Bonnie Tandy Leblang, a home-based food columnist in Connecticut, was on the phone with the Campbell Soup Company when her 4-year-old son, Bryan, picked up the extension and asked, "Who are you talking to, Mom?"
"Campbell's Soup," Leblang replied, adding, "please get off the phone!" Before Bryan hung up, he couldn't resist crooning the "M'm! M'm! Good!" jingle into the receiver. Although her client laughed, Leblang's stomach clenched.
Maintaining a professional phone image when pint-size eavesdroppers, wailers, and whiners live in your workplace can be a challenge.
Patricia Cobe, coauthor of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success, offers these suggestions:
SEPARATE BUSINESS FROM PLEASURE
After the soup episode, Leblang installed a work-only phone line off-limits to the kids. Another, less expensive option: a distinctive ring available through many phone companies. With this service, a separate work number is added to your current home line. The phone rings differently for each number so you can teach your kids to recognize the sound and not pick up business calls. Also consider getting a phone with hold and mute buttons (mute lets you hear your caller, but she can't hear your toddler's shrieks).
LET THE MACHINE GET IT
During times of family chaos, it's better for clients to hear the calm, businesslike message on your answering machine or voice mail than your stressed-out parent voice. Don't crack your professional veneer by including the kids' voices on your greeting.
DEVELOP A KID CODE
If your little ones are old enough (3 years and up), work with them to create "quiet time" cues that signal automatic silence during important calls. This can be as simple as raising your hand in the air. Marsha Swainston, a Discovery Toys sales director in Lenexa, KS, sets a timer before a round of business calls, then sets it again -- this time for 20 minutes of uninterrupted play with her kids. "When I respect the timer for playtime, they respect it for business," she says.
WHIP OUT TELEPHONE TREASURES
Keep a cache of toys near the phone that don't make noise: markers and paper, puzzles, activity books, and portable headsets with storybook tapes. Add new goodies occasionally to ward off boredom.