Working at home: Be your own best friend

Jane Stretton

Jane Stretton

Jane Stretton lives and works at Dove Farm on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border. This is a family farm and tourism business that she shares with Husband Henry, their three children and a motley crew of animals.

Not one to follow the crowd, Jane has applied her own authentic style to running a business and living her life. Can you be professional and entrepreneurial, creative and grounded all at the same time? Jane shares this unique blend through coaching, advisory roles, networking and writing; and encourages people around her to dig deeper and live a life more in keeping with their own natural self. Jane works with individuals and small businesses, and has worked extensively with WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise.)

It doesn’t matter about the view from the window; When it comes to working at home, the bit that counts, is what’s going on inside your head and your heart. A little bit of you, is reflected back onto the computer screen, and we all need to live happily in the same room as our own reflection.

This isn’t an article about work- life balance, or family versus career, or any of the stuff you can find in all good business books about working at home. You are the cherry stone at the centre of it all; It’s you I want to talk about, and It’s you I want to talk to.

Having made the decision to work at home, on some kind of self-employed basis – there will be times when we wonder if we are doing ‘ the right thing’. We would do well to remind ourselves that ‘the right thing’ is not an absolute. It can change according to circumstance. The decision we made six years ago, may no longer bring the fulfilment it promised, and we need to allow ourselves to find the thing that is right for us now.

Firstly, we need to be honest about why we are working at home, and that will give us a much clearer view of what we want to get out of it. To stay at home with a baby, for example, when you don’t want to, but your family expects you to; trying desperately to maintain an office- manicured appearance in between feeds and nappy changes – is just not sustainable. Far better to accept the fact as it is, and use the’ work at home’ experience to get back into the workplace as soon as it is feasible.

Applying the D.I.F.Y. (do it for yourself) principle can help. My theory is that to run a successful business from home, you need to be sure that it is something that you personally want to do, and that you will personally get something out of it.

I was fortunate, that for a while, I was able to work part time at home, in our farm and tourism business, and part time in the workplace. It really helped me to decide what was best for me. There was no contest really, as I became disillusioned with the full time demands on my few hours of paid work, which simply ‘got in the way’ of my own projects. So I left work. It’s not always that simple, I know that, but I truly believe that disillusionment can be a marvellous motivator, to help you get to where you want to be.

Once you are there, sat in your office, often juggling small children (as I used to do quite literally!) – or as I am now, in and out of the office, and all around the farm; there is a tendency to believe you have to do everything that your business requires, because you tell yourself ‘there’s nobody else to do it, except me.’ It’s true that there is no accounts department, no IT support, and no after sales customer care to call upon. It’s all up to you – but not necessarily down to you.

Be your own best friend; tell yourself how great you are at doing certain things, and bring in help for the things that you are not so good at, or don’t like and keep putting off. A few hours a month outsourced to a VA, or a book-keeper, or a tele-sales person or some other specialist support – can make the difference between your business chugging along, or flying, as you are freed up to concentrate on the stuff you are good at and enjoy.

Our farmland goes down to the river Dove, where I walk the dogs every day. Occasionally, I go the long way round and walk along the opposite river bank. It feels distinctly odd to look back, across the river, towards the farmhouse and fields. How can those familiar landmarks look so curious with just a bit of water in between me and them?

Becoming complacent and overly comfortable is one of the dangers of working for yourself, from home. Associates, and networking colleagues, as well as customer feedback, can be so productive in helping you to form a different perspective and a critical eye on your own business – but only if you are prepared to listen. So meeting up for a coffee and a chocolate brownie has business merit after all!

It’s no secret that working at home generates a constant stream of tasks. You might as well accept that if you had a great big ‘To Do’ list – you would never tick off everything on the list, because there’s always something new creeping onto the bottom of the page. All the more reason then, to take time out for your own personal and professional development. Try something you’ve always wanted to do, gain a qualification, learn a new skill. As you are your own ‘power- house’ – maintaining a state of mind that is open and well-nourished, is an essential ingredient in growing your business. See it as investment in human capital, and value yourself accordingly.

I have never been able to draw clear lines between work, family and personal time. How do people do this? If I am at an event, and it gets to 3.00pm, I leave to do the afternoon school run. If my daughter needs picking up from a friend’s house in the evening, then I break off from what I am doing and fetch her. It means I will do my work later that night. Likewise, if the kids are bored in the school holidays, because I am busy making beds and cleaning cottages for holiday guests – then that’s tough. If a sheep is lambing at tea-time, then we eat later, and so on.

Farming is a way of life, and so are other kinds of ‘working at home.’ Flexi-time takes on a whole new meaning. Make trade-offs and bargain with yourself. Who’s going to argue? If you are up half the night finishing a report, or packaging products, then why not go out for lunch next day, and spend a couple of hours round the shops as well? Enjoy being flexible.

As I put the finishing touches to this article, I’m sat at my desk, wearing wellington boots (because I’ve just let the chickens out). The bit about wearing wellingtons in the house may horrify some of you. It would certainly horrify my mother, but hey, the boots aren’t that mucky, and I’m the one who cleans the floors around here, so I count ‘house wellies’ as one of my perks that go with the job.

I’ve never relished being told what to do, and I don’t like spending valuable time doing things I don’t see the point of doing, so I am very happy not be commuting into work tomorrow.

Enjoy your working day at home.

©Jane Stretton

Jane’s Top Tips for successful working at home

1. D.I.F.Y. “Do it for yourself”
If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t be doing it for very long
2. Be your own best friend
Play to your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses
3. Take a look from the other side of the river sometimes
Listen to other people and learn to see your situation from a different perspective
4. Grow yourself, everything else will follow
Time spent on your own personal and professional development is precious

5. Enjoy!
There are lots of benefits to working at home – enjoy them!

Jane Stretton lives and works at Dove Farm on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border. This is a family farm and tourism business that she shares with Husband Henry, their three children and a motley crew of animals. A trio of holiday cottages, with adjoining meeting room, make the perfect setting for get-togethers and special occasion breaks. Dove Farm is a highly versatile venue and small corporate retreat.
Please contact Jane for more details.
web: http://www.dovefarm.co.uk / blog: http://www.dovetales.net / Linked In: http://bit.ly/9Rhmi5

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