This is an excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Homebased Business Handbook by James Stephenson and Rich Mintzer available from Entrepreneur Press .
Equipping Your Workspace
Equipping your home workspace with the furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies that you will need to operate your business requires considering three main factors–business needs, personal comfort, and budget.
The need for office equipment, furniture, technology, and communications varies with the type of business planned. But every business will need at least a few items from each of the five main home workspace categories: furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies. Each of these categories is discussed in greater detail later in the chapter.
The second issue will be comfort, which is of particular concern for home business operators who will be putting in long hours at their desks in front of a computer or on the telephone. You cannot cut corners on comfort. In order to be productive over the long term, you have to be comfortable. In recent years, many new physical ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, have been linked to long hours spent doing repetitive tasks, such as typing at a keyboard.
Therefore, you need to focus on the long-term physical effects of improper furniture and lighting. Ergonomics, the study of the correct positioning of your body while at rest or work, can play a major role in ensuring comfort and maintaining good physical health over the long term. When setting up and equipping your home workspace, you will want to ensure that it is ergonomically correct. To help you plan, you can purchase a book on ergonomics or visit Ergonomics Online, ergonomics.org, which provides in-depth information, links, and resources related to ergonomics.
The third main factor when equipping your home workspace is your budget. Here are five ways a financially challenged entrepreneur can substantially reduce the cost of home office furniture, equipment, computers, and communication products or minimize the amount of money needed upfront:
- Barter. You can barter and trade for office furniture and equipment. For instance, if you operate a painting service, ask local office suppliers if they would be interested in trading office furniture for a paint job. You can also join a local barter club and trade whatever products or services you sell with members who sell office furniture and equipment. BarterNews is an online magazine dedicated to the world of business barter clubs, organizations, and industry information. There are many barter clubs on the web. To locate a bartering exchange group, check out Bartermax , or the International Reciprocal Trade Association. Or simply network with other local business owners and see what you can do for each other.
- Borrow. Create a list of all needed office furniture, equipment, and supplies that you need and then distribute copies to friends and family members. You will be amazed at how many of the things that you need to start and run your business are stored away in basements, garages, and attics, just waiting to be borrowed. Most of your friends and family members won’t mind if you borrow these items. In fact, many will probably be happy just to get rid of them and free up some space for more clutter.
- Buy seconds or floor models. Call around to your local office outfitters and inquire about factory seconds and the floor models they have available. Often you can save as much as 25 percent of the retail price by purchasing seconds with slight blemishes or floor models with nothing wrong other than a few fingerprints and smudges.
- Purchase secondhand. Buy used office equipment and furniture and save as much as 75 percent or even more off the retail price. Good places to begin your search for used office equipment include auctions, business closeouts, newspaper classifieds, garage sales, and retailers that sell secondhand office furniture, equipment, and computers. Also look for businesses that are moving or closing; if you find what you want, you can get great discounts.
- Lease. Take the no-money-down route and lease new office furniture, equipment, and computers. You will have to pay for these items monthly, but you will not be spending capital to buy them, capital that can be used for marketing. Lease payments can be written off taxes and you will have the use of new equipment with full warranties. The downside of leasing is that you cannot count things you lease as assets. You can also rent furniture and equipment. Definitely rent specialized equipment for select jobs as you need it, so that you do not have to spend as much as to purchase it. Be careful when leasing and renting that you do not end up paying more for an item than if you bought it and financed it.
Getting the Office Furniture and Equipment You Need
Every business has different needs for office furniture and equipment. If clients will be visiting your home office, your furniture and equipment will need to reflect this use, both in appearance and function. If you do not have clients visiting your home office, you will have a little more leeway in your equipment and furniture choices. It won’t really matter if the colors are mismatched, if you purchased your desk secondhand at your neighbor’s garage sale, or even if you choose to build a few of the items yourself. All that really matters is that your furniture and equipment do what you need them to do and are reliable and comfortable. So what are the basics that every home workspace needs, regardless of business type?
Desk or Work Station
Depending on the percentage of time you will spend at a desk not working with a computer, you will decide whether you want a traditional desk with a computer on it or a computer table with some desk space. Often, a used desk can serve the purpose. The same holds true with secondhand computer tables, which are often good, low-cost alternatives to new. Either way, the reason you should look for specific computer furniture is because it is designed to be at the right height for computer chairs plus strong and roomy enough to hold computer equipment. Computers have gotten lighter and most chairs are adjustable, making alternatives to computer furniture more feasible than in previous years.
If you need drawers to hold plenty of things at your disposal, but out of site, then by all means find a desk with drawers. If you are comfortable with rolling a couple of filing cabinets under your computer table, than perhaps drawers are unnecessary. Consider that rearranging your workspace is more difficult with older, heavier traditional desks, especially with large drawers that tend to accumulate plenty of junk. Yet some people just don’t feel like they are working if they aren’t sitting at a big desk. Wooden desks often appear more impressive to clients, which may score points for your business.
When buying a desk, check that the drawers have adequate space for your needs and open and close smoothly. Metal suspension rollers last longer than plastic or other alternatives. The wood and the construction will indicate the quality of the desk. Look underneath and see if the quality of the materials is consistent throughout and not just on the surface. For example, if staples underneath are holding drawers together, it is not a sign of quality. Heavier woods are used in the better desks and the construction is more solid. Also, if a wooden desk has rounded corners, it’s more likely a higher-end model. Most office furniture suppliers today sell wooden desks with a laminate finish, which can help the wood resist scratches and dents.
Measure your office space before shopping for furniture, so you will know exactly what will fit. Then, when shopping, measure the height of desks, tables, and standing furniture so you know how much room they allow underneath for filing cabinets or any other type of storage.
Computer desks are created to position the computer at a comfortable height, assuming that the monitor is on a stand. For this reason, desktop computers are preferred for computer desks, since laptops or notebooks can cause back pain if the user is constantly leaning toward the screen. Some people like movable keyboard trays; others don’t care. Again, your preference is what matters. Also, keep in mind that unless you are doing computer programming or similar work exclusively, there will be a need for space to do tasks away from the computer. Many people focus all their attention on the position of the computer and tend to forget that there will be a need for reference books, papers, and a desk lamp. Make sure you leave adequate room for whatever you anticipate needing on the desk–including some open space.
Lastly, take computer wiring into consideration before you make your purchase. Modern desks and computer tables are typically designed for computer wiring. Older desks, however, are not. You will want to position the desk in such a way as to minimize the length of the wires between the desk and the wall. Don’t cut into any older desk that has potential value. It’s easier to hide wiring in some manner, such as taping it to the bottom of the desk.
If your home office is part of another room, you might opt for creating desk space out of an armoire, a piece of furniture with doors that hide drawers or other storage space. Created specifically for home office use, many armoires allow you to have a workspace with shelves, storage, and even a sliding computer keyboard tray in one unit with doors that can be closed when company comes over. Built as work centers, armoires are often equipped with file drawers, adjustable shelves, and nooks and crannies for storing supplies. You also want to look for accommodations for computer wiring, which are included in the newest models.
Countertops or other such flat areas are not usually roomy or sturdy enough to be considered as workstations. Some home offices have counters built around part or all of the perimeter, extending far enough to hold a computer and/or a printer, but needing extra reinforcement to support technological equipment. Cutouts in the back can accommodate wiring and drawers can be built. If you have such counters or workstations extending from a wall, measure carefully for both depth and height from the floor. Sit comfortably and see at what height you would like to be working with your feet on the floor.
If you can splurge on only one piece of office furniture, a comfortable and ergonomically correct chair should be that luxury item, especially if your business keeps you in front of the computer or on the telephone for long periods. I endured many uncomfortable chairs until I decided a few years ago to splurge on a comfortable and high-quality chair for my office. All I can say is that I should have done it 10 years earlier. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day is like running a marathon in sneakers that are two sizes too small; both will leave you in physical agony.
Key things to check are distance from the seat to floor (or adjustable heights), adjustable armrests, and adjustable seating positions. Try chairs out to find one that feels comfortable. You will likely buy a computer chair on wheels, so you can roll it over to a filing cabinet if necessary.
There are plenty of choices when buying filing cabinets, most of which are inexpensive, particularly secondhand. The portable two-drawer cabinets for hanging files are very popular, since you can slide one under a computer table or tuck one in a corner and move it when necessary. In fact, some people roll them into their closets when not using them, as they also fit under hanging clothes.
Three- and four-drawer tower files can obviously accommodate more and usually come with options, such as drawers designed to accommodate CD/DVDs. Lateral filing cabinets will work only if you have enough wall space. The disadvantage is that they are heavier to move and require bending to access the files. An advantage is that if they are a good height you can set fax machine and/or printer on top.
If money is tight, you do not have to invest in a file cabinet for client files immediately. Instead, for about five dollars you can purchase an accordion-style file storage box that can hold up to about 100 documents. That is enough file storage space to get you going, especially if you purchase one for business records and a second for client files. Obviously, as your business grows, you will want to invest in quality cabinets with locking mechanisms.
Bookshelves are also indispensable for the home workspace. In addition to the obvious use of holding books, they can also be used for office supplies, in and out boxes, mail, a radio or CD player, CDs, DVDs, and just about anything else that you need to be easily accessible. There are numerous office supply websites as well as office supply stores in any major shopping area. Ikea is one place to check for shelving if you don’t mind assembling the shelves yourself.
As the years roll on, things may get just a little more out of focus. Natural lighting from windows and skylights is terrific, but you will also need quality electrical lighting, which can make a huge difference in reducing eyestrain and increasing productivity. In addition to bright overhead lighting, also invest a few dollars in a good desk or a clamp-on work lamp that can be positioned to illuminate specific tasks.
The full article here: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207306