Home offices are great: you can roll out of bed and start working in a matter of seconds. There are some businesses that can grow and flourish from a home office for their entire period of operation—but there are some that need bigger spaces or some distance to move beyond a certain level.
Telling the difference can be tough. As a small business owner, it’s always preferable to avoid spending money when you don’t have to, which can certainly include renting space elsewhere. But if staying in your home office is stunting your business’s growth, the benefits will likely outweigh those costs. Keep a close eye on your business and if you see any of the signs listed below, start considering whether it’s time to start scouting space elsewhere.
1. You know your business is violating some zoning laws.
Small business owners get away with a lot, when we’re working in the privacy of our own homes. Most cities have fairly strict laws about what sorts of businesses can operate where, which almost certainly cover the home you’re working out of. Signage, the percentage of your home used for business, the materials that you store in your home and many other factors can impact whether you’re actually in compliance with with local zoning laws. While I would never recommend violating the law, it’s more of a priority to find space outside of your home if you’re doing anything that could irritate your neighbors—the people who are most likely to report any zoning violations.
2. Your business has taken over your entire home, or at least most of it.
It’s one thing for your business to require some extra space, provided your home has it. But if you can walk into any room in your home and find something related to your business, you may need to rein things in or move out, if only so you maintain some living space, as well as some working space. It’s a subjective concern, of course: what seems overwhelming to one person is fine for another. But, assuming you don’t live alone, make sure that anyone (child or adult) that you share your home with is comfortable with how much room your business takes up. If they feel things are getting out of hand, take those concerns seriously.
3. You have employees or customers who need to come to your place of business.
There are many home-based businesses that can be accommodating of the occasional visitor, but if you notice that you’re needing to welcome people into your home on a regular basis, it’s time to start looking at taking them elsewhere. Part of that is due to the reality that little else annoys neighbors the way that taking up all the nearby parking can, but also that having a professional / personal split can be important. Clients, in particular, tend to take businesses more seriously when they view them in a professional setting, rather than in the spare room of the owner’s home. But your own preferences may also be a factor: for some people, having constant traffic to your home can be wearing. Just having to keep your home clean enough to have people in and out of can be a tough requirement to add to a business owner’s workload.
4. You’re having trouble claiming the home office tax deduction.
Claiming the home office tax deduction is tricky, especially since you have to be able to declare that a given space is used only for your business and not for anything else. Just how much of an impact that deduction has on your taxes depends on how large a space in your home you’re using for business purposes, but every little bit tends to improve the tax situation. But you can also write off the rent for a space for your business outside your home on your taxes—and the process is much easier. That may not be enough to justify making the leap, but take the time to run the numbers.
5. Little ones are in the picture—or about to be.
Having an in-home office can be a major advantage from the point of view of a parent: you can (theoretically) reduce your childcare costs by multi-tasking and you’re right there if you’re needed. But the reality is that running a business in the same place your kids are playing is incredibly tough, especially when they’re too young to understand what’s going on. Even having just a small office that you can leave the house for when you’re not the only one responsible for the little ones can dramatically improve just how much you can get done over the course of a work day. No amount of sound-proofing can keep kids from intruding on your work if you stay in the house: a good parent won’t let work get in the way of solving a child’s problem.
6. You’re doing anything except office work in your home and your business is already growing.
A house or apartment just can’t offer adequate retail or manufacturing space to a growing business in most places. You may be able to get a good start on producing and selling products out of your home, but the writing is on the wall: sooner or later, you’re going to need the right space for your business. Moving those parts of your company into the appropriate buildings may even be a matter of safety for your family and your customers.
7. If you just keep running up against the constraints of working out of your home, look at moving your office into a new space.
A home office is limiting by its very nature: even if you manage to take over a whole house and devote it to the operations of your company, you will hopefully some day need even more room. It’s best not to wait until your home is bursting at the seams with the material and people your company needs to move forward. If you’re running into small situations that show you’re starting to outgrow your home business, it’s time to start looking at your budget and what you can do to make the move—so that you’re already in your new space before cramped quarters have a chance to stunt your growth.
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