Maybe you’ve decided you’re done working for someone else, or maybe you just want to turn a talent or passion into a second career. Whatever the reasoning behind starting your own business from the comfort of your home, it is an exciting prospect. And as with any endeavor, it’s important to make a plan and set yourself up for success.
1. Find Your Space
The first thing you must do when setting up a home business is set aside a specific space in your home where you will work. Maybe it’s a spare bedroom or den; maybe it’s an alcove off your living room, or maybe it’s the workbench in the garage. It might even just be a desk.
Wherever it is, make sure that it becomes synonymous with work. It’s important that you and anyone who lives with you treat your workspace as sacred. By establishing a specific room or spot where you will work, you will develop a routine and start conditioning your mind and body to associate that workspace with being productive.
2. Set Up Your Space
Once you’ve gotten your workspace set aside, decide what you need around you to make you most productive. Aside from the usual paper clips, stapler and pens, here are some other items to keep in mind:
- A Comfy Desk Chair: Don’t underestimate the importance of a good chair. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it, and you don’t want to associate work with pain.
- Shelving or Filing Cabinets: How much paper does your business generate? You might be lucky enough to keep most of it digital, but inevitably you’ll find yourself surrounded by stacks of papers that you’ll need to keep. Keeping your space uncluttered is more conducive to productivity.
- Brainstorming Equipment: Some people do their best thinking with a pen and some paper; others prefer a white board and markers. How do you do your best brainstorming? Invest early in the equipment you need to spark your creativity, whether it’s a case of legal notepads or a dry erase board. NOTE: There are now dry erase and chalkboard paints. If you have an extra wall in your workspace, why not turn it into your own dry erase board?
3. Get Connected
What type of communication equipment and services will you need to keep your business running smoothly? Here are few ideas:
- Desktop PC or Laptop: Depending on the type of business you run, you may want to look into upgrading your computer. If your business relies heavily on graphics and videos, it might be best to invest in a computer with a higher processing speed and more RAM to ensure it can handle that much data. Generally, you should look for a dual-core processor and a minimum 4GB of RAM (memory).
- Phone: You probably already have a cell phone, but it might be time to invest in a landline for your business as well. In addition to giving you a dedicated phone number for your business, it will allow you to reserve your cell phone for personal use or urgent business matters. It is important for people to be able to reach you, but setting some early boundaries isn’t a bad idea (Tip: Google Voice allows you to set “business hours” on your phone, so that the number goes to voicemail during the hours you need privacy).
- Multifunction Printer: Most printers today are also outfitted with scanning, copying and faxing functionalities, so you can purchase one slightly more expensive machine instead of four separate ones. When looking for printers, take into account the cost of the ink as well. Depending on your business needs, you may not need a full color printer, and this can end up saving you a lot of money over time. If you have a high volume of items to print, consider investing in a laser printer or something with a higher speed. Also, keep in mind that when the need for major print jobs arise (i.e. a lot of copies, full color), you can outsource it to your closest office supply store or Kinko’s.
- Internet Speed: You probably already have an internet service provider for recreational use, but now that you’ll be relying on that connection to do business, you might want to look into an upgrade. This is especially important if you live with other people who might be using the internet when you are trying to work. Connection speeds can range anywhere from 1.5 Mbps to 20 Mbps. With a 1.5 Mbps connection speed, it takes about two minutes to download a large presentation; with a 20 Mbps connection, it’ll take roughly 10 seconds to download the same file.
- Online Post Office: Believe it or not, your business will not be 100% digital. There’s a very good chance you will need to send paper statements, invoices, presentations or more to your clients and vendors. Instead of venturing out to the post office every day, it might be worth investing in a postal scale so that you can weigh your packages from home. Online services, like Stamps.com, allow you to also print out the exact postage you need, making a visit to the post office unnecessary. You can even schedule pickups with the United States Postal Service at your home.
- Software: If you haven’t already, invest in the latest version of Microsoft Office. This is the most common business software on the market today, so chances are you’ll have no trouble reading or editing files and documents clients send to you and vice versa.
You might also want to look into the following depending on your business needs:
- Adobe Acrobat Professional: Allows you to edit Adobe (PDF) files as well as build PDF forms with editable fields.
- Adobe CS6 Design: Includes Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, this is one of the premiere design software suites. Adobe is now also offering a Creative Cloud solution, a monthly membership service that grants members access to Adobe software.
4. Develop a Business Plan
Decide early on what exactly you’ll do to earn money and who your customers will be. One of the best ways to organize these thoughts and ideas is with a formal business plan.
There are many templates available online, but the key features of any business plan include:
- Executive Summary including ownership details and overview of products and services offered
- Company Overview including a mission statement and details regarding business location
- Products and Services detailing how products/services meet current marketplace demand
- Market Analysis and Market Strategy outlining target demographics and competitive overview
- Financial Overview including projections, profits-and-loss analysis and sales assumptions
5. Get Ready to Conduct Business
After you’ve secured some financing and developed your business plan, you’ll need to focus more intently on the details relating to your business. One of the key pieces to setting up your home-based business legally is determining what licenses or permits you may need.
Here are some of the licenses you should be aware of when starting your research:
- General Business License – Check with your state or local government to find out what types of local licenses you might need. There is typically a nominal filing or administrative fee associated.
- Professional or Trade License – Depending on the type of work you do, there might be a requirement from a local or national organization to be licensed, such as real estate.
- Home Occupation Permit – Your home is more than likely in a residential area and not in a business or retail zone. In order to conduct business in a residential zone, you will need a permit from your local or state government permitting it. Your local zoning board can answer your questions regarding requirements for permits. Not all home-based businesses will require a business permit, but it is always best to check.
- Sales Tax Permits – If you intend to sell taxable goods, on- or offline, you will need to obtain a sales tax permit. Remember that sales tax permits not only refer to where your business is located, but where you conduct business. Even if your state of residence doesn’t require sales tax, if you transact business in a state that does, you can still be liable for having a permit. Small business sales tax laws can be complicated, so do your best to understand the intricacies before beginning your business.
- Health and Safety Permits – Similar to professional and trade organizations that require licenses, you may also need health or safety permits in order to legally operate your business. Checking with your state’s environmental protection agency is a good place to start.
- Sign Permits – This will not apply to all home-based businesses, but if you intend to post signs, you may need a permit.
- Construction Permits – If you intend to make any structural changes to your home, you will need construction permits, normally issued by your local government.
And don’t forget to check with your Homeowner’s Association. If you live within the confines of an HOA, it is a good idea to become familiar with its bylaws to ensure you do not incur any fines for non-compliance.
6. Get Ready for Tax Season
As the owner of a home-based business, there are many different tax deductions and credits for which you might be eligible. Listed below are some of the more impactful:
- Home-Office Deduction: Just like it sounds, this deduction allows you to take into account all of the operating expenses for your home office, including the square footage of your home-office space, and deduct them from your taxes. The IRS has a terrific, easy-to-understand chart that outlines the different parts of this tax deduction and how best to calculate it. NOTE: Renters can also take advantage of the home-office deduction.
- Self-Employed Taxes: As a home-based business owner, you are more than likely self-employed as well, and that can easily complicate the filing of your annual tax returns. The IRS offers a comprehensive overview of what self-employed workers need to know when preparing their taxes.
Set yourself up for success by taking these early steps to create your ideal home office. By dedicating thought and consideration to your workspace, you’re already well on your way to being productive.