- Analyze your home to find the best space for your office. Take a long, hard look at your home to determine all the places you could put your home office: walk-in closet, extra den or guestroom, space in the garage, enclosed porch. After finding potential places, spend time in each at different times of the day to determine if the noise factor and lighting is OK. Also, do these areas have access to the type of outlets you need, and is there enough space for your furniture and other equipment? "When you decide where you want to set up your home office, give yourself a month to try the space," says home office expert Lisa Kanarek and author of Home Office Life. "If it's not working for you, find another place."
- Go ergonomic. There are a number of factors to consider here, but one of the most important is giving up the dining room table and kitchen chair and investing in a computer workstation and office chair. "The money you save on furniture may wind up being spent on visits to the doctor to cure back pain," says Kanarek. Also invest in good lighting, a wrist pad, a headset if you spend a lot of time on the phone, and other items that will make working easier on your body.
- Determine your technology needs. You probably already have a home computer, and despite your assumptions, you really don't need the newest, shiniest PC to run a business. (Unless, perhaps, you are involved in graphics-intensive business.) A computer, printer, file backup system, high-speed internet access, an office suite of software and voice-mail system are all crucial investments. A multifunction unit (scanner/fax machine/printer/copier) may also prove its worth. Be sure not to skimp on your phone and voice-mail system. Your phone will be your primary point of contact for your clients, and you need a professional system to handle the call volume. Above all, get a separate office line that won't be answered by your family or held up by dial-up internet access.
- Prepare for visitors, if necessary. "Make sure that any part of your home a client may encounter is clean and organized," advises Kanarek. "First impressions are important, especially when you work from home. Ideally, your home office should be as far away from family gathering places as possible to avoid interruptions." Kanarek adds that if you have the space, a small conference table is a good addition to a home office that has visitors.
- Make your home office safe and secure. Now that your business is a part of your home, safety and security are doubly important. If you live alone, it may be a good idea not to have visitors or to let people know you work at home alone. Invest in an alarm system, and try to keep your office (and expensive equipment) under wraps by not having an open office window at the front of your home. As we mentioned previously, talk to your insurance agent about the type of insurance you need. And always back up your data--Kanarek suggests having two copies--and store it offsite. Finally, check your office for safety hazards like loose cords, precarious stacks of books and papers, and too many plugs in one outlet.
Gear Up for Marketing
- Create marketing materials. Your marketing materials include any print material you'll use to contact customers, including your business card, brochure, direct-marketing materials, signs (if you're allowed to have them), press kit and labels, if you have your own products. Fully commit to your business name and logo before you begin printing and distributing any materials--you don't want to waste money or confuse any potential customers by changing your image midstream. Creating a solid image in print solidifies your legitimacy as a new business.
- Build an online calling card. If you're starting an online business, this is a big job. But if you have a regular business--say, business support services--you still should create a website. It's an inexpensive brochure people can access anywhere. People can find you online, and contact you through the real-world information you include. Also get used to marketing online. Find newsgroups that pertain to your profession and begin posting information (not ads). Those interested in your services will find you through your signature, which should include your website and e-mail address. Look for online directories that suit your business, and consider creating an e-mail newsletter to keep prospects abreast of your services.
- Join networking organizations. Word-of-mouth marketing is the cheapest and one of the most effective ways to get your business in front of people. And the way you'll do that is through networking. You can approach your friends, family, neighbors and people you do business with. (Always have business cards ready.) But some people find it easier to start with networking organizations, like your local chamber of commerce, trade associations and the organization our Networking columnist Ivan Misner founded, Business Networking International.