5 Tips when Moving to your First Office

Office Buildings

By Ian Ross

If you’re home-based now, you may yet find yourself compelled to look to leasing small office space outside your home. There are only so many hours in the day within which to house your complete productivity, and you may consider trading off the time spent on a short commute for the benefits of fewer distractions and hours spent in a dedicated work environment outside your personal walls.


Furthermore, should your business have the capacity to grow, you will need help. It’s not practical – or always professional – to have employees working from your own family residence. However, a small and efficient set up could be what you need to get the ball rolling on your own expansion, even if you only use it to test the waters and interview prospective employees before making the plunge to something and somewhere more significant.
Nothing in business is guaranteed nor can you predict your ultimate requirements from the onset. That’s especially true if you are new to entrepreneurship. Here are five suggestions to allow flexibility and scalability from the start.


1. Location

The first rule of real estate always holds true. Choose the proper location so that you are close to your customers and to potential employees. Even if you conduct your work over the phone or deal with customers primarily outside your area or overseas, there are good reasons to make the effort and locate yourself centrally.
For yourself, there will be more business resources available be they stationers or restaurants for your lunch. There are also bound to be more networking opportunities and if you plan to join a local business association, the veteran members will tend to be more established and more valuable as connections down the road.
Also remember, if you’re hiring employees – especially at entry level – they may not have their own transportation readily available and will need to work someplace accessible. Looking to hire students? Be close to residential areas around universities or the downtowns where students are used to frequenting.


2. Furnished Offices

Consider paying a bit more for a furnished office. The extra expense is moot if you are budgeting hundreds of dollars on necessary office furnishings. Desks, filing cabinets, chairs and shelving all add up and having them in place when you move in can save on the start-up or transitioning costs. It also makes the move in easier knowing it’s already there and if for some reason you choose to leave the office and relocate again elsewhere, you have far less to worry about getting moved out.


3. Short Term Leases and Common Fees

Your first office is a big step and there’s no guarantee how things will turn out. Negotiate for a short term lease to protect your options. If you are hiring and your employees work out successfully, you may quickly outgrow your starter space. If they don’t work out, you may not be in a position to replace them right away and might even find yourself missing the low overhead of your old home office. Landlords don’t want to offer short term leases and will often increase the ‘per square foot’ rate substantially or cut down on the amount of prep work they will offer prior to your moving in (e.g. painting and basic cleaning or maintenance following the previous occupant.) If you get frustrated, don’t forget to check out business centres or business incubation centres. Any place that rents boardrooms will often have actual offices to rent.

Keep an eye on the Common Fee also, as in rental markets with high vacancies some landlords might try to artificially deflate the advertised rental rate to seem more competitive but then make it up in common fees.


4. VOIP Phones

Voice Over Internet Protocol phones are great for small businesses. Using these allow you to keep your telephone number with your phone (or phone adaptor) and move it around as you need it. You don’t have to wait for your phone company to migrate your number or come in and service your new location, and should you move on to another office a few months down the road, you just need to unplug it and carry it with you as you go, with minimal interruption. Keeping your telephone number is key to consistency in servicing clients.
VOIP phones often require being hardwired to a connection so if you don’t have the proper ports already in place, you can also look at such items as Wi-Fi extenders which connect to and boost an existing wireless signal, but also have the necessary LAN ports in the back in which to plug in your phone.
Check out different providers. Since they operate via the internet, most companies are national. Some are more geared for residential but others include a full suite of business services which you can control via your browser. That way, should you need additional lines down the road, for more employees, it’s often as simple as getting them a VOIP phone and assigning their extension and display details yourself. You can potentially save hundreds of dollars or more over traditional business phone networks pedalled by local carriers.
One slight downside is that VOIP phones may not always be recognized as easily as a land line. Some clients may see it come across on their call display as a blocked or unknown number which can make your call seem suspicious. You may also have trouble accessing phone services such as government automated systems which will not always let you connect properly. Also important to be aware of in an emergency, is that there is no clear location for a VOIP phone so 911 calls will rely on the address you have on record with your provider, as opposed to being able to track your call immediately.


5. Services and Utilities

Before signing a lease, check into what services are available and of what quality they are. A small office in a business centre may offer you everything from call forwarding and mail forwarding up to full secretarial and janitorial services. If there is a charge, weigh it out. Also verify for yourself whether it meets your needs. If your business is substantially different from those they are used to, you may consume existing services disproportionately and unexpectedly. In my case, I move into an office that had never hosted technology or internet companies and while Wi-Fi was included, the service was completely unable to handle even my most basic requirements and that led to a serious negative impact on my business plans until I could find alternative service at great cost to me, financially and timing-wise.

These are some important considerations to keep in mind. Adding employees or creating a more public face for your business are both basic reasons why you may feel that you cannot continue pursuing your business goals without opening an office. But, avoid over-extending yourself as you may find the change in your business and lifestyle to be as significant as when you started your business in the first place. Stay flexible while balancing self-reliance with utilizing as many cost-savers as are put in front of you.

Ian Ross is an entrepreneur, and the owner of Spring Digital Media in Halifax, NS, Canada.
Published by Spring Digital Media, All Rights Reserved.