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Five tips for setting up a home office for your business

By Laura Sherman | Small Business

A lot of small business owners choose to work out of their home in order to save money. It’s a smart plan, but requires expert organization. If you want to run a smooth operation, it’s important to avoid mixing your personal space and business area. Organize your home office well and your business will flourish.

Avoid interruptions

Constant interruptions will cause you to make errors, get frustrated, take longer to do any task, and will likely affect the overall quality of your work.

It’s hard to avoid interruptions completely, but there are a few things you can do to lessen outside intrusions into your work domain.

Dr. Gloria Mark, Associate Professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, has done extensive studies about work interruption. She has determined that once interrupted it takes an average worker about a half an hour to get back to what they were doing. Although these studies were conducted in large offices, it still holds true that you can waste a lot of time dealing with interruptions.

Ideally, each room in your house should have a purpose. You prepare food in the kitchen, sleep in your bedroom, and work in your home office. If your space is limited, create an alcove within one of your existing rooms, giving you a dedicated space for your business. If you live with others, it’s a good idea to have a door you can close when you work, especially if you need a phone.

Have an alternate phone system

Back-up plans are the hallmark of a successful entrepreneur. Never be caught unprepared and helpless.

If you operate the kind of business that requires a phone, make sure you have an alternative to your cell, just in case there is a problem with your coverage. Weather, billing errors, and other issues can cause delays in service that could cost your small business revenue.

One good option is Skype, which allows you to talk to clients through your computer. If you communicate computer to computer between Skype users it’s a free service, but you also have the option to call their phone for a small fee.

You can also get a dedicated landline. Of course, this comes with a monthly bill, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of spending money to ensure you can always call a client. If you’re on a shoestring budget, stick to your cell phone.

Create systems for efficiency

Well-organized systems help you avoid time-wasting clutter. Focus on these areas to start:

  • Filing: Invest in a small filing cabinet so you can organize your files in a simple way that makes sense for you. The best way to locate important documents is not to file useless papers. Only store the things you’ll need to access later. With a good color-coded system, you should be able to locate documents easily at any time.
  • Papers: Don’t allow papers to pile up on your desk or other surfaces. File them, trash them, or put them in your inbox to complete soon. Inboxes can quickly become clogged with stacks of paper though, so make it a habit to handle each thing as it comes in.
  • Mail: Mail can stack up if not handled properly. It’s best to open each letter as soon as possible, discarding the envelopes and ads immediately in a recycle bin. And when you pay a bill, file the statement immediately.
  • Cables: Wires and cables can get out of control if you allow them to snake all over your small office. One option is to switch to wireless devices whenever possible. If that’s not possible, bind the cables with ties or Velcro straps, so they are manageable and tidy.
  • Desk drawer caddy: Caddies help you organize all your day-to-day office supplies. Avoid keeping your pens, white out, paper clips, etc. scattered over the surface of your desk.
  • Equipment: Your home desk can easily be swallowed by a lot of computer equipment. Put the tower on the floor and invest in a flat screen monitor to save desktop space. Putting your keyboard in a drawer not only saves space, but could save neck, shoulder, arm and back pain.
  • Go digital: Not only is digital organization green, but it also helps you save valuable space. Switch to an online calendar system with built-in appointment or deadline reminders. You can also back up all your important documents online.

Purge the garbage and file important documents

Your office can easily become cluttered, which makes it far less efficient. Take the time to throw stuff away on a regular basis. Pretend you’re moving. Ask yourself, what do I really need and what can go?

Toss all the old magazines, pens that don’t work, duplicate or outdated documents, and broken office equipment. You don’t need them and never will.

Remember to file all the supporting document for your taxes for seven years. And it’s wise to hold onto all your tax returns forever.

Be Frugal

It goes without saying that if you’re starting a small home business then you’re probably working on a tight budget. Setting up your dream home office will put you in debt if you don’t budget well. Planning ahead can save you in a number of departments:

  • Office furniture: Companies are always going out of business, upgrading or downgrading. New desks are expensive, but if you go to your local thrift store or search Craigslist, you can find nice pieces for a song.
  • Get discounts: It never hurts to ask for a better price for any goods or services you might need. Some companies will offer wholesale prices so they can build a long-term relationship with you. And various suppliers will give discounts when you pay with cash.
  • Focus on free advertising: Don’t spend a lot of money on advertising concepts that haven’t proven to be successful. You can waste thousands of dollars that way. Instead, use free or inexpensive techniques that have proven useful to you in the past.
  • Create a cash reserve: When you have a cash reserve you can avoid desperate emergency situations, which are often costly. Give yourself a cushion and peace of mind by putting away money each month. Then don’t touch it!

The biggest tip I can give you is to create good habits from the start. Cluttered spaces, poorly conceived plans, and a huge debt will crash your business before it gets off the ground. Organize your home business well, and you’ll be set for success!

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