Store sharp objects in hard-to-reach places and put papers in locked filing cabinets.
  • Hire help. Hire a baby-sitter when your work flow is extra heavy or you need to meet a deadline.
  • Use technology. When working at home, you should have a separate phone line for business calls. A separate phone line won’t keep the kids from yelling in the background, but mute buttons can provide the time you need to quell any chaos. Also, take advantage of e-mail. Should your teenagers hog the phone, you can zap messages to customers any time of the day.
  • Make use of the 24-hour day. As a home-based business owner, you can work in the evening after the kids have gone to bed or in the morning before they get up.
  • Give gold stars. Rewarding your children for good behavior may give you an opportunity to finish
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