Is it time your freelance business had a ‘real’ office?

Posted on: July 19th, 2010

Guest writer and editor, Alison Harmer, helps you strike a balance between home and office.

As freelancers, working from home has its benefits – it’s flexible, convenient, fits in with lifestyles and, most of all, is a lot cheaper than an office. But achieving two ‘must-haves’ in business – a professional image and a secure place to hold a meeting – can be tricky.

Home-based freelancers will probably be familiar with at least one of the following nightmares:

  • Your children have a slanging match during an interview it’s taken you months to set up, leaving your interviewee annoyed and unimpressed.
  • You forget to update the answer-phone or forward calls on the day that a major customer phones with a massive, urgent job. Frustrated, they give the project to someone else and you lose out on repeat work.
  • A meeting you’ve arranged in a hotel lobby doesn’t go well when a passer-by comments on your ‘private’ conversation.

As these scenarios show, the home is not always the best environment for teleworkers (those using a phone and computer to work).

A different approach can make a surprising difference. Alternative working locations that include homeworking can result in productivity gains of around £1.545 million a year, according to research by Durham Business School called Effective work in the 21st century (2007).

So if bad dreams have become a reality, perhaps it’s time to consider a ‘real’ office – somewhere other than the dining room, conservatory or spare bedroom.

Real doesn’t have to mean permanent – a full-time leasehold office from Monday to Friday is overkill for most freelancers.

So what are the alternatives and where do you start?

The first step is to decide on the kind of workspace you need and where. Property is a big fixed expense – second only to salary – so a traditional lease, which locks you into a contract for a fixed period, is probably not appropriate.

Making the move

  1. Decide on location. Do you want an office or meeting space close to home, so you can still dash back to do the washing, or would your business do better with a prestigious address or one close to clients?
  2. Consider going virtual. If you’re not quite ready for a physical office, try an answering service or a virtual office. They give you the best of all worlds – calls are handled for you while you work from home (or pop out for lunch) with no-one the wiser. A virtual office can also give you an impressive address for your masthead (even one in a city or country not your own) and handle your mail as well as your calls.
  3. Remain flexible. A business centre can provide you with serviced offices by the hour, day or longer. They’re usually fully fitted and furnished and save you money because you only pay for what you use and they allow you to upsize or downsize your business without the penalties associated with conventional leases.
  4. Meet somewhere professional. If you do need to meet a client, don’t pick public places such as cafes and hotels where you can be overheard. Serviced office providers offer meeting rooms designed for business. You won’t be disturbed, you’ll look more professional and your interviewee will feel more secure.
  5. Look into videoconferencing. As an alternative to a meeting, look at videoconferencing options. VC facilities are becoming more widespread and they’re especially cost-effective if you’re talking to people overseas, as well as reducing the environmental impact of travel.

Email: alison@harmereditorial.co.uk
Blog: http://alisonharmer.wordpress.com/
Linked In: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/alisonharmer
Twitter: http://twitter.com/alisonharmer

14 Responses to “Is it time your freelance business had a ‘real’ office?”

  1. Hi Alison,

    Actually I went back to working from home last month after two years of having a proper office to work from. I tried for long enough to realize that it is simply not for me.

    Firstly, I am most productive very early in the morning and I would end up doing all work from home then anyway only to go to the office to spend a day there.
    Secondly, I just hated commuting. Too much of my day was spent stuck on a bus or train.

    Having said that, what I do does not involve a lot of calls or meetings and I don’t have to be available during normal office hours as well, which obviously help a lot, which obviously makes things much easier ;)

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Alison Harmer
    July 19th, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback, Pawel. Working from home is good for me too. It fits in with the family and means I can be there when parcels arrive or the gas needs reading.

    But even if it turns out that homeworking is best for you, it still pays to do a bit of research and find an office close to you that can be used for an hour, a day or so. It’s also good to look for a meeting room close by, should you need it.

    It’s particularly good to have one ‘ready to go’ if your business suffers from a disaster e.g. your home floods or you have an electricity outage.

    I know that Regus has a membership scheme where you have a card and can access an office as needed. Not sure if any other business centre operator does this and I’d be interested to find out.

    All the best, Alison

  3. Freelance FactFile
    July 19th, 2010

    I’ve always worked from home as I’ve never had the need for an office. I’m much more productive when I’m by myself – no distractions or interruptions. Like Pawel, I don’t always keep office hours and I don’t like commuting!

    I obviously do have to use the Tube when visiting clients, but I make sure I make the meetings after the morning rush hour so I can avoid the Sardine Line.

  4. @Carole, hah, good to know that I am not the only one ;)

    @Alison, you’re right. Sometimes it’s good to change the surrounding for a while. I use one of the hotels’ lobby in my town for that (in Ireland most hotels offer free wifi, which is all I need apart from my laptop).

  5. Alison Harmer
    July 19th, 2010

    Last time I used a hotel lobby, it was at the invitation of a publisher. We sat and discussed the communications needs of a major household name, little realising that someone was listening in.

    They then came up to us and tried to join in the conversation, which was very embarrassing and didn’t look too at all professional. I remember my client saying he’d never have a meeting in a hotel again. So yes, wifi in hotels is good but for meetings, you never know who’s listening and it can be distracting.

    But I totally agree with both of you on the commuting! I went freelance to avoid it altogether. That said, there is a new serviced office going up in the business area behind my house so I could have the best of both worlds – an office near to home – if I wanted it.

  6. Freelance FactFile
    July 19th, 2010

    Alison, your lobby meeting reminds me of an ex-colleague who was on a flight to the US. He happened to be sitting next to two guys who worked for a major competitor and they spent a great deal of time disucssing a soon-to-be-launched product. My friend was, naturally, all ears and couldn’t believe how much insider information he was picking up!

    So, it’s not just hotel lobbies….

  7. Alison Harmer
    July 19th, 2010

    My mother always told me you should never eavesdrop but that was a real coup! Perhaps we should ask people about their worst ‘overheard’ moment?

  8. Freelance FactFile
    July 19th, 2010

    Ah, yes, so did my mother, Alison, but it’s hard not to overhear a conversation when you’re sat next to two guys on a plane!

  9. Alison Harmer
    July 19th, 2010

    Agreed! She also told me not to trust a man who wears suede shoes…but that’s another story and nothing to do with offices!

  10. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carole Seawert, Alison Harmer. Alison Harmer said: Written a new blog: http://bit.ly/bMpsvN Reading: Is it time your freelance business had a ‘real’ office? [...]

  11. Once on a bus I was sitting next to a girl working on a laptop. She had all data about real costs per minute call from the mobile network she worked for. Everyone around her could see it while she was happily working on some data. Unbelievable. Even more unbelievable was how much we are being ripped off by mobile companies (as I learned from the spreadsheet she had opened on screen) ;)

    But my favorite are people calling the tax office or any other office from a bus or train and giving out all their personal details like SSN number and any other info needed to verify them with all those people around listening. Crazy.

    Anyway Alison, I actually never conduct meetings in hotel lobbies for the very reason you mentioned. Working on your own with headphones on, as I normally do is another story. Most of the time no one bothers you.

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    July 20th, 2010

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  13. Alison Harmer
    July 20th, 2010

    Thanks for the tip, Emanuele.

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    April 16th, 2014

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