Safety First

Take A Look Around

Another threat to the well-being of you and your business is your office itself-that is, the potential safety hazards therein. Cords and stacks of papers may look innocent enough, but take a spill or ignite some papers, and you'll have a potential disaster on your hands.

"The key to avoiding accidents in the home office is common sense," says Attard, whose home has had two close calls with fire. "Take the extra minute and think about what you're doing. Keep the wires out of the way. Make sure you don't have too many things plugged in to the same socket."

If necessary, enlist a professional. When Kanarek moved into her home-an older house built in the 1950s-she had an electrician examine the wiring to make sure the outlets could handle office equipment and wouldn't pose a fire hazard.

And let's not forget the not-so-obvious threat of an ergonomically incorrect office. While not always recognized as a safety hazard, a bad desk chair can put you out of commission, something that can kill a self-employed income. "What you save on office furniture, you'll spend at the doctor's," says Kanarek.

Adds Attard, "Very often, self-employed [people] don't have disability insurance-so if you can't work, you don't work."

Protective Measures

You've safety-checked your office, and all fire and clumsiness hazards are under control. You meet people outside your office, and your office is ergonomically correct. Now it's time to prepare for the unexpected, and there's nothing quite as unexpected as a plane crashing into your house.

Yes, we're back to Bette Price. What did she do right to prepare for such a disaster, what did she do wrong, and how has she changed her habits?

What she did right. "If I hadn't really developed a business plan and worked from that plan, I probably would've darn near gone out of business," says Price, whose Addison, Texas, company, The Price Group, offers marketing, management and leadership consulting services. "Business plans aren't necessarily just for going to the bank and getting money. They're to make sure you have a business model and follow it and that you have alternate plans in case everything blows up on you."

What she did wrong. It's easy to assume your insurance will cover a crisis-until said crisis actually happens, and you find you're left out in the cold. Or in Price's case, left in a cramped, home-office-unfriendly apartment. "I had discussed my home office [with my insurance agent], but I never read my policy really well," she says. "It didn't have a rider on it. If I'd had a home office rider, I would've been able to relocate everything to a temporary office, and it would've been paid for. I was really crippled with the space I had because [my husband and I] ended up being in a two-bedroom apartment for an extended period of time."

Options for home office insurance include adding a rider to your homeowner's policy and a business owner's policy (commonly known as a BOP). Attard suggests you make sure you're covered for things like lawsuits from visitors to your home, loss or theft of your equipment while traveling, and protection in case someone hurts themselves because of something you've done (for instance, if you visit a client's office and he or she trips on the cord from your laptop).

What she changed. Luckily, Price's office wasn't physically damaged in the accident, so she didn't lose any important data. But the close call and damage to other parts of her home led her to adopt some good habits. She now backs up her data on rewritable CDs and keeps a copy off-site, and she transfers all her data to her laptop so she always has it with her. When she travels, she leaves her contact information and a key to her home with a trusted friend. "I also make sure I [put] all my current work files in a specific place," she says, "so if I had an emergency in the house, I'd be able to just grab everything I'm working on."

Kanarek also suggests keeping a file of important information-phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc.-that you can quickly grab in case of an emergency. She also sends a backup Zip disk to work with her husband so her key info is always safe.

You should also protect your data by using a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) product in case of power surges or blackouts, says Attard. "And if you're running a Web site," she suggests, "keep a copy of it on-site if someone else is hosting it. You never know when they're going to have a problem."

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