As a new entrepreneur, you can save a great deal of money by setting up your business at home rather than renting or buying office space. Unless you're running a retail-type business, most entrepreneurs can feasibly start from home. Then as you grow and your needs change, you'll be in a better position to secure off-site space.
It may seem like the perfect situation to set up shop at home. After all you have a non-existent commute; updating your wardrobe isn't an issue; and you have convenient 24/7 access to the office. Of course the cons may be the same: You're at home--a lot; you wear the same jeans five days in a row; and your office has 24/7 access to you.
For that reason, here are the realities of running a home based business, and how you can--if you so desire--keep your home and work lives separate.
Structure is essential. Yes, not having to don a suit every day, be in the office by 8 a.m. and be chained to your desk until 5 or 6 p.m. is liberating and possibly why you started your own business in the first place. But structuring your day in a way that works for you is imperative, especially with all the potential home based distractions like spouses, children, housework, personal phone calls and more.
Establishing structure will not only help you be disciplined and get your work done, it will also help the people around you know when you're available--and when you're not. If you're running a business from home, communicate which hours are for work, and which areas of your home are work zones.
I know one entrepreneur who was a previous stay-at-home mom, but started doing accounting work for a small group of clients when her son entered preschool. Her friends and other moms in the neighborhood, who always knew her to be available, would drop by and ask her to watch the kids while they did a few errands, or call and expect her to chat on the phone. The entrepreneur felt uncomfortable saying "no" to their requests, so she often got behind on her work.
What she hadn't done is explain her new business responsibilities clearly or say "no" when she should have. Establishing a structure--and reasonable boundaries--is essential to running a successful home based business. This advice applies to the people who live under your roof as well. That means creating a work schedule that's relatively predictable on a day-to-day basis, and communicating to family and friends that work time is work time.
Get help if you need it. You can't do it all. It's hard to run a company professionally, while simultaneously taking care of children or maintaining the brunt of the housework. If you need a mother's or father's helper while you're working, it may be worth the investment. The best part is that your children can still be nearby, accessible and entertained without distraction. If a messy house is driving you mad because there aren't enough hours in the day, consider hiring a cleaning person as part of the cost of doing business.
Create your own work zone. Even if space is limited in your home, a designated work area that is yours alone can help you focus. This may be the garage, a spare bedroom or even a desk in the corner of the kitchen. If you have family--especially older children--consider a separate computer, fax machine and phone line so there are no conflicts arising on a daily basis. Also remember that you may need additional space to store your products and inventory.
A bonus: The value of the space in your home designated for business use is an income tax deduction. But be reasonable when declaring it; you can't write off three-fourths of your square footage if you're only using one bedroom for your business. In addition, you can claim portions of your utilities like phone, internet, heat and electricity, that go toward business use.
Know when to leave the office. It can be tempting for zealous entrepreneurs to do business 24/7. And while it's an advantage to have instant access, it's also a challenge if you have other obligations or responsibilities. You'll always want to stay on top of that next e-mail or return that phone call, but many entrepreneurs I know have had to establish boundaries for themselves.
For example, when I interviewed Julie Clark, who founded Baby Einstein before selling it to Disney, she told me she simply had to turn off the computer at 3 p.m. when the kids came home from school, and return to it, if necessary, after they went to sleep for the night. Otherwise she felt the constant pull of checking and replying to e-mails and voice mails.
Keep one calendar. Part of the beauty of running your own business is the flexibility to dash off to your kids' afternoon recitals without asking the boss, or take a last-minute afternoon for golf on that first perfect spring day. But keeping track and balancing all your many "to-dos" can be daunting unless you merge your business and personal life. When I first started my business, I kept separate calendars: one for personal family events and appointments, and one for business obligations. I soon realized that this wouldn't work. My business and home life were completely intertwined, and I was double booking important events. Keeping one calendar for everything was the solution.
Make a move when you need to. As your business grows and thrives, you'll inevitably need more space for inventory and employees. That's the time to lease or buy some office space to save your own sanity and keep things professional. Of course you can still use the home office for late-night business access or work-from-home days. That's the beauty of being your own boss-- you call the shots, no matter where you're working.