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
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
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
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: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org