Do you need a public office???
It depends… If your clients come to your office, it probably makes sense… If you go to your clients, it probably just wastes money.
In the first case, a public office adds a level of professionalism, and keeps you out of trouble with home owners associations or zoning boards. But don’t get carried away – a modest space will do just fine for the solo practitioner.
In the second case, a spare bedroom works fine. You should, however, set aside a dedicated space for your office. Working on the dining room table gets old very fast. It can also be disruptive to family life.
Some people, however, simply need a separate place to work – regardless of client contact. And some need the outside human contact that an office brings. This is often true for those migrating from the larger corporate environment.
The most important thing when starting out is to conserve resources. You don’t need fancy digs with a prestige address — you just need a safe quiet place to work with adequate resources (desk, computer, telephone, file cabinets, etc.) You are selling your capabilities, not fancy brick and mortar.
Here are some examples I’ve seen over the years:
(1) Kimmel Gerke Associates (yours truly) – Since we almost never had clients visit us, my business partner and I set up separate offices in spare bedrooms.
While we once considered sharing an office, we were both traveling so much it didn’t make sense. Besides, the telephone and the Internet worked fine to stay in contact. And we both liked our twenty foot commutes.
Our “office managers” were our wives, so we truly ran a “mom and pop” operation. Not for everyone, but it worked very well for us.
(2) Advertising – A one person agency, this consultant leased about 100 square feet of space from a print shop. I used her services with good success many years ago after a misfire with a fancy downtown agency. Hire the person, not the office.
That was all the space she needed, plus the shop provided a phone line with a receptionist. It was mutually beneficial, as the print shop now could offer additional services. Besides, she did all her printing with her landlord.
(3) Sales consultant – Another one person firm, this friend leased space in a restaurant, which I found quite clever.
His office had a separate entrance on a lower walk out level. The rent was very attractive, as this was bonus income for the restaurant, and parking was never a problem. And he always had a place to take clients for lunch.
(4) Attorney – My estate attorney is located in building with other small professional firms.
He has about 300 square feet, divided into two rooms. The back room is his legal office, with the appropriate lawyer’s desk, credenza, and meeting table. The front room is the reception area with the requisite legal library, with a desk for his office manager (his wife.)
The office is nicely appointed, but not pretentious. His fees reflect the lower overhead too. I discovered him after being gouged by a large law firm with fancy digs and high overhead.
(5) Web design – My web designer is also located in a building with other small firms.
He has about 200 square feet with a couple of desks for he and his office manager (once again, his wife.) He has a back office in Nepal (where he grew up) so this space is modest but more than adequate. He recently became a US citizen, and is doing very well – the classic immigrant success story.
He started out working from home, but with the birth of two children, he got “kicked out” of his office. He is still close to home, but is not distracted by family activities.
(5) Consulting engineer – Now, a not so successful example story from many years ago.
When we started out as consulting engineers, this refugee from a large government agency told us we MUST get an office. After all, HIS office was located downtown with a prestigious address. He even chided us for working out of our homes.
Within the next year, he went bankrupt.
So, as you consider YOUR JumpToConsulting, do YOU need a public office? Weigh the decision carefully. Unless you are seeing outside clients (or you simply need the private space,) I generally advise against it. But if you do decide on a public office, I’ve shared some clever (and inexpensive) solutions.
Conserve those resources — you can always move to a public office later. Unless you are like me, and just love that twenty foot commute!
P.S. – I once asked a fellow consultant sitting next to me on a cross country flight where he had his office. He looked out the window, grinned, and replied, “Well, today it is about 30,000 feet over Denver…”
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