One of the most popular subjects in the UK Business Forums (UKBF) Startup Clinic, sponsored by Microsoft, is running a business from home. Dan Martin summarises the key advice.
The cost benefits
One of the biggest advantanges of running a home-based business is it allows you to keep costs down, particularly in the early days of starting up when money is one of the biggest stumbling blocks.
"I would recommend working from home rather than getting a nasty overhead such as office space," said Cheapwebdesign
. You would be tied into a long term contract and nobody enjoys the stresses of this."
Fellow UKBF member JetVirtual
agreed saying that it is common for entrepreneurs to throw money at expensive office space too early. "So many people make the mistake of spending way too much before the business is even making any profit," he said.
Responding to a question by Zono
, who wants to set up a letting agency but was concerned about costs, Gillie replied: “I know of several letting companies that started out working from a home office. It’s the old walk before you can run syndrome.
added: "My friend's mother runs a lettings company from home. She doesn't even have a website but just a good network of clients, customers, handy men and a mobile phone. An office I would think is pretty unnecessary."
Will a home office put people off?
A common barrier to small business owners setting up from home is the perception it leaves with potential customers and clients. Will running a company from home suggest you’re not running a legitimate or professional organisation?
UKBF member malharvey
was concerned saying that he was considering not publishing his home address on his website for fear of it putting people off or risking people turning up at his home and being shocked.
advised against it. "Personally, I wouldn't buy a product or service from someone who hides their full contact details. You need to trust a service provider. Surely if they can't give you contact details that would suggest they have something to hide?
"To me this is the same as only having a mobile number for contact or a Gmail address. It screams to me 'fly by night'.
"I run my business from home and have my address on everything from adverts to my website and obviously any paperwork. I've never had anyone turn up uninvited. Perhaps you're worrying about something that isn't really an issue."
Online copywriter ILilja
suggested a way to overcome the problem. "If you're concerned, why don't you get an official company address to use on your website, marketing material and invoices?
"I think it's really important for your credibility that your contact information (including your phone number and postal address) is clearly visible on your homepage (and as text, not graphics for SEO purposes), as a lot of users are specifically looking for this information."
Key to making your business look professional is your online presence. Working on creating a strong internet profile can help prevent any issues related to being based at home.
said: "When marketing yourself and your business you have to have a credible online presence these days.
"The first thing your potential clients will do is Google you. If they find nothing about you or your business, or if what they do find is unprofessional with nothing related to the area you are trying to do business in, you will lose legitimacy.
"I think a respectable website and a LinkedIn profile are a minimum. They give you a good way of communicating to potential clients that you know your stuff.
"A good online presence is the new suit and tie. If you don't have it, it's like turning up to a meeting in scruffy jeans and a T-shirt."
Make the most of other spaces
Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can’t leave the house. They are a host of places you can work for low costs or even for free.
"If you need premises, there are plenty of empty shops and offices," said EICIC
. "Go direct to the landlord of something which has been empty for a while and see if a rent free period. The local council should have a list of empty premises and you can request it as a Freedom of Information request.
"Maybe the way to go would be to work from home at first but rent a prominent window and maybe a desk."
Many coffee shops and restaurants offer free wifi and companies like Regus offer access to business lounges around the UK for around £30 a month.
Is a home-based business for you?
, author of Start Your Own Home-based Business, argues that individuals looking to set up a business from home should consider the following questions:
- Will I have the self-discipline to work hard every day without having a boss looking over my shoulder?
- Will I be able to resist the temptations working from home will present me with?
- Am I good at setting priorities and organising my time?
- Am I able to focus on my work and resist being distracted?
- Will I have the support of my partner and children, if any?
Maintaining a work/life balance while running a business from home
- Have a family meeting. Say what you plan to do, get everyone's opinions and come up with some ground rules
- Establish a structure: morning for family, afternoon for business. Use visual indicators to show when you are working, such as a closed door
- Establish acceptable reasons for being disturbed i.e. "Only if you're bleeding."
- Understand your body clock; learn at what times you are at your intellectual best; 9 - 5 does not necessarily correspond with your mind/body's peak performance. Look at yourself in the context of a 24 hour day and lifestyle
- Cross a mental threshold when moving between family/leisure/business activities; take a shower, change your clothes
- When working, do not answer the front door or take personal phone calls
- Use a separate and dedicated address for your business mail