Should You Stay or Should You Go?

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 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.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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