Monthly Archives: June 2015

Equipping the Home Office Part 3: Peripheral Vision

A term you don’t hear very often anymore is “computer peripheral,” which is some piece of hardware that attached to the computer to add some kind of additional functionality. Today, you may not need too many of these external devices anymore, especially as computers and mobile devices have absorbed many of these functions. Do you need a dedicated scanner, or can you just snap a picture of something with your mobile phone? Do you need an external hard drive for backup or do you just store everything in the cloud? (We will talk about “the cloud” in a later post.) Do you need an external webcam or does your laptop have one built in? 

Some common categories of external hardware devices you may find useful—or downright necessary—on a daily basis can include:

Wireless Router—This is the device that beams the WiFi signal from your cable modem to the rest of your home. If you have Internet access through your cable company (such as Roadrunner from Time Warner), you will likely have been given a cable modem into which you plug the cable coming into the house. (It can be cheaper in the long run to buy your own cable modem rather than rent them for a monthly fee from the cable company.)  To create a wireless network, a wireless router connects to your cable modem and broadcasts the signal that is picked up by the computers and other WiFi-compatible devices in your home, like iPads, iPhones, etc. If you use Apple computers, the router is called an Airport Base Station and can be purchased from the Apple Store online or offline. (Apple Store personnel are pretty knowledgeable and helpful and can readily answer any specific questions about setting up an Airport network.) If you use a PC that runs some version of Windows, you can buy a wireless router at Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, or just about any other big box retailer. Top brands are Netgear, Linksys, and Cisco. They cost, on average, between $50 and $100.

Printer—Although we print fewer and fewer things in the home these days, a laser or inkjet desktop printer can still serve a useful function, and may be essential depending on your business. If you do freelance graphic design, you may need to proof layouts, and sometimes this is better done in print than via onscreen PDFs.

Copier—Likewise, you may not have great copying demands the way many of us used to; we simply create and copy electronic files. And if you only copy things once in a very great while, you can always avail yourself of he local UPS Store or Kinkos, or even the library. If you still need a substantial number of hard copies of things, you can pick up a small desktop copier in Staples and the like.

Fax Machine—Yes, some people still fax things, although that has been almost entirely replaced by emailing documents or using cloud transfer like Dropbox. And, again, if you only rarely need faxing, there is always the UPS Store or Kinkos. Your need for fax capabilities may be dictated by your clients, one or more of whom may still prefer to communicate this way.

(If you do need copying, faxing, scanning, and printing capabilities, you can purchase all-in-one “multifunction” devices at Staples, Walmart, or online.)

External Computer Storage—An external hard drive is a great place to back up files, and the cost of computer storage is always dropping. In 2015, you can get a 2TB (terabyte) drive for $75. (2 terabytes = 2,000 gigabytes.) However, cloud storage may be a good alternative.

Webcam—Webcams are often built in to most recent laptop models, but if not you may need to pick one up (<$100) if you plan to participate in videoconferencing or Skype. Also, the last few versions of the iPhone, iPad, and other smartphones/tablets have built-in videocameras that will let you videoconference.

Whatever Hardware You May Require for Your Specific Business—A high-end scanner? A professional quality digital camera? High-end video and/or audio capabilities? As we advised in a previous post, buy these items as you discover you need them.

Equipping the Home Office Part 2: OK Computer?

After furniture, the second most important business investment is the brain of the operation: the computer.

It’s crucial that you get a separate computer for your business, especially if your home computer is shared with other members of the family. You don’t want to fight with others for accessibility, or risk a family member (and not just a child) damaging the computer, or accidentally deleting something they shouldn’t. Also, do you want family members playing around with your business tax records on the computer? There are ways around this (having separate password-protected user accounts on the same computer), but having a separate computer would be best. A laptop would be the preferable to a desktop tower (and tower PCs are becoming almost as quaint as those old room-sized mainframes from the 1960s and 70s), as the laptop gives you portability if you need to work remotely.

Depending what it is that you do, it may even be possible to skip a computer entirely and rely on a tablet—or even an iPhone. We will look at mobile devices in a later post, but it is entirely possible that our “computer” may in fact be your phone as well.

Equipping the Home Office, Part 1: Three Chairs for Furniture!

In past posts, we have been looking at where in one’s home to set up a home office. Now that the physical space has been identified, it’s time to fill it up with stuff. So the next series of posts will look at some common home office “equipment” options: furniture, hardware, and software. One caveat at the outset though: don’t feel, the need to go on a big shopping spree and pick up every item at one time. There are some essential items—desk, chair, computer—but other items may be less important. Prioritize items as you go and invest in items as you need them. You don’t want to pick up 20 boxes of staples only to find that you never actually staple anything. That’s a minor office supply investment, but the idea can be scaled up accordingly.

So, first up: furniture.

When setting up a home office, don’t skimp on office furniture. Specifically, invest in a good desk. Try to avoid that unassembled particle-board furniture you can get on the cheap in office superstores. There was a time when it was of decent quality, but over the past decade it has declined significantly. It also does not lend itself to disassembly and reassembly if, for example, you move. (Moving companies also make customers sign waivers absolving them of responsibility for damage to particle-board furniture.) The same goes for bookshelves. Cheap shelves can develop a pronounced sag, often in a very short period of time, and eventually just collapse.

As for chairs, office superstores offer many options in a wide price range, but be sure to try them out first. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that chair, so make sure that it is both ergonomic and comfortable.

Don’t overlook used desks and shelving found at estate sales, going-out-of-business and liquidation sales, and even on Craigslist. Used furniture dealers are also worth checking out. Depending on your budget, you can also buy high-quality modular furniture online or offline.

Many furniture stores now have sections for home offices since working at home has become more common. Many furniture stores also now have home office departments, so don’t just look at what the office superstores have to offer. Taft Furniture  and Winners Only are two stores with which we have had good experiences.

Good Help Is Hard to Find

If you do find that you need to bring outside help into your home-based business, where do you find it?

Start with family and friends. Is there a niece or nephew, or an in-law, or a friend that could use a few extra bucks? If they fit the skill set that is required for what you need them to do, that can be an option. But be careful. If the working relationship doesn’t work out it may damage a personal relationship. So while one’s own social circle can be a good employment pool, it may be best to hire a stranger.

A good alternative would be the Career Services office of a nearby college or university, which often posts jobs open to students. Just be sure you are very specific about the type of experience you need. If you require that an employee know a certain piece of software—Photoshop, Excel, etc.—be sure you spell that out. Also find out what the going rate for what you require is (Career Services can help with that) and don’t be shy about offering a buck or two above that. Very often you get what you pay for.

Speaking of students, if you need access to expensive online data sources and other materials, a student can be an excellent resource for doing research. Academic libraries often carry materials unavailable at a public library (business and other databases), and while they are sometimes available to the public, non-students/faculty frequently lack access. Either way, you can meet your student researcher at the library, plan out the project, and let them do all of the grunt work for you. Look for students who require little direction and are self-motivated.

Temp agencies can be an effective source for more or less clerical employees—transcription, word processing, etc.—but be sure that candidates meet the skills specifications you lay out beforehand. It’s better to not have someone than to have someone who is constantly asking questions they should know already (“what happens when I press CAPS LOCK?”). Temp agencies do not necessarily like sending people to home offices, however, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

There are other concerns, as well. One of our female colleagues has a home office and while she was married with a schoolage child, she worked home alone during the day. When she was looking for an in-home-office part-time employee, she was leery of hiring a male.

Regardless of whom you hire, there has to be a very high level of trust on both sides of the relationship.

Intruder Alert!

As your home-based business grows, you may find that you need additional help. You may need someone to take over administrative and other “grunt work”—getting the mail, text or data entry, and so on—but may also need extra staff to handle higher-end functions of your business, such as a second graphic designer, a research assistant, a copywriter, and so on. It is also not uncommon these days to bring in additional staff or interns to do social media updates.

One way of handling this is to simply have the additional staff person working out of their own home, and schedule in-person meetings once a day, once a week, or as needed. As long as the additional person has his or her own computer and whatever other resources may be needed (appropriate software, e.g.), they can work wherever they like. And if you have fears that they will “slack off” if they work at home, just remember that you are in the same boat! (Also feel free to give them a copy of our book or a link to this blog.)

Sometimes, though, you need to bring the person in-house—and by in-house we mean “in your house.” The next couple of posts will offer some guidance if your circumstances require additional staff.

Together But Apart

There are times when two members of a household are in separate and distinct home-based businesses, having no shared tasks. Managing time to be with other household members is still needed, and creating a schedule for that is important. When you’re working in the same business, the tasks of the day can determine the availability that each of you have. When you’re working in different businesses, it’s not always possible to be so flexible—and you may not even have ay idea of each other’s schedule.

It’s very helpful to keep three calendars, and it’s not as hard as it sounds. We suggest keeping online calendars for each other, using a resource such as Google Calendar, where each person can see the time obligations of the other. (If you are a Mac user, the iCal program can be used to display different, color-coded calendars. These calendars can also be synced to everyone’s mobile device.) There should also be a family calendar where school events, doctor appointments, sports commitments, home repair appointments, vacations, birthdays, and other social events can be kept. (Many people find the smartphone app Evernote to be quite useful for these purposes.)

It’s also helpful to keep a whiteboard in a place where it can be easily seen. Each person should take one side of the board (left and right or top and bottom) and post key appointments, especially mutual ones, as a reminder, or to leave messages for each other as needed.

Two home offices is not a big challenge, though it may seem that way at first. Feeling your way through the first few weeks will have its ups and downs and issues. Everyone develops schedules and rules that make it work. We have known many couples who work at home in separate businesses and have been very pleased with the results financially and in their relationships.

Be sure you have non-work time, both together and alone. Whether you are in the same business or not, work can consume you and dominate your time together. It’s helpful to set a rule that business discussions won’t be had at certain times of the day unless absolutely necessary. There’s a time and place for everything, and getting away from business, just like coming home from work at the end of the day, is important.

Up next week: intruder alert! Hiring outside help.

The Ties that Bind (and Gag)

(Credit goes to the late, great Erma Bombeck for that title!)

What happens when you’re working at home productively, and then suddenly, your spouse or significant other decides—or is forced—to work at home as well?

The Webbs have worked together almost since the beginning of Dr. Joe’s business. Aside from the usual jokes about “we can’t work together because we’ll end up killing each other” before they started, they actually found great convenience in taking turns with errands and each having “alone time” with their son when he came home from grammar school.

One of the challenges was in summers, when their son was home. He, too, had work assignments, where no electronic entertainment was allowed, but he had to read or keep fresh with math or science workbooks for one hour a day when he was young, and later two hours as he got older. This allowed the Webbs to have work time together for the tasks that needed their mutual attention. They also traded off evening time for quiet work in the summers for a couple of days a week.

Til Death Do You Part?

In many—or perhaps even most cases—we will be working in our home offices, and at home in general, by ourselves. However, what if your spouse or significant other also has a business at home, or works in your business? Sometimes one household member has an office at home, and other finds him- or herself needing to do the same thing. We’ve mentioned in the past that working at home requires finding a new rhythm to worklife, and that rhythm is built on finding the best productive times of the day for yourself and managing the daily home patterns of others.

When a member of the household also finds themselves in a similar situation, those best productive times of the day are the ones that are in the most jeopardy. The one advantage is that in the times when other family members return to the house after school or their outside obligations, you can engage in tag-team time management. That is, one can take turns with the other home worker in defending the private work time of the other.

We’ll explore what we mean in more detail in next week’s posts.

Get Out of the Office Revisited, Part 5: Regus

If you need to have out-of-home meetings with clients or colleagues, and you need a really professional location, you can actually rent corporate meeting space from a company called Regus. Regus has a wide variety of services for start-up businesses, but for our purposes here, they have facilities around the country and rent out executive offices and meeting spaces either on a long-term basis, or in fractions of a day. They aren’t everywhere, but their website lets you search by ZIP code for the location nearest to you. You can book a room for up to 50 people, and they offer boardrooms, classrooms, theaters, even a “cabaret.” If you really need to convey a professional or corporate appearance, Regus is a solid option. An alternative to Regus is eOffice.