Should You Really Work From Home?
Most self-employed professionals start by working from home, and many continue to do so for the whole of their working lives. Working from home has many advantages, but some drawbacks as well. It's important to be aware of the pros and cons so that you - and your family - are prepared for what is to come. We'll start by looking at the positive aspects...
There are many practical advantages to running your business from home. Some of the main ones are listed below.
- Save money - If you work from home you will avoid having to pay rent and other running costs (including business rates) on business premises. You will also save on travel expenses.
- Save on travel - You also avoid wasting many potentially productive hours in your car or on public transport. Many people spend two or more hours a day just commuting; added up over a year, the total amount of time 'lost' in this way can be quite staggering. With many roads approaching gridlock during the morning and evening rush hours, the savings in terms of both time and your blood pressure can be substantial. You will save money on petrol and season tickets; and a further benefit is that you will avoid having to venture out every day during the winter months on dangerous, icy roads and pavements. Of course, you will still have to do some traveling, for reasons such as going to the bank or post office, visiting clients, and so on.
- Feel more comfortable - For a start, you can wear whatever clothes you like. You don't even have to dress or shave if you don't wish (though you will, of course, need to make an effort with your appearance when meeting clients and potential clients). You can take tea, coffee and meal breaks as you like, whenever it happens to suit you. You can also arrange your office furniture, lighting and so on exactly as you prefer.
- Benefit from flexibility - Many aspects of family life can be easier to arrange if you work from home. For example, if you want to pop out at three o'clock to collect your youngest child from school, there is nothing (and no-one) to stop you. You can choose your own hours, working early in the morning or late at night if these options suit you best. You can be around during the day when the plumber or the meter reader calls; you can put out the washing and bring it back in if it starts to rain, and you will not miss important deliveries because you are toiling away at a separate workplace.
- Enjoy tax advantages - As mentioned earlier, if you work from home you may be able to claim a proportion of your household expenses (heating, lighting, mortgage/rent, etc.) against tax. Any alterations or repairs to the property which are directly relevant to your business activity may also be set against your business income. You should, however, note that if you make major changes to your home to accommodate your business, you may require planning permission from the council and become liable to pay business rates. You may also become liable for Capital Gains Tax if you subsequently sell your home.
- Gain greater home security - The fact that you are likely to be around in the day can help deter burglars (most burglaries in residential areas take place during the daytime). You will also be on the premises - and therefore able to take prompt action - in the event of fires, burst pipes, and other such emergencies. Some insurance companies are starting to recognize this fact and offer lower premiums for homeworkers - though this must be set against the fact that work-related computers and other equipment may have to be insured separately for an additional premium.
- Enlist support from your family - Working from home means you may be able to get help from your family in your business activities. This might include such matters as answering the phone, making appointments, typing invoices and letters, meeting and greeting visitors, and providing other forms of practical assistance (e.g. repairing the car or troubleshooting your brand new multimedia computer which obstinately refuses to function!).
- Enjoy the lack of pressure - With a home-based business, you can work as many or as few hours as you wish. If you want to work a fifteen-hour day, you can do so (though hopefully not every day!). Equally, however, you can work part-time if you prefer, perhaps to fit in with family responsibilities. You can also set your own pace, with no-one standing over you telling you to work harder or faster. As long as your business is bringing in enough money to meet your needs and those of your dependents, you can work as hard or as lightly as you wish - you have complete control over your 'terms and conditions'. It should, however, be emphasized that, although you won't have a boss looking over your shoulder, you will still have customers, who will expect good quality service from you within a certain deadline.
Although working from home has many attractions, it does possess a few potential drawbacks as well. Some of the main points to consider are set out below.
- May disrupt family life - Obviously, you will need a space in the house to work that might otherwise be used by other family members. And when deadlines are tight, you may have to work during evenings, public holidays and weekends, when most 'normal' people are at leisure. Clients may phone up at any time, so family members will need to become accustomed to receiving business calls and be briefed on how to handle them. Alternatively, of course, you may need to consider having a separate line installed for business calls.
- More distractions - Family and domestic matters can also interfere with your business. Friends and relatives who would never dream of interrupting you at a 'proper' job may think nothing of phoning up or arriving unannounced, not realizing (or perhaps caring) that you are 'at work'. Regular interruptions of this nature can seriously reduce your productivity, and hence your income. Even if you avoid this problem, working from home offers a huge range of other potential distractions, from pets and family matters, through shopping and household chores, to gardening and watching television. You will need to be self-disciplined, or you can fritter away many working hours on non-productive (in business terms, at least) activities such as these.
- Maybe lonely - Working from home can be lonely at times. This applies especially if you live on your own, where you may not speak to another person face-to-face (apart from perhaps the post office clerk) for days on end. Even if you do have a family - or at least a spouse/partner -- you may find the isolation during the day difficult to bear. This applies especially if you have previously worked in a busy office, or you have a naturally sociable temperament.
- Clients may be deterred - Some potential clients may be put off to find that you work from home. However unreasonably, they may deduce from this that you are not serious about your business and that you might fail to deliver a professional standard of product or service. The good news is that nowadays, with more people than ever working from home, this view is less prevalent than it was.
- Can be hard to get away from work - This can be a more serious drawback. If you work from home, you may find that work and domestic life become indivisible and it is very hard to 'switch off' and relax when the day's work is done. People who have previously worked in a separate establishment often find the journey between home and workplace provides a valuable psychological dividing line. When your home is also your workplace this line is gone, and the distinction between work and leisure can therefore easily become blurred.
- May need greater home security - If you have high-value, easily portable equipment such as computers, fax machines and so on, this may make your home a more tempting target for burglars. If you advertise your business - as you may well need to when starting out - this will, unfortunately, increase the risk of your property being targeted. You may, therefore, need to increase the level of security in your home, perhaps fitting a burglar alarm, security lighting/cameras, window locks, and so on.
- Planning and other restrictions may apply - There are often planning restrictions on running businesses from homes in residential areas. This is most likely to create a problem if a business is likely to cause noise or other irritation to neighbors; unlikely with a freelancing business. If you live in rented accommodation, however, your landlord may object to your running a business from his property. And if you are buying your home with the aid of a mortgage, you should inform the lenders; while they are unlikely to object to a home-based freelancing business, they may wish to note this 'change of use'. There is also a possibility that running a business from home may make you liable for business rates as well as your normal council tax. This is a 'grey area' in law; but in general, as long as you do not change the overall character of your home to accommodate your business, you should be able to avoid this.
Note: If you set up your business as a limited company, it is a good idea to give another address (.e.g your accountant, if he agrees to this) as the company's ‘registered office'. In that case, you will be viewed in law as an employee of the company who simply happens to work from home. There should, therefore, be no question of any liability for business rates. This can be an advantage to setting up as a limited company.
None of the drawbacks set out above is insurmountable, but it is undoubtedly true that working from home is more suitable for some individuals - and businesses - than others. The good news, though, is that freelancing is close to being an ideal home-based business. It requires little in the way of tools and equipment, causes minimal disruption to neighbors and other family members, and most of the time you can work remotely from the comfort of your own home with the aid of a computer, telephone line, and the Internet.