From the March 2001 issue of Startups

Q: I sometimes get a negative reaction from potential customers when they learn I work at home. While I like being homebased, I'd consider the additional costs and inconvenience of having an outside office if it meant I could grow my business. Are there any solutions short of making a move I don't really want to make? What do I say when people ask where my office is?

A: You're not alone in suspecting your clients, potential customers and business associates aren't taking you seriously because you're homebased. It seems strange to say this in 2001, when millions of people have migrated into home offices, most corporations offer formal telework options and technology is making location increasingly irrelevant. You can answer e-mail, work on the telephone, program a distant computer and participate in meetings with people scattered all over the globe. And who knows where a physical Web site is located? While we're in the mountains of Central California, for example, our server is in Atlanta.

So unless you volunteer information about working from home, most people won't know where you're working unless they ask. But if they do, are they really asking if your office is a spare bedroom or a high-rise office building? Probably not. So if you simply answer "In Palmdale" or "North Minneapolis," you'll probably be providing all the information they're seeking.

If you're asked for more specifics-which usually doesn't happen-and you're feeling the least bit defensive about not sitting on the umpteenth floor of some office made of chrome and glass, it's apt to leak out and create doubt in others' minds as well. Hey, if that's you, consider this: Your life is probably less stressful than those who do.

If you have a quaint street address, like 22 Sunflower Ln. or 79357 Moonbeam Ct., that screams residential location, there's a relatively inexpensive way to get a business-like address: Rent a box at a mail receiving center. This used to be an inconvenience because doing it meant picking up your mail at the center, but given that most business correspondence is by e-mail, a once-a-week trip may suffice.

Most important, to preclude any doubts you have a serious business, be sure to answer your phone professionally during regular business hours. If you have children, a separate phone line for your business or a distinctive ringing feature is essential so everyone will know when a business call is coming in.

And if you want some additional insurance that you'll be taken seriously, think about adding "Corporation" to your company name to enhance your business image. Of course, there are other reasons for incorporating, so before making such a change, consult with a knowledgeable tax professional and an attorney to determine whether this would be a wise business decision for you.