Running a digital business from your home is a complex and challenging task. It requires considerable investment in both capital and time and the ability to set up and maintain an office environment that will allow you to work productively.
This article aims to help those who would like to take control of their own home-based business by giving some practical advice on getting started, equipment required and financial planning.
One of the first steps towards setting up a home office for your business is deciding which room in your house should be used for this purpose. The most crucial aspect of any workspace is access to power and connectivity (data/phone). Without these two elements, it doesn’t matter what other facilities are available because you won’t work there.
The next step is to plan and design your office space. It’s worth thinking about how much desk space you’ll need, as well as storage for files and records and equipment such as routers and modems.
It’s also worth considering noise levels if the room will be shared with others in the house (children or pets) or used for other purposes such as watching TV or exercising. You don’t want your phone conversations interrupted by an excited/squabbling child every time it rings! If this is a possibility, try using headphones.
Now is also an excellent time to talk this plan through with your partner. Make them aware of what you’re trying to achieve and how it might affect the family – hopefully, they can be supportive, but it’s worth finding out before you invest too much time and money into setting up your new business.
To Do List
Next up, sit down and make a list of all the things you believe you’ll need to run your business from home:
- computers, laptops;
- software licences;
- broadband connection;
- stationery/printer ink etc.
There’s no doubt that having all the tools needed to run a digital business can be an expensive initially up-front cost – PCs/laptops/printers etc. – but there are ways that you can help keep costs down.
First off, look at second-hand shops and auction sites like eBay to see what you can pick up second hand. If you do this, make sure that any refurbished computers and printers are thoroughly checked out with the manufacturer before you buy. There’s no point asking for a discount on one of those if it breaks down within the first six months.
Also, consider whether it’s worth paying extra for extended warranties or insurance on expensive equipment as these will quickly pay for themselves if something goes wrong.
Next, look at companies who often run deals where if you buy a particular specification computer, then they’ll throw another free so long as you agree to take their usually overpriced warranty and other extras.
Unless your business is very data or media orientated, then you can probably run without spending too much on software. For word processing, the free OpenOffice suite works just as well as Microsoft Word and saves putting money into Microsoft’s pockets – prices vary, but most versions of this are available at no cost. If you decide to buy another word processor, don’t forget that you can also try using Google Docs, which offers an online version of applications like Word, so there’s no download required. It’ll all be done securely via your browser. There are lots of other options out there, though, so look around and shop around.
Tax returns, for instance, can be run through online applications, which you might find are either free or much cheaper than the downloadable version – doing this could save you quite a bit if your business takes off and needs to be done more frequently.
How To Stay Connected
If you intend to run an office from home, the chances are that it will have internet connectivity capability for email, web browsing, document sharing etc., so why not go one step further? Many small businesses don’t yet have their own website, but having one gives potential customers all the information they need about who you are and what services or products you offer in an instant.
Unless your business involves face-to-face contact with customers/clients, you don’t necessarily need an expensive broadband connection capable of download speeds above 10Mbps. The big thing for most home businesses will be stable connectivity so check out small local ISPs for deals on dial-up internet access. These can run alongside your existing phone line, so there should be no extra fees other than the ISP service fee. If this doesn’t meet your data needs, then consider the expense of paying for more expensive broadband packages, which are usually on more flexible terms. You can also save some money by bundling this with other services with the same ISP – insurance, home phone, etc.
Many ISPs will offer discounts to new customers, so ask if they have any introductory offers that might work for you. Some companies run deals where they’ll bundle your broadband connection in with a couple of months free or something similar – be careful not to get locked into anything long term unless it’s favourable to you. Think carefully before signing up to extra usage limits as well – these are common but could end up costing you far more than necessary if business takes off and suddenly you find yourself downloading tens of gigabytes every day! It might be better to pay for extra usage if/when you need it instead.
Suppose you’re not familiar with website design. In that case, there are plenty of services out there that will create one for you for a small monthly fee. Alternatively, use GoDaddy or any other registrar to buy your domain name and go with one of the many web hosting companies who’ll set up a site for you using templates within your chosen domain. All of this is doable without any prior knowledge or expertise on your part, but remember that less is more when it comes to website design.
Last but not least, think about your finances. This isn’t an expense account cheat sheet – some things worth considering:
Employees: do you need to employ people, either full-time or as part of a contract arrangement? If so, what will the costs of this be (wages; PAYE; national insurance contributions; tax and NI on those contributions)? Will you subcontract some workouts or use self-employed people?
Running costs: office consumables such as printer ink and stationery; equipment repairs/replacements (computers, laptops etc.); printing and photocopying costs etc.
Investment costs: What about the initial set-up cost for your business? Will it involve buying new equipment or starting from scratch with an empty office? How much will this cost, do you think?
Finally, at least think about where you’re going to keep the money your business makes because this is almost as important as making sure there’s enough of it. Start-ups are commonly expected to last for around two years before becoming profitable, so make sure that if things go well and become an easy street, any savings will be safe (and gaining interest/ investment potential). Not everyone will want their bank account, but opening one couldn’t hurt – if nothing else, then renting might be easier to pay into a joint account into multiple separate ones. Stay safe by making sure you don’t spend any more than necessary on the fees associated with accounts. If things are going well, it might be worth considering putting some money into investments to try and make your business grow even faster.
Whether or not you choose to keep track of everything coming in and out of your business, always keep receipts for expenses – things like car mileage will quickly rack up a bill, especially when doing stuff like visiting suppliers etc., but they’re deductible against tax. Benefits claimed as perks can also help reduce the tax paid. If you do spend any money on benefits, make sure that these are claimed – employees might be able to claim expenses up to £55 per month without confirmation from their employers, but anything more needs written approval. You’ll need to keep track of all relevant receipts (again, always file them carefully) and will need to pay tax on any benefits received.
Each section provides enough information that you can reasonably decide whether or not you want to run a digital business from home and, if so, what kind of start-up costs need to be considered alongside other factors like location, commute, tax implications etc. There are many small businesses out there that could feasibly run from home – designers, photographers, writers, personal trainers etc. Many people would like to run a business from home but don’t necessarily need to – retirees, for example.
Also, remember that this is just a general guide. There are many intangibles in running a small business that can fluctuate wildly at times. Always keep a large enough cash reserve available in case of disaster. Setting up a home office for your business can be well worth the patience and planning if you want to ensure that you have close control over how your business is run every day, from start to finish!
This is a collaborative post