Establishing Your Home Workspace
This is an excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine's Ultimate Homebased Business Handbook by James Stephenson and Rich Mintzer available from Entrepreneur Press .
Every business that is operated or managed from home will require some sort of workspace, but not all will require an office in the traditional sense. If you operate a freelance photography business, for example, your main workspace in the home may be your darkroom. If you operate an automotive paint shop, then chances are your workspace will be the garage or a freestanding shop out back. If you operate a dental practice from home, then your workspace will probably be a portion of your home used for a waiting room, a treatment room, and an office. In other words, workspace requirements will vary depending on the business you choose to operate.
While helping you determine your needs so that you can create the right home workspace for your business, this chapter is broken into sections to help you establish your home workspace step by step:
- Selecting your workspace based on your needs
- Planning your workspace
- Renovating your workspace
- Equipping your workspace
- Making your workspace secure and safe
- Providing your workspace with furniture, equipment, and supplies
- Building a positive image for your new business
Working full or part time in the home requires much thought to create a working environment that is suitable for your business and in balance with the needs of your family.
Selecting Your Workspace
Selecting Your Workspace
The type of business that you will be operating from home is key to determining the type, size, and location of the workspace you need. You must also carefully consider day-to-day living as well as special occasions, seasonal activities, and guests.
If you have a family and will be operating a business primarily from within your home, you will want to incorporate as many of the following ideas as possible to help achieve the best business-family balance:
- If available, choose a separate room as dedicated workspace. Then you can close the door to keep business in and family, friends, and pets out.
- Pick a room or other space where you can minimize distractions, far away from kitchen, laundry room, and PlayStation noises.
- Select a workspace that is large enough to operate your business. Working out of two or three separate areas of the home is far less productive than working from one area, although you can certainly use another part of the house, such as your basement or garage, for storage, if necessary.
- If clients will be coming to your home, the ideal is a workspace with a separate outside door or very close to an outside door.
- If you will be operating a business that creates noise or generates byproducts (dust, mess, fumes), consider the garage or an outside structure for your workspace.
Your Workspace Options
Your workspace options range from a corner of the home to a separate outside structure. This will depend on the size of your home and available rooms, the type of business you are running, and any other residents. Obviously, someone who is living alone has different options than someone whose home reminds visitors of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen.
Though by far the least expensive way to set up a home workspace, using a spare corner of the house can have some disadvantages. If you are not alone, you will have to deal with a lack of privacy and noise. However, if all your budget allows is a secondhand desk in the corner of your living room to serve as the head office location for your new business, then go for it! Many successful business people have started with far less. Lillian Vernon started her massive catalog empire from her kitchen table.
Believe it or not, the dining room is the most popular room of the house to convert into a home business workspace, mainly because it is cheap and quick to do and because the dining room is an area that is often used only on occasion. Unfortunately, most dining rooms do not have doors that close, so that room may not be very appropriate for client visits. Again, this will depend on any other residents and the type of home business you are running. For example, a part-time seasonal homebased business doing income tax returns can work very well from the dining room table, where all paperwork can be spread out after dinner while the kids are doing homework.
Desks in kitchens are not that uncommon now. If you need a place to pay the bills, make phone calls, handle paperwork, and run a part-time business, this scenario can work out fine. You can use a foldout desk, with a filing cabinet below and a hutch above. The lighting is probably appropriate and the atmosphere is usually cheery, so if you live alone or any other residents are away at work or in school, doing business from your kitchen can be fine.
In one loft apartment, the homeowner simply extended the kitchen counter several feet and added onto the cabinets with shelving made of the same wood. Sliding wooden doors were then installed on the counter top to hide the computer; in fact, a visitor would not know if behind the closed doors was a computer station or a breadbox. In fact, the only hint of an office in the kitchen was the computer chair, which could easily be wheeled out of sight.
However, if you require full-time office space, any portion of the kitchen will likely afford too many distractions. In most households, the kitchen is a busy room. In addition, the ever-present temptation to snack may make the kitchen a bad choice.
A spare bedroom is the second-most popular choice for almost any type of homebased business that has no or few client visitors. Here, you can create the full office experience or use as much or as little space as you need. In addition, since this is a dedicated workspace, you can decorate as you choose and take care of all functional needs, such as installing an extra phone jack, stronger, insulated windows to keep out the cold of winter, and so forth.
The garage can be a great place for a business, especially if it is attached to the home, has a separate entrance, requires few alterations, and is large enough to meet your needs. The downside is the large amount of money that is required to make the transformation from a typical garage to a fully functioning home workspace complete with electricity, heat, water, sewer, and communications. Recently, an associate converted his double attached garage to home business use, leaving one side for storage, shipping, and receiving, basically unchanged, while renovating the other into a very elaborate office that would rival any in a high-rise, high-rent downtown office district. The other downside to using your garage is that you may need to park your car outside, which may be inconvenient if you are living where it snows a lot.
Basements provide yet another good, and increasingly popular, option for home business space, if they have been altered for your climate and have good access, improved lighting, and adequate headroom. Many people have built offices into finished basements, often taking up only a portion of the area, leaving other sections for storage or family use. One concern with basement workspaces is moisture, especially at certain times of the year. So, if you are considering this option, think carefully about the conditions, especially if you plan to store inventory, paper, or documents that can be easily ruined or computer equipment that can be affected by heat, cold, or dampness.
Attics can also work, providing they have been altered to suit the climate and have good access. The downside is that there is almost no chance of having a separate outside entrance for client visits. Also, if the attic space is the third floor, walking up and down two flights of steps with documents, mail, products, and job files can be very tiring. In addition, most attics are shaped oddly, with low or slanted roofs that can reduce use of much of the space. Attics are also usually subject to great changes in temperature, as well as unwanted visitors (bats, squirrels, mice, bugs, etc.), and many are not equipped with electrical outlets and phone jacks or even solid flooring to support your technical equipment.
The much more costly option for workspace is to build an addition onto your home. On average, you can count on spending $30,000 to $50,000 just on the addition, before you spend one dime on business equipment, inventory, marketing, or any other aspect of setting up and getting your business rolling. You will also have to comply with building codes, zoning regulations, and other rules associated with adding square footage to your home.
The positive aspect is that you can design this addition exactly as you wish. Also, if you decide to sell your house, the extra space can be used as a family room or for some other reason, making your home that much more valuable when you put it on the market. Typically, such additions are more common for high-income professionals who need a large and well designed separate area, such as doctors, dentists, or physical therapists.
Outbuildings on your property, such as tool sheds, enclosed cabanas, and freestanding workshops, are another option, if the structure is suitable and large enough to meet your needs. The downside to outbuildings is that most do not have water or sewer connections and only basic electrical services, lacking proper heat and light. By the time you renovate and upgrade the mechanicals, you will be talking about a substantial amount of money that might be better spent renovating another space that does not require as many alterations, such as the attic or basement. Outbuildings are generally in the backyard, so you would have to address issues of client parking and access as well as access for deliveries and pickups. However, if you plan on operating a manufacturing or repair business, a renovated or new outbuilding on your property may be your only logical or legal option.
Other Workspace Issues
The type of home business you will be starting also greatly influences your needs in terms of where in the house the workspace is established and, in many cases, even if you can operate your business legally from home. Here are a few additional workspace issues to consider prior to starting up.
1. Will you have clients visiting your home office? If so:
- Do you have the space to accommodate visits?
- Do you have suitable parking for clients and good access?
- Will you be able to separate your workspace from your living space in order to provide visiting clients with privacy?
- Is the appearance of your home suitable for client visits? Broken porch boards, peeling paint, and worn carpets can send potential clients the wrong signals about your business.
- Can you provide clients easy and private access to washroom facilities in your home?
2. Will you have employees working from your home? If so:
- Can employees or outside contractors legally work from your home?
- Do you have the space required for employees to work?
- Can you provide employees working from your home with enough privacy to do their work and offer your family enough privacy from your employees?
- Can you provide employees separate and easy access to your home workspace and can you provide them with suitable parking?
- Can you provide employees with the basic necessities, such as washroom facilities, space for breaks and lunch, and closet space for coats?
3. Will you be manufacturing or assembling products at home? If so:
- Do local zoning regulations allow homebased manufacturing businesses?
- Will you have to upgrade or install new mechanical services such as heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing to accommodate your business?
- Will you need to install ventilation systems? If so, will the exhaust pollute? Will the noise bother your neighbors?
- Do you have adequate access for parking, shipping, receiving, and storage?
- Will you have to upgrade your home to meet fire safety standards because of your business or the product you manufacture?
4. Do you need storage space? If so:
- Do you have enough room in your home to store inventory, equipment, business records, and client files?
- Is your storage space accessed easily and safely?
- Is your storage space suitable for the things you need to store? Consider dampness, heat, critters, and cold.
- Is your storage space secure so that valuable business equipment, inventory, and records are not at risk of being stolen?
- If you do not have suitable storage space, is there a suitable self-storage facility close by with easy access? If so, how much does it cost?
5. Do you have the communications connectivity you require?
- Are there phone jacks for landlines? Does your cell phone work clearly from your chosen location?
- Can you connect your wireless routers from your workspace? There's nothing worse than realizing your wireless router, wireless phone, and wireless computer do not work reliably.
Planning Your Workspace
Planning Your Workspace
You will greatly maximize your chances of putting together the most productive, functional, and visually appealing workspace at the lowest possible cost if you take the time necessary to plan your workspace well in advance of actually setting it up. Planning your workspace enables you to take into account all of your needs and avoiding costly mistakes.
First, determine if there are any renovations that must be done. It's always easier to get these completed in advance of setting up shop. After renovations or if no renovations are needed, completely clean the space and all surfaces--walls, ceiling, and floor--and do any painting.
The next step is to take measurements of the room and make a scale drawing on a large piece of paper, noting on your floor plan windows, doors, electrical outlets, telephone jacks, cable outlets, and lights. Once you have an accurate, scaled floor plan, you can move on to purchasing equipment and furniture that fit your space and suit your needs. After you have purchased all or most of what you need, install the furniture and equipment according to your plan.
This may seem like a time-consuming way of setting up your workspace, but you want to do the job only once, do it within your budget, and get exactly what you need to start your business right. The extra time spent planning your workspace now will ultimately save you time and money down the road, as it won't be necessary to interrupt business to redo your workspace or lose productivity because the space does not suit your business needs.
Hiring a Designer
Most home workspaces are basic enough so that they can be planned without hiring a professional. However, if you intend to spend a substantial amount of money to create a workspace in your home or you have hired an architect to build an extension to your home, you might want to consider hiring an interior designer with home office experience. A key point to remember is that the ultimate goal of the designer is to create the perfect workspace to suit your specific business needs while saving you at least enough to pay his or her fee. That's right: in the end you will most likely find that a professional designer can save you enough money through his or her experience, contacts, and trade discounts to cover the fee, especially on contracts in excess of $25,000. Additionally, the finished product will probably be far superior to what you can plan and design yourself--unless, of course, you're a contractor or a designer.
To find an interior designer with experience in home workspace design and planning, consult your local Yellow Pages directory, ask friends and associates if they know one, or visit the website of the International Interior Design Association, at iida.org. Typically, a designer might be helpful for businesses that will be receiving visits from clients, businesses that will be employing several workers, or businesses that require specialized professional facilities, such as a dentist's office with a waiting room, an X-ray room, etc. Otherwise, you can very likely design your workspace yourself.
Creating an Environmentally-Friendly Workspace
You will also want to be sensitive to the environment. Integrate your home business recycling with your household recycling for convenience. Find out how you can use recycled products in your business. Also, let your customers know that you support recycling and environmentally conscious business practices. In fact, include this information in all of your advertising and business communications, because you will certainly not alienate customers in an increasingly environmentally conscious society. In fact, you will very likely attract a few new customers simply because we all know that taking care of our planet is not only right, but necessary for this and future generations. Heidi Schimpl, Community Programs Coordinator at the North Shore Recycling Program in North Vancouver, British Columbia, advises these simple and inexpensive practices in your home office to save money and contribute to a healthier environment:
- Place paper recycling bins in convenient locations such as beside your desk, areas where you pack and unpack shipments, and near file cabinets. The more convenient you make recycling, the more you will recycle.
- Hang on to paper that has been printed only on one side and use the other side for printing draft documents and other materials that are for your eyes only, as well as for use in your fax machine. You can also cut paper that has only been printed on one side and staple the pieces together for use as note and memo pads.
- Purchase and use unbleached office paper with a high-recycled content; if available, 100-percent post-consumer waste is the best.
- Purchase and use ink and toner cartridge refill kits to cut down on waste and save money on cartridge costs. If your printer and toner cartridges are non-refillable, contact the manufacturer about recycling them; most cartridge manufacturers have programs for recycling.
- Edit documents on screen rather than printing draft copies.
- Reduce fax-related paper waste by using a computer fax-modem or scanning and e-mailing documents.
- Turn off lights when not in use and purchase energy-efficient office equipment with power-saving sleep options rather than power-wasting screensavers. Look for Energy Star office equipment.
- Use energy-efficient light bulbs and reusable items, such as rechargeable batteries and mechanical pencils and pens.
- Purchase office supplies in bulk to cut down on packaging waste. Purchase only what you need, regardless of what's on sale.
- Use environmentally friendly packaging materials rather than polystyrene foam peanuts and minimize your use of packing materials.
- Use large windows and skylights to provide light and heating, rather than lights and heating, whenever possible.
- Install insulated windows to keep heat in and cold out, to reduce energy consumption.
- Use workstations and office furnishing built from sustainable, earth-friendly materials.
Additional helpful information and tips about recycling practices and your home business, as well as environmental information, can be found on the North Shore Recycling Program's website, at nsrp.bc.ca. Green Sites Online, at greensites.com, also offers recycling information, resources, and links.
Renovating Your Workspace
Renovating Your Workspace
If you can use the space that you have selected with only minimal renovations, you are wise to do so. Sometimes, however, you will have to renovate your workspace or other areas of your home to accommodate your new business. This is especially true for professionals setting up practices at home and for people engaged in manufacturing or assembling products at home.
Renovating your workspace can be challenging for a number of reasons. There is the noise and disruption that result. Also, if the renovations are extensive, you'll have to deal with the mess. In addition, there's the time factor. Once you have decided to start a home business, you want to get moving as quickly as possible so that you can begin to recoup some of the money you'll be spending. Finally, there's the cost. Renovating is not cheap, especially when you consider that skilled tradespeople charge upward of $50 per hour plus the costs of materials. If you can get by with the workspace that you have without renovations, you should do so. However, if you must renovate your home to accommodate your new business, the information in this section should help.
Do It Yourself or Hire a Contractor?
Once you have action and design plans and know exactly what you need, the next step is to decide if you can do the work or if an experienced contractor is necessary. Certainly, if the job is uncomplicated and if you have the time, tools, and talents necessary to do the work, by all means do it. It can save you a substantial amount of money on labor costs. If the job is small, but outside your comfort zone, you may be able to hire a local handyperson. If you do so, expect to pay about $40+ per hour plus the cost of materials. If however, your new workspace is a major renovation that includes upgraded mechanicals, removing walls, installing new doors, and so forth, you will be well advised to hire a professional contractor.
If you decide to hire a contractor, the following are a few tips:
- Explain the type of business that you will be starting and show the contractor your plans, equipment lists, and other information relevant to the renovation. Doing so will help the contractor understand what you want and he or she may offer some cost-saving suggestions.
- Obtain three quotes, basing your decision not only on price, but also on value, quality, and reputation.
- Call each contractor's references to make sure past clients were satisfied with the jobs. If possible, try to get a look at a home office that the contractor has built or substantially renovated.
- Before selecting a contractor check with your local chapter of the Better Business Bureau to make sure the contractor has no unresolved complaints outstanding. I say "unresolved" because complaints that have been resolved are generally not a sign of trouble, but unresolved complaints usually are.
- Get a contract in writing, signed by both parties. Make sure that it specifies the scope of work and all details.
- Obtain proof of liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance from the contractor before the job begins.
- Arrange for favorable payment terms in four installments: 25 percent deposit, 25 percent progress installment, 25 percent on substantial completion, and the balance 30 days after full competition of the renovation.
- Inspect materials delivered to the job site before they are used, to make sure they are what is specified in the scope of work and contract.
- Know which party is responsible for securing building permits and if the costs of these permits are included in the estimate. This is very important. If you renovate without a permit and the required inspections from your local municipality, if any structural, electrical, or other mechanical problems arise with the work that has been done, your insurance company may not compensate you if the work was completed illegally.
- Make sure that all warranty information is included in the written agreement. The workmanship portion of the warranty should be a minimum of five years from the date of completion.
- Don't be totally focused on cost. Remember: this is a job that you want to tackle only once. You may save $500 now by not installing an outside door into your workspace, but if you decide to install one later, the cost can easily be as much as five times what it would have cost when the crew and tools were there for the renovation.
- Make sure that your contract specifies a completion date. Some renovation projects have taken far longer than expected. A "finish" date for the job is essential.
Whether you plan on doing the required renovations yourself or hiring a contractor, it is wise to have a general idea of the costs associated with the renovation before getting started or asking for quotes and bids on the job. Following is a basic Renovation Costs Worksheet (Figure 7.1) that you can use to estimate the costs of renovating your workspace. Add or delete items according to your specific needs. To arrive at the cost per unit or total cost of some items or services, you will need to make a few calls and visit your local home improvement store to check product prices.
Figure 7-1. Renovation Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Building and inspection permits _____ $_________ $_________
- General construction _____ $_________ $_________
- Finish carpentry _____ $_________ $_________
- Plumbing and heating _____ $_________ $_________
- New or upgraded electrical _____ $_________ $_________
- Security alarms _____ $_________ $_________
- Fire alarms and extinguishers ____ $_________ $_________
- New or upgraded communications Capabilities
_____ $_________ $_________
- Windows _____ $_________ $_________
- Window coverings _____ $_________ $_________
- Doors and locksets _____ $_________ $_________
- Paint _____ $_________ $_________
- Wall covering _____ $_________ $_________
- Flooring _____ $_________ $_________
- Build-ins _____ $_________ $_________
- Decorations _____ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ _____ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ _____ $_________ $_________
Equipping Your Workspace
Equipping Your Workspace
Equipping your home workspace with the furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies that you will need to operate your business requires considering three main factors--business needs, personal comfort, and budget.
The need for office equipment, furniture, technology, and communications varies with the type of business planned. But every business will need at least a few items from each of the five main home workspace categories: furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies. Each of these categories is discussed in greater detail later in the chapter.
The second issue will be comfort, which is of particular concern for home business operators who will be putting in long hours at their desks in front of a computer or on the telephone. You cannot cut corners on comfort. In order to be productive over the long term, you have to be comfortable. In recent years, many new physical ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, have been linked to long hours spent doing repetitive tasks, such as typing at a keyboard.
Therefore, you need to focus on the long-term physical effects of improper furniture and lighting. Ergonomics, the study of the correct positioning of your body while at rest or work, can play a major role in ensuring comfort and maintaining good physical health over the long term. When setting up and equipping your home workspace, you will want to ensure that it is ergonomically correct. To help you plan, you can purchase a book on ergonomics or visit Ergonomics Online, ergonomics.org, which provides in-depth information, links, and resources related to ergonomics.
The third main factor when equipping your home workspace is your budget. Here are five ways a financially challenged entrepreneur can substantially reduce the cost of home office furniture, equipment, computers, and communication products or minimize the amount of money needed upfront:
- Barter. You can barter and trade for office furniture and equipment. For instance, if you operate a painting service, ask local office suppliers if they would be interested in trading office furniture for a paint job. You can also join a local barter club and trade whatever products or services you sell with members who sell office furniture and equipment. BarterNews is an online magazine dedicated to the world of business barter clubs, organizations, and industry information. There are many barter clubs on the web. To locate a bartering exchange group, check out Bartermax , or the International Reciprocal Trade Association. Or simply network with other local business owners and see what you can do for each other.
- Borrow. Create a list of all needed office furniture, equipment, and supplies that you need and then distribute copies to friends and family members. You will be amazed at how many of the things that you need to start and run your business are stored away in basements, garages, and attics, just waiting to be borrowed. Most of your friends and family members won't mind if you borrow these items. In fact, many will probably be happy just to get rid of them and free up some space for more clutter.
- Buy seconds or floor models. Call around to your local office outfitters and inquire about factory seconds and the floor models they have available. Often you can save as much as 25 percent of the retail price by purchasing seconds with slight blemishes or floor models with nothing wrong other than a few fingerprints and smudges.
- Purchase secondhand. Buy used office equipment and furniture and save as much as 75 percent or even more off the retail price. Good places to begin your search for used office equipment include auctions, business closeouts, newspaper classifieds, garage sales, and retailers that sell secondhand office furniture, equipment, and computers. Also look for businesses that are moving or closing; if you find what you want, you can get great discounts.
- Lease. Take the no-money-down route and lease new office furniture, equipment, and computers. You will have to pay for these items monthly, but you will not be spending capital to buy them, capital that can be used for marketing. Lease payments can be written off taxes and you will have the use of new equipment with full warranties. The downside of leasing is that you cannot count things you lease as assets. You can also rent furniture and equipment. Definitely rent specialized equipment for select jobs as you need it, so that you do not have to spend as much as to purchase it. Be careful when leasing and renting that you do not end up paying more for an item than if you bought it and financed it.
Getting the Office Furniture and Equipment You Need
Every business has different needs for office furniture and equipment. If clients will be visiting your home office, your furniture and equipment will need to reflect this use, both in appearance and function. If you do not have clients visiting your home office, you will have a little more leeway in your equipment and furniture choices. It won't really matter if the colors are mismatched, if you purchased your desk secondhand at your neighbor's garage sale, or even if you choose to build a few of the items yourself. All that really matters is that your furniture and equipment do what you need them to do and are reliable and comfortable. So what are the basics that every home workspace needs, regardless of business type?
Desk or Work Station
Depending on the percentage of time you will spend at a desk not working with a computer, you will decide whether you want a traditional desk with a computer on it or a computer table with some desk space. Often, a used desk can serve the purpose. The same holds true with secondhand computer tables, which are often good, low-cost alternatives to new. Either way, the reason you should look for specific computer furniture is because it is designed to be at the right height for computer chairs plus strong and roomy enough to hold computer equipment. Computers have gotten lighter and most chairs are adjustable, making alternatives to computer furniture more feasible than in previous years.
If you need drawers to hold plenty of things at your disposal, but out of site, then by all means find a desk with drawers. If you are comfortable with rolling a couple of filing cabinets under your computer table, than perhaps drawers are unnecessary. Consider that rearranging your workspace is more difficult with older, heavier traditional desks, especially with large drawers that tend to accumulate plenty of junk. Yet some people just don't feel like they are working if they aren't sitting at a big desk. Wooden desks often appear more impressive to clients, which may score points for your business.
When buying a desk, check that the drawers have adequate space for your needs and open and close smoothly. Metal suspension rollers last longer than plastic or other alternatives. The wood and the construction will indicate the quality of the desk. Look underneath and see if the quality of the materials is consistent throughout and not just on the surface. For example, if staples underneath are holding drawers together, it is not a sign of quality. Heavier woods are used in the better desks and the construction is more solid. Also, if a wooden desk has rounded corners, it's more likely a higher-end model. Most office furniture suppliers today sell wooden desks with a laminate finish, which can help the wood resist scratches and dents.
Measure your office space before shopping for furniture, so you will know exactly what will fit. Then, when shopping, measure the height of desks, tables, and standing furniture so you know how much room they allow underneath for filing cabinets or any other type of storage.
Computer desks are created to position the computer at a comfortable height, assuming that the monitor is on a stand. For this reason, desktop computers are preferred for computer desks, since laptops or notebooks can cause back pain if the user is constantly leaning toward the screen. Some people like movable keyboard trays; others don't care. Again, your preference is what matters. Also, keep in mind that unless you are doing computer programming or similar work exclusively, there will be a need for space to do tasks away from the computer. Many people focus all their attention on the position of the computer and tend to forget that there will be a need for reference books, papers, and a desk lamp. Make sure you leave adequate room for whatever you anticipate needing on the desk--including some open space.
Lastly, take computer wiring into consideration before you make your purchase. Modern desks and computer tables are typically designed for computer wiring. Older desks, however, are not. You will want to position the desk in such a way as to minimize the length of the wires between the desk and the wall. Don't cut into any older desk that has potential value. It's easier to hide wiring in some manner, such as taping it to the bottom of the desk.
If your home office is part of another room, you might opt for creating desk space out of an armoire, a piece of furniture with doors that hide drawers or other storage space. Created specifically for home office use, many armoires allow you to have a workspace with shelves, storage, and even a sliding computer keyboard tray in one unit with doors that can be closed when company comes over. Built as work centers, armoires are often equipped with file drawers, adjustable shelves, and nooks and crannies for storing supplies. You also want to look for accommodations for computer wiring, which are included in the newest models.
Countertops or other such flat areas are not usually roomy or sturdy enough to be considered as workstations. Some home offices have counters built around part or all of the perimeter, extending far enough to hold a computer and/or a printer, but needing extra reinforcement to support technological equipment. Cutouts in the back can accommodate wiring and drawers can be built. If you have such counters or workstations extending from a wall, measure carefully for both depth and height from the floor. Sit comfortably and see at what height you would like to be working with your feet on the floor.
If you can splurge on only one piece of office furniture, a comfortable and ergonomically correct chair should be that luxury item, especially if your business keeps you in front of the computer or on the telephone for long periods. I endured many uncomfortable chairs until I decided a few years ago to splurge on a comfortable and high-quality chair for my office. All I can say is that I should have done it 10 years earlier. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day is like running a marathon in sneakers that are two sizes too small; both will leave you in physical agony.
Key things to check are distance from the seat to floor (or adjustable heights), adjustable armrests, and adjustable seating positions. Try chairs out to find one that feels comfortable. You will likely buy a computer chair on wheels, so you can roll it over to a filing cabinet if necessary.
There are plenty of choices when buying filing cabinets, most of which are inexpensive, particularly secondhand. The portable two-drawer cabinets for hanging files are very popular, since you can slide one under a computer table or tuck one in a corner and move it when necessary. In fact, some people roll them into their closets when not using them, as they also fit under hanging clothes.
Three- and four-drawer tower files can obviously accommodate more and usually come with options, such as drawers designed to accommodate CD/DVDs. Lateral filing cabinets will work only if you have enough wall space. The disadvantage is that they are heavier to move and require bending to access the files. An advantage is that if they are a good height you can set fax machine and/or printer on top.
If money is tight, you do not have to invest in a file cabinet for client files immediately. Instead, for about five dollars you can purchase an accordion-style file storage box that can hold up to about 100 documents. That is enough file storage space to get you going, especially if you purchase one for business records and a second for client files. Obviously, as your business grows, you will want to invest in quality cabinets with locking mechanisms.
Bookshelves are also indispensable for the home workspace. In addition to the obvious use of holding books, they can also be used for office supplies, in and out boxes, mail, a radio or CD player, CDs, DVDs, and just about anything else that you need to be easily accessible. There are numerous office supply websites as well as office supply stores in any major shopping area. Ikea is one place to check for shelving if you don't mind assembling the shelves yourself.
As the years roll on, things may get just a little more out of focus. Natural lighting from windows and skylights is terrific, but you will also need quality electrical lighting, which can make a huge difference in reducing eyestrain and increasing productivity. In addition to bright overhead lighting, also invest a few dollars in a good desk or a clamp-on work lamp that can be positioned to illuminate specific tasks.
Office Furniture and Equipment Costs
Figure 7.2, Office Furniture and Equipment Costs Worksheet, will help you calculate the costs of obtaining furniture and equipment for your workspace. Once again, ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to it.
Figure 7-2. Office Furniture and Equipment Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Desk ______ $_________ $_________
- Office chair ______ $_________ $_________
- Client seating ______ $_________ $_________
- File cabinets ______ $_________ $_________
- Bookcases ______ $_________ $_________
- Worktable(s) ______ $_________ $_________
- Work lighting ______ $_________ $_________
- Fireproof safe ______ $_________ $_________
- Storage boxes ______ $_________ $_________
- Photocopier ______ $_________ $_________
- Postage meter ______ $_________ $_________
- Radio or CD Player ______ $_________ $_________
- Paper shredder ______ $_________ $_________
- Recycling bin ______ $_________ $_________
- Labeling machine ______ $_________ $_________
- Wastebasket ______ $_________ $_________
- Other _________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other _________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Getting the Technology You Need
There is basic technology that every business needs: a computer, a monitor, an operating system, software, a modem, a printer, and a digital camera.
Assuming you know how to use a computer (if not, sign up for computer training at your local community college), the main considerations will be processing speed and data storage capabilities.
Whether you are planning to buy a desktop computer or intend to use one you already have, you should look for the following:
- At least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM
- At least 200, if not 250 or more, gigabytes (GB) of hard drive (the more the better)
- At least 2.3 or 2.8 gigahertz (GHz) processing speed
- At least four USB (universal serial bus) connections for peripherals, typically including a printer and perhaps a scanner
- A DVD drive/burner
- A CD burner
- Windows XP operating system (Vista has thus far not been as "amazing" as billed, which means you can get XP for less money and interface with the many other people who are also not yet taking a chance with Vista.)
- An internal modem
- A 3D graphics card, which will allow you to use the latest software programs
- 5.1 Surround Sound (not essential for your purposes, but always a plus for quality sound, such as background music while you're working)
- A firewall and antivirus software (The firewall should be part of your purchasing deal; for antivirus programs, consider PC-cillin, Norton 2008, or another leading anti-virus program.)
The main part of your computer, the processor (aka central processing unit, CPU), is the component that runs the programs. A CPU typically costs between $400 and $1,000 and is usually packaged (or bundled) with a keyboard, a monitor, speakers, and a mouse, providing a discount against buying them all separately.
For years the typical home computer monitor has been the familiar bulky kind with the big back, resembling a television. It has that look because it uses a cathode-ray tube (CRT) like the televisions we've watched for years, with numerous tiny phosphor dots inside the glass tube, each forming a line, with all the lines together creating an image.
The latest trend in monitors is the flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor, which uses plasma and light-emitting diodes. While LCD monitors are more technical to explain, they offer a sleeker look than their CRT counterparts. The flat-panel monitors take up less room and are lighter, often weighing less than 20 pounds, far less than CRT monitors, generally weighing 35 to 45 pounds. Here are some basic differences to make shopping for a monitor less confusing:
- LCD monitors cost a little more than CRTs.
- LCD monitors typically have sharper pictures than CRTs, although not sharper colors.
- LCD monitors don't have that occasional flicker that you may sometimes experience on a CRT monitor.
To see an LCD monitor clearly, you need to be in front of it; otherwise, the image on screen can look distorted. A CRT monitor, however, can be seen clearly from various angles.
LCD monitors are more energy-efficient than CRT monitors.
Monitors range anywhere from $170 to $2,000, depending primarily on size and clarity. Most people purchase good-quality monitors in the $300 to $700 range. Again, look for a deal or work a deal with the CPU.
Keyboard and Mouse
Studies have shown that ergonomics should play a major role in your decision about what keyboard and mouse to purchase for your computer. The reason is that hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder positions are affected by your mouse and keyboard. Each has to be in balance to reduce the potential for injury. You may also want to consider purchasing a wireless keyboard-and-mouse set because it frees space on your desk and eliminates those pesky wires that seem to get wrapped around everything. Plan to spend about $50 to $70 on a keyboard, $20 to $60 on a mouse, or $70 to $130 on both. These are very often worked into the cost of the package--CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse--since it is worthwhile to the seller to get you to buy a slightly better monitor by practically throwing in the keyboard and mouse. Look at package deals, but don't be afraid to ask that one item be changed if you prefer another.
Most computers now come with a standard 56K modem, which is needed to connect to the internet. You can also opt for a more expensive modem, giving you the ability to connect to high-speed cable internet, which allows you to download files up to 20 times faster than with a dial-up internet connection, which is now becoming a thing of the past.
You can opt to go the wireless route with a wireless router. These routers are rather small and include an antenna. They can be set up in any location in the house, so that you can use your computer in any room. It's almost like having your own personal radio station signal tower, only much, much smaller. From this "hot spot," the wireless connections will go in all directions. Therefore, you may want to select a location that is not only central for your current computer, but also good for a laptop, should you decide to work in other parts of the home. You can also use the router for the computers of family members, although beyond that, I would not opt for networking between a business computer and one being used for computer games. Depending on the speed and distance you need, you can buy a wireless router for anywhere from $25 to $250.
Laptops and Notebooks
If you like working in different places around your office ... or around the house ... or in the backyard, there are many laptop and notebook computers available. Many weigh less than four pounds and are powerful enough to handle the same functions as a desktop, if not more.
The biggest disadvantages of laptop and notebook computers are the smaller screen and keyboard. While this may take getting used to while on the road, in your home office you can use a docking station, which magically turns your laptop into a desktop. No, this has nothing to do with the Starship Enterprise. A docking station is actually a platform into which you can install your portable computer so that you can use a full-size monitor, a full-size keyboard, your printer, and other peripheral devices.
When you are shopping for a laptop, the same rules apply as for a desktop. The feel of the keys, the size of the screen, and the feel of the trackball, TrackPointT, or touchpad will all be a matter of comfort. How does it look or feel to you? Last, remember: the smaller the components, the higher the prices, so you can expect to pay a little more for a notebook. Popular laptops and notebooks are available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Toshiba, IBM, Sony, Gateway, Fujitsu, Acer, eMachines, and, of course, Apple. You can walk away with a good quality model for around $800.
There are two types of printers, laser and inkjet. Which one you need will depend on the type of business you are running and your primary need for a printer.
Laser printers are fast, some printing as much as 30 pages per minute. These are strong workhorse printers for someone who has a higher volume of material and needs printed words more than high-quality graphics and photos. Laser printers typically cost between $200 and $700, but cartridges, although not inexpensive, cost less than those for inkjet printers.
Inkjet printers are slower than their laser counterparts, but they can produce a higher level of color than color laser models and are priced lower. The cost of ink, however, will make them higher in the long run. These are printers for businesses that need a higher level of graphic and photographic materials and do not have as high a volume of printed matter. You'll find inkjets for $300 to $500.
Yes, some business owners have both to meet their various needs.
Once you have zeroed in on your printer needs, try a few models in stores and ask friends and neighbors which printers they have bought. It's easy to compare prices online and salespeople will tell you all the positives. However, since printers can be very frustrating when they stop working properly, you'll wan to get some good reviews and recommendations from people you know and trust.
Popular printer models manufacturers are Canon, Epson, Oki Data, Brother, Lexmark, and Hewlett-Packard.
Computer Data Storage
You'll want to stock up on CDs for your computer to store your data and back up all important material. It can't be stressed often enough that you need to back up your files frequently so that you do not suddenly lose valuable customer, vendor, and personal data if your computer crashes or you have a power outage. You can also use a USB flash drive, which is a small, lightweight, removable, and rewritable device used to save computer data, much like disks were used in the past, only sturdier, since disks could get bent or accidentally erased more easily.
Digital cameras are indispensable to home business owners. You can take pictures of products, clients, completed jobs, or your trip to Florida, and then transfer them easily to your website, e-mails, or desktop publishing programs. You can easily create brochures, presentations, catalogs, and fliers using your own photographs. Good-quality digital cameras cost in the range of $200 to $500. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus USA are among the leading companies making digital cameras.
High-Tech Shopping Tips
When shopping for your high-tech business equipment, it's advantageous to buy from well-known reputable companies that have been in business for some time and will likely still be there should you need them if you have problems with your business equipment. Here are some other general high-tech shopping tips:
- Look for good deals. Don't be afraid to walk away if you are not getting what you need.
- Don't buy into the wealth of features offered on top models, whether it's computers or digital cameras. Look for the functions that you need.
- Don't jump at the latest innovations. You can often buy the previously "hottest" items for a better price when the latest models come out. Unless the newest model has a feature you absolutely need, go with last year's model.
- Shop for a good warranty.
- Make sure you get all paperwork that comes with any technical equipment and keep it in a safe place.
- Buy from companies and businesses that provide excellent tech support.
Computer Hardware, Accessories and Software Costs
The following Computer Hardware, Accessories, and Software Costs Worksheet (Figure 7.3) can help you calculate the costs of equipping your new home workspace with common technology. Ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to your business, as required.
Figure 7-3. Computer Hardware, Accessories, and Software Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Desk ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop computer ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop monitor ______ $_________ $_________
- Keyboard and mouse ______ $_________ $_________
- Modem ______ $_________ $_________
- Notebook or laptop computer ______ $_________ $_________
- Printer ______ $_________ $_________
- PowerPoint projector ______ $_________ $_________
- Palm organizer ______ $_________ $_________
- Scanner ______ $_________ $_________
- Digital camera ______ $_________ $_________
- Surge protection ______ $_________ $_________
- UPS (uninterruptible/universal power supply)
______ $_______ $ ______
- Word processing program ______ $_________ $_________
- Accounting software ______ $_________ $_________
- Contact management software______ $_________ $_________
- Database management software ______ $_________ $_________
- Website building software ______ $_________ $_________
- Website maintenance software ______ $_________ $_________
- E-commerce software ______ $_________ $_________
- Payment processing software ______ $_________ $_________
- Inventory management software ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop publishing software ______ $_________ $_________
- Multimedia software ______ $_________ $_________
- Antivirus software ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Getting the Communication DevicesYou Need
The proliferation of high-tech communication devices in recent years makes it very easy to spend a whole lot of money in a very short time. But, once again, if you can get by with just the basic communication devices at first, you can always upgrade to new and better communication devices when your business is generating profits. For basic communication, you will need all or some of the following.
If you are going to have a workspace, you'll want to install a separate telephone line or multiline system, depending on the volume of calls you anticipate. Ideally this phone will have business features and functions such as conferencing, redial, speakerphone, call waiting, caller ID, and so on. Get what you need if it's not included. The payments can be added to your telephone bill.
Although fax transmissions have greatly declined in popularity in the last few years as e-mail use has increased, many businesses will still need a fax machine. Most contracts and agreements that must be signed are legal when faxed if both parties agree and it is so stipulated in the contract. If you do not want to purchase a separate fax machine, you can get fax software for your computer.
It seems that everyone has a cell phone now. They're convenient for anyone who wants to stay in touch and necessary for anyone who needs to do business while away from home.
Shop around for a good rate. Although the newer models have more features, you will primarily need only the basics for communication purposes. You may, however, consider purchasing a cell phone with internet features, as it is very convenient to be able to check e-mail when you are away from your computer. In fact, cell phones have become so popular and the services and features so varied that many home business owners are also using simple and inexpensive cell phones as their main phone. It's always advisable to have a landline, however, since cell phones drop calls and cell phone batteries tend to need recharging when you need your phone the most. Therefore, have both.
A telephone headset will be a definite need if your business keeps you working at a computer all day or if you use a phone in your car. It enables you to use your phone and leaves your hands free to work on the computer or, when you are out of the office and on your cell phone, to drive your car, walk down the street, or work in your garden. Headsets, both wired and wireless, are available for both desktop phones and cellular phones. Count on spending $30 to $90 for either type.
You will need an internet connection. A good internet service provider is a must for anyone in business today. Most internet service providers (ISPs) charge about $20 to $30 per month for broadband, meaning cable or DSL hookup, and give you unlimited web and e-mail access. Dial-up access will cost less, but tie up a phone line, so it can end up costing you more--as well as being too slow for business purposes. Therefore, you need to sign up for cable or DSL.
The Communications Costs Worksheet (Figure 7.4) will help you calculate the costs of equipping your home workspace with common communication devices. Ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to your business.
Figure 7-4. Communications Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Specialty wiring and networking ______ $_________ $_________
- Telephone with business functions ______ $_________ $_________
- Install dedicated telephone line ______ $_________ $_________
- Install dedicated fax line ______ $_________ $_________
- Toll-free line/number ______ $_________ $_________
- Internet connection ______ $_________ $_________
- Cordless telephone ______ $_________ $_________
- Cell phone (perhaps with internet features)
______ $_________ $_________
- Headset ______ $_________ $_________
- Answering machine or service ______ $_________ $_________
- Fax machine (or fax software) ______ $_________ $_________
- Pager ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Home Office Library
All successful entrepreneurs share a common trait--they never stop searching for ways to become better businesspeople through education. And because time is always in high demand but short supply, the best way to educate themselves and find information that will make them better businesspeople is by purchasing and reading books, reports, magazines, directories, and journals. In fact, most successful businesspeople take pride in their business libraries.
For these reasons, you should start purchasing business-related publications so that you can build your own valuable business library. Even with the internet as a powerful research and educational tool, books are handy: you can take them on the plane or read them in bed. They help you check facts quickly, without having to log onto the Net and conduct searches for the information. The internet is an invaluable business tool, but the combination of a well-stocked and varied business library and key websites gives businesspeople access to all the information they need.
You will also want to subscribe to journals that are aimed at your specific business or industry. When you come across ideas in print that will work for your business, cut the article out and place it in an idea folder for later use. Prime topics that you should include in your business library include:
- Small business accounting, bookkeeping, and taxation
- Sales and marketing
- Business and marketing planning
- Administration and management
- Internet, website building, and e-commerce
- Advertising and public relations
- Personal and business goal setting
- Customer service
- Industry, product, service, and manufacturers' directories and source books
- Time management and organization
A good source for used books is AbeBooks which boasts in excess of 45 million used books for sale in every imaginable category. Amazon is also a good source for new and used books. PubList.com is an online directory listing in excess of 150,000 domestic and international print and electronic publications, including magazines, journals, e-journals, and newsletters. Also check with your local library about book sales; most sell titles for a fraction of what they cost new.
Home Business Security and Safety
Home Business Security and Safety
Protecting your family from criminal intrusion and creating a safe working environment should be high on your list of priorities. Unfortunately for home business owners, the most common crime in the United States and Canada is home burglary. The potential loss is even greater for business owners with expensive computer equipment, cash, and specialized tools commonly on-site, making residences a tempting target, because experienced burglars know which homes contain businesses.
As a rule of thumb, criminals look for items that are small, valuable, and easy to sell, such as notebook computers and digital cameras. Even worse, with the increase in identity theft and e-fraud, your clients could also become crime victims if their financial and confidential information is stolen from your business. For these reasons, all home business owners have to go out of their way to secure their homes and businesses for the protection of their families, businesses, clients, and neighbors.
Building Alliances with Neighbors
One of the simplest and least expensive ways to begin securing your home, family, and business is to forge close relationships with your neighbors, so that you all can help each other by watching out for suspicious activities. Knock on a few doors and introduce yourself to your neighbors and suggest setting up a simple neighborhood watch, if there is none already in place. Establish a system so that when residents are away their neighbors will pick up their mail and park in their vacant driveways so that the home seems occupied. Property crimes can be greatly reduced when neighbors report suspicious activities to the local police. And most police departments have information available about how to set up neighborhood watch programs; some even have neighborhood watch programs in place already.
It also helps to keep shrubs and trees trimmed back from your exterior entrances and window areas, to make your home more visible from the street and from your neighbors' homes so they can keep an eye on your property and you can watch their properties.
Home Security Alarms
The next logical step in protecting your family and business is to purchase and install a good quality, monitored home alarm system complete with glass-break detectors, interior motion detectors, and window and door contact point detectors. Home security alarms provide three major deterrents to theft. The small alarm company sign that can be displayed around the outside of the home informs thieves that the home is protected. There are also window and door stickers to reinforce this message, which is another deterrent. Last, the alarm that blasts an ear-piercing screech after a contact point has been disrupted or a motion detector triggered is definitely a deterrent.
You can also buy home surveillance systems that are hooked up to a digital video recorder and installed for less than $500.
Most home alarm companies offer free, comprehensive written quotations. Be sure to get three, so you can compare features, benefits, and costs of having the alarm system installed and the monthly monitoring fee. There are also monitored alarm systems available that detect smoke and carbon monoxide, as well as break-ins. Two major players in the home security industry are ADT Security Services and Brinks Home Security. Both companies offer numerous home alarm systems and monitoring options that can be tailored to individual needs and financial budgets.
Securing Doors and Windows
In over 70 percent of home thefts, entrance was gained through a door or window using no more than a simple screwdriver or pry bar. Conse-quently, you want to beef up locks, consider installing heavy-duty entrance doors, and take a few other simple measures that will make your home less of a target for theft and more secure for your family and business.
If your home or apartment does not currently have steel or solid wood entrance doors, you should consider upgrading to heavy-duty steel doors. It is a wise investment that not only can help keep your home secure, but also can be a business tax deduction if the improvements are made in conjunction with starting your home business. Deadbolts can be installed to prevent entrance by means of twisting or prying on locks and jambs. These heavy-duty locks are not very expensive, easy to install, and available at your local hardware store.
Sliding glass doors, commonly known as patio doors, are another easy entrance point for thieves, mainly because of inferior and defective locks. The doors are also easily lifted from their tracks. However, if you spend just a few dollars on an anti-lift device, such as a pin that extends through both the sliding and fixed portion of the door track at the bottom, can make it impossible an outsider to slide the door open or lift it from the track. Locking pins are cheap, quick to install with basic hand tools, and available at any hardware store.
Windows also make easy entrance points for brazen thieves; windows are often left open for ventilation in warmer weather, making a thief's job that much easier. Ground-floor windows, of course, are more susceptible to break-ins; upper-floor windows become attractive targets if they can be accessed from stairs, a tree, a fence, or an extension ladder left lying beside the house. Most windows have basic latches instead of keyed locks, but the addition of simple blocks and pin locks can prevent an outsider from prying windows up, out, or over. They are easy to install, cheap, and available at your local hardware store. You can also install security bars on the windows. But be cautious here: the design of some window bars can prevent people inside the home from escaping through the window in case of emergency.
Indoor and outdoor lighting also plays a major role in home security, especially when darkness makes your home more vulnerable to burglars. You should purchase and install good-quality exterior lighting with motion detectors to keep the outside of your home illuminated at night as needed. Motion-sensitive lights will serve a dual purpose. First, when thieves approach your home, a sudden light may surprise them into fleeing. Second, a motion-sensitive light makes it safer for you to enter your home. Exterior motion-detector lights are very inexpensive, approximately $50 each, and can be installed in a few minutes by novices with nothing more than basic hand tools.
Interior lighting is also important, as it indicates activity inside your home. If it's dark, especially for extended periods of time, burglars are likely to assume that nobody is home. To confuse burglars, you can purchase inexpensive light timers and connect them to key interior lighting visible through front and back windows. When interior lights come on and turn off at various times, it appears that someone is home, which is the number-one deterrent to thieves.
Going High Tech
The latest in high-tech home integration packages, with HD CCTV (high-definition closed-circuit TV), can provide clear photos of who is outside your front door or on your property--and even send you photographs via e-mail. If you prefer to watch your home over your cell phone, the Motorola Q Phone is one cell phone that gives you that possibility. Full-integration technology can now allow you to see visitors at your front door either on your computer or even, if you are away from your desk, on your laptop or notebook. The latest devices also allow you to regulate lighting from afar via your computer, so if you are away for a few days, you can still turn the lights on from time to time and get alerts if anyone is on your property, so you can call the local police if necessary. Ask security companies in your area about home integration technology.
Home Office Safes
Purchasing and installing a safe is another way a home business owner can protect his or her valuables and important personal and business documents. There are various styles of home office safes available at many price points: flush wall-mounted safes, portable lockbox safes, floor-mounted safes, and safes that are disguised as pieces of office furniture and equipment. Ideally, you want a safe with a long burn rating and one that can be securely anchored to the floor or in a wall to prevent thieves from stealing the safe to get its contents. In addition to cash, safes can be used to store key client files on disk, business documents such as incorporation papers, backup CDs of customer data, insurance policies, personal and family documents, and copies of important documents, such as your will or your drivers' license.
You should do a little research to determine which safe will best meet your specific needs. You can learn more about home business safes, features, and costs by visiting these websites:
- Liberty Safe & Security Products
- Sentry Group
- Gardall Safe Corporation
- Hidden Safes
- American Security Products
Like property and personal security, fire safety is another high-priority issue for home business owners. While having sufficient fire insurance is certainly a must, it is not the sole answer to all fire safety concerns. The following are a few tips to help protect your family and your business:
- Carry sufficient fire insurance.
- Install hardwired smoke detectors with a battery backup system on each floor and in the home office.
- Install emergency battery-powered lighting in hallways and stair corridors.
- Purchase fire extinguishers and keep them in key areas of the home, such as the kitchen, your home office, and the upstairs hall closet.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors.
- Install second-story fire safety ladders or ropes.
- Purchase fireproof lock boxes for important business and personal documents.
- Develop an emergency fire plan and make sure that all family members know it well. It should include an exit strategy for each room of the house, contingency exit points in case of fire blocks, and a central meeting place outside, at a safe distance.
To find out more about fire safety, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website, at usfa.fema.gov. On the site you will find fire safety tips for your home and business.
Home Office Safety
In addition to security and fire concerns, you also want to ensure that your home office is a safe working environment for you, your family, and visitors. Believe it or not, the vast majority of preventable accidents and injuries happen at home, not on the highways, so take extra precautions to make sure that you develop and maintain a safe working environment. Here are a few great tips to help you:
- Keep emergency numbers for the police, ambulance, and fire department in a visible place by the telephone.
- All electrical outlets should be the grounded, three-pronged type. It's easy and inexpensive to switch from ungrounded outlets to grounded outlets, which are readily available at hardware stores everywhere.
- Use surge protectors to protect expensive computer equipment against voltage spikes in your electricity service. You can also get an uninterruptible/universal power supply (UPS), so you're prepared in the event of a power outage. This will keep your computer running so that you can close down all important files rather than losing them.
- Do not store toxic materials, such as paints and cleaners, in your home office.
- Secure top-heavy or unstable furniture and equipment such as file cabinets firmly to the floor or walls.
- Avoid loose wiring. Make sure all wiring, cables, and extension cords are secured to the walls or floor.
- Keep a flashlight in an easily accessible location in case of power outages.
Home Office Furniture, Equipment and Supplies
Home Office Furniture, Equipment and Supplies
Here is a handy checklist to help you determine the furniture, equipment, and supplies you will need (Figure 7.5). This checklist is very comprehensive; chances are you will not need everything featured on it. If your budget is a concern, you can prioritize the items and purchase just what you need most to get the business generating revenues and profits right away and then purchase the other items as you earn.
Office Furniture and Equipment
- Comfortable chair
- Filing cabinets
- Work/computer table(s)
- Overhead and work lighting
- Client seating
- Fireproof safe
- Desktop and pocket calculatorso Bookcases
- Postage meter
- Wall whiteboard and markers
- Storage boxes
- Label maker
- Paper shredder
- Air conditioner
- Insulated windows
- Recycling bin
- Desktop fan
- Space heater
- Outside courier delivery box
- Home alarm system
- Fire extinguisher
- Telephone Yellow Pages
- Smoke director
- Telephone White Pages
- Rechargeable flashlight
- Office decorations
- Business and industry Directory
- Reference books and product catalogs Computer Hardware and Accessories
- Desktop computer, keyboard, mouse, and monitor
- Surge protector
- Notebook or laptop computer
- Wireless router
- PowerPoint projector
- Palm organizer
- Digital camera
- USB flash drive
- Computer and equipment manuals
Specific Program or Brand
- Word processing program _________________________
- Accounting software _________________________
- Contact management software _________________________
- Database management software _________________________
- Website building software _________________________
- Website maintenance software _________________________
- E-commerce software _________________________
- Payment processing software _________________________
- Inventory management software _________________________
- Delivery tracking software _________________________
- Desktop publishing software _________________________
- Multimedia software _________________________
- Antivirus software _________________________
- CD storage case _________________________
- Fireproof lock box (disks) _________________________
- Industry-specific software programs _________________________
Home Office Communications
- Dedicated telephone line o Internet connection
- Dedicated fax line o Toll-free line/number
- Cordless telephone
- Fax machine
- Answering machine/service
- Cordless headset
- Cell phone (possibly with internet features)
- Tape recorder
- Telephone (possibly multiline) with business features and functions
Home Office General Supplies
- Business cards (paper)
- Business cards (CDs)
- Promotional items (e.g., pens)
- Mailing labels
- Postage stamps
- Index cards
- Printer cartridges
- In box
- Out box
- Accordion files
- File folders
- File labels and tabs
- Hanging files
- Pencil holder
- Pencil sharpener
- Printer paper
- Note pads
- Fax paper
- Paper clips
- Hole puncher
- Stapler/staples/Staple remover
- Paper cutter
- Packing tape
- Rubber bands
- Ring binders
- Cleaning supplies
Building a Positive Business Image
Building a Positive Business Image
The majority of home business owners do not have the advantage of elaborate offices or elegant storefronts to wow prospects and impress customers. Instead, they must rely on imagination, creativity, and attention to the smallest detail when creating and maintaining a professional business image.
Yes, there are disadvantages in operating a business from home in terms of projecting a positive and professional business image, but these disadvantages can be easily overcome and often turned into competitive advantages. In most instances, your start-up costs will be lower than those of a similar business that operates from a commercial office or storefront. Therefore, you can spend more to project your image. This means putting more money into brochures, promotional materials, public relations, customer service, and descriptive advertising campaigns. Since you do not commute, you have extra time and money to prospect, build strong relationships with customers, and develop business and marketing plans. Your overhead will most likely be a fraction of what competitors are paying to maintain commercial office space or storefronts, so you can devote some of the money you save into more productive activities to attract new clients--advertising, product demonstrations, and trade show marketing. You may also want to set aside some of the money you saved to incorporate or form a limited liability company right from the start.
Logos and Slogans
Logos and slogans can help to brand your business and build consumer awareness of your business, products, or services in a simple and easy-to-remember manner. Good slogans have been used effectively to communicate a message as attention spans are getting shorter. Logos provide visual images that can serve as imprints for businesses. Visual images are powerful tools that people remember. They can also transcend language barriers.
Of course, the key here is consistency. Once you have decided on a logo design and a promotional or descriptive slogan, you must consistently incorporate these into every aspect of your business. Branding requires time. The more often consumers are exposed to your brand, the more they will remember it, giving you brand recognition.
Business logos and promotional slogans play a major role in branding, especially logos because we recognize them as soon as we see them. You see the "swoosh" and you instantly think Nike. You see the golden arches and McDonald's instantly comes to mind. You hear or read "like a good neighbor" and think State Farm Insurance. This is what logos and slogans do: they act as beacons in the swirling fog of competition to attract consumers instantly to brands they know, like, and trust.
Slogans are very straightforward to develop. Simply think about the biggest benefit that people receive from doing business with you. Build a slogan around that benefit. Then, keep editing until you have a few powerful words that perfectly sum up your big benefit and are easy to remember. No, it's not necessarily easy. If it were, advertising agencies wouldn't make millions of dollars coming up with slogans. You also need a slogan that is not being used by another company.
Logos can also be tricky to create unless you have design experience. Fortunately, there are many logo and business image design services that will be more than happy to help you create a professional logo for your business--a logo that makes sense and builds brand awareness. Logo design starts around $50 and can go as high as a few hundred dollars, depending on your needs. Make sure your logo is not being used by another business. You can copyright your slogan and trademark your logo once you are happy with what you have created.
Listed below are a few online logo design services to get you on your way to creating a powerful business image through instant brand identification:
Print Identity Package
Your print identity package is composed of the print elements that you use daily in your business--business cards, letter stationery, receipts, envelopes, estimate forms, presentation folders, marketing brochures, catalogs, simple fliers, and account statements. High-quality printing is well worth the extra expense, especially for home business owners. Even though high-quality printing on heavy stock paper may be more expensive than a standard print job, it is still relatively cheap when compared with other overhead expenses, such as office rent, that home business owners do not have to pay. Therefore, you can spend a little extra on items that will project a very positive business image.
The key to a great print identity package is consistency throughout the entire package, just as in your entire marketing program. You want to develop a standard color scheme, logo, slogan, and type of font, and use these consistently so that customers and prospects visually link your business with your identity program. Use colors and a design that are appropriate for your business and your clients. For example, you might use brighter colors and a more youthful design if you are selling children's toys than you would as a legal consultant.
Consult your local telephone directory for printers near you or ask other business owners for recommendations. Remember to obtain three quotes for all your printing needs. Do not decide on price alone. Instead, base your purchasing decision on quality, value, reputation, and turnaround time. You can also visit the PrintUSA website at printusa.com to get free online printing quotes for hundreds of business products, from mouse pads to business cards and everything in between.
Whether you are handling e-commerce or not, your business needs a web presence. In simple terms, you need a website.
The type and complexity of the site will depend on the type of business you are running and your budget. If, for example, you are running a local tutoring service, you may need only a very simple web page that provides your basic information. In this case, you can probably design a workable site yourself with a web design program or through Yahoo or another search engine. However, if you intend to engage in business through your website, the design should be professional. You want it to sell merchandise, to present content that interests and/or informs visitors, and to promote your business and whatever you're selling.
Your online presence is a very important aspect of your overall business and marketing strategy and you should treat it as such. Again, consistency is one of the keys to success. You want your offline business and your online business image to be uniform and appropriate. This is not to say that you or someone you know cannot design and build your website. However, for a more complex site, with a shopping cart or other such functions, you should bring in a professional web designer.
Whatever you decide, take the time to plan carefully how you want the site to look, how you want it to work, and how you expect it to achieve your business and marketing objectives. In Chapter 17, "Internet and E-Commerce," you will find additional information, resources, and tips about building, hosting, and maintaining a website and using it to market your business and its products and/or services.
Communications systems and devices can play a major role in projecting a positive and professional business image. You can use communications to project your business as much larger and to reach more prospects, especially when you consider the following simple communications tips that every home entrepreneur can use:
- Install a dedicated business telephone line and promote the number in all marketing activities and business correspondence.
- Purchase and carry a cell phone so that important clients can keep in constant communication with you and vice versa. Poor access is always one of the biggest complaints in any customer service survey.
- Provide customers with a toll-free calling option for inquiries and product orders. This option makes your business appear much larger, especially when the toll-free number is featured in all your advertising.
- Always return telephone messages and e-mails the same day when possible, especially to your best customers and your hottest prospects. Never wait longer than 48 hours.
- If you operate a service business, use an answering service to take after-hours calls. You can also use a voice-mail system, since people are now more comfortable leaving messages. Answering machines, while they serve the purpose, do not project the same business image. However, for a part-time business or a business that is run primarily via e-mails, an answering machine with a business message (not recorded by your kids) will usually be sufficient.
- Record promotional on-hold messages featuring special offers or information on new products or services so you can take advantage of the time that any prospects or customers are placed on hold. Be careful not to overdo it or you will turn customers off.
Powerful Image-Building Business Letters
People receive lots of letters, especially businesspeople and professionals. If you want your business letters to attract attention and achieve your objectives, you must get to the point quickly and have a clear and concise message.
Start by letting your reader know right away what's in it for him or her. What will he or she get by continuing to read your letter? Write in short paragraphs, using subheadings for each new section to ensure that skimmers get the message and stay engaged and interested. Perhaps most important, write from the reader's viewpoint. Anticipate questions, concerns, and objections the reader might have and try to answer them. Here are a few more tips for writing powerful business letters:
- Write a first draft, wait a day, and then review it. Often you will notice points that you want to expand--or delete.
- Include a call to action: e.g., "Give me a call" or "Visit my website" or "Stop by our trade show booth."
- Avoid technical words or explanations. Use basic, easy-to-understand language. Never make your reader work or think too hard to understand your points.
- Edit and proofread for errors at least twice before sending.
- At the bottom of all written communications, include a postscript (P.S.) that restates the main theme of your message and the big benefit for the reader if he or she takes action and responds to your communication.
The world is e-mail crazy, with employees sending e-mails to co-workers 50 feet away and family members sending e-mails from room to room in the same house. While it is not always the best means of communication, since they consist of words alone without intonation or expressions and gestures, e-mail is a strong means of communicating business messages quickly and inexpensively.
Word all e-mails to clients and customers carefully, as if they were business letters, and take the time to proofread for errors and typos. Here are a few other tips for business e-mails:
- Do not send unsolicited e-mails to prospective customers. Make sure you have permission to use their e-mail addresses before sending.
- Use your business name in the From line so that people become familiar with your company and don't see just your name.
- Don't use acronyms, such as LOL (laughing out loud) and other lingo.
- Don't use all caps. It's considered the same as shouting.
- Keep your messages brief, professional, and to the point. Don't ramble.
- If replying to an e-mail question, inquiry, or complaint, address the sender's situation first and respond appropriately. Resist the urge to sell until after you've addressed the issue.
- Don't continue endless threads. Start a new e-mail or, if you are returning an e-mail, delete the older text that is no longer necessary. Change the Subject line to make it appropriate to the current communication.
- If you have a spam filter on, check your spam inbox briefly on occasion to make sure nothing that you need got routed there. Then delete all of the unwanted spam that you receive.
- E-mails are a very common means of communication now. However, there are some matters that merit picking up the phone or meeting in person. Try to judge accordingly, based on the nature and significance of the message to be communicated.
Dress for Success and Uniforms
You may hate them, but stereotypes sell. Resist the urge to stand out or make a statement in terms of how you dress for work. Leave fashion trends to the Hollywood types. Society in general has expectations about the way businesspeople and professionals should dress. We expect doctors to be in white lab coats, mechanics in coveralls, and bankers in business wear. It stands to reason that if you want to make the sale, don't let your choice of business fashion be an obstacle. Dress for success by wearing what the majority of your customers expect you to be wearing. If their expectation is a suit, wear a suit. If it is smart casual, wear smart casual. If it is a uniform, wear a uniform.
Enter Business Competitions
Winning business, product, and customer service awards is a fantastic way to earn credibility, attract new business, and build a great business image and reputation. This is especially important for service providers, who often build their entire sales and marketing campaign around trust, reliability, credibility, and a good reputation. Just about every community, city, and state has some sort of annual business competition classified by type, sector, or industry. Often these business excellence awards and competitions are sponsored and administered by local business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the economic committee of local government, or even local newspapers, radio, and television stations. Many industry associations also hold annual best-of business award ceremonies. It is more than worthwhile to take the time to enter your business.
Check with community business groups, your local newspaper, and industry associations for competitions and awards appropriate for your business. Study the details of each and then apply or get nominated for the ones that interest you and that offer the best opportunities to benefit your business. The publicity and free advertising that winning can generate are priceless, and the marketing opportunities associated with being the best are limitless.
Another great way to project a positive business image is with custom-designed postcards emblazoned with your company name, logo, and promotional message. Not only do they scream professionalism, but also they are a terrific way to keep in touch with current customers and new prospects. In bulk, custom-printed postcards can be designed and printed for less than 10 cents each, making them less expensive than sending an ordinary run-of-the-mill sales letter. Use the postcards to promote a new product or service or just to let customers know that you are thinking of them.
American Home Business Association
965 East 4800, Suite 3C
Salt Lake City, UT 84117
National Association of Professional Organizers
15000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C
Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
8405 Greensboro Drive, Suite 800
McLean, VA 22102
(800) 55-NAWBO (556-2926)
Small Office Home Office Business Group (SOHO)
1680 Lloyd Avenue, Suite 1
North Vancouver, BC V7P 2N6
(604) 929-8250 or (800) 290-SOHO (7646)
Allen, David. Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. New York: Viking Press, 2003.
Carter, David E., and Suzanna MW Stephens. American Corporate Identity 2008. New York: Collins Design (HarperCollins Publishers), 2007.
Kanarek, Lisa. Home Office Life: Marking a Space to Work at Home. Gloucester, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2001.
Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Viking (Penguin Putnam), 2001.
Apple Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
Best Buy: Wide range of computers, printers, digital cameras, etc.
CNet: Comprehensive website for reviews and vendors of every type of technology.
Dell Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
DigitalCameraInfo.com: Comparisons, reviews, and data.
Download Superstore: Business software with shareware downloads.
Ergonomics Online: Ergonomics information, articles, industry links, and resources.
Gateway Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
Hewlett-Packard: Printers, computers, etc.
Ikea: Retailer of home office furniture.
Office by Design: Retailer of home office furniture and design services.
Office Depot: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
OfficeFurniture.com: Retailer of home office furniture.
Office Max: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
PC Magazine: Leading authority on all technical equipment.
PopPhoto.com: Buying guide for digital and all other cameras.
PowerHomeBiz.com: Home business information portal.
Staples: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
Steve's Digicams: Detailed revews and comparisons of digital cameras and related devices.
WorkSpaces: Information, advice, and links on setting up, organizing, and furnishing a home office.
For reprints and licensing questions, click here.