Written by Mark Williams
Are you thinking of starting a business from your home? Maybe you already do. You’re not alone. There are now believed to be some 2.9m home-based businesses in the UK – about 60% of the total UK business population – and together they turnover about £300bn a year (source: Enterprise Nation).
Almost three-quarters of all new UK businesses are started and initially run from the owner’s home. Many wouldn’t have it any other way, with 65% having no plans to move to another base. More than one million of the UK’s home-based businesses have been trading for more than 20 years.
There are many examples of global corporate heavyweights that were started from the flounder’s home or garage (there are many UK success stories, too). In the past decade, many people have started garden shed-based home businesses, it’s not always a spare bedroom or garage. The main advantage of running a home-based business is that it can dramatically reduce your start-up and operating costs.
You can claim allowable expenses for running your business from home, which can reduce your tax bill significantly. This can include a proportion of your: rent or mortgage interest payments; council tax; lighting and heating bills; telephone and broadband; water; and property repairs, etc.
Running a business from your home means you can also wave bye-bye to commuting and the hours of your life it wastes. And you can gain greater flexibility over when you work (in theory, at least). Working from home can make you more productive, as it frees you from the productivity-sapping distractions of other working environments. And you can still employ people (about 300,000 UK home-based enterprises have staff).
There can be downsides to running a business from your home, of course. In terms of both time and space, it can be hard or even impossible to maintain clear lines of demarcation between “business” and “personal”. There can be many domestic distractions to deal with, especially if you live with others or have kids. Unwelcome interruptions can mean you get much less done and feel more pressure as a result.
You can end up working longer hours, because you’re not disciplined enough to “clock-off” at what should be the end to your working day/week. Reminders of your business are always there, which can mean you end up thinking about your business or working for it, when you should be having a break from it doing other things or spending quality time with others. There’s a balance to strike. Working from home alone isn’t for everyone, because it can make you feel isolated and lonely.
How to win
Obviously, you need to be able to run a business from your home (under some rental and mortgage agreements you need permission). And you may have to consider impact on your neighbours (eg noise, deliveries, customers parking outside, etc). Also find out whether your existing insurance covers your business, as well as whether you need to pay business rates.
So, how do you increase your chances of success when running a home-based business?
1. Have a dedicated workspace…
Whether it’s a garage, shed, spare room or part of one, having a dedicated workspace really helps. Once you’re in it, you and others will know that you’re working (and that you shouldn’t be disturbed). Make sure your workspace has more than enough light and fresh air, with a comfortable ambient temperature throughout the year.
2. Get kitted out properly…
Make your working space as productivity-focused as possible. Get yourself a comfortable desk and chair, possibly a filing cabinet to keep your paperwork organised. Explore second-hand options first. Get whatever stationery you need, as well as the communications and information technology required to run your business well. Good broadband and phone reception are essential, of course.
3. Stay focused and well-organised…
There can be many domestic distractions to avoid or overcome when you work from home. Avoid personal phone calls, internet and social media during your working day. Keep your TV switched off. Try to leave domestic chores until after work hours. Realise that every minute wasted is time you’ll need to make up if you want your business to succeed. And just because you’re running a business from your home, doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious or have big plans for the future.
4. Work sensible hours…
Just because you’re working from home and don’t commute, doesn’t mean you should work excessive hours. In fact, it could do serious damage to your business and your own wellbeing. If you need to work harder while establishing your business or during busy periods, fair enough. But make long hours the exception rather than the rule. And, obviously, working from home shouldn’t be seen as providing the opportunity to slack off or work fewer hours. Work hard, but seek to work smarter not longer.
5. Claim your allowable expenses…
As explained previously, you’re allowed to claim for some legitimate expenses that result from running your business from your home. Government website gov.uk explains which allowable expenses you can claim and how.
6. Get out and about…
To mitigate risk of feeling isolated, where possible, work away from your home (eg at a local coffee shop). Go out to meet your suppliers and customers. Go to regular networking events and join networking groups. Sign up to a course to improve your professional skills. Even when you’re working at home, make time to go out for a walk in the fresh air. Get some exercise during you day or after hours and be sure to eat healthily. Take your lunch breaks, don’t just habitually work through them. Whether you run a business from home or elsewhere – you must look after yourself.
Do you run your business from your home? What advice do you offer to others? We’d love to read your tips and comments…
Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, editor, journalist and SME content specialist with more than 25 years’ experience. He has written for The Guardian, numerous leading brands and award-winning magazines and websites. Visit www.markiwilliams.com