If you’re planning to start your own business, you’re in the right place. This is the second of 11 posts in the HostGator Home Business Guide series. Last time we covered questions to ask yourself about running a business. Now, we’ll talk about getting your home ready for your new business.
1. Make room to work at home
At the very least, you’ll need a place to use your computer for website updates, marketing, billing, and other tasks. If you make products, you’ll need space to do that, too. If you can set aside a room in your home just for work, you may be able to deduct some household expenses on your federal income taxes. (Talk to your CPA about this; we’ll talk in future posts about choosing service professionals.)
Ideally, your workspace has a door you can close so family members, roommates, and pets know when you’re working. A solid-core interior door is a splurge (or investment) that can cut down on noise from the rest of your home.
2. Find storage space for your small business
If you sell physical goods, you’ll need room to store them, space to package them for shipping, and room for shipping supplies and a postage scale. As tempting as it may be to use your garage for storage, proceed carefully. Bugs, dust, humidity, and temperature fluctuations can damage your stored items. If your water heater is in the garage and it leaks or bursts, anything stored on the floor will be water-damaged. If you must use the garage, keep your stored items in airtight containers and off the floor.
For small business owners who plan to see clients at home, you’ll need a professional looking space to host them. The ideal is a separate entrance to your home office or a detached office in a separate building like a converted shed or garage. (You can get inspired—and lose several hours of your life—browsing through the home office ideas on Houzz.) You’ll also want to make sure visiting clients have a convenient place to park.
3. Plan your mini-infrastructure and some backups
There’s nothing like the freedom of working for yourself—until there’s a tech problem and no one from IT comes to fix it for you. For website issues, HostGator’s support team can help you sort things out quickly. For internet access issues, it’s very important that you have reliable service and a reliable backup plan in case of an outage.
For example, I almost never use the mobile hotspot option or the rolled-over data on my smartphone, but they were priceless on the day when a neighbor accidentally took down internet service to half of my subdivision with a poorly placed fencepost hole. I was able to connect my laptop to my phone, burn through some of that rollover data, and meet my deadlines until service was restored.
It’s also wise to think now about other places where you can work if there’s a utility outage, noisy construction, or another major interruption at home. Your local library, coffee shops, rent-by-the-day co-working spaces, or work-at-home friends’ houses may all be options.
4. Find family support
Unless you live alone, you’ll have to prevent and deal with interruptions from housemates or family members. You can establish regular times when you’re “not available” even if you’re at home, or you may simply decide that when your workspace door is shut, you need to be left alone.
This is very important if you have phone or video chats with your clients. Nothing casts doubt on your professionalism quite like seeing your housemate stroll by in pajamas or hearing kids arguing in the background. In my experience, it’s easier to carefully plan the timing and location of your calls than it is to corral people who are used to doing their thing at home.
5. Look into child and elder care
It’s possible to build a viable business from home while caring for your children or parents, but doing it all yourself makes everything much harder than it has to be. The consensus among experienced work at home parents is to get childcare help on a regular basis so you always have some time when you can concentrate fully on your work. Mother’s day out programs for kids and adult day programs for seniors give your family members time out of the house while you work. If money’s very tight, consider hiring a teen with babysitting experience and Red Cross first aid training to work as a mother’s helper in your home a few hours a week.
6. Plan for pet antics
“Let sleeping dogs lie” is great advice unless you’re about to be on a call or in a meeting. Then you should wake them up, give them some special chew toys, and move them outside or to another room. I learned this the hard way when my three napping dogs heard a squirrel outside my home-office window, jolted awake, and made a loud off-topic contribution to a six-person conference call I was leading for a client. Keyboard-perching cats, hollering parrots, and DSL-cable-gnawing bunnies need corralling while you work, too.
7. Figure out how much money you’ll need to begin
You may be reading these tips while mentally tallying the cost of implementing them, which is smart. Starting a small business doesn’t have to cost a lot, but it’s not free. Here are some basics you may need funds for:
- computer equipment
- internet connections (main and backup)
- web site hosting
- office furniture
- packaging and shipping supplies
- raw materials or wholesale goods
- care for your kids, parents, and/or pets
You’ll also need a local business permit, professional liability insurance, and business cards. We’ll talk about those expenses in more detail in a future HostGator Home Business Guide post on setting up your business entity and bank account. Before then, though, we’ll go over making a simple but effective business plan.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.