Setting Up a Home Office
While we can't begin to cover every aspect of creating a home office in this short section, we can offer some suggestions to get you started. You'll need to find the right space for an office, outfit it with a phone, computer, and other equipment; consider zoning and legal issues; and, of course, figure out how you'll pay for what you'll need. The first thing to consider is whether you can legally work from your home.
Zoning and Other Legal Issues
Before you go ahead and set up a fancy home office, you need to make sure there are no zoning restrictions in your area that prohibit you from working at home. While many communities limit the types of businesses that can be run out of a home, it's unlikely that you'll run into trouble for simply working at home, but it's best to check.
If you're setting up a business that will be run out of your home, the extent and type of business might be restricted by zoning. Check with your municipality about any existing zoning ordinances. If there's an ordinance that restricts or prohibits at-home businesses, you may have to file for a variance or consult with a lawyer. The majority of communities, however, do not restrict work you do within your home as long as it doesn't affect your neighbors or present a hazard. As long as your work is conducted quietly and you don't bother anyone, you're not likely to run into zoning problems.
However, many municipalities do restrict the use of signs in residential areas, and there may be parking restrictions and limits on the number of employees you can have. An increase in traffic often is restricted, and there might be noise restrictions as well.
Even if the zoning allows working from a residence, the need for permits, business licenses, and registrations varies greatly according to your location. You should check with your municipality to see if you need any of these in order to work from home.
To learn everything you'll need to know about starting a business and running it successfully, check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being a Successful Entrepreneur, by John Sortino.
A common problem of people who work from home is the temptation of the refrigerator. Many people find themselves taking too many fridge breaks, which results in decreased production—not to mention added pounds. If you find yourself having this trouble, establish your office as a no-food area, and put the refrigerator off-limits except for during established break times.
Finding the Right Space
Whether you live in a three-room apartment or a ten-room house, you'll need to designate a space for your office. Some people find it works just fine to have their desk in the living room, while others need to be in private spaces, behind closed doors.
A spare bedroom, basement, attic, side porch, garage—even a large closet or breakfast nook—can all be candidates for a home office, depending on what you're able and willing to do to convert the space. Following are some tips to remember when choosing a space:
- Find a space you can call your own. You'll need a space where you can have some privacy and quiet when you need it. Be creative and claim a space for yourself. This is especially important if you plan to claim a home office deduction on your income tax return.
- Make sure your office has enough space to keep you organized. You might think a tiny office would be easier to organize than a larger one, but attempting to work in too small a space will prove difficult. Remember that you'll need room for filing cabinets, shelves, a desk or computer table, and other equipment.
- Choose a space that makes it easy to set limits on other people “visiting” you in your office. If you locate your office in a spot where everybody has to walk by as they come in the door, the temptation to stop and chat will be great. If you're in a corner of the basement, however, chances are they'll almost forget you're there.
Setting up a home office can be as simple as moving some stuff around, or as complex as hiring a contractor to convert or add a room to your house. The important thing is to find a space that works for you. Be realistic about your needs and expectations. If you'll be receiving clients at your home, you need to also consider the needs of your clients and the impression your office will make.
Dollars and Cents
A separate phone line for business is highly desirable, but if you're the only one in the house during business hours, you might be able to get away with one line for business and personal use. Do not let a child answer the phone if there's a possibility that the call is business related.
Getting the Equipment You Need
Many people, when just starting out in their own business or converting to a work-at-home situation for an employer, can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on fancy office equipment. There are, however, some things you're probably going to need.
One of the most important things you'll need is a comfortable workstation and a good chair. Using a dining room chair at a desk that wasn't designed for a computer might work all right for a short time, but you're sure to feel the effects before long. Pay attention to ergonomics when you're selecting office furniture and make sure to get a good chair.
These days, with the proper equipment and planning, it's easy to communicate easily with practically anyone. When you begin to equip your office, think about your communication needs and the equipment you'll need to satisfy those needs. Consider the phone system you'll need. If you still have dial-up computer access, you'll need a second phone line so you're not tying up the only line when using the Internet. A fax machine might also require a separate line. Other equipment to consider includes:
- Appropriate computer system with Internet connection and all necessary software (don't forget financial software)
- Laser printer
- Answering machine with a business message
- Fax machine
- Copy machine (some printers can double as copiers, but might not be practical if you need to make multiple copies on a regular basis)
- Filing cabinets with appropriate files and labels
- Adequate lighting
- Telephone with a headset to allow you hands-free use
- Adequate shelves for storage
Many home offices have started with little more than a desk, chair, and computer, so if you can't buy all the desirable equipment right away, don't worry. Add what you need as you can, and remember that the most important attributes of a home office are those you offer: enthusiasm, determination, and perseverance.
Financing the Stuff You'll Need
After you've compiled your wish list of supplies and equipment for your home office, you'll need to figure out how you'll pay for them.
Experts highly recommend that if you're going to be working for yourself, you set up separate business accounts for credit cards, bank accounts, and so forth. This will make your accounting much easier. A new business owner can have a difficult time getting a business credit card when first starting out. If so, get a new personal card and use it only for business. Having a credit card used strictly for business will help you to establish business credit.
The Small Business Administra-tion, an independent agency of the federal government, is a gold mine for anyone starting a business. In addition to business loans, the SBA provides models for business plans and a wealth of advice and information. If you're even thinking about working for yourself, check out the SBA web site at www.sba.gov.
If you need to get a loan, there are several routes you can take. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans under certain conditions to those starting their own businesses. Many new business people start out by getting an equity loan, often using the equity in their homes. Or they may have a family member co-sign a starting loan. There also are government loans and grants available for small business startups.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s © 2005 by Susan Shelly and Sarah Young Fisher. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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