By Nick Birtwistle, Small Business and SME Director at Vodafone UK
Is your home also your office or is your office also your home? A survey by Direct Line for Business last year revealed that eight million people in the UK are operating as an online business from home. This covers a wide range of business models, basically everything from a techy start-up to a financial consultancy, or to someone selling hand-made bracelets on Etsy. One thing they all have in common is that, to be successful, they need to be managed seriously and efficiently.
Being home certainly has its advantages, but you need to ensure you don’t get penalised by the perception of not being a real business or for your tendency to procrastinate working on that business plan. We can’t force you to sit down at your desk and work for eight hours straight, but we’ve put together seven top tips on how to set up tech in your home office.
1. Act like an office
It might sound obvious, but it may be difficult to distinguish personal time from work time when your home is your office. To help separate the two, set up a different landline number, mobile device, email and VoIP account dedicated to just your business to simplify your working day and to be able to switch off when you decide to. If you use social media as your main contact with customers, make sure to list your hours so that your customers know not to expect a response in the middle of the night or at weekends. But equally, you can use the flexibility offered by having a home office to be more agile and responsive than larger competitors. You might have clients located on a different continent and the right set up will allow you to not miss that important call.
2. Choose your equipment wisely
Desktop or mobile? Tablet, phablet or phone? It goes without saying that smart devices are a god-send to the busy entrepreneur and home office worker. Although you're not commuting far, having a connected device while out at meetings or out and about is crucial to any business. Make sure to get the right equipment to fit your business needs and usage. If you’re always out visiting clients, a desktop is probably not the best option; a light powerful laptop will be your ideal companion.
3. Get a landline – or a ‘virtual’ landline number
Every business owner knows that a business email is a necessity nowadays, but what few realise is the importance of having a landline. Customers want to be able to reach you through a number that is connected to your business, especially if they want to get in touch to resolve an issue. A landline gives credibility to your business and gives customers peace of mind that they aren't just calling someone sitting at home in their pyjamas (even if they are). You can opt for a virtual landline that will mean you can pick up both mobile and landline calls and voicemails from anywhere on your mobile.You can add business partners or employees as you expand, setting up hunt groups that will transfer calls to the next person if you’re unable to answer. This ensures a client’s call always reaches someone.
4. Stay connected on the go
One perk of working from home is being able to pop out to the supermarket or run a quick errand like going to the post office. Mobile broadband dongles and mobile Wi-Fi devices are a great way to stay connected while on the go so you can respond to emails while taking a break from the home-office or in a meeting at the local coffee shop.
5. Sharing is caring
Getting a file sharing service is cheap (and sometime free) and is a great way of backing up work and files. Cloud-based storage systems such as Google Docs and Dropbox are a way to manage and share information between you and your co-workers without having to set up a complicated IT system. Plus you’ll be sure that you won’t lose your data because of faulty equipment, helping to secure your business.
6. Face-to-Face is important
Working from home doesn't mean you can't have quality face time with your co-workers and business partners. If you’re based in different areas and can't meet them in person, try to Skype or Google Hangout to keep the communication flowing.
7. Show up and stay focused
If you're not naturally a disciplined person, it may be difficult to make that transition from working at an office with regulated hours and managers breathing down your neck. There are many apps and tools online that you can use (often for free) to stay productive and organised such as Evernote, TripCubby and Anti-Social. And most importantly, make sure you have a desk space that is dedicated just to your business to help separate your workspace from your home space.