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Taking the Plunge: Running Your Own Small Business From a Virtual Office

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Virtual Office

I read an article recently about how it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to interview job candidates in public places like Starbucks, instead of at their offices as has traditionally been done. Apparently employers feel it lets them see an ‘unscripted’ side of those they are considering hiring and gives them what they feel is a better idea of how those candidates will interact casually with other team members.

As a freelance copywriter, I have held a number of “interviews” (a.k.a. client meetings) at several of local Starbucks locations and I’ll vouch for them being used as a virtual office of sorts. Not having an office of my own to work out of keeps costs down and allows me to get out into the community a bit more. That article got me thinking about how to organize a small business when you’re just starting and specifically, how to make your business real to your customers when you work from home. I’ll offer a few tips here that Mr. Frugal Rules and I have found to be helpful in building positive relationships with our clients and to keep the virtual office environment somewhat sane in our hectic, busy home.

The Benefits of Meeting on Their Turf or a Neutral Setting

 

What is the state of your home or home office at this very moment? Do you have a few dishes in the sink? Some crumbs on the counter? If you have kids like we do, are there toys strewn about? Knicks in tables? Stains on the floor, that try as you may with every product imaginable you can’t quite get out? If you’re like me, your answer to one of these questions is going to be yes. Now, do you want to bring a client back to that setting? I know that I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t feel it’s okay to live in squalor; we have our kids pick up their toys multiple times throughout the day and we do our dishes after every meal but still, it’s our home; we live here AND work here so things get cluttered throughout the day. I prefer to meet a client on a neutral setting or at their office.

The first benefit is that it helps maintain a delineation between my work and personal life; granted it may be thin, but still, the line is there. Second, meeting a client on their turf or at a neutral location like Starbucks or a local diner or even a public library lets you get to know your client better by seeing where he or she works. Third, it just feels more professional. Fourth, it’s safer. Especially when you’re meeting someone for the first time, a public venue in a safe spot surrounded by other people is a good idea and is honestly  just one of those things I think about as a woman.

Using Skype or iChat to Create a Virtual Office

 

In-person client meetings are not always possible. Sometimes scheduling conflicts or geographic separation necessitate an online or phone meeting. Video connectivity tools like Skype, iChat, and GoToMeeting harness the power of the internet and your web cam to create an instant virtual office and make it possible to connect with anyone, anywhere. These tools make meeting clients incredibly convenient because they are generally free and don’t require travel to and from a physical location. Make sure you get a program that has screen share software which will make it easier to collaborate with clients.

My biggest piece of advice here is to set up a virtual office backdrop for any video conversations you have. Think about what your clients see on the walls and in the space behind you when you Skype or iChat from your virtual office. Choose an uncluttered space with a non-busy background so your clients can focus on you and not be distracted by those pictures of your Aunt Edna or your kids’ latest wall art.

Maintain Sanity with a Go-To “Offsite” Workspace

 

When you work at a physical office space distinct from your home, you usually have a quiet place to get your work done. When I worked for my former employer, I had my own office with a door I could shut if I needed a quiet place to concentrate. When you run your own business out of your home, “offsite” is anywhere else you set up shop to get your work done.

A public library, quiet coffee shop, local bookstore, heck even mall food courts are quiet during certain times of the day and all make good virtual office workspaces when you need somewhere to go to crank out your work. Just look for a well-lit place with a good internet connection, power outlets, tables and chairs. You may even be fortunate enough to snag a client who lets you work out of their office from time to time when you need a quiet place to concentrate.

 

If you’re ready to consider taking the plunge into self employment, don’t let lack of a physical office space hold you back. Set up your virtual office and get busy earning income for yourself!

 

Do you run your own business? If so, where have you or where could you set up your virtual office?

 

Photo courtesy of: Mike_Fleming

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

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34 Comments

  • The only official business I am running it my blog. I hope it grows to the point where I need additional help. I really like your idea of using Skype for interviews. I see no reason you cannot just work out of your home and manage your team members via services like Skype or Google Hangout. We have small children also, so it is crazy around here most of the time.

    • Nicole says:

      Yep. Pretty much just find a quiet place and use your web cam or even smartphone to get your business done. Sometimes that place has been outside or in the basement in our home!

  • Well, I work on the blog mainly from home or sometimes a coffee shop for a change of pace. This isn’t my full-time job, though, so where I do it isn’t as important. I should say I have had an interview for an internship at a coffee shop and have seen people conducting interviews there as well. Seems to be pretty commonplace these days.

    • Nicole says:

      I read an article awhile back in USA Today that reported on the fact that not only small business owners but big corporations are using Starbucks’ to interview potential employees because they feel like it allows them to see the person in more of a “natural” environment and gives them a better feel for how they might mesh with their existing team, personality-wise.

  • While I haven’t run my own business before, I have worked remotely for about 8 months, and these rules all apply. I loved going to coffee shops to work because it got me out of the house and interacting with other people. Skype was also a huge help, since it allowed me to be connected to my employer at all times.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks for commenting Jordann. I agree. I love Skype and can’t believe it’s free. It’s such a valuable resource that really makes doing business anywhere with anyone in the world possible, depending on the nature of your work, of course.

  • these are great ideas! I´m not running any business, but my father has been thinking of the idea now that he retires from his 30 year old employment in the oil industry. He still wants to work, but has to go at it in another way, so I´ll definitely share this article with him!

    • Nicole says:

      Oh good and tell your Dad to go for it. We’re so glad we did and in the end, even if it doesn’t work out quite the way he wants it to, I think he’ll be glad he did it rather than just leaving it in the realm of “someday dreams.”

  • We have an office in our home that I use for work. My favorite thing about it is that it has two doors. It’s hard to get anything done when I’m distracted so I go in there when I need to concentrate.

    • Nicole says:

      So, double insulation from outside noise? That’s on the top of my list for Mr. Frugal Rules to budget in….some kind of dedicated office space in our home that we can retreat to when we need somewhere quiet to write or think.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Great stuff here. Office space can be incredibly expensive and really seems unnecessary for many types of work. Having good space at home, separate from children, is really a key part of being able to work virtually as well.

    • Nicole says:

      Yep. It’s funny once you don’t have a desk how you begin to think creatively about where you can get your work done. It opened my mind to a number of places and positions (such as standing or sitting outside in a lawn chair) as opposed to just sitting at a desk. Not having a desk has done wonders for my creativity!

  • Virtual offices are great and sometimes you need to have a space the makes you focus. Remember if you are trying to make whatever into a business you need to treat it like a business. Its great to be able to work in your pjs but after awhile you start watching tv, being on the phone etc.

    • Nicole says:

      Hey Thomas – great reminder about the importance of viewing your work as your job. Depending on your personality and tendencies that may include dressing up if need be to help you remember that you need to be disciplined and focused to get your work done and make money!

  • Alexa says:

    I have a mini office set up at my house, not that I would bring anybody back there though. My last job interview I met my employer for two interviews at two different restaurants. I really liked doing the interviews outside of his office. I was a lot less nervous meeting a neutral place.

    • Nicole says:

      I think interviewing at a restaurant would be fun. I bet it leads to much more natural conversation about work and the particular job you’re interviewing for. What a great idea!

  • Great tip about using any public space as your virtual office–I work better when there is ambient noise, anyway.

    • Nicole says:

      It’s so helpful to have a variety of options for locale when it comes to getting your work done. Sometimes I need complete quiet. Other times, I need ambient noise. Other times I need to go for a run, walk or swim to jog my creative juices.

  • I think meeting at a coffee shop is a great idea. I think it’s good for small businesses and other personal meeting like – real estate agent for example. For a big corporation, it’s probably still better to meet at the office so you can see the office environment.

    • Nicole says:

      I think it really depends on the corporation. If their culture is open enough to let managers determine where they think the best place to conduct an interview is, it may lead to better success in getting the right person hired for their open positions.

  • When I ran my ecommerce business and suppliers wanted to talk with me, I had a shared office space that I rented. I could get a nice, state-of-the-art conference room for only $15/hour and it was very professional looking in a nice building. It was well worth it and it scored me a lot of business. I would have never taken them to my home.

    • Nicole says:

      That’s a GREAT suggestion Grayson! I can’t believe you got a conference room for $15/hour. I need to check that out in our city too.

  • anna says:

    Great post, Mrs. Frugal Rules! I don’t have my own business, but when we interview I agree a space outside of the office helps get to know the personality of the person a lot better since he/she is not as nervous.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks, Anna! I wish my former employers had been more open to interviewing outside of the drab, sterile office we worked in. It might have helped us land a few gems that walked away 🙂

  • Jake Erickson says:

    I don’t currently have a job that needs a home office, but these are good tips. I work best in the comfort of my own home, so I’d probably try to set up a desk there and make sure it is as clean as possible.

    • Nicole says:

      Clean and well-lit. I’ve found that lighting makes a surprisingly big difference in my productivity. For example, I write often in a very well lit room (flooded with natural light). Because of this, I selected a screen for my laptop that has a matte finish so I can make sure I don’t deal with glare (and all the headaches that come with it).

  • We are fortunate in having a large house with a dining room that we use – or Maria uses her office which is also on the ground floor and not too cluttered.. And of course we have all the accoutrement needed including a bean-to-cup coffee machine, internet, printers etc etc.. But if I have to have meetings elsewhere my preferred location is a nice hotel foyer. These often have coffee facilities and if you want to, you can generally rent a meeting room for not a lot.

  • Back when I use to work in financial services this is exactly what we use to do when interviewing new candidates for our office. What we liked about it is that it took the tension off things instead of having them come into our office and making them feel intimidated we talked them in a more neutral location to break them in slowly. It would also give a chance to evaluate them in a more relaxed setting and see if they were a good fit for our company.

  • I don’t own my own business but I know many people who use coffee houses as their meeting place or office away from home. I think it’s a great way to just let loose and like you mentioned to see someone in an environment where their true personality shines. We’ve met our real estate agent at Tim Horton’s, and many restaurants over the years as she keeps in contact with us to know what’s happening in our lives. I’d use SKYPE and like others make-shift offices in coffee houses if I had to.

  • Untemplater says:

    It’s easy to work from anywhere with a laptop and a wifi connection. I personally think it’s easiest to concentrate in a private room without anyone coming and going, but that isn’t always an option.

  • Charlotte says:

    I love meeting at fun lesser known local places. Especially because I can leave the dishes sitting in the sink!

  • I’ve seen people doing interviews at starbucks and the like and I always feel nervous for them. I have a small petsitting business that I do on the side, but so far haven’t needed to hire any employees. If I did I’d definitely want to meet them in a public place. I don’t want them knowing my home address until they are hired and I’ve verified they aren’t a serial killer 😉

  • I tell my husband all the time that I would absolutely kill for a Starbucks. I get so sick of writing in my apartment. Sometimes, I’ll even go to the med school library and sit there with my husband’s friends and do my blog work. Apparently, they are building a coffee shop close to school now, and I hope it’s amazing!

  • I like the idea. Being a frequenter of Starbucks a couple times a month, I can vouch for the offsite office setting first hand. i am not so sure about the real life interaction aspect. But if you are looking for a non-intimidating place to get to know somebody, it sounds like a winner

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