The realities of setting up a home business

Four company owners discuss their decision to build a business from home and how the setup suits their personal and professional lives.

When starting a business on your own, in the early stages it is often appropriate to use your home as your premises. Keeping overheads low is crucial at this point, and an office can seem like an extravagance too far, particularly if you have no immediate plans to employ staff.

Will Craig started his digital agency Digital Impact from home on his own. He says, ‘A home business is still a business. Just because you work from your kitchen table doesn’t make your company any less serious than your competitors. Make sure you give it the respect it deserves. Draw up proper contracts, buy proper insurance and invest in proper marketing.’

You also need to create a dedicated working space to make sure you stay professional. ‘When you work from home, the division between home and work blurs, and it’s all too easy to become distracted with everyday interruptions. Ideally, you want to take over a space completely but it’s just as easy to cordon off a section of your home and hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door,’ Craig says.

A room with a shoe

Susannah Davda started her business The Shoe Consultant in April 2015, and it was a natural decision for her to use her home as the place of work. Part of the reasoning behind setting up on her own was to enable her to juggle work and family. ‘I can do this more effectively than I would have been able to working away from home,’ she says.

Prior to starting the business, Davda was an employee with a long commute. Now she cares for a four-month-old son and continues to nurture and grow her business at the same time.

‘This takes a great deal of organisation, and maximising opportunities for working. I have been learning to get in the zone of concentration quickly, and not get too frustrated when the baby needs my attention again.’

Davda’s web-based business naturally has low overheads, which has meant she has been able to start up without requiring a financial loan.

‘Working mostly from my home helps to keep outgoings to a minimum. Consequently while the baby takes up the majority of my time, I am able to build revenue organically without panicking about cash flow,’ she says.

The only equipment she needs to run her company is her trusty laptop, a camera, a reliable modem and internet connection, and a high-quality webcam for making Skype calls. ‘My family and I are lucky that these things don’t take up the space that a physical product based business would require,’ Davda says.

Lisa McCartney also placed her children at the heart of her decision to run a business from home. Before she launched  childrens’ games company PLYT she was a stay-at-home mum, and created her first game for her own children to improve their maths.

‘It was vital to continue with this role and fit my work around the school hours,’ she says. ‘When we launched the business in 2013 both of my children were still at primary school so it was useful being able to pick them up, bring them home and sort them out yet still be able to keep an eye on work and process any orders and answer any queries that came in.’

It also meant that her working hours were very flexible and she could take a break when the children came home, and then continue working again once they were in bed.

‘The flexibility and convenience is crucial, especially so in times when I’ve needed to be at home such as child illness, deliveries, even household emergencies!’ McCartney says.

Financially it has made sense too as the business could not initially cover before and after school childcare costs had she worked elsewhere. ‘My children are also great product testers; it’s fantastic being able to play our games at home as a family and do research at the same time.’

One of the more difficult things about working from home has been the storage of the games, McCartney says. The majority of the games are stored in a local warehouse, but there needs to be kept a stock at home for website and school orders.

The spare bedroom has become an extension of the warehouse; fine until Christmas when relatives stay.  ‘Our garage is our packaging warehouse and our dining room has also succumbed to PLYT becoming my study, with all of our day-to-day activities taking place in there,’ she explains.

‘Depending on the type of business you have the space and storage requirements can become quite onerous. We are fortunate that we sell the majority of game via Amazon and use their fulfilment which keeps our stock of games and packaging at home to a minimum but even that takes plenty of space.’

Building events from home

Steve Gaskin was a senior detective in the Met Police and took the start-up plunge ten years ago when he came up with Right Angle Events, offering the idea of crime team building events, inspired by the success of US TV programmes such as the CSI franchise.

‘Initially I started in the corner of my lounge,’ Gaskin says. ‘A PC, printer and some very poor marketing collateral got me into the unchartered territory of the commercial jungle.’

Gaskin then inhabited the utility room, turning it into a small office. His wife Kate, also a Scotland Yard officer, came into the business several months after incorporation. ‘Two of us had to squeeze into the utility room. In addition, we were starting to buy equipment for the business. We therefore, racked out our double garage and had a quasi-store room, which was freezing in the winter!’ Gaskin says.

Trading reached the point where the pair were taking on staff, so Gaskin built a summer house taking up 25 per cent of his garden space. ‘We were very good at applying for grants,’ he says. ‘In total we have received over £25,000 in grants for investment in IT, staff and equipment.’ Two years ago the summer house started to creak, with six full-time employees. The company now has 15 full-time members of staff and a properly lit, professional business unit underpinning its growth and market positioning.

So while many home businesses stay as a one or two-person operation, being based domestically shouldn’t mean you have to limit yourself. Like Gaskin’s, your business can start from home but end up flourishing in a larger setup, and perhaps even in multiple locations.

Joining the Federation of Small Businesses offers a wealth of benefits for those running a business from home, including employment protection, access to legal documents, lobbying, round-the-clock advice, and much more. Click here for more information about membership.

Further reading on working from home

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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Flexible Working

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