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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.