Managing Client Meetings
If your business involves dealing with clients, IM and Skype aren’t usually the greatest options, and you’ll find that eventually you need to meet people in person. Starbucks doesn’t make a terrific first impression, but your garage may be even worse--home-based businesses carry a stigma of unprofessionalism, and if you’re trying to pump your company up to look bigger than it is, you can’t exactly ask a prospective client to have a seat on your futon.
The best solution: Meet at the client's office whenever possible. Sure, this means more travel on your part, but it lets you put your best foot forward and immediately places you on the same level as your client.
If a client is coming to you, you’ll have to get more creative. Even if you have a dedicated office in your home, you don’t want to lead clients past dirty dishes and stacks of children’s toys to get there. A clean house also speaks volumes about your organizational abilities and general conscientiousness.
Another option is to meet in the middle. Meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant is common, but the environment can be noisy and cramped, and it doesn’t offer any privacy. Arrive early and stake out a spot in a corner, away from other patrons and noisy equipment or audio speakers.
If you have the means, shared or drop-in office space can offer instant professionalism, one hour at a time. You’ll find shared office space facilities in most metro areas, and many service-oriented businesses (such as law firms) lease their conference rooms when they don’t need them. Ask around with your service providers, or simply run a Google search for “shared office space yourcity” to find options. Expect to pay $20 to $80 an hour for a space with the typical conference-room amenities, such as Wi-Fi and whiteboards.
Dealing With Files
One of the most nagging challenges of working without an office is what to do with all the invoices, receipts, statements, faxes, and other bits of paper the average worker accumulates on a daily basis. The easiest solution is to jettison paper from your work life as much as possible. Sign up for electronic statements from utilities, banks, and service providers, and ask for invoices to be sent to you by email.
You’ll never eliminate all paper, of course. Many people have had good luck with tools such as Evernote, which lets you save electronic documents and scan paper ones, and essentially forces you to categorize and file everything using a system that makes logical sense. Notes and files sync with the cloud, so you can access your information from a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
You might think that freeing yourself from an office means you can skimp on security, but actually the opposite is true. When your laptop or smartphone holds all of your data, security becomes of paramount importance. Losing a single device to theft or a malware attack can be devastating. If you keep client data on that device--especially anything of a financial nature--the loss could cripple your business for good.
Making backups is the obvious first step, and if you use cloud services such as Dropbox and Mozy, you can keep your data secure without having to invest in a USB storage device or other additional hardware. Employing strong passwords and encryption is another essential step that can save your hide should a device fall into the wrong hands. Various versions of Windows and Android include encrypted storage options, and third-party tools are also available.
Finally, consider a business insurance policy that can cover you in case all of the above fail.