Creating your own space

In the third of a five-part series on working from home, Sharon Maxwell-Magnus looks at how to design your business environment
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Hundreds of successful businesses started on a corner of the kitchen table - Laura Ashley to name but one. However, if your business is to grow and prosper it pays to put some effort into designing your working area - even more so if you intend to entertain clients there. Most home offices are in a room set aside for the purpose - often the former spare bedroom - but if you don't have one, don't despair, there are other locations you could consider.

l Working out of a garden shed may be the solution. You can adapt a basic one with some nifty DIY, but for real comfort try specialist timber- frame builders such as Homelodge, English Heritage Buildings and Oakmoor Telecentres, which make purpose-built garden offices with electricity, phone and even bathroom facilities from around pounds 6,000.

l Garages, basements, attics, even a sectioned-off corner of an entrance hall can all make useful offices - although you may have to satisfy planning requirements. And if much of the house is turned over to your business, you may well become liable for Uniform Business Rates.

l It is vital to be able to shut off your office from interruptions. A lock or screen and lockable filing units are important. Try to avoid having work documents spill over into personal areas and vice versa or your work and home life will become hopelessly muddled.

l Many furniture companies such as Ikea and Estia have furniture suitable for a home office. Selfridges in London has recently opened its own home- office department.

l Invest in your chair. An uncomfortable chair can lead to back and neck strain. Choose one that allows your feet to rest on the floor and elbows comfortably on the desk. The back of the chair should support your spine up to the bottom of your shoulder blades. A swivel chair makes it easier to avoid back strain when reaching for things.

l Get insured! Your home office won't necessarily be covered on your home insurance policy. Check with your insurers whether you need additional insurance or even a stand alone policy.

Other insurances to consider include public liability insurance, professional indemnity insurance, business interruption insurance and, if you are making or selling something, product liability insurance. If you employ someone you must take out employer's liability insurance (unless they are very close relatives). There are several packages aimed specifically at home workers including those from the Midland, Lloyds, S-Tech, Michael Pavey and the Tolson Messenger Group.

l If you are worried that working from home might seem unprofessional to prospective clients, give your home an office-block type name, especially if much of your business is done by mail. Working out of Georgian House sounds impressive - even if it's a small terraced home!

Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland own Barefoot Books, a children's book publisher specialising in myths and fairy-tales. They both work at home - Nancy in a town house in London and Tessa in a country farmhouse near Bath.

When they set up three years ago, Nancy was living in a small flat. "My office was so tiny I'd knock the computer with my knee and delete what I was working on. I had catalogues lining the living room, papers coming out of drawers and virtually no space that was personal."

Her present office is at the top of the house and has enough room for two employees as well as herself. "I designed exactly where phone and computer sockets would go," she says. "At last I had enough space too for a photocopier. I wonder now how we lasted without it."

Nancy communicates largely by phone and e-mail with Tessa, although they also meet once a week. They are both on the Internet - 33 per cent of homeworkers have access.

"You can handle a lot of admin by e-mail, but you can't brainstorm," says Tessa. "That really takes face-to-face contacts." Clients are entertained in both "offices" although Nancy has mixed feelings about the intrusion in her home. "If a meeting over-runs the client has to wait downstairs in the living room and can hear any of the kids having a tantrum. We also get couriers who can't quite believe this is the right address."

Tessa, however, is more laid-back about entertaining. "People expect to be treated professionally whatever the environment and I can't imagine an artist refusing to work for me because I work from home. I love being able to walk out of the door, up the hill for 10 minutes and calm myself."

Nancy also finds working from home a boon - for rather different reasons. "When a fax comes in from the US or Far East at 10pm, I can just nip up and get it - although it can ruin a weekend if it comes on a Friday night with bad news. In offices you spend your time in meetings talking about doing things, here I get them done."

Homelodge Buildings, Kingswell Point, Crawley, Winchester SO21 2PU (01962 881480).

English Heritage Buildings, Cold Harbour Farm Estate, Dallington, East Sussex TN21 9LQ (01424 838400).

Oakmoor Telecentres, Taewater Works, Talaton, Exeter, Devon EX5 2RT Tel. 01404 850977).

Association of British Insurers, 51 Gresham St, London EC2V 7HQ (0171- 600 3333).

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