Tag Archive: working_from_home

Five Things to Make Your Home Office Work for You

Five Things to Make Your Home Office Work for You
by Erin McDermott.

Nick Loper is a mover and shaker at his home office. Actually, these days, mostly a mover.

Back in December, he found a treadmill on Craigslist, and with a little DIY derring-do, he rigged his workspace to it. Now the CEO of ShoeSniper.com is walking 8 to 10 miles a day while he runs the shoe-shopping website from his place near San Francisco.

He’s had to learn to steady himself while walking and typing, got a bigger computer monitor that was easier to see at the top tier of his desk setup, and admits it’s been a bit tough to ignore the numbers on the exercise device’s panel. Even so, he’s hooked. “It’s kind of addictive to watch the amount of calories you burn as you go,” he says. But overall, it’s working for him, and Loper even recently punched another hole in his belt—on the good side. “There have been times since, when I’ve been away, working in a hotel, and I feel like I should be doing more, and being up and moving.”

It’s never easy to get your workspace just right, more so for anyone who regularly works from home. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating there are now some 18.3 million home-based businesses, more people than ever are out there trying to project the professionalism of the office onto their home base.

“The recession has made more companies open their minds to the cost-savings that can come from working with telecommuters,” says Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive and founder of FlexJobs.com, an online job-service site dedicated to flexible work situations. Sutton Fell walks the walk, too: She’s worked from home for almost six years. From a loft above her detached garage in Boulder, Colorado, she manages a staff of 24 other home-office dwellers, half of whom she’s yet to meet face to face. “My kids know I’m up here, but they know not to interfere,” she says, “It’s still a better alternative for me.”

What works best for these home-based entrepreneurs? Below are a few suggestions to make your home office hum:

A backup system…and a backup for your backup

It’s every computer user’s worst nightmare. Last year, Sutton Fell’s hard drive crashed. Unbeknownst to her, her data-backup system wasn’t working properly either. “It’s embarrassing to even admit this,” she says. She ended up losing a good amount of data. Now, in addition to her crucial two monitors she uses to accommodate all of her open tabs and her website, she also has two backup systems for her data.

But what if your home and home office are destroyed? First, make sure that your home insurance is up to date and get a rider that covers your work setup. Then consider something similar to Binary Formations’ Home Inventory. This software helps you catalog everything in your home and home office—information that’s crucial if the unthinkable happens. “Most people think ahead to get riders on jewelry, but not many think about their home-business equipment,” says Diane Hamilton, Binary Formations’ managing partner, who, along with husband Kevin, runs the company from their Virginia home office. “You should think about the coverage for your workspace whether you work for yourself or work from home for someone else.”

Organization

If you deal with a lot of paperwork, you’ll need plenty of things like tabbed folders and file cabinets. But if you’re trying to go paperless, several small business owners recommend taking a look at the products from Neat. That company’s mobile scanner and software products can build a searchable directory of receipts, business cards, and important documents. And if you’re a really big thinker, unleash your creativity and surround yourself with one gigantic big dry-erase board, using new whiteboard paint products to turn your office walls into a wraparound notepad.

PQ_Homeoffice.jpgA map of your day, week, month

Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman says it’s critical to establish a structure—with your routine, with your schedule, and with your family and friends. “To be really good at working from home, you have to be really good at getting into ‘the zone,’” she says. “However you set that up physically, you have to be able to do it mentally. And you have to clarify that with everyone around you.”

The mother of four operates her practice out of her home in McLean, Virginia, and says she sees clients get into trouble all the time as gadgets blur the line between business and life. She advises her clients to create a schedule and a routine and stick to it—shower, dress to get into the professional mind-set, grab your coffee, and then get into your office and go to work. Good planning is everything, Coleman says. “If you’re disorganized and you go to sit down and realize you’re out of ink, and want to run to Staples, it will throw off your whole schedule. You have to resist that urge and stay focused.”

A door

For nine years, Lori Karpman ran her management consultancy from an area off the kitchen in her Montreal home. She had all of the professional trappings, but she lacked the ability to shut herself off physically from the rest of her household. Though she says she’s always been very disciplined about her hours, there was no stopping her kids or other sirens of domesticity from testing her concentration. Karpman moved to a new home with a dedicated workspace about a year ago, and raves about the mental break that the door on her new home office provides. “When my day is over, I turn off the lights, shut off the ringer on the phone, and close the door—I’m not at work anymore and I’m really home,” she says. “It’s important to say that space is your workspace—not your living space. Psychologically, it makes it seem so much more professional.”

A release

Got a picture on your desk to remind you of your work/life balance? Or a window that provides an inspirational view? Or iTunes cued up for a five-minute Motown session to recharge during the 2 p.m. doldrums? The isolation of remote work has its own set of stresses. John Paul Engel, marketing consultant and chief executive of Knowledge Capital Consulting, says he overcomes the pressure of 24/7-availability by going for a run outside his Sioux City, Iowa, home office to clear his head—and to engage both sides of his brain to sort out a problem. Others swear by sitting on exercise balls to physically vent and stay fit in the process.

The key is to make whatever works work for you, like Nick Loper and his treadmill desk. And now that he’s on his feet all day, does he test his wares on it? “No,” he says, before adding, “but I guess that could be a good writeoff.”

I’ll be Home for Business: 5 Popular Home-Based Careers

By Sherron Lumley

“I’m at work all the time,” says Beth Rountree, owner of Beth Rountree Design in Austin, Texas, a home-based graphic design business specializing in print media. “I had my daughter in 2000 and was on maternity leave when I got my first client, then it ballooned into a business,” she says. “Having the flexibility to stop and be with my family for dinner is huge for me,” she adds.

More than half of all U.S. businesses are home-based, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). For some people, the dream of working from home stems from a desire to be a stay-at-home parent, others want the opportunity to pursue what they love, and then there are those who just want to avoid an unnecessary commute. Although the reasons behind it are many, operating a business from home is a rewarding, yet challenging, balancing act that many people are choosing to pursue across a broad spectrum of industries. Here’s a look at five popular choices, followed by a word of caution about fraudulent work-at-home schemes.

1. Service Businesses

For John and Laura Roberts, owners of Burnt Ends BBQ in Portland, Oregon, their part-time venture started from a hobby. “Our business grew out of our experience competing in professional barbeque contests,” John Roberts says. “People started asking us if we catered, and now we have an office set up within the home,” he says.

Pull-Quote—Tall.pngRountree and Roberts give a peek at what its like to say, “I’ll be home for business,” in the service sector, which accounts for more than half—52 percent—of all home based-businesses in the United States, according to a report for the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.

“A big advantage for me,” says Rountree, “is being home for my family and being able to be active with my kids.” But there can be drawbacks, too, she acknowledges. “The downside is that I have to wear so many hats,” she says. “Also, you never know when you’re going to get paid. That’s a tough pill to swallow. You go on vacation—you don’t get paid.”

The Roberts couple adds, “One of the challenges is that we are fitting it around our other work schedules.” In addition to the demands of running the catering business, including marketing efforts such as creating brochures, placing local advertisements, and updating their web presence, they are still maintaining other full-time jobs outside of the home.

2. Construction

A distant second to the service industry, representing 16 percent of home-based businesses, is construction. Though only one-third of carpenters are self-employed, an overwhelming 93 percent of them are home-based. Similarly, of all the general contractors in the country, approximately one in four are home-based businesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more on working out of one’s home in the construction industry, the SBA provides information and resources, including relevant details about issues such as energy efficiency, federal contracting, and hazardous materials.

3. Web Stores

Retail trade accounts for another 14 percent of home businesses and Web-based storefronts have become even more popular among the work-at-home crowd in recent years. In Do-It-Yourself Web Stores for Dummies, author Joel Elad says, “Your ultimate goal as a web store owner is to purchase your inventory via wholesale channels.” For product sourcing, he lists a few websites to get started: Worldwidebrands.com, Whatdoisell.com, and Liquidation.com.

4. Finance, Insurance and Real Estate

Finance, insurance, and real estate make up five percent of home-based businesses. These require licensing by various national and state agencies based on educational requirements and exams. About one in ten professionals in this sector works from home, with the highest percentage found in real estate. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) lists many types of real estate businesses including residential, commercial and industrial brokerage, farm and land brokerage, and appraisal.

5. Transportation

Transportation ranks fifth place for home-based businesses, comprising four percent. A popular new concept in this category is non-emergency medical transportation, helping those who need assistance, such as people who use a cane, walker or wheelchair. Check with the local department of health-and-human services for specific requirements, which vary state by state..

You can also check out our earlier article on the too-good-to-be-true nature of many work-at-home schemes.

Keeping it legal: Zoning laws

Most if not all cities in the U.S. have zoning laws in place regarding which businesses can be run from home. “In terms of zoning, the potential issues for home businesses include: exterior signage, parking, noise, pollution, fire and hazardous substances, employees working in the home, client visits, deliveries and shipping, water runoff and drainage,” say James Stephenson and Rich Mintzer in the Ultimate Homebased Business Handbook. Check with city officials to learn what local laws are in place governing home based businesses in your location.

Taxes

There are home office tax deductions available for home-based businesses in every industry. To learn more about them, visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) web page on home office deductions. “Generally, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use,” the IRS says.

(Home-based) Buyer Beware

There are many models for home businesses and buying a legitimate work-at-home franchise is an option gaining momentum, but an ounce of prevention against fraud is a must. The SBA counsels prospective entrepreneurs to investigate any franchise opportunity by asking previous and current investors about their experiences and having an attorney review the offer. Get all the facts about the franchise, including a written substantiation of any income projections or profit claims, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that any franchisor must provide upon request.

So, if that work from home medical transcription job or online Mystery Shopper opportunity sounds to good to be true, it very likely is. Doing your due diligence is the only way to know for sure. A good place to start one’s search is the FTC’s Scam Watch site, which explains how to avoid bogus business opportunities and offers key clues for spotting fraud, such as claims of exorbitant or guaranteed pay as well as promises of ideal work situations. It also lists the most popular work-at-home schemes in its top 10 online scams.

To determine if a home-based business franchise is a legitimate opportunity: investigate, investigate, investigate. Start with a reliable source such as the Better Business Bureau or FranchiseDirect, which is a BBB-accredited company that provides a directory of legitimate franchises for sale, including a home-based category. Only then will you begin to know if you’re ready to say, “I’ll be home for business.”