It’s estimated that by 2020 over 6 million people will be working at home in the UK. Some will be employed by large companies, but the majority are expected to be self-employed sole traders. If you decide to use your home for work, whether it’s the kind of work you already do for someone else, or a new business idea that may involve others, you need to prepare thoroughly.
Making The Decision
Be honest with yourself
Working at home can be lonely. It can also become addictive. Have you got what it takes to survive? Try to answer the following questions honestly.
- Could you cope with not having anyone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, or to put things into perspective if something goes wrong?
- Would you miss the social life of colleagues?
- Could you motivate yourself without a manager to give you targets and deadlines?
- Do you have the self-discipline to make yourself work, even if the sun is shining?
- Equally, would you be able to cut off mentally at the end of the day?
- Can you be organized and keep your work separate from your living space?
- How well would you cope with financial insecurity?
- Could you say ’no’ to a client or customer, because the work would overstretch you?
- Will you be able to earn enough?
You should feel confident in all these areas before you start on the practical preparations for working at home.
Will You Be A Nuisance Or Break Any Rules?
If you plan to work at home, you have to be careful that you won’t fall foul of the law or upset your neighbours. In general, if you’re engaged in a quiet, desk-based activity, no one is going to mind. But you may find that the terms of your mortgage or lease specifically exclude you conducting any business that creates noise, makes a mess, or involves clients’ cars or large delivery vehicles parking in your street. And if you do cause disruption, your neighbours may complain to the local authority, which can take steps to limit what you do.
Deciding where to work
If you are going to function well, you need a proper space in which to operate. It may seem at first that all you need is a desktop for your computer, or whatever major equipment you require for your business, but in reality you need much, much more so if you’re starting from scratch, overestimate your needs.
Whatever your business, try to establish a reasonable-sized area to work in, with enough storage space so that the things you need are close to hand. It also helps, psychologically, to keep everything associated with work separate from the rest of your home: this can make it quicker to settle into a work frame of mind and, equally, allows you to get away from it all at the end of the day. If you can’t shut a door on your workspace, consider putting up a curtain to hide desk and shelves, so you don’t feel work is hanging over you.
In deciding where to work, and depending on what you do, you may need to consider some of the following.
- Changing or combining the function of rooms to create a dedicated workplace. If you can clear away your things completely when your work is done, a room that isn’t used much a dining room or spare room could double as a workspace.
- Ensuring there is enough natural light and ventilation especially if you’re thinking of putting a desk on a landing or in an area under the stairs.
- Installing extra shelving and other storage, preferably some that is fireproof.
- Fitting up a basement, attic, or outbuilding. Get estimates for how much this will cost and make sure there would be sufficient heating. If your business is noisy for instance if you are a composer or a machinist you might consider soundproofing.
- Providing safe storage facilities if your work involves hazardous materials.
- Providing parking facilities if customers will be visiting.
- Extra plumbing – for instance sinks or a toilet if you are offering treatments or physical therapy. You may need a special power supply for machines, or you may have to make structural alterations to install and accommodate heavy equipment.
- Access for deliveries, if you are likely to need regular supplies for your work.
- Extra insurance- If you are investing in expensive equipment, for example, your insurer could insist on extra locks, security lights, or an alarm.
Basic Forward Planning
It would be rash to contemplate starting a business at home without the finances to tide you over the early stages as you get yourself established. These could be savings, or a loan, or an overdraft facility. When working out your financial needs for the first year, take into account not just your usual bills but also items that you may not have had to purchase before, such as special insurance, licences, maintenance and repair of equipment, and so on. You also need to take into account the fact that your heating, lighting, and phone bills are likely to be higher if you will be at home all day.
Once you’ve worked out your various commitments, you’ll be able to work out how much you need to earn. Pricing your product or service may be a difficult task and you’ll need to take into account what the competition, if any, are charging or what the target market for your goods or services is prepared to pay. You also need to take account of the fact that there may be periods when you have no work, can’t work, or want to go on holiday (although you may have to go without holidays until you’re safely established).
Market research is a key part of your preparation. You need to be confident that there will be enough demand for Whatever product, service, or skills you hope to sell. It’s also advisable to have some customers or potential customers in your sights when starting out, and to be prepared to find the next wave.
Last but not least, inform your local tax office. Both tax and National Insurance are now dealt with by the Inland Revenue, so you only need to register your self-employment once.