From 2006-2012 I worked for myself building my own home based business. Unfortunately the business failed. The proximate cause of the failure was a Google Algorithm update.
However, the ultimate or real reason it failed was a result of not following this one simple rule: Treat your home business as a real job!
While this may sound simple or obvious there are a whole host ways in which I did not follow this advice. If you’ve never worked from home on a regular basis before it may seem like an ideal work arrangement; no more commute, interruptions from annoying co-workers or boss breathing down your neck.
Yet, the reality is somewhat different than this idealised version of things. Here are a few things I did wrong and what I should have done instead.
1. Didn’t Create Regular Work Hours
I started my home based business part-time and so would work on it whenever I had the chance. When I eventually made the transition to working on it full time, I continued working on it this way. This meant I had some amazingly productive 12+ hour days, but as time went on those were further and farther between. More often I would only spend around an hour a day doing “real” work.
What I should have done differently: I should have set regular working hours and devoted that time entirely to work. This would have meant I was putting in a consistent level of effort into the business.
2. Didn’t Set A Time When I Was Done Work For The Day
The second result of not having regular working hours is that I never really felt that I had a set end point to my day where I could unplug and move away from work. Now many entrepreneurs spend 100+ hours a week working on their businesses.
However, if you don’t have a way to step back from your business, sooner or later you’ll burn yourself out. For me I found that since I always felt I should be working I could never really mentally check-out from my business for rest and relaxation.
What I should have done differently: As a part of setting up regular working hours, also set-out time to other non-work pursuits. This would have given my brain time to rest from the problems of work.
3. Didn’t Keep Track Of Tasks Properly
Like many people, I’m not naturally an organised person. When I was working from home this meant I would often work on tasks that I felt like at the time and not on other ideas I’d had. This meant I was not making the optimal use of my time and that I missed many opportunities.
What I should have done differently: Kept a detailed list of all tasks that needed to be done and then assigned times to work on each of them. This would have meant more important tasks got done ahead of less important ones.
4. Spent Too Much Time On Busy Work or Just Wasting Time
Related to not keeping track of tasks was doing busy work. These are tasks that feel like but aren’t adding any value to your bottom line. Examples include: checking, e-mail, reading blog posts, posting to twitter, etc. Sure these things have to be done, but in the right time and place.
Worse yet, after doing busy work I would often just go into pure time wasting mode and read Reddit, Facebook, watch Youtube, etc. I never pretended this was work but I often allowed myself to do it as a reward for doing busy work.
What I should have done differently: Made sure to that I set aside time to time to busy work at a few key time throughout the day and try to keep other distractions to a minimum. This would have meant more revenue generating tasks would have been completed faster.
5. Let Other Distractions Get In The Way of Doing Work
Even when working online, not all distractions were internet based. Often I found myself cleaning when I didn’t really need to or preparing more complicated lunches than necessary just top avoid doing unpleasant tasks.
What I should have done differently: Yet, again I needed better time management tools/skills so that I could clean, prepare food, etc. at the appropriate times. This would have increased the potential amount of real working time I could devote to my job.
6. Skipping Work Because I Could
Working from home can be extremely lonely, so when a friend had a free day off I was often willing to go out and do stuff with them. I didn’t have a boss staying that I couldn’t and who wants to be working when you could be having fun right?
Each instance of me doing this probably only had a minor impact on my business; yet the cumulative effect was certainly negative.
What I should have done differently: Again I should have agreed to do stuff with friends only when I was done work for the day. While less fun it would have meant more time was being invested in my business.
7. Didn’t Have Enough Time Diversifying My Business Strategy
Ultimately, not properly treating working from home like a job meant I didn’t have any spare time to analyse my businesses weaknesses and diversify my business model. This meant when Google update their algorithm I was out of business overnight.
What I should have done differently: Managed my time better so that I would have had more time to devote to looking at where my business was weak and ways to improve it.
None of these changes to my habits happened overnight, but instead they crept in slowly. On the surface things looked good, my business was growing slowly but steadily. However, what wasn’t apparent at the time was how much wasted time and effort it was costing me.
If I’d simply treated working from home as a proper job with all the discipline that comes with it, I think it’s much more likely I’d still have a business today. Working at an office has been a very good experience, but once you get a taste of working for yourself there’s not much else you can think of. If I ever go back to working from home full time I’ll be sure to make much better use of my time.