Working from your home, by yourself, for yourself, can be lonely. Especially if you had grown used to working around a lot of other people in an office.
For a lot of entrepreneurs this sense of isolation is a major surprise. Gone are the random chats as you pass co-workers’ desks. Gone, too, is the opportunity to grouse about something that happened today with people who know exactly what you’re going through.
Orsola Anderson, special projects manager at the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, wants entrepreneurs — specifically solopreneurs — to know they are not alone. The chamber is hosting “Feeling Isolated?” a networking breakfast for home-based, solo entrepreneurs, and remote workers, on Thursday, April 5, at 8 a.m. at Dolce and Clemente, 2 North Commerce Square Road in Robbinsville. Cost: $15. Call 609-689-9960 or visit www.mercerchamber.org.
The forum will feature talks from small and home-based business owners Chuck Stanley, who owns Gold Shield Financial in Trenton; Ed Andriessen, owner of Business Training Resource in Hamilton; and Diane Guididas, who operates Window Treatments by Diane from her Robbinsville home.
Anderson likens the concept of entrepreneurship to natural childbirth — highly overrated and painful. For many entrepreneurs, Anderson says, the high of stepping out on their own quickly turns into a big adjustment — hours change, work flow is not consistent, and, worst of all, people lose touch with other people.
“A lot of people feel a very deep sense of isolation,” she says. “They get depressed, and they don’t know how to network. They don’t know how to separate their homes from their workspaces.”
Keeping work and home separate is paramount, and Guididas is an ideal example of what it means to have dedicated workspace. Guididas, who operates her business on the main floor of her home, shares the house all day with her husband, Jim, who works remotely for a Washington State-based software company in an office upstairs.
Things work well, she says, because she and Jim don’t hang out with each other all day. They roll out of bed, go to different parts of the house, and do their jobs. Some time after 5:30 or 6 p.m., when Jim typically shuts down his day, he and Diane will talk about dinner, worry about the laundry, and deal with whatever other household chores there might be.
While it’s work time, Guididas says, she doesn’t do the dishes or sit down for TV time.
Beating isolation. Guididas does not come straight from corporate America the way many entrepreneurs do. Typically, entrepreneurs have a lot of work experience in their fields and then, either by choice or circumstance, leave their jobs to start their own businesses.
Guididas spent several years in corporate design, but finished her time by working remotely, from her home, while she was pregnant with her daughter. She took five years off to do “the play date thing,” selling Mary Kay cosmetics as a way to bring some extra money into the house, then started her business.
And soon, despite being used to being on her own, Guididas felt isolated. “There was no one doing the same thing I was,” she says. She wasn’t lonely, per se, but she did miss the ability to talk about her career and passion with like-minded professionals.
Guididas’ immediate response was to start looking for others like her. Her business is window treatments, meaning that her company crafts things like curtains and trims. Which, in turn, means that she needs fabrics and supplies. One day a package from a vendor came, and with it came an announcement for a conference “for designers who sew,” she says.
She jumped at the chance to network with people in her field and recommends entrepreneurs find similar outlets — trade shows, conferences, workshops — that put you in direct contact with people who do what you do for a living and can relate.
Unplugging. One of the troubles with the wired age is that it is hard for people to know when to unplug, Anderson says. People are connected to their smartphones and computers all the time, and it is not uncommon for people to work from 8 or 9 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night, simply because they can.
Guididas tries to not take calls on weekends and has drawn the line at Sunday. As much as there is a need to do work during the day, there is a need to stop working and be at home later. So if it’s 9 p.m. and you’re still taking calls, it might be time to look into the off switch on your phone or computer.
Guididas grew up in Clark and earned her bachelor’s in art history and interior design from Kean University. She started her career at a wall covering company, but soon met someone who suggested she get into contract design. “I didn’t even know what that was,” she says.
Essentially, it meant working in design for a corporation. Guididas applied to Prudential Insurance, which was opening a new space in Holmdel, and was stunned to learn that she had gotten the job. For 19 years she designed office spaces for the company and consulted on other design aspects, such as the colors and interiors of executive cars.
After Prudential, Guididas worked for an architect in Red Bank, where she lived, though her new boss soon landed a contract with a company on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower II. She then went to work for Prudential Bache Securities, and then for Smith Barney Shearson until 1995, when she became pregnant.
Guididas credits her work ethic to her parents and her creativity to her mother in particular. Her father was “a blue collar worker in communications,” first with the U.S. Army and then with Bell Labs. Her mother, though college educated and recruited by Bell in the 1940s to work on the first computers, opted to stay at home and raise a family. Guididas is one of six children, all of whom are college educated and successful, she says.
Her mother, like her grandmother, was especially handy with the sewing needle, and Guididas says this is where her business and her eye for art come from. She does admit, however, that she likes her business a little better now that she is the face of it and not the one doing all the sewing.
“It’s quite boring to sit in the basement and sew all day,” she laughs. “I like to get out and meet people.” And she suggests that all entrepreneurs follow that example if they want to stop feeling isolated and start feeling successful.