(CNN) -- CNN spoke with entrepreneur, speaker and home-based business coach Jane Pollak to find out what it takes to work from home and be successful. "I'm such an advocate for home-based businesses," said the 58-year-old businesswoman, whose Norwalk, Connecticut, house is literally home base of her enterprises. "If you can do it, and thrive, it's the best."
Pollak: Invest in a good chair and lighting.
Q: How did you start working from home?
A: I taught for two years in public school, this is in the early '70s, and then I had my first child and was completely devoted to raising this child, but I had this craft that I did. So I would take out my supplies at the kitchen counter and I would sit down and I would [work on Ukrainian-style painted eggs.] I was in some shows, I led some workshops, I wouldn't even call myself working at that point, I did some freelance, collecting money a few times a year. But it created a pattern of doing something for income that I was able to grow.
First my office was the kitchen counter, then it became the dining room table, and then I took over the family room after a while when my kids were a little bit bigger. I have some old pictures of this disastrous looking family room with stacks and stacks of stuff and a new computer and my husband's filing cabinet, but we began to be a home office. I never went and had office space, but the business kept growing and I wanted to be at home, so it just evolved and moved down the corridor from the kitchen into the dining room into something that became a beautiful home office, which I renovated about 10 years ago.
Q: How long was it till you felt like your home business was actually successful?
A: I have a book called "Soul Proprietor," and I say, "One of the questions I used to hate was 'when did you start your business?' " I hung up my first piece of artwork in 1970 when I had just graduated college and people bought my work, so officially that's when I started my business. I got a sales news license in 1980 so that felt official and in 1993 I incorporated. I've always felt successful because I've always been profitable, so it's hard to pinpoint when, but I think each of those demarcations is a level of commitment to the business.
When I got my sales news license that's when I started reporting my income and paying taxes and having a resale number so I could buy supplies, and in 1993 I incorporated so that it was a legal thing as a means of protection. I was doing so well I wanted to protect our family income and resources, so you do that to shield yourself from any lawsuits, which never happen, but you do it anyhow.
Q: As an expert on home businesses, what would you say are the qualities of a successful home business?
A: I think you have to have personal drive. Nobody is there saying "time to get up, time to do this," so there has to be a tremendous sense of motivation individually. Persistence goes along with that, so personal characteristics of discipline, persistence, motivation are key. I've heard this term recently, it's called a "forcing mechanism." In a home-based business there's no forcing mechanism cause you're not on payroll and you don't have a boss so you have to create your own forcing mechanism.
I think a vital thing is creating support for yourself, because it's very isolating, nobody knows what I'm doing, nobody's around saying "did you finish that job, what's exciting in your life," so I've spent probably a decade and a half creating fabulous support for myself. Tonight I'll go to something called a master mind group that I've been participating in for 15 years, where we've all set goals a month ago, and of course I'm doing it this morning so I can be accountable for it tonight, but that's one forcing mechanism, one of many. I'm meeting somebody for coffee at 11 today, there's structure all over my day that's outside of my home that keeps me really supported and joyous.
Q: How is working from home because you own your own business different from working from home because you're telecommuting? And also in what ways are they the same?
A: I haven't done the telecommuting but here's what I'm guessing. There's that forcing mechanism that's automatic, and you're also part of a bigger picture, whereas I'm my own picture. So that's the major difference, there's no accountability except for what I create for myself. Here's the thing. I am fully responsible for my bottom line so I am highly motivated, and I just don't slack. I'm just speculating that a telecommuter does what they have to do and that's it. I'm always looking for new opportunities; I'm always looking how to expand my business, and I'm guessing that a telecommuter is more about fulfillment, "here's what I have to do so I do it." I think opportunistic is the word I would use for home-based business owners, I've got to be looking for opportunities, I'm not sure a telecommuter has that.
Q: What's the most common question that home-based business owners ask you?
A: How do you deal with the isolation? That's a biggie for people, particularly people who've been in the work force, because all of a sudden they're home and they're looking at their four walls. So that's something that I have developed a great skill around, finding ways to not feel isolated. I love being by myself only because I've got so much other activity. I'm part of network associations, groups, I'm in a writing group that meets on the 30th, I'm in the master mind group that meets tonight, I'm in a fellowship that meets every Monday morning, so I'm constantly associating with other people, and to set that up requires a lot of energy. To find out who are the other entrepreneurs, who wants to meet, how am I going to find them. Getting started is a challenge for people who all of a sudden are home with a child or retired or whatever, it's like "Wow, how do you stay connected?"
Q: What are the pitfalls that home business owners need to be most vigilant against?
A: I think complacency. Like, "Oh, I've got it all happening now, the checks are rolling in, the clients are lining up." And not keeping the pipeline filled, not continuing to do all the things in my marketing plan, showing up at three networking events a month, continuing to speak twice a month so people know that I'm out there, continuing to publish a newsletter. Getting lazy when the checks are rolling in or the big accounts are there.
After 9/11 I think everyone was really challenged to get out there and be networking and getting business. I feel that the tide is turning and the economy has improved dramatically, or maybe that's just my experience that I'm feeling like people are having money to spend again and they're spending again. I don't know a business that wasn't heavily impacted by that. In the speaking business people stopped scheduling conferences, they stopped flying people across the country, so I saw a huge dip in that association that I belong to. I think people were afraid, and with the war, what's happening, the unpredictability. So now it's like, "Yeah, we live in this terrorist world and there's this war going on and we can still have businesses." I think people are less afraid, I think the economy is doing quite well.
Q: What are the qualities of a successful home office?
A: I would say invest in a great chair. When I was doing my artwork I used a kneeling chair. And now I have a wonderful Aeron chair. When I had my office redone I worked with an architectural designer, and what she asked me was, "Make a list of everything you do during the day," and it's less involved now that I'm coaching and speaking, but when I was doing my art there was shipping, there was the creating there were employee areas, so I had like 10 or 20 different areas. And so she created an area for each thing that I did which was great. It was a brilliant design. It was a good size office, I think it was 18 by 18, but everything had its place.
So I would say one of my big tips is to find an organizer. I've been working with a professional organizer, who can really set me up in a way that my time is really efficient, I don't waste time. For instance I have 3 or 4 workstations in my office and I have scissors in every drawer, so I don't have to walk over [and find a pair somewhere else]. Simple things like that. I have paper clips in every space. Really good lighting is important so you don't get tired. E-mail to a friend
All About Telecommuting