Do I need an office if I’m self-employed?

You’ve decided that self-employment is for you, and you know what the world needs. Now it’s time to get yourself established. Where’s the best place to work? Is working from home a good idea? Or should you rent an office? And what about those fancy new co-working spaces where the cool kids hang out?

In this post, I’ll cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of working from home, using a co-working space, or renting an office.

Working from Home

Many freelancers opt to work from home for reasons of cost and convenience. Unless you have some space and privacy, though, it’s not always the right solution.

Advantages

  • Low or no cost. You can even claim some of the costs of using your own home as a business premises
  • No travel expenses or commuting time (unless the stairs are especially congested in the morning)
  • You don’t have to share your loo with anybody (apart from family members)
  • It’s easier to stay on top of domestic tasks, such as laundry and child-wrangling

Disadvantages

  • You might not have enough space. Working on the corner of the dining table isn’t ideal and almost certainly not good for your back
  • It’s harder to separate life and work. You might find you spend a chunk of the day taking in parcels, running errands, and deflecting chuggers.
  • If you need to meet clients regularly, you might not want them coming to your home (that could involve very high standards of housework).
  • Working on your own all day can be isolating.

Renting a desk in a co-working space

This is an increasingly popular option, with co-working spaces springing up in most cities and many large towns. Whether it suits you depends on the type of work you do.

Advantages

  • Gets you out of the house and maintains a separation between life and work
  • Forces you to get dressed and leave the house, rather than sitting there in your dressing gown all day
  • You’ll meet other people – potential collaborators, clients, and friends. There might be monthly networking events, too.
  • You often get access to facilities such as fast broadband, printing, and unlimited caffeine.

Disadvantages

  • It can be noisy. If your co-workers are in sales and marketing, they’re likely to spend most of the day on the phone. Some freelancers are much more interested in socialising than working.
  • There might be additional costs for hiring a meeting room to see clients. This could add up to a significant sum over the month
  • Cheaper co-working packages sometimes limit your access to standard office hours
  • If you have a lot of equipment or expensive gubbins, it could be necessary to hire secure storage space. The co-working space is likely to provide a desk and chair, but everything else is down to you.

Renting your own office

Many shared spaces also now office private offices with their own lockable door, although at a cost. This option comes with the most prestige, but it’s also very pricey.

Advantages

  • You get complete privacy and control
  • It’s ideal for meeting clients if you want to be on your own territory
  • There’s space to store all your stuff
  • It looks very professional with your shiny nameplate on the door

Disadvantages

  • This is, of course, the most expensive option. The cost depends on location, but you could be paying anything from £500-£1,000 per month for a single person office in the South East of England. You’ll need to pay a deposit (sometimes two months’ rent) upfront.
  • You might be liable for business rates, too.
  • And there’s the cost of furnishing and insuring your office.
  • You have to factor the cost into what you charge clients, which might make your rates uncompetitive.

My Experience

Earlier in my freelance career, I always worked from home. I was lucky enough to have a dedicated study of my own and few distractions (apart from inquisitive cats). However, I felt very isolated. Unless I made the effort to go out and meet people, I’d spend day after day alone until my partner came home. I’d interrogate her for news in a desperate attempt to get some vicarious stimulation.

I did a brief stint in an open-plan office, which was the other extreme. I found it impossible to focus and got very little done. Headphones and a forbidding expression weren’t enough to stop people interrupting me all the time.

When I started my financial coaching practice last year, I decided it was time to rent my own office. To ensure privacy for clients, I needed a dedicated space where we could talk. I didn’t want the faff of booking a meeting room for every session. Although many coaches run sessions only by phone or Skype, it was important to me to offer coaching in person.

My criteria for a suitable office were:

  • 24/7 access – I see clients during evenings and weekends. I also like to use my office for writing at odd hours.
  • A reception desk and waiting area – this means someone is available to greet clients if they arrive early and I’m still with someone else.
  • An event space – I run workshops and coaching groups, so it’s convenient if everything happens in one location.

Happily, I found the perfect space at Werks Central, and it was just about within my budget. Although it’s a big overhead for me, I think it was the right decision for my business. Knowing I have to pay the rent each month really pushes me to get on with marketing, too.

This office has also improved my quality of life. It’s an enjoyable 20-minute walk from home and I’m a short hop from the beach. I take a walk on the promenade most days and get some sea air into my sparrow lungs.

Conclusion

Renting your own office is a big step if you’re just starting out. It’s worth working from home or renting a co-working desk until you’ve got a decent monthly income. You could even mix the two. Some co-working spaces offer a one-day free trial or cheaper time-limited packages. If you do want a room of your own, make sure you understand all the costs. You’ll be locked into a contract for at least six months (often longer), so will need enough cash to cover the outgoings for that period, regardless of how much you earn.

Spend some time deciding whether it’s strictly necessary and working out if you can afford it. You won’t enjoy that swanky office if it’s plunging you into debt.

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Image © Photographee.eu – stock.adobe.com

Catherine Pope

I'm a financial coach who loves Victorian novels, technology, and big books about pensions.

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