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Dealing With Zoning Restrictions

What to do when zoning prohibits you from meeting with clients in your home office

Q: My wife and I have a homebased resume-writing service. The county laws prohibit us from having clients in our house, and we believe we have lost several potential clients as a result of having to meet them at the mall or another location. What can we do?

A: When zoning regulations forbid you from having clients in your home, you're wise to abide by them, especially if you have neighbors looking for something to complain about-and even if your clients come one at a time and don't create parking or noise problems. So what can you do? You can meet with clients outside your home and still come across as professional, while also saving yourself the expense of moving your business into an office space. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Rent a professional suite on an hourly basis.
  • Rent your own private office space on less than a full-time basis. Such rental arrangements are usually advertised in the Yellow Pages as "Business Identity Programs" under "Office Rentals."
  • Find an office-based business like an accountant, psychotherapist or secretarial service with a conference room or spare office that you can rent on an hourly basis.
  • Join a club, like a tennis club-with a hint of exclusivity-where you can meet in the restaurant.

While these away-from-home solutions will add to your overhead, here are some long-term ones that may not:

  • County zoning restrictions typically only cover unincorporated areas, and cities within the county may have more permissive zoning with respect to clients coming to a home office. So if you're considering moving, take this into account in choosing where you live.
  • We believe absolute prohibitions unrelated to whether use of a home office impacts neighbors is out of step with the times, so consider working with other homebased businesspeople to talk to zoning officials and county legislators about modernizing your county's zoning.

Paul and Sarah Edwards' most recent book is Changing Directions Without Losing Your Way. Send them your start-up questions at www.workingfromhome.comor through us at Entrepreneur.

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