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The joys and pains of working from home

Friday September 4 2015

From left: Debra Ouma-Weya, who runs Crimson

From left: Debra Ouma-Weya, who runs Crimson Media and PR Caroline Mirie-Gituanja of Carol Mirie Motors and Susan Catherine Keter , a life and health coach with Trevo LLC. PHOTOS| MARTIN MUKANGU, COURTESY 

WANGUI THUO
By WANGUI THUO
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Stay-at-home mum (SAHM) is out;; work-from-home mum (WAHM) is the way to go. These three women share the benefits, challenges and misconceptions and show us that it is doable.

Debra Ouma-Weya, is a work-at-home mum who runs Crimson Media and PR in Nairobi.

“My late mother had a bag-making business in the 80s that she used to run from our servants’ quarters at home, so I always knew that working from home was an alternative to working in a formal office.

And when I left my sales representative job to start my own media and public relations business in January this year, it was only natural that I set up shop in my house. Aside from the flexibility running my own business gives me to look after my family, working from home specifically allows me to monitor the care my son is receiving.

“There are no typical days for me. Different days have different schedules, but I make sure I wake up early to have breakfast with my family as well as to get myself in the right frame of mind for the day.

Contrary to common perceptions, working from home does not mean that you stay in your pyjamas all day. Just the same way there is a mental shift when you go to the office, when you begin your work day at home, you know that you are there to work.

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However, unlike at an office, there are many more distractions at home, and you have to muster a lot of energy to get into the right frame of mind. Keeping a routine helps you shift from home mode to work mode.

“Because I work from my living room, which also doubles up as my son’s space to play, have his meals and just be a baby, when I started working from home it was all so very distracting. I also had to deal with distractions from the television, and visitors who dropped in unannounced. I have learnt to deal with the distractions by waking up early and working late at night when all is quiet.

This is the time when I respond to emails, write proposals and develop new ideas to pitch to clients as well as fine-tune my business plans. During the day when I am more likely to be distracted, I encourage my nanny to take my son outside to play and sometimes I go for client meetings and get back home by 5pm.

“Another challenge that comes with working at home is that people imagine that you are idle, and make more demands of your time. Some even imagine that you do not have a job, because they do not understand the work-from-home concept.

And then there are those clients who are not sure whether to take you seriously because you work from your house, but most are very open to the idea especially after I explain that the service I will offer will not be compromised despite working from home. Many are happy to meet with you where it is comfortable for both parties and with technology, you often do not have to meet people physically.

However, if you can afford it, have a room where you can work from and keep your desk, computer and files in there.

“As you can imagine, a business is a business whether you run it from home or from an office, but the good thing about working from home is that you keep your overheads low, so you are able to offer more value for your customers. You also get to save on the time you would be spending on your daily commute to an office, and you can use that time to do something more productive.

One thing you shouldn’t worry about, is whether you can compete with people with big companies with big offices.

I learnt this when I landed my first client, which also happened to be my biggest success as a work-at-home mum. I made a simple PowerPoint presentation with no logo, no fancy graphics or fonts. And as soon as I was done with my presentation, he asked when we could start. This gave me validation that I could offer value and people could pay for what I was offering.

“While working from home, you might easily be isolated from people in your field, so you have to make an effort to attend networking events.

I am a member of many networking forums; this has been my marketing strategy too. I am plugged into the startup scene in Kenya and because it is very vibrant and I get to meet many entrepreneurs whom I can sell my services to.”

 

Debra’s business tips

  • You can never be prepared enough, the sooner you start, the sooner you reap the rewards.
  • If the business you run will be capital-intensive save, save and save some more.
  • Research on various sources of funding that are available in the country now and take advantage of them.
  • Build your skills. Being an entrepreneur requires you to be multi-skilled.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you every step of the way.
  • Network with likeminded people; great partnerships are often born from this.

 

Caroline Mirie-Gituanja runs Carol Mirie Motors, her vehicle sales business, from her house.

 

“I am a car dealer dealing in importation and local sales of ex-Japan and ex-UK vehicles. I have been doing this for six years.

“After college, I worked as a producer for a private media firm for three years, then moved into sales and marketing for two years in a car dealership in Nairobi.

I really loved what I was doing and when I learnt a few tricks in the trade, I decided it was time to go into self-employment, something I had always desired.

This would allow me more time for my family and myself. I was also inspired by one of our suppliers at the dealership, a lady who would import cars from home and would only come to pick cheques from our office.

“Initially, I thought of having an office, but that did not make sense since I would visit most of my customers at their places of work or at the showroom where I display my vehicles.

Therefore, I turned my servants’ quarters at home into my office. However, I still was not sure that customers would trust me without a formal office.

However, a few of my customers come to the house. I feel that the fact that I work from home gives them some re-assurance that I will not close shop and disappear with their money. 

“My biggest challenge as a WAHM has been work-family balance. I have two girls aged four-and-a-half and two-and-a-half. It takes genuine discipline to divide your time between family and work.

Being a mother is a full-time job. Your children expect you to be at their disposal yet you have clients whose needs you have to meet. It takes some time to get them on a schedule especially during the school holidays.

I have a live-in nanny whom I have had close to five years now and she has really contributed to my success because she keeps the kids from distracting me when I am working.

When I started out, I had very many assumptions about working from home. For example, thinking I could wake up at any time, work on my laptop while still in bed, manage both the housework and office work, and even go shopping or to the spa any time of the day.

However, I soon realised I needed to be disciplined and treat my job like a real job.

Sometimes I would have to be up at 4am to talk to my suppliers in Japan or bid for cars in Japan auto auctions because of our different time zones.  I would have to plan my days to meet all my customers’ expectations. A typical day would have me signing a contract with a customer, or delivering a vehicle, meeting customers to assist them get a car that suits them or sourcing for cars from my suppliers in Japan or UK.

Another challenge I face from working at home is that people think I have all the time to run errands for them, while others tell me to get a real job. What they fail to understand is that my home-based car business is a real job for me.

“My client base has grown through running some advertisements in the dailies and in the malls as well as on social media, but most of my sales are through referrals from my happy customers who have referred their friends, colleagues, and family to me. I have been able to keep my business afloat through trust.

You see, when you build a trusting relationship with your customers and ensure that they are happy and satisfied with your services/products; they will have no reason to look elsewhere and will gladly refer you to other customers.

“Being a WAHM is a success for me and a dream come true. I have been able to watch my kids grow and spend time with them even as I try to make some money. Another huge success has been penetrating some of our local banks and building a clientele there, whereby I import vehicles on their behalf. This has really helped grow my business.”

Carol’s business tips

  • There is never a limit to what you can achieve if you believe in yourself, sell your business idea to yourself and get into business with both feet and with confidence that you will make it.
  • Never underestimate the power of starting small and growing as the business grows. The problem is most of us want fast cash, but what we don’t understand is that those baby steps will get you to the sky and beyond if you press on. 
  • Have financial discipline. Have separate business accounts for your business and your personal expenses.

Susan Catherine Keter is a life and health coach with Trevo LLC. She runs her network marketing business from home.

“I was in formal employment for three years as a secretary before I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mum. I looked after my children for12 years. I started working  again when my lastborn was six years and had started school.

Finding the right business for me was a long journey; I evolved as I grew. I did not go into business immediately; I started in the mental health field (non-profit sector).

That is where I acquired most of the skills as well as the exposure. I was in that field for five years and then I got involved in the family business, but it was not my line and I struggled to fit in.

I finally had to follow my heart and do what I love.

“I have a passion for working with people to transform their lives. That is why I choose to be involved in the network marketing industry, which is personal development wrapped around a product or service. Being a life and health coach is about training, coaching and mentorship for success. This is my fifth year as a work-at-home mother. Fortunately, for me, the business I do is well suited for working from home.

Trevo LLC is very supportive of the life and health coaches around the world by making comprehensive information, products, training and payment options readily available, at the click of a button.

A client does not need to meet me in person in order to do business with me. In fact, I leverage social networks, especially Facebook, where I meet most of my new clients. I also hold regular free forums, which serve as tasters for the services I offer.

“During my transition from stay-at-home mum to running a home-based business, my husband was the biggest support. He supported me financially and also coached and mentored me. I also got some good sponsorship while I was starting out. That was very helpful. It was initially challenging to work effectively from home, especially when the kids were young.

They would interfere a lot, but as they grow, they now understand about mom working from home and do not interfere with my schedules, even when they are on holiday.

“One major benefit of working from home is that I set my own working schedules. These do not have to fit into traditional working hours. For example, the time most people use in commuting in the morning is my reading or study time. I also get to choose how many hours I work per day and week. I also have no boss to report to. My boss is my calendar and to-do list.

“On a typical day, I make sure to get a dose of mentorship from people I have never even met, by reading something motivational every day without fail.

My best mentors in this area are Robert Kiyosaki, Tony Robbins, Eric Worre and others. One book that really guided me in my journey is Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara S. Winter. Another book that has shaped me is Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

When I quit my job, there was no Internet, nor social media. Right now, the Internet has made the world a global village; one can build a successful business largely from home. Information is also readily available and you can acquire expertise in any area of choice. All it takes is hard work and discipline.”

Susan’s business tips

  • Start a business doing what you love.
  • Make use of social media to do business across borders.
  • Get a mentor to help you grow in your journey as an entrepreneur and work-at-home mum.

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