A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





Back to Archive Index

Go to

The New Home Office

by Douglas E. Welch

April 21, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

As more and more high-tech workers move into the world of freelancing and short/long-term contracting the importance of a home office is growing. While you might have been able to get along with a slow computer and a low-quality printer in the past, the necessity of presenting a professional image to your clients requires a more extensive office. Thankfully, the introduction of low-cost, high-speed computers, affordable color printers, and high-bandwidth Internet connections makes it easy, if not cheap, to set up a highly functional home office.

First point of contact

One part of the home office that is often neglected is the simple answering machine. Whether you use a local answering machine or external voice mail you must insure that it is reliable. Clients will be frustrated enough in talking to an answering machine. They will be irate if no one picks up the phone at all. In many cases, they won't bother calling back and you will never even know you lost a client.

If you are on the phone for long periods of time, offering telephone support, for example, you will need the ability to ignore call-waiting signals. This would normally mean that the second caller would simply get ring after ring with no answer, though, even if you have an answering machine. A better solution is the voice mail services provided by your local telephone company and call-forward/no answer. This allows your home phone to operate like a company voice mail system, where a call is shunted to voice mail automatically after 3 rings. If you have a pager or cell phone number, provide it via your outgoing message so that clients can contact you at their convenience.

Just the Fax

While email is making great strides in replacing fax transmission it is still necessary to have a fax machine of some sort in your office. If you do not have a lot of outgoing hardcopy faxes you can probably make do with a standard fax modem and software on your computer. This allows you to receive faxes and fax any document directly from your computer. You will want to research local businesses where you can fax hard copy documents, if you must. You need a fallback plan in case you have to return signed documents or other printed material.

If you are using a single phone line for both your Internet connection and receiving faxes you will need to insure that the line doesn't constantly ring busy. With programs such as ICQ or AOL Instant Messenger you can often be connected to the Internet for hours at a time. If clients find it hard to send you faxes then you might have to invest in another phone line or DSL connection to prevent busy signals.


While computers have reduced in cost substantially, the software that you use can still be very expensive. Desktop Publishing packages and Internet tools can still run you hundreds of dollars each. Unfortunately, you can't do your best work without the best tools available. In some cases, a client may even require you use a specific software package. You must figure these costs into your budget. Pirating software packages, especially large and detailed ones, leaves you at a significant disadvantage. You will constantly be using software versions that are one or more steps behind. More importantly, you will have no access to technical support resources. Working on deadline with no support can often mean the difference between success and failure.

You will also need to budget for regular hardware upgrades. A slow computer will hamper your ability to do your work in a timely manner. Long project times mean fewer projects and less income. Don't cripple your ability to become profitable by skimping on computers or peripherals.

Beyond the home office

In some cases, you might find that working out of a home office won't meet your needs. Perhaps your apartment or homeowners group prohibits running a business from your home. Maybe you don't have the space you need away from family or roommates. Some people just feel more productive in an office environment.

There are several ways of gaining office space without putting too large a burden on your bank accounts. You can share office space with a friend who has an empty office available. There are also countless office space rentals that provide receptionist, copying and other office services for a fee. This can give you all the services you need and present a more professional image to your clients.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

Book Recommendation

Browse the WelchWrite Bookstore



Also on