Being your own boss is tough.
Transitioning from a 9-5 environment in which you are held accountable by others into one in which you are essentially free to do as you please can be a real shock to the system. I say that from personal experience.
Over the past 15 months or so I have learned a great deal about what it takes to effectively run an online business from home and in this post I want to share those lessons with you. Whether you are already working full time on your business or in the side-endeavour stage, you can use the following to help you work more effectively and efficiently.
5 Steps to Running a Successful Online Business From Home
Working from home presents a number of unique challenges that I have faced and overcome in the last year or so. In reflecting upon my approach I can see that it is made up of five key steps, each of which you must work on in order to get the most out of each and every day you sit down to build a better business. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Setting and subsequently reaching deliberate goals is something that many of us fail to do and yet it is absolutely key to rapid progress. Without direction and focus our chances of success are severely limited.
That is but of course my opinion — there are people out there who will tell you that you are better off setting no goals at all. They will argue that goals limit you and serve only to kill your confidence. However, only an overly rigid and poorly executed approach to goal setting will put you down that path. If you feel that goal setting is for you then I recommend you read my post on the benefits of goal setting (and why I disagree with Leo Babauta on the topic).
On the other hand, if you are sold on the concept of goal setting then I recommend the following: How to Set Goals and Motivate Yourself to Actually Achieve Them. That post explains how to set goals in such a way that drive your business (and indeed your life) in the right direction.
Beyond that, I have some additional advice when it comes to ensuring that your business has direction:
- Ensure that you only bite off as much as you can chew. There’s nothing worse than dividing your efforts across multiple projects and working a great deal but ultimately getting nowhere.
- Allow yourself to complete each project in full — even if that means being totally sure of its failure. Giving up half way through projects is a terrible habit to nurture.
- Regularly audit your goals and your actions to ensure that you are still on the right track. Although you shouldn’t give up on projects readily, be ruthless in ensuring that what you are doing is in the best interests of your business.
In my opinion, few things are as important to the success of a home business than the environment in which you work. Creating a good working environment is a step that you must take at the outset of your business — it shouldn’t be an afterthought.
I say this from experience as I have tested any number of locations in an effort to find my productive “sweet spot”:
- My living room
- My dining room
- A desk in my spare room
- Coffee shops
- My local library
It is only now that I am finally arranging for my spare bedroom to be refurbishing into a home office. It won’t be cheap but it will provide me with a location in my house that is indisputably for work and nothing else.
I recommend that you create such an environment yourself — an area in which you only work. Conversely, that means that all other rooms in your house should be a strict no work zone. In the same way that insomnia can be cured by associating your bedroom with sleep and no other form of activity, your working productivity can be improved by associating a specific location with nothing other than work.
Personally speaking I am never more productive than when I am at my local library. I only ever go there to work so I tend to me in that mindset as soon as I walk through the door. Furthermore, there are no distractions such as TV to tempt me into slacking off. Although I am looking forward to working from my home office the vast majority of the time, I expect to still work from the library on occasion to keep me on my toes.
The best advice I can give you about finding a good working environment is to focus on yourself as an individual. Don’t let me or anyone else tell you what is a good working environment — only you can know what works for you. Experiment and discover for yourself.
I am obsessed with productivity and have written more posts on this blog and on others than I can keep count of it. After all, each of us has the same 24 hours per day to utilize — it is how we utilize them that makes all the difference.
In the past couple of months I have been working to a system that has proven to be extremely effective in boosting my productivity. If you read my recent post on how to create an online business while you’re in a full time job you’ll already be familiar with it. Quite simply, I divide each working day up into four “blocks,” each of which is 90 minutes long. I take a short break between each block.
That gives me 20 blocks a week to which I assign each a task. By doing this I can plan out my week meticulously and always have a handle on how much work I am able to complete. It effectively shows me how quickly I can grow my business — once regular tasks have been allocated I will have a number of blocks left for projects that I can utilize for speculative projects. Furthermore, by planning a week ahead like this I hold myself accountable to complete those tasks.
That is now my main recommendation when people ask me how they can be more productive. However, I go into a lot more detail in the following post: How to Be Productive.
I also love the idea of what I call “scalable small efficiencies.” These are little tweaks you can implement to make repetitive tasks slightly more efficient. Although the time saved carrying out the task may be trivial, the cumulative effect is great. I wrote about scalable small efficiencies (and included some of my own) in this post.
This is perhaps the step that people avoid more than any other, perhaps because the reward is completely intangible right up until the point that you experience it. However, holding yourself properly accountable to your goals can make a huge difference to your success over time.
Accountability can take many different forms — we already discussed how planning out your week in advance can serve as a form of accountability. However, by far my favorite form of accountability is the mastermind group that I run with my friend Steve Scott. It basically shapes my working week and provides me with the kind of encouragement and motivation that I can’t create by myself.
I wrote a complete guide to mastermind groups that you can find here. If you’re not in one yet, now’s the time to make a change.
Other than that, there are other ways in which you can hold yourself accountable. For example, I used to keep a journal in which I noted what I had achieved in the previous week and set down targets for the following week. This was essentially a “solo” mastermind and wasn’t as effective, but if you’re struggling with the concept (or practicality) of a mastermind group then this mind be a good place to start.
To use another example, this blog is a huge accountability tool for me. I publish uncensored accounts of my goals and the progress I am making with my various projects and that encourages me to work harder so that I can report upon success (rather than failure).
In as much the same way that I encourage you to find a working environment that works for you, I encourage you to find a method of holding yourself accountable that works for you too. Having said that, I recommend that you strongly consider the mastermind route.
5. Rest and Recuperation
This final step in the process is one I have neglected for the longest and is still one I’m coming around to. I think it is something that all entrepreneurs struggle with — the concept of taking time off.
However, doing so can be of huge benefit to your business for multiple reasons. I’ll start with holidays, which typically serve as a huge source of inspiration for my business. Some of my best ideas have surfaced when I have been detached from the day-to-day running of my business — when I give my brain room to breathe, the effects seem to be extremely positive.
As I said in my post on finding inspiration in business, nourishing creativity and allowing yourself to think indiscriminately can take you down paths that you had not previously considered. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without those reflective moments that enabled me to point my business in a new and exciting direction.
I also recommend that you give yourself time off from your “normal” business tasks and encourage a creative approach to your work. I’ve recently been experimenting with taking Fridays off and allowing myself either to work on whatever I want to or alternatively do nothing at all. This level of freedom enables me to get outside of a blinkered way of thinking that many of us suffer from.
It’s all too easy to get utterly buried in the running of your business and few things can be as dangerous for your progress for the long run. We live in an era of huge potential for living the kind of balanced lives that simply hasn’t been available to previous generations — do not waste that by toiling away mindlessly. With room for creative thinking and plenty of rest you will find that you can achieve more in less time. There are no prizes for working yourself into an early grave.
Over to You
Ultimately, the above process is about awareness.
It’s about knowing what you want from your business, placing yourself in an environment and state of mind in which you can work productively, hold yourself consciously accountable to your goals and give yourself the freedom of time to think creatively about your business.
Let’s recap the five steps to running an online business effectively from home:
- Direction: do you know what you want from your business?
- Environment: do you work in a suitable environment?
- Productivity: do you work efficiently?
- Accountability: do you hold yourself accountable to your goals?
- Rest and Recuperation: do you allow yourself the time to think outside of the box?
If you keep these five principles in mind and remember to ask yourself the above questions every now and then, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful business from home. After all, who needs an office these days anyway?
Photo Credit: Nebojsa Mladjenovic