I recently had a friend say to me “…now that you’re not really working…” about the fact that I work from home.  I’m not sure she was prepared for the vehemence in my reply – that I was in fact working harder than I ever had when I was an employee.  How I worked more and later hours then I ever had.  How my learning curve was practically vertical.  And how I was fed up with people assuming that ‘working at home’ was synonymous with ‘drinking coffee with friends and watching television all day.’

When I stopped for a breath she looked at me apprehensively and said “Uhhh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”  The problem is that she did mean it.  And it’s such a common attitude among those who haven’t ever worked for themselves.

That we spend our days socialising, doing housework (ok, not me for that one), playing with the pets, shopping and other non-work activities – while the money just rolls in.  If I mention that I went for a run this morning, I’ll get told “You’re so lucky you can do whatever you want during the day”.  However when I add that I was up until midnight the night before working on the website or blog posts, and probably will be again tonight, I get asked “Why don’t you get a real job with normal hours?”  (Yes, these ARE real conversations I’ve had)

And I know I’m not alone.  In 2008 I did a survey of 105 Work At Home Mums.  Here are some of the responses about other people’s attitudes:

…having my family and others realize and respect that working from home is still working and not just a hobby

People saying “But Mums don’t run businesses!” and people not taking me seriously because I’m young

most everyone–friends, family, the general public–will consider your work at home “just a hobby” and will not take you seriously

[People] will want your knowledge and products at a great discount or at no charge since “you really aren’t working”

Even in the recent Drive-by Shooting critique on this site, Harry from Men With Pens made the comment “Women who work from home … have a hard enough time being taken seriously…

So what to do?  How can you be taken seriously when you work and live in the same place?

Act professional – Set yourself business hours and stick to them.  Refuse to accept invitations or non-work phone calls within those hours.  Be a professional business owner.  Every time you mention your business or have contact with a person, either in real life or web, remember that you are representing Your Business.  How you act and speak is a direct reflection of your business.

Have a professional attitude – this ties in with #1.  If you see yourself as a real business then other people are more likely to as well.  If you have trouble with talking about your business, look at what it is that you’re uncomfortable with and fix it.  If you are awkward about your business then people will pick up on this and question the validity and genuineness of it.

Have a good-looking and effective website.  You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars setting a website – however you do need to spend enough to have it looking professional.  It is very obvious if you pick the cheapest option (usually DIY or family/friend does it) and this can turn off customers and clients.  What does a cheap looking website say about the profitability and viability of your business?

Keep your branding professional and consistent. Customers should be able to recognise your business at a glance when they see flyers, business cards, websites, documents, invoices, advertisements etc.  It should be blindingly obvious who you are and what you do, no matter what form of communication the customer is seeing.

Have a good tagline and elevator speech.  Know exactly what you do and be able to communicate that to someone else quickly.  It shouldn’t take you ten minutes to explain what you do.  Talk about benefits – not features.  How do you help people?  What problem do you solve and for whom?  The tagline should be on your website header, your business cards, your email signatures, forum signatures (check that advertising is allowed) and any other form of non-verbal communication.  Need a good tagline?  Have a look at this article.

These are just a couple of ways to present your business in it’s best light and be taken seriously as a genuine, on-going, responsible business.  What else would you like to add to the list?

Melinda is the founder of SuperWAHM.com and started the site to share her learnings to help other Work At Home Mums become more independent and able to spend time with their families