Thinking out of the office box
There are many ways to cut the cost of setting up and running your business by harnessing the power of the cloud. But there are some more practical money-saving tactics you can employ both on, and offline. There’s the obvious stuff like setting your printer to draft mode and switching off lights and equipment at the end of the day; did you know leaving your printer in standby mode is the same as burning a 40-Watt light bulb overnight? Depending on the size and nature of your business you could even think about getting rid of a physical office altogether, saving on rent, insurance, utility bills and even stationery supplies. You could work at home or move into a shared office space such as an enterprise hub or serviced communal building. This can be a great way to mix with your peers and keep socially active in your working environment if you don’t think you’ll flourish being alone. If you do decide to fly completely solo a home office could also reduce your taxes as you’ll be able to offset a certain percentage of your mortgage/rent and running costs to cover the overheads of your business. There are plenty of great places online where you can find out the right information for you, so make sure you do your homework before filling out your tax return. If you’re really running on a shoestring you could even flit from coffee shop to coffee shop, taking micro-sips of your latte while abusing the free WiFi connection and power supply – an increasingly popular practice that’s become known as ‘cappuccino commerce’. As long as the venue isn’t too crowded and you actually buy something from time to time no-one will bat an eyelid. This trend is really booming in the UK right now with a recent study showing that around 22% of companies started in the last three years base themselves in bars and coffee shops to keep overheads down. It’s worth remembering though that the WiFi connection may not be secure and accessing the Internet could get quite slow when the network is being heavily used by other customers.
Finding a place to plug in
If you don’t mind a fairly transient lifestyle but don’t want to spend your days in a coffee shop, Worksnug offers a fine solution to searching for a temporary place to rest your weary laptop. The database is overflowing with mobile-worker friendly environments; both free and public (so all those coffee shops are listed here too), but it also lists more formal office set-ups and pay-as-you-go hot-desking spaces if you want something a little more business-like. You can search for an office through the website or if you have an Android, iPhone, Blackberry or Nokia OVI smartphone download the free app and use the location feature to find a suitable space nearby. Details about what services each location offers are displayed, such as power and free Internet connections; and because noise is important in any communal workspace it even tells you how loud the space is generally, based on the experience of site members who’ve been there before you. You can also add a workspace if you come across a good location that isn’t already listed.
Avoid the traffic jams
If you do have to travel to the office by car you can save time and money keeping ahead of the traffic with Twitraffic. This app for Android and iPhone is fuelled by tweeters mentioning certain watch words picked up by the service and linked to a location; words like traffic, accident, fire, slow, congestion, junction, road works or queues. Apparently we like to tweet about bad traffic as the app processes four live tweets per second covering the UK alone. The speed at which twitter spreads information is a powerful feature for a service like this, making it your best chance to find out about changing conditions as they actually unfold. According to the website’s creators “Twitraffic reports incidents, on average, 7.1 minutes before the UK government’s Highways Agency data”. The app is currently free on Android but will set you back 69p on iPhone. Countries covered are the UK & from October 2012 they opened their doors to USA drivers with plans to expand into South Africa in the months ahead.
Another option for improving your journey on the roads is Google Maps. The search giant paid almost $1billion for the crowd sourced mapping community Waze back in June, and now Google Maps on iOS and Android get real time incident reports and traffic alerts from Waze’s army of contributors. The Waze app has also added Google search and the Map Editor now has satellite imagery and Google Streetview, paving the way, quite literally, for even more accuracy in the future.
Going postal code: Creating the right environment to do business from your home
There can be nothing more liberating than beginning your first day’s work with a 10 second commute to the office. If you’re self-motivated enough to work at home (which not everyone is) you’ll enjoy no more traffic jams, no overcrowded public transport or being soaked by a thoughtless driver speeding through a puddle right beside you. You won’t have to pay £2.50 for coffee in a cardboard cup and domestic chores will become less of an intrusion in your life as you can nip home to put the laundry on a dozen times throughout the day with no impact on your productivity. If you set aside dedicated space and equipment in your home that will only be used for business you can even save money on tax, offsetting a portion of everything you pay to run your home against your tax bill. I’m not a tax expert and personally I choose to pay an accountant to finalise my tax return because I’ve never been terribly confident with numbers, but it’s entirely possible to do everything yourself online if you want to – and contrary to the pained expression on my face when I wrote that line, you don’t have to be a mathematical genius either. The only website you’ll need for information on UK tax is http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/, where there are simple guides and submission forms designed to make it as easy as possible for you to pay your tax – it is in the government’s interest to get your cash in the coffers after all.
TIP: If you’re having trouble understanding tax law why not use the Get Lunched networking website covered previously here to take a friendly accountant you know on Linked In out for lunch? This could be an inexpensive (and enjoyable) way to get enough professional advice for you to know what your next steps should be.
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and set up a formal office at home? Make an event of it, maybe setting a ‘date to move in’ and marking the occasion in the same way you might celebrate starting a new job – it will give you a target to shoot for and help build the excitement for both you and those people who are supporting you. Whatever happens you’re probably going to need to rearrange some of your furniture as you’ll be far more productive if you have a dedicated (and ideally isolated) space to work in.
TIP: It’s all very well turning the spare bedroom into an office but if your kids are crawling around under the desk and you have neighbours popping in every five minutes for coffee you might as well go back to the sofa and chill out; you’re not going to be doing much work anyway. Make sure anyone who lives with you or is likely to visit knows the rules about business and personal space.
Before you start pulling apart your home to set up your brand new office you can save time by thoroughly planning the eventual layout with the free interior design tool from Floor Planner. The drag and drop interface is simplicity itself; a real joy to use. Setting up your floor plan initially takes a little time to get right, but once you have it saved you can start playing around with the layout of your furniture to your heart’s content; and there’s an impressive range of fixtures and fittings models available. The Basic account is free for personal use and lets you save one design. It will be far too simplistic for professional designers but if you just want to tinker around as an amateur you can’t really go wrong. Switch to 3D mode to get a sense of how your arrangement will feel in reality.
TIP: Floor Planner gives you an embed code and links to share your design with other people. If you’re changing the layout of your shop or café, asking your customers for input could be a really nice way to engage them in the refurbishment and generate interest in the end results – plus they might even have some brilliant ideas.