Three experts offer advice on how to set up a home business.
With the advent of Skype, smartphone email access and remote servers, it’s become less necessary to make the daily trek to an office. But though it is easier than ever to create a functioning work environment in your home, it is still more complicated than putting in an additional phone line and adopting a pyjamas-optional dress code. To navigate the ins and outs of setting up a home office, we spoke to three experts: Pauline Penner, principal of Simply Solutions; Chris Obst, principal of Jump Management Coaching; and Bridget Fields, products and services coordinator for Small Business B.C.
Address the Nuts and Bolts
Just because your desk is nowhere near a shiny office tower doesn’t mean that the simple basics of running a business don’t apply. One problem that Fields sees is people who don’t address the fundamentals, like setting up an incorporated company or creating a professionally designed website; both are key to being taken seriously by clients. The technology and the office furniture you invest in also have an influence on how seriously you take your business. Because of the low overhead that comes with a home office, Obst encourages entrepreneurs to have “a good chair, a good desk setup, a good computer. You don’t want to feel like you’re Mickey Mouse.”
There’s nothing wrong with bringing clients into your home, but the quickest way to eradicate any sense of professionalism is for them to “trip over kids’ toys and stumble into the living room where there’s laundry,” says Penner. All of our experts stress the need to identify a distinct space within your home that will operate as an office – an area removed from everyday distractions. All agree that working from the kitchen table doesn’t work; a separate room or a closed-door space is an absolute necessity. The placement of this space is also crucial, comments Obst, who once discovered that a windowless basement office quickly zapped his productivity. “I think for people it’s about understanding what environment they work well in,” he notes.
Setting distinct boundaries between your home and work lives is crucial to maintaining your business and your sanity. Fields recommends that clients “compartmentalize home and life responsibilities with their business responsibilities.” This could mean employing a housekeeper to clean up while you work, or unplugging your office phone at the end of the day – whatever it takes to keep the two worlds from overlapping. Obst agrees, observing that one of the biggest problems is when “everything is spilling over in both directions, which impacts productivity but also the enjoyment of both work and home life.”
Embrace the Benefits
There are definite perks to having your work and personal lives under one roof. “You are your own boss,” Penner states emphatically, which can offer a great deal of flexibility. “Maybe you need to take your kids to school in the morning, but at night you work a little bit later,” she explains. Fields notes that home-based businesses are especially popular with parents, as nine-to-five work schedules rarely fit seamlessly with young children.