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Safety First

What's the best thing you can do to protect your home office against disaster? Prepare for the worst.

Go away on a seemingly innocuous business trip. Return to find your house in ruins with gaping 4- and 6-foot holes exposing your home to the elements, with airplane debris scattered about your yard. Sound like a bad dream? It gets worse, because not only is your home a wreck, but your homebased business has also been effectively dismantled by a freak accident.

You're probably shaking your head and thinking a plane will never crash into your home. Before it happened, Bette Price probably thought the same thing. Until a small plane with a malfunctioning engine came down and crashed into her house in two places before ending with a final crash into a neighbor's home. Luckily, there were no fatalities, both Price and her husband weren't home, and the majority of damage was done to her living quarters, leaving her office relatively intact. But she still suffered a 40 percent profit loss in 1997 due to the accident.

Just like a normal business, any home office can fall victim to freak accidents, theft or any number of disastrous events. But many homebased entrepreneurs don't prepare for the worst. Maybe you think your business equipment is covered by your homeowner's insurance, your home is safe for visitors or your nice neighborhood isn't prone to burglary. But next thing you know, your home catches on fire, your client trips over an errant cord or your computer equipment is stolen, and both your home and your business are threatened.

A Sense of Security
Quick Tips
Close window shades and curtains so outsiders can't see your office equipment.
Make it appear that someone's home by leaving lights on.
Always meet clients and potential new hires outside of your office.
Change locks and passwords after letting employees go.

What can you do to protect your homebased business? First things first: Don't announce to the whole world that you run a business from home. "Don't put a big computer near the window and work with the shades open," advises Janet Attard, author of The Home Office and Small Business Answer Book and founder of small-business content site Business Know-How. "You want to keep some amount of privacy. You don't want to broadcast that you're working from home with maybe thousands of dollars of equipment and supplies there."

Another way to keep your office secure is to not invite visitors to your home-for several reasons. For one thing, even if a potential client or prospective employee is a fine, upstanding citizen, you never know who they might know. "They may be perfectly honest and come in and see all this equipment and talk about it to their friends, who talk about it to their friends," says Attard. "Suddenly, the wrong people hear about it and you're being robbed."

Second, if no one visits your home, you don't have to worry about accidents that you can be sued for. And you don't have to worry when you last dusted or whether your moody dog will lunge at guests.

And perhaps most important, you can protect your own safety. "I never have people come to my home office," says Lisa Kanarek, author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success and Home Office Life: Making a Space to Work at Home. "I just meet them at their office or at Starbucks. I always think if it's a new client, it's just not a good idea. Unfortunately, times have changed so much, you just never know. It's better to meet them on neutral ground."

If you do have visitors, Attard suggests leaving a TV playing in the background or, if you're a woman at home alone, strategically placing a pair of men's shoes near the door so visitors don't think you're alone.

And last but not least, if you have employees working in your home, be smart about the inherent risks. Always meet prospective employees off-site, keep items like business checks inaccessible, and if you ever have an employee leave unhappily, change the locks. One of Kanarek's clients fired an employee, only to have him return and steal data off her hard drive.

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