By Laura Koss-Feder
When Trish Cetrone, the president
of a home-based public-relations-and-marketing firm in Orinda,
California, first started her business, she avoided out-of-the-office
meetings like the plague. "I was really focused on billable hours.
I didn't want to waste work time fighting the crazy Bay-area traffic,"
she recalls. But after a few clients insisted on some face-to-face
sessions, she realized that "efficiency isn't everything," and
she began to welcome the break. "When you work from home, you
have to force yourself to get out regularly," says Cetrone, who
now makes sure to plan meetings with colleagues and clients at
least once a month.
According to the National Association
for the Self-Employed, an organization based in Washington, D.C.,
the nation has 17 million home-based entrepreneurs like Cetrone,
many of whom are constantly faced with the isolation that comes
from being a one-person operation. The same goes for full-time
telecommuters, especially long-distance ones. While most home-based
workers relish their situations, spending the majority of your
workday solo is inevitably draining; virtual contact via email
or phone can only go so far. The adjustment is often especially
difficult if you've just made the transition from the busy, bustling
corporate world to the quiet of your home.
Finding creative ways to beat
this loneliness is important if you're going to succeed long-term.
"You have to create the right kind of environment and schedule
from the beginning," says Rudy Lewis, the president of the National
Association of Home Based Businesses. "If you're alone too much,
feelings of isolation can worsen as you grow your business."
The only way to beat isolation
is to get out and make human contact. But if you're trying to
build a business-or please a faraway boss-it may be a struggle
for you to walk away from your desk, even for an hour. "It's okay
to give yourself permission to be out of your office," assures
Ellen Parlapiano, the coauthor of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical
Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success (Perigee). You may
also find it difficult to escape if one of your goals in working
at home is to spend more time with your children. "Even though
you may be paying for child care, you should still take a break
and see others during the day-just as you would if you were working
in a big company and went out to lunch with a coworker," says
Cetrone, who has two daughters, a six-month-old and a three-year-old.
Replace your chained-to-the-desk
habits with these new ones:
- Get involved with local
chapters of professional associations in your industry and/or
your chamber of commerce.
This has the added bonus of allowing you to network. "Going
to business-related events is constructive for your career and
can keep you from burning out," says Deborah Arron, a Seattle
career consultant. Most organizations have monthly meetings
and various committees and boards that you can join. To give
yourself extra incentive to participate, offer to chair a committee
or organize a special event.
- Pay in advance to attend
That way, you'll feel almost forced to go, advises Arron. Knowing
up front that you have a function to attend will allow you to
better budget your time while you work.
- Start your own group.
Joining professional organizations is a good way to meet other
mothers in your field. Use this as a stepping stone to form
a small circle of such moms who meet on a regular basis, recommends
Parlapiano. She founded a group of her own eight years ago.
- Consider combining time
away from the office with an outing with your child.
New York City career consultant Eva Wisnik has taken her six-year-old
son, David, with her to clients' offices to drop off holiday
gifts. These brief meetings-five to ten minutes each-allowed
her clients to get to know her on a more personal basis, plus
they gave her son a taste of the business world. But, she cautions,
"I wouldn't do this with an infant. Take a child who is old
enough to understand the concept of a 'client,' and keep meetings
Laura Koss-Feder is a business
writer based in Oceanside, New York.
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