Home office saves money

Without an office, you could save tens of thousands of pounds every year. But what happens when you need to hold a meeting?

At venture capital website Angels Den, founder Lois Cook has a simple solution. She clears the dining room table at her Victorian house and all her employees hustle round. “I have six people who work for me, and we get together at least twice a week. I’ve got Wi-Fi throughout the house and a flip chart in the lounge. I started the business with the intention of working from home – I spent 20 years working for Philips and then Mitsubishi in the semiconductor industry and, if I had to spend any more time in an office, I’d go out of my mind!”

She says that this home-office approach ensures overheads are low. “We were able to fund the business with just two shareholders. We need to be cost effective.” Her approach allows her to recruit far and wide. Located in St Albans, she has an employee in Norfolk, “which is quite a trek”. She says the culture created by a homeworking set-up is part of the appeal. “It feels so sociable, not like work at all. If anything, I have to stop my employees from working too hard. Without normal office hours, it’s possible to put in far too many hours without realising.” Which isn’t something most office-based companies fret about.

If you are lucky enough to have a spot of land or an unused barn then give it a makeover. Social networking software developer Bright Things has its big meetings at founder Dominic Wheatley’s Wiltshire farm. “I have a converted barn, which my secretary, accounts person and product tester work from. We have another eight people in Shoreditch and they come up here occasionally.”

The homeworking move came late in the firm’s development. “We used to have a central office,” says Wheatley. “Our new business model is more decentralised.” When his team needs a real office, Wheatley uses Regus. “It is cost-effective for three hours. You get a comfortable room, coffee laid on, big screen TVs, for £150 an hour. Unlike a normal office, there is no idle time.”

Wheatley says he frequently uses his Mac’s webcam to videoconference cheaply with his homeworking employees. And he says the Vodafone datacard ensures internet access on his laptop wherever he goes (“get a card, not the USB dongle,” he adds).

Homeworking is on the brink of going mainstream so much so that Bright Things abandoned its first line of work – interactive DVDs – to create a Facebook-style product. “It allows you to create your own private social network,” he says. “Employees can use it to stay in constant touch with each other.” For a trial, email him at dominic.wheatley@brightthings.com.

If you can keep the firm small enough not to need an office, any conundrum is avoided. At online retailer Jewel-garden.co.uk, everything, including deliveries, are done from founder Charlotte Pritchard’s house. Her husband is the FD, her mum does the bookkeeping and her dad, a chartered accountant, helps with the tax returns. “All I need to run the business from home is broadband, a printer and a scanner. To save on costs, I photograph all the products myself. Oh, and I’ve got a separate phone line for the business – essential if you want to appear 100 per cent professional.”

By locating the office in the house, a degree of family involvement is inevitable. Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of TheCareerBreakSite.com, which provides advice for midlife-crisis hit office workers, employs her mum as the senior web designer and dad as the FD. “My mum did a web design course at the age of 58.”

Alternatively, if your house is on the small side, why not be a bit creative? Ann and David Cordner, founders of hotel reservation service Infotel, have a purpose-built office for 50 workers round the back of their house in Spalding. Daughter Kimberly says, “The only downside is that there aren’t many cafes. We all used to take an hour for lunch. Now we all take half an hour as there’s nothing to do.” Firms blighted with boozy sales folk, take note!

For more on successful businesses run from home:

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 1 to 5

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 6 to 10

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 11 to 15

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 16 to 20

Angels DenBright ThingsJewel-garden.co.ukTheCareerBreakSite.co.ukInfotel

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