From the April 2000 issue of Startups

Home sweet home-as a homebased business owner, that perennial country sampler phrase encompasses your world. From sharing lunch with your kids in the kitchen and your hallway commute to your linen closet-cum-storage room, your home is your life. So why would you ever give up your home office?

Depending on which camp you reside in, your answer may be a simple "Hell no, I won't go!" or the appreciably more complex, "It's inevitable. My kids (and spouse) don't understand the concept of a closed door. I have no space. The refrigerator and television constantly beckon to me." But no matter what the problem, is it really necessary to (gasp!) find an office away from home?

Well, maybe and maybe not. We've asked our resident home office experts, Lisa Kanarek and Geoff Williams, to take their combined 16 years of homebased experience and face off on this issue. Read their ideas and tips on how to stay and how to go, and decide for yourself exactly how sweet your home office life really is.

Moving On Out - by Lisa Kanarek

Several years ago, a friend asked me when I was going to get a "real office." Puzzled, I asked her what she meant. "You know," she said, "a place you drive to every day." A home office can be a real office, but as your business grows, you'll probably need to move on and out of your home office.

Many of my clients have taken the leap from a home office to an out-of-the-home office for several reasons:

  • Interruptions. As one client's family grew, his inability to work uninterrupted (as well as his growing responsibility to serve as the backup babysitter on a regular basis) affected his bottom line and his relationship with his family. What initially was an ideal working situation for his freelance writing business became his worst nightmare. He missed deadlines, alienated clients and reached his wit's end on a daily basis. His choices were to continue a less-than-ideal work situation or relocate his office. The choice was obvious.
  • Loneliness. Some people work better alone, while others need to be surrounded by people to stay motivated. These people thrive on the communal office energy that can't be recreated at home. These "people persons" are more productive in an outside office than they'll ever be at home. Instead of trying to overcompensate for being home alone by playing loud music, visiting neighbors or running an excessive amount of errands, move out.

One client, a sales rep who always considered himself productive, finally realized that his personality was better suited for an outside office. He took the time to dress for work each day and diligently made it to his desk by 9 a.m. each morning. By 11 a.m., however, his energy waned, his mind wandered, and he often rushed to make lunch plans with colleagues or anyone else he could find. After moving to an outside office with other business professionals nearby, his productivity soared along with his income.

  • Growth. A successful business is a curse and a blessing rolled into one. A growing business requires more room, equipment and storage space. It may also require employees-and here's where things really get crowded. It's important for an office staff to be able to work well together, but asking them to work on top of one another is asking too much. At that point, you'll need to rent outside space unless you're willing to renovate your home to create more office space. Zoning laws may also restrict you from running a homebased business with more than one employee.

Pros & Cons

The advantages of moving out of your home office boil down to increased professionalism, more space to work and unlimited growth potential. Of course, with any advantage come a few disadvantages, but nothing that can't be overcome:

  • Your daily commute will be longer (and not on foot), but if your office is located near your home, the lost time and frustration should be minimal.
  • You'll need to furnish your office professionally. The dining room chair doubling as an office chair will have to go-especially since clients will be visiting your office.
  • Your overhead will increase, but your revenues could grow proportionately as you attract larger or more clients.

Staying Homebased - by Geoff Williams

Your business is booming. That's the bad news.

Every homebased entrepreneur wants to be successful, but not every homebased entrepreneur wants to depart their digs. You started working out of the home not because it's cheaper than commercial real estate-well, OK, you did-but most of you, we suspect, also appreciated something else. The short commute from mattress to computer. The fact that you can comb your daughter's hair while meeting with a client via the telephone. The lax dress code. The freedom.

But that's all threatened now. You're successful, and logic dictates that as your business enlarges, so must your office space. Which means you'd better start locating the nearest bus stop or determining how far along I-75 you're willing to travel every morning and night. Good-bye, home office.

Don't do it! At least, not yet. Maybe you can take your business places without going places. Here are a few ideas on how to stay put.

Expanding Your Space

Expand your home office. That's the route being taken by Ronald Margulis, 38, owner of RAM Communications, a marketing and consulting company with some big-name clients like National Grocers Association and Wrigley Gum and $300,000 to 400,000 in expected revenues this year.

The Westfield, New Jersey, resident is having another room added on to his already 650-square-foot office. Extreme? If you want a home office with emphasis on the home, maybe, but Margulis would argue his home office is still more home than office.

"I have a 3½-year-old daughter named Elena," says Margulis, "and that's just the age when they can communicate very, very well with you. You can have conversations about topics other than Barney and Elmo. It's just a fascinating time. And to miss that because I'm driving an hour-and-a-half commuting some place-I would consider that a tragedy."

Build A Better Mousetrap

If you're running out of space, move to a new home with a bigger office. Or build your own home, designing your new office for your every anticipated need and want. That's exactly how Carolyn and John Williams (no relation to this author) are creating their new home office for TheLeftHand.Com, a 4-year-old retail firm based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that sells products for left-handed people.

Every year they've done a volume business, with growth increasing 50 percent one year and 105 percent in another. There was a time, in fact, when their kitchen and living room looked like an assembly line plant-which became a little frustrating. They'd be justified in moving to commercial real estate, but recently a doctor suggested they move south for the sake of John's health, says Carolyn, 32. So the two are moving to Florida soon and having a house constructed-complete with a home office large enough for four: Carolyn, John, 40, their young son, Colin, and TheLeftHand.Com.

Reinvent Your Present Office

Keep your home office the same, but rethink things. First of all, Jennifer J. Johnson, owner of public relations firm Johnson & Co., The Virtual Agency, has two home offices in her two houses-one in Santa Cruz, California, and the other in Salt Lake City. The windows of one of her offices overlooks the beach, while her other office has a view of mountains and valleys. You can send hate mail directly to Johnson at-er, well, anyway, the point is not to be envious but to emulate. And with window views like sunsets on the beach, it's easy to see why Johnson, who projects $2 million in sales this year, is doing everything she can to keep her offices in her homes. Here are some of the tips she's picked up:

  • Hire a professional organizer. Johnson's a fan of them-sort of. She spent a few hundred dollars on an initial consultation, and what she came away with helped greatly-for a few months. "I would say it's the thing to do, but I need to re-subscribe to the service and get on a maintenance program," says Johnson, 37. Some of the benefits of an organizer? Finding office space you never dreamt you could use, and learning to throw away unnecessary paperwork.
  • Use an unwanted, unloved room in your home as a storage facility. Or use it as a warehouse. Or make it a second office for an employee. It doesn't really matter what you use it for. The point is, you probably have some additional, useable space away from the office-but still in your home. For example, Johnson turned her Santa Cruz guest room into a storage room.
  • Outsource. In Johnson's case, she subscribes to Mailboxes Etc. to keep massive mailings from overrunning her home, and she's a regular at Kinko's. Johnson outsources work to 15 free agents. Each free agent operates out of his or her own living quarters, which they love, says Johnson. "Our work slogan is 'anytime, anyplace, anyway, at any pace,'" Johnson says. "We have no intention of ever going to a bricks-and-mortar facility outside of our homes. We think that's a step backwards."

The moral of the story involves morale: yours. If your business seems bigger than your home office, and you don't want to move, then don't. Forty, 50, 80 hours a week-whatever you work-is too much time to spend being miserable. Chances are your company is a success because you've been happy and have enjoyed your work environment. A move could mess that up.

So if your enterprise is expanding but your office isn't, you do have options. They may not be ideal options-maybe you like the neighborhood you live in and don't want to move-but there are ways to maintain a home office. And if you really want to, you can. After all, look around at the business you built with your bare hands. You got this far, didn't you?


Lisa Kanarek is the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success (Blakely Press) and 101 Home Office Success Secrets (Career Press).

Geoff Williams is a freelance writer in Cincinnati. His home office window overlooks a scenic and spacious parking lot.