Not everyone is blessed with a large home to start their business in. When I dreamed up my original business plans, I worked primarily in our bedroom and a local café. I set my desk up by the window once the baby moved into her own room. Although it was cramped, I had a beautiful view and it was quiet after everyone had gone to sleep. (I’ll admit those were the days when Climbing Dad spent time sleeping on the couch. So, I guess our living room became a semi-bedroom.)
The best part of this arrangement is that I set up my cutting station in our hallway. Yes, I handcrafted my first stationery sets on the landing of our very long stairwell. At least there was a window.
To me, it didn’t matter what space that we lived in. Success was not an option. I was going to make it no matter what. This positive mindset made it possible to spend many long days huddled over my hallway cutting board.
Eventually, we moved to a bigger space. And what I discovered was that we really couldn’t afford it. Space is wonderful, but paying all of your bills on time is even more awesome.
This was when we made the hardest decision of our lives. We admitted that moving was the worst thing we ever did financially. We needed time to heal and build back up our savings. So, our family moved back to our small condo. We arrived one April day with two small children, a handmade business and way too much stuff to fit. You couldn’t even walk in our hallway – as discovered when our old neighbors came by to welcome us back. I waved over piles of boxes. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking.
When we returned to the condo, I mapped out a corner section of our living room for my office space. The kids were a bit older now. I wanted my work space in the same place that they played.
Since I spent so much of my work time hand cutting invitations and notecards, I had my desk and cutting area all in the same location. It felt like my business was finally transforming into something that could grow.
Office spaces are important. They can validate you and make you feel like your dreams are really coming true.
But for many small business owners, money is tight the first few years (sometimes beyond) and locating the perfect location for your business can be out of the question.
Also, depending on where you live, renting a space outside the home can be very expensive. We lived in a city with high rents and I started my business before co-working was popular. Unless you have a huge investment or book of business when you start out, you probably want to avoid this extra cost.
To solve these problems as newbie small business owners, we turn to our homes for space. Many times our house tends to be on the smaller side. Your house also has many different functions – a place to sleep, eat, spend time with family and entertain.
But, as I’ve learned, size doesn’t really matter. Cash flow does. Especially when it’s tight and you’re just getting started. The truth is that your office space doesn’t have to be big when you start out, just adequate.
But how do you figure out the perfect place in your home to put your office space, especially when you might already be battling a space issue with your family. Here are some ideas for locating the perfect office space in a small home.
A place to share
You might not have a room with a door to set aside for your office, but there could be a room with a door that you could share. Think about a space in your home that might be collecting dust. One that isn’t used every day – a guest room, library or living room.
Remember, you don’t need an entire room. There might be a corner or section of the space that you could put your work area into.
We had a friend who shared his office with the guest space. He would just become more mobile (like take his laptop to the kitchen) when they had family and friends visit. Sharing space also makes your home work harder for you, which is a win for all.
If you’ve noticed the design trend of today, many newer homes have very large, open rooms instead of many small ones. This is great for big gathering spaces, but if you want to use the room for multiple purposes, it can get difficult.
Consider taking a big room – such as a open concept living or family room – and partitioning off a section for your office space. A configuration like this is perfect if you have small children. You can be right within arm’s reach when they play. (On the downside, this might get too noisy…)
Have you heard of a she-shed? There’s a State Farm commercial I heard on the radio recently where the woman’s she shed gets burned down. They’re really becoming a thing if State Farm is using it in their marketing.
A she shed is a woman’s version for a man cave. It’s a space, usually about the size of a larger shed, placed outside the home that can be transformed into a gorgeous studio/office space.
This concept, although you might not want to call it a she shed, is the perfect solution is you don’t have room for an office inside your home.
If your backyard seems too small for an extra structure, you could consider using your garage. I know what you’re probably thinking. But where am I going to put our cars? Admittedly, this only really works if you don’t need the space for your cars.
A wedding invitation designer I read about recently set up shop in her parents’ large garage space. She renovated it as her living and studio space with a place to rest, entertain friends and bring clients for design consultations. It was the perfect solution to have a place to work, live and play all at the same time.
I always thought these work spaces would be quite romantic. You never know, there could be a perfect space waiting right outside your door. And you still get to go to the office every day.
The space you really need
Even though many of us might dream of those new build homes with the office space partitioned off as a separate room, your home might not provide that much space. That’s okay. You probably don’t really need that much office any way.
Before selecting a space, think about how much room you really need to get your work done and what kind of work you will be doing. If you’re a painter, you might need access to a sink for washing brushes. A woodworker might make a big mess with power tools and a garage space works best.
As a stationery creator, my biggest need is a printing and cutting area. This has been easy to include in any of the homes that we’ve lived in – especially when I’ve gotten really creative.
Whatever your needs are, find an office space in your home that fits all the functions of your business and is comfortable. Just be realistic about how much space you really need.
Split it up
Depending on the size of your space and the work you do, you might not be able to complete all of your tasks in one location. When I first started my stationery shop, my cutting board was too big to fit in our bedroom. So I found a cabinet and stuck it in the hallway. Luckily, I didn’t have a lot of orders back then, but it gave me a light and airy space to work during naptime when I did. I would also move the cutting space to the dining room table when I needed to. This let me watch the kids while I worked.
If you have multiple tasks that need to be done everyday, consider splitting them up. You could have your computer space in one room, but a place to handcraft products in the garage. Or move your shipping station somewhere near the front door for easy access to the post office.
Whatever you choose, don’t feel like you have to set everything up in one location. Also, having different places to work is good for your mental energy and can make you more creative.
Consider going somewhere else
If you find that you’re not getting that much work done at home, check to see if your community has a co-working space. Co-working is a great go to option for work at home creatives and other contract workers. It gives you a reasonably priced office space outside of the home.
The nice part is that all of these workers have formed a little working community – reminds me of a working commune. They help each other, share leads and create an inspired working space that you might not get spending all of your time at home.
Co-working might be a great option if most of your work is on the computer. I plan on checking out our local co-working spaces later this year. I love the idea of having a space I can go work out as I please with little expectations.
Don’t worry about it
If you don’t have the perfect office space at first, don’t fret about it. No business starts up with an exquisite office space. My old boss started his consulting firm in the back of a cafeteria food court. Amazon, Apple and Disney were also started in garages as well as a bunch of other famous start ups.
Especially today, just because you’re starting a business doesn’t mean you need an official office space. It’s just like your newborn doesn’t need a room to his or her own when they come home from the hospital.
I would actually put office space up there as one of those things that you don’t actually need when starting a business. A local café, your nearby library and maybe even a park bench can work for those first weeks and months. The key is to start your business, not worry about the space you’re spending time doing it.
Although office space might seem important at first, creating an amazing business foundation is more important. It doesn’t matter where you set up shop – just that you do.
Whether in a garage, a room in your home or local co-working space, establishing yourself as a business is the key to your success.
In our new home, my office is tucked into the front living room. I transformed the space into an art studio and my office became a part of it. I love it because the kids can work on art, I can work on art and I also a place to work where I am in the thick of family life. It’s what works for me.
Also, before you do too many renovations to a space, make sure you know how you want it to work for you. I’ve made changes to the studio, big changes, only to realize that wasn’t how I wanted it after all.
Setting up the space takes a lot of work, so take your time and do it right. Your perfect office space will come with time.