5 ways to pull back the curtain on your home business

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by Heather

Heather Allard is a mother of three kids and the founder of The Mogul Mom, a community for mom entrepreneurs. She's on a mission to help moms run a business, raise a family and rock both. Follow her on Twitter at @heathALL.

“Where’s Mommy?” my son asked. “Where do you think she is, Brendan? She’s at the computer,” my husband replied in an annoyed tone.

I overheard this exchange between my son and husband two years ago (when my son was three) and had a huge realization.

While I was working on the computer—writing new posts, planning my editorial calendar, invoicing advertisers, responding to email and social media—my family had no idea what I was doing.

To them, it looked like I was just farting around on Facebook, or worse; neglecting them.

But I wasn’t. I was working. Hard, too.

Earning a great income. Making a difference in the lives and businesses of other mom entrepreneurs. Building a solid career for myself. Why couldn’t they see that?

The answer was simple. They didn’t know that I was working because I had a black curtain on my home business. Yep, just like the Great Oz.

I never talked about my work. I never let them see my work. I didn’t let them help. And I never showed them the money.  No wonder they didn’t know I was working!

I knew then that if I wanted a successful home business, it had to be a family affair. It was time to pull back the black curtain on my home business and let them in.

Here are five ways to do just that:

1. Tell your family about your business.

Sit down with your kids and your spouse and tell them in the simplest of terms what it is that you do. Easy, right?

2. Let them see you in action.

If your family wants to learn more about what you do, let them see you in action.

Invite them to sit with you while your write a blog post or record a podcast. Let them watch you work on a new design or respond to customer service emails. Your home business will become more “real” once they see you with their own eyes.

3. Talk about your day.

At dinner time, give everyone a chance to talk about their day and when it’s your turn, share! Tell them about the new client you landed or your latest press mention.

Be open with them about the ups and downs of your business, and be sure to include both achievements and disappointments. You’ll show them how much you care about your business and that everyone has good and bad days.

4. Make them part of it.

I’m not suggesting you name them to your board of directors. But if your kids can and want to help, let them!

Younger kids can do simple things like load the paper tray in your printer or fill boxes with bubble wrap. Older ones can man the phones or answer email for you.

My eleven year old daughter turned my 2012 business plan into a Powerpoint presentation that’ll wow potential investors. Seriously.

Eventually, you might be able to hire your kids, give them some business experience that’ll look great on a college application or spark their entrepreneurial spirit.

5. Show them the money.

Tell your kids and spouse how much you’re making from your business and how it’s helping the family—paying the bills, taking them on vacation, buying dinner, or outfitting them in their clothes.

So go ahead, pull back that black curtain and let ‘em in. Your business and your family will be better for it. 

How are you going to let your family into your home business?

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Comments

  1. But what do you do when your business has garnered you all of $1.50 (which you can’t even access because the minimum payout is $5)? Hubs is very supportive. I don’t think the kids care at all….I’m just getting discouraged because everyone loves the idea, but no one’s actually purchasing anything!

    • Hey Melissa,
      Don’t get discouraged. It can take years before you see a real profit – believe me, I know. Meantime, I’d look at expanding the ways you earn revenue and consider getting a part time job (from home) to fund it + help pay the bills.

      • Oh, I’ve got a “real” job too, this is just a side thing that I was expecting to do WAY better than it has. I didn’t want to shamelessly self-promote, but if you want to know about it, click through to my blog. The first post there talks all about it.

        It’s only been since October, and we can’t really afford pay to advertise at the moment. Someday though….it’ll catch on! In the meantime, it’s just discouraging at times.

        Anyway, thanks for the encouragement!

        • There is advertisement that does not cost a thing (AdSense for example). I am a total beginner too, starting with what I can, plus it is fun.

      • I agree – don’t get discouraged. We were at the point of deciding whether to keep my little side business going (because of the time-suck) when we turned a corner and crossed the abyss. Two years later, it’s our full-time family income and my husband and I are both working it together. Keep learning all you can to grow the business, take time for the family, and figure out how to balance it all. If you’re still in year one (or even two), don’t expect much income-wise, but figure that you’re getting an education without having to pay for Harvard :)

    • For Mommy Bee-
      I think that it’s great that you had the initiative to start your blog and by the looks of it post fairly regularly. As for the disappointment over it not earning much money… I would like to offer a couple of friendly suggestions. I am a very regular internet user and an artist on top of that, so the aesthetics and usability of things are high on my priority list.

      1.Add pictures to EVERY post. We are visual creatures and you are speaking through a visual medium, so exploit it! The voyeuristic nature of blogging is just an excuse to peek into other people’s lives and hearts. Show us what you love, what you don’t love, what you were working on that day, whatever.

      2.Add one of those cloud things and tag your posts with the topics that they cover. This will not only make your site easier to navigate, it will also bring more foot traffic from people across the web.

      I hope these help! Good luck with your blog.

    • Hi there Melissa, I sympathize! One thing that might help–I just clicked on your link, and I thought it was just a good, interesting blog post, not a shop. Perhaps making the link to your shops on Cafe Press and Zazzle faster and bigger would help? I think lots of people would love your designs and agree with your philosophy–I certainly do — Although now my ‘babies’ are in their 20’s :-)
      Also, if a bigger , more colorful visual of some of your great product is the first thing people see, it might ‘whet their appetites’ for purchasing some of your products. Good luck!

  2. Melissa – Maybe you are trying the wrong ways to generate income? What are you selling? I can see you have a VERY strong will and you are persistant bc your blog has been up since 2004! That’s great! Maybe there is something missing in your business model…

  3. When we moved into our current house, I ended up with my own office. It was initially nice with my own space, but it became isolating from everything going on…for me and the family. This year we decided to move some furniture around to create a family office to share with my husband. It’s nice because we can see what we are both working on.

    • I agree. I have been working from home for over ten years (I am a designer) and when my babies were small I couldn’t have a separate office so it was always in the tv room area. Now I do have my own office (hallelujah) but I also put a double desk in it for the kids with all their art supplies in one cabinet. They love coming in to draw their own logos. :) Because they have always been shown what I do, they understand it and are respectful of certain things such as phone calls behind closed doors.

  4. I find it very hard to know how much to talk about my writing. I don’t want to bore my family but I do want their support. It is a tightrope to walk.

    • Just keep talking until their eyes glaze over. Lol. My husband just nods his head in agreement with everything I say – most times, he doesn’t understand any of it. ;)

  5. My family are very negative about my home business, they will never see it as a business because I don’t leave the house to work.

  6. I *loved* this post Heather!

    My husband (though supportive) had a hard time not building up resentment of my computer time until I started getting paid. Showing those results made all the difference. He believed in me those first few years, but it was hard.

    My kids could care less about money but they are growing up thinking I stare at a screen all day. If I had a dime for every time we say “Mom has to work”. What really helped us was to turn our downstairs apartment into my office. This way I actually leave to work and then when I come back into the family space there is a trigger for me to be really present. I think it’s easier for all parties this way. I know that lots of moms work in the middle of their families, but I found that very difficult.

    I absolutely love what you said about getting your kids involved and maybe hiring them one day. My husband and I both wish we had more business experience growing up and it’s something we really hope to pass on to our kids.

    Thanks for this excellent read!

    • Thanks, Hillary! Love your idea of turning your downstairs into an office – gives everyone a very visual cue that you’re working and allows you to leave your work there.

  7. Aw, Melissa, I was thinking the same… that the toughest time is when the Tip #5 has not quite materialized! My latest effort is my site in support of American-made products, but when I told my parents about it *three weeks* after launch, the first thing they asked is, “so how much are you making?” We live strictly on my husband’s income and I try to direct anything I make to paying for meaningful family experiences like vacations. We’ve explained that to the kids so they understand there is a direct connection. With any business, there is a long period of building and investing. Once the money starts coming in, it gets a lot easier to justify. I’d be interested in Heather and others’ suggestions on how to answer prying questions and build support during that awkward growing period.

  8. My kids know I am working, but to them they just see it as computer time. I don’t let them get on and play computer games unless all their school work is done, the house is clean, and I can’t find something better for them to do. But they see me on the computer for hours a day working on stuff. I try to explain that mommy isn’t ‘playing’. I hope they understand or will grow to understand.

  9. I have the reverse problem! My son always thinks that anytime I am on the computer I am working. So he sometimes thinks I am working all the time! The reality is that I might be … reading blogs, checking Facebook, etc. Just having some much-needed “downtime!”

  10. Education, education, education; to coin an overused phrase from politics. What we do isn’t a secret but it will feel like that to the people we love if we don’t share an aspect if not all of it with them.

    It’s not easy but we all need to see the ups and downs of parents who have lives other than just the kids.

  11. Excellent advice! I especially love #2. Since so much of what many of us do is online, it’s hard for them to know what we’re really up to.

    My husband is very supportive, but once he subscribed to my blog he developed a much greater understanding of what I was doing.

  12. I got chills when I read that exchange between your husband and son, because I can recall similar conversations between my own husband and daughter a few years back. And I distinctly remember the vitriol in his voice as he said, “At the computer…as usual.” That was when I was first starting out and didn’t have much money to show for my efforts, so he really thought I was fooling around on Facebook and Twitter all day.

    Now, he has a much better grasp of what I do. I think he finally “got” it when we launched our t-shirt business in 2010. When I was able to walk him, step-by-step, through using Twitter and FB to maximize exposure for our new venture, he finally understood that what I was doing was worthwhile, and that I wasn’t just “at the computer.” It still stings a little when my daughter says, “Oh, Mommy is just using the computer.” But she’s 6. And she totally showed me that she gets it too when she recently told me that she wants to be a graphic designer when she grows up, just like Mommy, and that she wants to have her own website too.

    Giving them an inside look at what I do has really, really helped. And honestly, this post has inspired me not just to show them, but to allow them to participate more. So thank you :)

    • Oooh…I love this, Jennae! Thank you for sharing. Do you know I can still “hear” the exchange between my husband and son in my head? Anytime I hear one of my kids asking where I am, I find myself being very specific in my answer – “Mommy’s writing an article/paying some bills/answering email/etc.”. Lol.

      Wishing you MUCH success!
      Heather

  13. My husband has always been very supportive of my home based business, but never saw it as having much potential. Now that I’m the only one making money though (he’s still in school, and I work full time from home), he’s much more interested, and actually has offered to help with things, like processing emails, etc. You’re right, it really is all about education. When we figured out I made more than he did last year (not by much, but I did edge him out) when we did our taxes I think that was the real eye opener for him. :)

  14. Thanks for this post, it was a helpful reminder to talk more about what we do with our kids (probably not just our work lives, actually). I recently noticed a positive side-effect of my blogging on parenting. I often show my kids parts of a post that I’m stuck on and ask for their help. It’s usually a descriptive part and they help come up with better adjectives, or something along these lines. But I think watching me write has helped my kids be more patient with their own writing. We talk a lot about writing a “sloppy copy” first then doing many more drafts before getting to the final product. And they know I believe in this because they see me doing it. My asking them for help has also encouraged them to come to me for help more regularly with their writing.

    Learning to improve our writing is a longterm process for all of us, but it’s been nice to see some positive things for my kids come out of my own struggles with writing.

  15. I agree, working on my website with two kids and being a student is tough work. It makes the load lighter (and also more fun) to bring the family in on it — my husband handles a lot of the technical aspect/design, and that has worked out well for us.

  16. Good post. I struggle with the idea that my kids always see me at my computer even while I’m telling them that THEIR computer time is over.

    My youngest used to beg to stamp envelopes which was an easy way to involve him. Hmm, maybe I need to teach them how to file invoices alphabetically…a job I hate!

  17. Husbands always have tendency to think that only their business is very important… Thanks for posting! That’s exactly what I needed!

  18. My husband and two boys (13 and 11) are very supportive of my writing. They love to “help” me, and I even featured them in a recent blog post titled “Just Relax.” My husband reads my blog regularly, and he helps me decide how to approach articles, research, etc. They all know that if the office door is open (which it is most of the time), they are free to come and go to talk or just be in the same room as me. I am learning to be able to work in that atmosphere. Because my husband and I talk freely and often about my writing, it has been a great way for us to bond. He is also a terrific source of ideas as well as a great sounding board. This setup just works well for us!

  19. I’ve come up with some fun ways to include my 3.5 year-old in my home business. He helps me to put labels on my catalogs, place stamps on letters and postcards, and take them all out to the mailbox. I explain things to him as I go, even though he might not understand everything I am saying. I find that when I do include him, he’s much more agreeable when it’s time for him to watch a DVD while mom spends some uninterrupted time on the phone. One thing I haven’t figured out…how do I tell my 3-month old to wait while I’m working? :)

    • Great ideas, Maria! Kids love helping! (As far as your 3-month old…that’s when breastfeeding comes in handy. Lol.)

  20. I’ve just started blogging and doing a little bit a freelance writing here and there. I’m hardly making any money off of it but thankfully my husband is supportive because if nothing else I’m finding it enjoyable.

  21. These are great ideas! And you’re so right. We often do keep a black curtain drawn tight on our home businesses. In fact, my bet is that even women who work outside the home do the same, while our husbands, who tend to define themselves more by their work, talk more about their jobs.

    Last spring I took my daughter with me to one of my speaking events so she could help with my resource table. It wasn’t until I was on my way to the event that I realized I had never taken my then 17-year-old daughter with me to one of my events. She had never heard me speak or teach! And I speak and teach a lot! So she was missing out on a huge chunk of my life. I was thrilled when she told me, after the event, that I did a really good job and she was quite impressed. I could tell she was very proud of me. And since that time I’ve heard her say things here and there that indicate she validates what I do.

  22. I do think it’s hard to feel justified spending time on the computer when you made $.01 from Ad Words today. However, I’ve been talking about my increase in readership with my husband and I think it is helping him understand why I’ve been spending more time developing my blog. Eventually I hope I can take my blog to the next level and feel good about having some income to pay for a mother’s helper!

  23. I don’t think my family resents the time I spend on the computer, but I feel guilt about it. I have an almost-full-time “real” job, and I’ve been fooling around with blogging on the side. I’m not even trying to make money yet–just learning how to do this new thing–but I see it as skill-building and diversifying so that if something happens to that real job, I’ll have more options/more to offer if I need to find another. Still–I feel guilty. Maybe just because I enjoy it so much and it feels like play. And it looks like play. And I worry that they think I’m just screwing around when I could be spending time with them. Or is that my worry? Thanks for the suggestion to be more transparent about what I’m doing and why. That’s really helpful.

  24. I really enjoyed this post. My family has been on board and an intregal part of my blog from the very beginning. This was very important to me when I started it (almost a year ago). I wanted them to know what I was doing and be an active member and decision maker in the growth of my blog. This also helps them feel ownership over it as well. I truly believe if we were not all in it together I would not have been able to grow it like I have in the past year. So I agree that having your family know what you are doing is important.

  25. I thought these were very helpful & practical tips! Thanks for posting! :)

  26. Thanks Heather for sharing your personal experience on this topic. I truly believe that we can only be as successful as our family will ‘let us’ be. Meaning, if everyone isn’t on board, the train can’t go to the next station.

    I like your suggestions. Telling your kids in simple terms what it is that you do is a great starting point. Letting them get involved is something my kids have enjoyed doing as well. Here is how they have helped me so far:

    My 6 year old daughter has had fun helping me make some of our product review videos. Here is an example of one: http://youtu.be/K9alqgkTfBY She was AMAZED when I told her that over 1,000 people have watched HER video:)!

    We often include a free lip balm with orders and in the summer months we package them in a small plastic bag so they don’t damage the contents of the order should they get too warm. My oldest (8) packs the lip balms in baggies for $0.01 each and loves it (although a raise might be in order some day;) )!

    I have also worked to create a work schedule around times when they can be having special daddy time. Knowing that they are always with myself or my husband helps me work without being burdened with guilt.

    Keep up the great suggestions!

  27. Heather, Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experience and advice on this topic! I fully agree. Furthermore I would dare to say that a mom will have a hard time making her business move forward without the full support of her family.

    I have found that my daughter enjoys helping me make product review videos for my website. Here is an example of the first one she did:http://youtu.be/K9alqgkTfBY She was amazed when she found out that it had over 1,000 viewers! It is fun to find things like this to involve my kids and help them get a “behind the scenes” look at what mom does when she is in her office!

  28. This is to true! It’s true in everything, not just with a home business. So often we try to go it alone when we really need to let our family in.

  29. oh my gosh heather, i so needed to read this post today! my working in the corner on my computer caused a blow out in my family recently when the in-laws felt i was being “rude & unwelcoming as i ignored them and played around on the computer all day and night”. didn’t help that they were sleeping in my home office so i couldn’t even ‘go to work’ (which usually does the trick quite well in my family). even though i have been talking about running my home biz for 4 years now it still doesn’t seem to garner respect. thanks for giving us a place to talk about this issue. =)

  30. Oh, I love all these comments…thank you all for sharing! Our home businesses are works in progress, aren’t they? I’m so thankful that we’re in it *together*.

  31. Great post! So i guess its about spreading the word about your home based business and staying consistent. Also showing proof of payment. Great ideas.

    Survey Savvy

  32. Thanks a lot for ths post. I had a conversation about blogging with my husband lately. In his eyes it is just free time fun. I’m so relieved, that you all seem to know alike issues.

  33. great post – especially as I struggle to find a balance between working from home (I’m a photographer and spend a lot of time editing photos and such) and being a SAHM. Great tips!

  34. Wow. Your post really hit home. My husband believes in me and will support me to the end, but he just doesn’t connect my computer time to working -mostly I think, because I have been trying to explain what I do instead of SHOWING him as you recommend. O f course, as many before me said, it would probably make more sense to him if I was actually making money…

    Thanks so much for this post. Reading it, and all of the comments, was good for me.

  35. really great post! i am in the beginning stage and have recently launched the online shop although i have been working at this for a LONG time as most of us have. i agree that it takes time, confidence in your product and having your family involved even if it’s just to bounce ideas off of helps. it’s a hard balance especially being home-based but i have found that making family dinners (without phones, ds, texting etc) a priority help us to remain connected. Happy Friday Girls!

  36. A few things that I’ve done to get my kids involved:

    1. my 14 year old puts all the shipping labels on the packages and keeps track of inventory. He gets paid for it.
    2. my 12 and 14 yr olds watch the other 6 while my husband and I go for walks to discuss business without interruptions.
    3. my 1 year old and 3 year old are often in my YouTube videos and photos when I feature products
    4. my older 3 boys have their own blogs and we’ve helped them develop their own niche/interest which will some day turn into a business for them. In the meantime, we incorporate it into our homeschool education. Here’s my 12 year old’s blog as an example: http://www.stonesoftheearth.com (he’s into stones/gems/minerals, etc.)
    5. we talk business with ideas and what we’re up to at lunch
    6. in the early days, a good sales week meant a trip to the ice cream store. Now it means extra money for apps for the kids.
    7. for my younger kids, “helping with the business” earns them computer time
    8. we talk often about how because we have a family business at home, dad is home with us all day now… and my boys (I have 6) will be able to be home with their families to be an active part of homeschooling, if they also learn how to and choose to create a business online

  37. Helping our children understand what we do is hard. Our girls definitely grew to understand that they had to be quiet when Mom was on a business call.

    But, at another point in my career, when I ran an out-of-the-home business with 15 employees, and my husband’s job required lots of trips within and outside the US, I heard our 6-year-old answer “What do Mom and Dad do?” this way: “Mom tells other people what to do. And Dad travels around the world.” Always interesting to hear our children’s perspectives, yes?!

  38. I think it’s actually pretty cool that kids are confusing work with play. It lets them learn at a young age that work can be fun!! I consciously talk to my daughter using the phrase “I get to work today” instead of “I have to work today.” Subtle but important!

  39. Hi Heather,
    Great stuff as usual! I struggle with this daily. As a matter of fact, just had a major melt down before I read you post. I really think until you can show them the money, you are not working! The income validates what you do. I spend a ton of hours hitting away at the keys, trying to create great content to drive traffic, but no real income. I have decided to go back to corporate and continue my side hustle until it can sustain us. I am just not ready to give up on my dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur. I think my product/website has great value, so I will continue to work to get it out there.
    Thanks for your post.

    • Renee,
      You’re so right – it’s difficult when you’re working SO hard but the money’s not coming in yet. It’s like working as a volunteer but without all the glory. I’m wishing you much success…and don’t worry, it’ll come. :)

      Heather

  40. Awesome article Heather! My kids are only 2, but I’ve already been thinking about how to explain to them the types of things I’m doing instead of them thinking I’m just disappearing to my office. The bigger thing was getting my husband to see exactly what I do – now he helps me edit my weekly newsletter + blog videos and occasionally edits for some of my clients. That’s been amazing to have him as part of the team and seeing the impact of every little piece of effort.

    • Thanks, Racheal! So glad you enjoyed it. That’s great that your husband can see what you do – sometimes, I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language when I tell my husband about what I do. Lol.

  41. My kids were the ones who begged me for months to start a blog. My 24 year old son helped me set everything up, and my 17 yr old daughter proofreads everything for me. All the kids know what I am doing and ask me constantly, “So is there something new on your blog we can read?” I love it!! It also gives me a sort of built in boundary of what I can write about, which I really appreciate. Keeps me from writing about anything that would make my kids uncomfortable, and so might make others uncomfortable as well.

    My husband knows about my blog, but doesn’t read it. He doesn’t resent it though. I blog maybe 2-3 times a week, so it isn’t taking over my life!!

  42. This sounds exactly like my family. I have been working from home for about six years now doing something similar to what you have done. What I have done is that I will lock myself in the home office and literally stay there from 8-5PM. Whenever my husband gets mad and says “Are you done yet?” I can just get LIVID hearing those words. I just have to explain to him that if I worked a normal job, I would be gone from 7 to 6PM (add in travel).

    I don’t know what it is, but when you work from home, it seems as if no one takes you serious until you do what you said and show them the money, show them how serious this business can be, etc! Great post!

  43. What a great post! My husband is self employed and I’ve been very guilty of assuming he’s not doing anything, except for playing around on the computer.
    This is a wonderful reminder that there are many things going on behind the scenes.

  44. This is great information! I can hardly wait to begin implementing your tips!

  45. This is so true! I just launched my biz this month. My husband is very, very supportive and my biggest cheerleader. However, he has occasionally said things like “Mommy is at the computer again,” “you’re going back in there, really?” Yesterday he told our 3 year old “Mommy’s not home, she’s at work.” Then she got upset when she saw me sitting in the den at the computer. He admitted he said it for my benefit, but she of course didn’t understand. It’s especially hard going from a stay-at-home mom to a work-at-home mom trying to grow my business. Like I say, I chip away at it each day, like an ice carver working on an ice sculptor.

  46. LOVE this.

    I used to have a separate room as my home office (a spare bedroom, rewired for technology), and I found that although it provided me with a great space from which to work, it shut me off from everything going on around me.

    We fixed that by transforming a bit of our finished basement. The kids had a large carpeted playroom (half the footprint of the house) downstairs, so we took about a third of that and sectioned it off with a half-wall and a doorway with a swinging baby gate.

    Now, they still have plenty of space in their playroom, and my office is attached. I can work, and observe and interact with them over the half wall, which provides plenty of visibility. The baby gate keeps them out of my space. The only downside is the noise, but I’m a mom – I’ve learned to tune it out when I need to focus! I purposely schedule phone calls and other things I need silence for during naptimes or after the kids go to bed.

    The kids (and hubby) now know that when I’m in my office, I’m working. And yet, they still can see me and know that I’m busy, and I’m accessible if they have a really pressing issue they need addressed.

  47. This is excellent advice. I have let my husband in on it all as well as my kids. They are not always supportive, but they do now know what it is that I am doing and how I am helping others. However, they now know that it is helping and because of what I do they benefit from my income. =D

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