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WORKING FROM HOME


last updated 08/07/2011

Setting up a home-based business can be a challenge, but doing it properly will save you a great deal of time, frustration and money in the long run, says Heather Douglas

Although the word ‘franchise’ conjures up for many the image of big hamburger stores or specialist retail outlets, a surprisingly high proportion of franchises actually involve working from home. In fact, a quick survey of the Directory at the back of this magazine suggests that almost 40% of franchises are either home-based or mobile in such a way that some form of home office is needed for managing the business. When you take into account the fact that the home services companies have the greatest numbers, it is probably true to say that home-based franchisees are in the majority.

When you buy a franchise, every franchisor will train you in the product or service and how to satisfy your customers, and many will also cover the paperwork and management side of running your own business. What they are less likely to cover is how to create an efficient working space at home, and how to develop efficient habits to go with it.

It is actually worth taking some time to establish this right at the beginning of launching your business. As your own employer, you need to provide for yourself a pleasant, healthy and efficient work space, without disrupting the family home too much. If you do it properly, it can save you and your family a lot of time and frustration, and ultimately have a positive effect upon both your enjoyment of your new franchise and its performance.

You will need to spend some time thinking about the physical space you choose to work in, as well as how you can use technology to leverage the advantages of working from home. You'll also need to take steps to lessen some of the frustrations of sharing your home with your work, as well as thinking about the impact on your family, who may unexpectedly find themselves being receptionists or packers, or roped in as free administration or IT support. 

Your franchisor can be a big help here, but perhaps even more helpful will be the other franchisees who can share their own ideas and experiences with you. As part of the research you do before buying the franchise, you should speak to as many franchisees as you can, and try to visit several. How they organise themselves is one of the things you should look out for. You can also find many more tips on the Internet at homebizbuzz.co.nz, a website specifically designed to support self-employed people working from home in New Zealand.

Your Home Office

It’s always wise to demarcate a specific area to work in, and to set it up so you can work comfortably and efficiently without being distracted or disturbed. There’s no rule saying you can’t set up your laptop by a roaring fire in winter, or work in the glorious sun on a late spring afternoon, but having a permanent workspace helps you mentally separate your work from your home life, as well as being more efficient. If your work spreads through the house, your family will probably resent it and you may feel you can never escape it.

Franchises vary, so find out if all your client contact will happen away from your home or if you will have customers coming for meetings or to pick up or drop off work. If you will have visitors you may want a separate entrance, or perhaps you can arrange your office near the front door. Not only will this portray a more professional image, but clients won’t intrude as much on your privacy.

Ideally, the place you choose will be a separate room such as a spare bedroom or study, but we know of some great home offices in rumpuses, laundries or even built into cupboards. Much will depend on what line of business you are in, but you will need a desk and a chair and, almost certainly these days, a computer. For most home offices, space is at a premium and compact multi-purpose furniture is ideal. If you’ll be sitting a lot, do not skimp on your chair. A comfortable, height-adjustable, ergonomic swivel chair on castors and with a good backrest is more than worth the outlay. Make sure your desk and computer are at the right height too. You’ll work more efficiently and happily, and it could save you many lost hours through backache in future.

You will also probably want storage for files, work-in-progress, books, writing equipment and general office paraphernalia. If you will be holding stock, you will need somewhere to keep this - safe, dry and in good order - too. Try to set up your office so what you need most frequently is all within arms’ length, while reference materials and irregularly used items are nearby but not necessarily quite so close. A compact, well-designed space is often the most efficient – think of aircraft or boat galleys.

Getting Wired

Using telecommunications options and technology effectively gives home business operators the ability to compete on an even professional footing with their corporate counterparts. If you have a known-brand franchise behind you as well, nobody need know whether you are operating out of a city office or a shed at the bottom of the garden! The biggest problem with communications is that, when there are so many options, choosing the right mix is quite a challenge. Again, this is where the advice of your franchisor/fellow franchisees will be valuable.

Every business has different needs, but you will almost certainly want your phone where you can reach it readily with your right hand (unless you are left-handed). If you take notes or enter data into a computer while talking, you may want a speaker phone, shoulder rest or headset. A cordless phone may be really useful – combined with a headset, you are free to carry out a variety of other tasks while talking.  The newer digital cordless phones are equipped with headset sockets; these are rather more expensive than standard cordless phones, but have the advantage of a longer range.

 It is helpful to have separate business and home lines, each with a message service or answer phone (many franchisors will insist). This allows you to choose whether to answer an incoming call, or return it at a more appropriate time. If there are small children in your house it also means they can be taught which phone NOT to answer! Several additional services may also be useful: call waiting advises you if another call is coming in when you are already on the phone, call minder will provide an answering service if you choose not to take the call or if your answerphone is already in use, and redirect can automatically transfer calls to another number or your mobile phone.

Bear in mind that if your computer is to be used not just for business information but home use as well, you must use password protection and back-up regularly to avoid unfortunate accidents. Losing your annual accounts because your son installed an incompatible version of Sim City is not conducive to good family relationships...

These days, email is common within franchise systems, and many franchises also have their own intranet – an internal communication system via a secure website. It is also increasingly normal for sales, financial and customer information to be sent between franchisor and franchisee via an internet link, thereby cutting out much of the dreaded paperwork. For this reason, you will also need an Internet connection, together with a professional email address - not Hotmail! Some franchisors offer a domain-based email address to franchisees, which looks more professional and is more convenient. Unless a lot of information is being transferred via the Internet, a normal dial-up connection should be sufficient, but if you do a lot of client research, for example, on the web then a high-speed connection at around twice the price may be worthwhile (if available in your area).

Of course, there's the ubiquitous mobile phone in all its guises. If you are away from your home office a lot, it may be worth choosing options which allow you to access messages, download faxes and retrieve email remotely. Remember, however, that in many franchises (lawnmowing, for example), your customer calls will be handled for you by the franchisor, leaving you free to get on with doing the work which earns your income. 

Sharing Your Home

Sharing your home with your business is not always easy - and don’t forget that other people who live under the same roof will be doing so too. Before you buy that franchise, it’s worth discussing how your business will affect your household’s lifestyle. For instance, what are you wanting to achieve with your business? How many of you are going to work in the business? How will it grow? How will it impact on others living in your home? What benefits will there be for you and for them? What sacrifices may need to be made? Will others be at home when you are working - and if so, what are your mutual expectations? If you have children, will you need to arrange care and/or work flexible hours? What rôles will the rest of your family play in your business? You may find it useful to have cheap labour on hand, but they may not feel the same way.

You will also find it easier to manage if, just as you have a defined working space, you have defined working hours. If your partner or family know that you will not be available during certain hours but that you will be emerging from your office space at, say, 6pm, they will be more likely to respect your space. Remember, though, that it is important to keep these agreements – both for you and for them.

Planning how you - and others in your household - share your home with your franchise will help you tap into all the benefits of working from home, without tearing your (or each other’s) hair out along the way. If you set yourself up properly, it won't be long before you are feeling quite at home with home business.

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