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7 Tips for Creating a Home Office

by Jeff Wuorio

For many home-based entrepreneurs, a home office goes where a home office happens to fit - crammed into a closet, dumped on the dining room table, wherever.

But, even if your options are limited to crevices that would make Stuart Little feel claustrophobic, it's still important to bear in mind that where you place your home office can play a pivotal role in the fortunes of your business.
Here are some ideas to bear in mind when choosing the ideal home office location:
1. Legal compliance. Before you map out any prospective home office, first make certain that the home office you have in mind is, in fact, legal where you live. In many communities, it's forbidden for customers to visit a home office. In others, you can't employ any outside help. So check to be sure that there are no legal constraints on the sort of operation you plan to establish. Of course, you can always try to run things on the sly, but one visit from a code enforcement officer can mean an abrupt and unpleasant shutdown. (And if you've got unfriendly neighbors, the chances of this are higher than you may think.) I wouldn't do it.

2. Think about it when you're buying or renting. Admittedly, inking a rental deal or laying out cash for a new home isn't high on many people's pleasure barometer. (I, for one, plan to be carried out feet first from where I live now.) However, when you're shopping, add potential office space to what may already be an expansive wish list. Check for spare bedrooms, roomy basements and other areas that might serve as a suitable work environment. Scope out power outlets and other necessary accoutrements, particularly in older homes that may not be outfitted as well as newer structures.

3. Think about the future. When considering office space, don't limit your thinking merely to the here and now. Estimate where you might be in a few years time and how that office space could handle whatever changes occur. For instance, if your spare bedroom has a good-sized walk-in closet, picture built-in shelves to accommodate future record storage needs. "It's always essential to consider the future," says Jeff Zbar, home-office authority and author of "Home Office Know-How." "Look it as it is now but also think about what it could be."

4. Think about family ties. I covered the issue of kids and home office in an earlier column, but the topic of kin and creativity bears revisiting. Think carefully about your office and how it may be impacted by nearby family. If your children are like mine - on some days, a 757 on takeoff sounds like a ceiling fan on the comparative racket scale - consider where you can place your office so as to minimize noise and the potential intrusion on business conversations. "I consider a home office's No. 1 power tool to be a door that closes," says Zbar. "If you're trying to be as professional as you can, you don't want to take the chance that someone on the phone hears your kids yelling or the dog barking."

5. Think about the climate. Don't overlook the issue of where you happen to live in deciding where to place your office. For instance, if yours is a balmy, summer clime, an office with direct southern exposure may be better suited for bagel baking rather than word processing in the late afternoon. By the same token, an area of the country that receives a great deal of rain may make a basement office unsuitable, particularly if you have a great deal of electronic equipment that's easily fried by copious moisture.

6. Consider safety and traffic issues. This is particularly critical if you receive customers or clients at your home business. When deciding the best spot for your office, think about where they will have to walk from their point of entry to where you'll address the business at hand. In my case, not only are there parts of my house that (ahem) don't exactly exude a professional persona, there are certain parts of my home that I would rather a stranger simply not see. "It's important to consider safety; how many paces is it from your front door to where you're going and what will customers see along the way," says Zbar. "Not only safety, but think about the impression you're offering by what they see."

7. Don't be afraid to admit that it might not work. It's a bitter bite of reality for an entrepreneur intent on a dream home office, but the fact is not every house or apartment is suited to productive workspace. No matter if there's simply inadequate room or what's available isn't going to jibe with those nearby - be they family or roommates - don' try to carve out the impossible. Don't be gun-shy about recognizing that a home office simply isn't going to work - at least for the time bring - and start making alternative arrangements. "Look into subletting an outside space or some other deal," says Zbar. "It may just be the case that your house simply isn't going to make a home office happen."

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