Key Secrets to Home Office Success

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on December 14, 2013 in Planning & Advisors

“There’s no place like home,” sighed Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Home is an ideal, a place of respite, love, and warmth (don’t forget food!) . . . and with those qualities, what better incubator for creative ideas and prosperous thinking? Let’s not forget the practical side, too, of working from a “rent-free” office and (if applicable) being in earshot of the kids. No wonder the SOHO (solo office/home office) figures are in the millions: 25 to 40 million, if you count home-based businesses, telecommuters, and “day extenders” (people who bring work to their home office from a regular job).

But the home office “experiment” is a failure for many. How can you be sure it really works for you?

  1. Know your goals. Why are you working from home? To save money? To have greater flexibility to deal with personal matters (such as kiddie carpool)? To catch up on what you couldn’t accomplish in the “office” office? When you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish through a home office, you will have a better sense of how to structure your time and surroundings for maximum benefit . . . and how to stick to it.
  2. Have a plan. Especially if you are starting a business out of your home, it pays to have a business plan. Just because your business may lack the formal structure of a visible “corporate office” doesn’t mean you should be equally informal with your planning for success. In fact, this lack of planning is a significant factor that endangers the survival of home-based businesses. It’s not enough to be doing work while you happen to be at home; in running a business, an ongoing enterprise, you need understand exactly how much money you need to earn in order to meet expenses and turn a profit. If you’re telecommuting, remember that “out of sight is out of mind” for many people . . . so discuss with your supervisor ways that you can remain visible to the organization – whether through participation in conference calls, regular reporting, or being physically present for certain meetings. Accountability is key. Be sure you and your supervisor have a clear understanding of how your work performance will be evaluated.
  3. Get in “the zone”. Zoning laws and local ordinances govern how buildings may be used. Certain areas may be for residential use only; others for commercial use only; some are a mixed live-work situation. You can run into problems if your home-based business requires a lot of “foot traffic” – for example, in running a tattoo parlor out of your basement, where parking customers may congest nearby streets. Or having an in-person coaching practice in your apartment. If you rent, make sure that your lease does not prohibit you from running your type of business from your home. Check your homeowner’s insurance policy as well; many will not cover your business activities or business equipment. Look into a separate business owner’s insurance policy to make sure that you don’t leave yourself unduly exposed to liability.
  4. Set up your surroundings efficiently. Home offices can be easier to establish if you have a separate room that you can clear out for that sole purpose (it is also easier to configure it for a home office tax deduction). So it’s not surprising that home offices set up in a mixed-use room (part home office, part bedroom, for example) present their own challenges – both from a tax perspective and a business efficiency perspective. I carved my home office out of my living room, rearranging computer tables into an L-shape, and moving around filing cabinets and bookshelves to give the feeling of separate space (thanks to the good eye of the channel-surfing fiancé). And I keep it v-e-r-y separate, with a separate phone line and fax/modem line. I don’t allow any clothes to be draped over the office chair, or let Joe leave his pizza on the desk, and I have a separate place for personal papers. For entrepreneurs with young children at home, setting the boundaries – that Mommy (or Daddy’s) desk does not need Crayola® crayon designs on it no matter how pretty, nor should the strawberry milkshake be drizzled over the important client proposal – is a crucial factor in home office success. An organized workspace can do wonders for clear thinking.
  5. Watch the clock and the time gobblers. The beauty of working from home is that your time is truly yours. There’s no persnickety boss or nosy colleague looking over your shoulder. But the benefit is also its own burden, as you must become your own taskmaster. Set a work schedule and stick to it. More pernicious are the distractions that crop up during the day that eats away at your time and concentration. A friend calls, needing advice about her non-communicative boyfriend. The doorman buzzes: can you come down for a delivery? Your stomach rumbles . . . what should you make for dinner tonight? There’ a dust bunny staring you in the face. And kids have their needs, too, which tend to be on their time schedule, not yours. Be realistic about what you can accomplish each day, but be firm about making the time to accomplish it. To the extent possible, group meetings or errands together so that when you are working from home, you can focus on the project at hand.
  6. Know thyself. Are you a social creature, desiring the feedback and hubbub from others to fuel your creativity? If so, the home office/home business experience can be very isolating. Make sure you include a day (or part of each day) to be in contact with other people, whether in person or by telephone (email does NOT count). For those whose natural instinct is to barricade themselves indoors, remember that people do business with people they like . . . and they can’t get to like you unless they meet you. Make time for networking events and occasional meetings with colleagues. And if your business is online, be sure to give that a personality, too!
  7. Keep your mind primed for success. A colleague of mine has a routine: she meditates, writes in her journal, and exercises – all before starting her days’ work in her home office (I think she’s a saint, but she claims she’s human)! She also schedules time for classes and seminars so that she can continue to learn and grow in her field. All of these activities are vital to keeping your outlook fresh and positive, which is no mean feat under any circumstances.

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