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Supplies and Demands

Handling the administrative side of your business can be a culture shock.
March 1, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/83554

It's the first Monday morning of your new life as a self-employed business owner. Your nameplate from your old corner office now has a place of honor in your den. Your computer is fired up, and your Mont Blanc pen is ready for action next to your blank appointment book. So now what?

If you're used to having support staff at your beck and call to handle matters large and small, you could be in for a real jolt of culture shock on your first solo day. "If you're not a hands-on person [and you] only know how to delegate, the transition to self-employment can be tough," says John Zambelli, 61, who was previously COO of a retail menswear chain and now owns NaturesPet.com, an Elmwood, New Jersey-based company selling natural and holistic pet products. "I've seen many executives who are spoiled rotten and would say, 'What, me, make copies?' But when you're not in the ivory tower anymore, you've got to get real, fast."

Of course, part of getting real includes answering your own phone and filing your own paperwork. It also means handling the operational tasks that keep your business running. For example, if your computer crashes as you're churning out a crucial proposal, you'll need help fast. To avoid this problem, Zambelli leases his office computers from Dell--they come with 3-year in-home service agreements bundled into the cost. Alternately, you could call a 24-hour in-home service like Geek Squad (800-GEEK-SQUAD), or find a local computer consultant who makes house calls (usually at $50 an hour or more).

If you choose not to entertain clients in your home office, you may occasionally need a neutral place to meet. It's possible to lease meeting rooms or office space either by the hour or for a monthly fee. For instance, the Oregon State Bar Center charges just $25 per hour for rooms that accommodate up to 100 people--and you don't have to be an attorney to use them. Another option: The Intelligent Office, a national franchise based in Boulder, Colorado, provides small-business owners with a prestigious address for meetings, as well as phone-answering and mail services, all for about $275 a month--far less than the rate for commercial space.

Speaking of answering services, they're a cost-effective way to project a professional image. For as little as $29.95 a month, you can hire a company to answer your phone 24/7 using your company name, which gives callers the impression that your business is well-established and successful.

Finally, if you're planning to do a lot of mailing in your new job, you can lease a postage meter from a company like Pitney Bowes, which offers a digital model for just $19.95 a month, plus postage. You can then go online to contact and pay for a delivery service like FedEx, which can pick up your overnight envelopes and other packages at your home office. Need office supplies? The office super-stores all deliver to most addresses nationwide, and delivery is usually free if your order exceeds $50.

Obviously, it's possible to run everything yourself--as long as you can get used to the idea of being both CEO and chief bottle-washer. "You need to have a really honest conversation with yourself along the lines of, 'Do I have the guts to do this?'" says Julia Hutton, 61, who launched Phoenix-based Orca Communications in 2002 after 37 years doing PR in corporate America. "Ask, 'Am I committed? Do I have the resources and the right support system? Am I willing to type my own letters and sharpen my own pencils?' If the answer is a resounding 'yes,' then you can do it."

Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on business topics.