Running a business from home has its challenges, but it’s convenient, cheap and a good option for a fledgling company
Where you base yourself is a vital decision for all small business owners. Whether you go straight into office or shop premises, or decide to work from home, there are pros and cons for each option.
I established The Little Smoked Food Company Ltd in 2012, bringing Moorish Smoked Hummus to market in Waitrose and other retailers. I work from home in the Midlands.
With a fledgling company, I wouldn’t deny that a key reason to work from home is financial necessity; but there are other great advantages, like flexibility.
The most obvious plus point is lack of overheads, such as rent. We don’t need to hold stock, as we work with a manufacturer, so technically I only need to find space for my laptop, plus a little extra cooking equipment for new product development purposes. But this does mean there is little separation between my work and home environment. With young children and the accompanying constant noise in the house, that can create its own problems.
It’s possible to offset some domestic costs against the business, such as a proportion of the mortgage and utility bills. I also avoid supplementary costs that come with ‘normal’ work – I have no commuting expenses, avoid daily visits to the coffee shop and pre-packaged lunches. It’s cheaper to raid the fridge – but the ability to do so, all day long, can be a disadvantage!
Aside from cost, gaining extra spare time is the other major plus. I don’t waste it commuting and I can use office dead time, such as being on hold, to multitask and get chores done or put the dinner on. Flexibility is part of this too: I can get things done in the middle of the night if I have to, and my working day is less disrupted by the school run or having to get home for things like deliveries.
My business partner is also a mum and working as we do gives us some control to fit things around family life. We often have complicated discussions in the evening. You have to be disciplined about this though, as it can run the other way. It’s hard to switch off if the notebook beside the bed seeps work thoughts into your mind, just as you’re trying to sleep. And callers might not understand why you can’t talk right now, in a critical child-tantrum moment.
I don’t spend my whole week at home though, since I’m frequently on the road visiting retailers, suppliers and distributors. But I can see how in a different business it could be boring or even lonely. That makes it easy to find distractions, or sometimes they find you: my kids find it very tempting to come and see me (constantly) when they come home from school, if they know I’m in the house.
If you’re worried about giving the right impression, sometimes doing business at home can feel too personal. It’s not always appropriate to invite business contacts into a home office and you wouldn’t want to give out your address in the public domain. We also try to demonstrate that although we’re a young, small, artisan producer, it’s not a ‘cottage industry’: retailers need to know we are a serious business that is reliable, consistent and scalable.
And finally, when taking on staff, it can be unappealing not to be able to offer work space, except for a home study. Thinking about my team though, if everyone had to all be in the same office or even the same town, I simply wouldn’t be able to work with the great bunch that I do.
Here are my tips for setting up a small business from home:
• If at all possible, set aside dedicated working space, whether it’s in shed, office or spare bedroom, where important papers won’t get lost. Ideally where you can physically shut the door on work after the day’s hard slog
• Consider a second phone line. Noise-cancelling telephone headsets can also be a great help.
• There are many providers of meeting rooms by the hour; scout around so you have it in mind before you’re asked for an appointment.
• You may also need to set up an internet-based virtual conferencing account. Although you can do this for free, you might choose to pay for better functionality, reliability and something that looks more professional.
• Make clear to other members of the household what your hours are and when work really has to mean work.
• Add daily tasks to your diary in set blocks of time with specific deadlines, with breaks built in – remember, nobody is there to remind you to take a lunch hour.
• My colleague swears by always “dressing for work”, as it helps focus. But pyjama working might be your big working from home plus point!
Julie Waddell is the founder of the Little Smoked Food Company
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To receive more like this you can become a member of the Small Business Network here.