The Home or Virtual Office.

3 01 2010

“The home is the new hotbed of entrepreneurial activity.” I love this quote, it’s from a recent Wall Street Journal article about people who have lost their jobs and are taking on free-lance assignments, contract work and short-term projects – recessions breed creative risk-takers.

Whether you’re interested in working from home or utilizing a virtual office (off-site live communication and address services, including a business meeting space), there’s a lot to think about with regard to your professional environment and personal work habits.

If you’re thinking about a new career as a home-based entrepreneur, consider these questions first:

  1. Are you passionate about my product or service? The start-up phase is stressful. You’ll need zeal to get through the rough patches, especially in the early days when hours are long and initial profits (if any) are lean.
  2. What is your tolerance for risk? There’s no guarantee of success — or even a steady paycheck. If you’re risk-averse, entrepreneurship probably isn’t the right path for you.
  3. Are you good at making decisions? No one else is going to make them for you. Consider how you might handle these early decisions: Do I incorporate? Do I advertise? Do I borrow money from friends or family?
  4. Are you willing to take on numerous responsibilities? A start-up entrepreneur must juggle many roles – from chief salesperson and bookkeeper to head marketer and bill collector.
  5. Will you be able to avoid burnout? Many entrepreneurs find it hard to step away. You’ll need to develop a work/life balance to avoid working seven days a week, losing touch with friends and upsetting loved ones.

In addition to the easy commute and informal dress code, working from home can present several tax write-offs: As long as you use a portion of your home exclusively and regularly for business, you can deduct a percentage of your rent or mortgage interest, utility bills, repairs and other costs. Though it may sound appealing, you’d be surprised with the number of expenses that are not tax deductible. Read this article by Start-Up Nation to get a view for the types of expenses that can be deducted and those that you might be cautious about including as a business expense.

If you’re considering establishing a virtual office in order to present a business-like image, there are several useful tips to acknowledge when choosing a virtual office provider. Here are ten tips to help guide your research:

  1. Are you the right ‘type’ to work from home? Research suggests that out-going, socially oriented and experienced professionals are more likely to be successful working from home as they are more committed to keeping in touch with clients and colleagues and tend to be better organized.
  2. Would the advantages of a virtual office benefit your business from the outset? If you’re uncomfortable with clients knowing where you live and would like to project a professional image from the start, for a relatively insignificant financial outlay, the benefits of presenting an impressive business address via a virtual office may be a crucial component of your start-up business plan.
  3. Research virtual office providers for the most suitable option. The location may in reality be more obscure and less impressive than the one promoted so it is important to visit the actual address advertised.
  4. Inspect the premises and meet the staff who will be your client’s first point of contact. Be sure to request a thorough inspection of all areas included in the virtual office services advertised. Examine the reception area, meeting rooms and desk facilities, and make sure these are well maintained and of a sufficient standard to suit your business needs.
  5. Go through the virtual office provider’s charges carefully. Check for hidden costs, as it is not uncommon for virtual office service providers to surprise clients with costs for hidden extras such as itemized mail forwarding or additional call forwarding charges, coffee service, and registration fees.
  6. Don’t compromise on quality support technology services. Many professionals who routinely work from home rely to a large extent on email and mobile phones and may not be aware of the diversity of low-cost support technologies such as web-conferencing and remote computer maintenance or problem solving.
  7. Promote your new ‘green’ credentials. ‘Going virtual’ by working from home not only saves on fuel energy such as heating and lighting costs, but can comprise significant savings in capital expenditure (for office equipment) and home to office commuting.
  8. Attract quality talent. Adapted business operation models and flexible work schedules enable the opportunity to attract sought after staff. Though, you’ll need to decide whether you need to employ an in-house service or whether the virtual office service can take on some of the load.
  9. Promote flexible cash management practices. Sophisticated telecommunication tools these days can enable business owners to manage cash flow on a daily basis from wherever – give yourself the advantage of profiting from cash flow management by engaging the tools that help you best.
  10. Outsource sensibly and monitor performance. Make sure that you have researched suppliers and are aware of standard market charges. Always select companies with a proven track records and testimonials/credentials and go for quality. Have clear benchmarks and expectations and monitor performance.

Regardless of your office location, it’s important to come up with a set of practices to maintain a degree of separation between your work and personal life. Setting a timetable for work hours (i.e., 8am-5pm), taking breaks, obtaining child care, and communicating when you’re working are some ways to distinguish your time.

Also, as an entrepreneur, finding customers or clients can be one of the most difficult tasks. Your office is where you work, but it’s also important to consider where you might need to be, and when, in order to attract people to your business. From networking (discussion forums, associations, trade groups, etc.) to setting up an engaging website, create a business plan that enables you to be successful out of the gate.

Necessity-driven entrepreneurship can be a powerful motivator – it’s likely going to be a struggle to find your footing and adjust to the demands of entrepreneurship. However, by thinking through these initial steps, a humbling start can be empowering. For many, a turn towards entrepreneurship instinctively generates excitement for building their own companies and a shrinking drive to help someone else build theirs (via taking a full-time position elsewhere). Turn on your inspiration light switch – entrepreneurialism may just be your ticket to success.

Photo and statistics courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: