From using a business centre as your postal address, to getting two phone numbers for work and personal calls, here are five clever things you can do running a business from home.
Running your own business from home is not just about being your own boss - it's about gaining the flexibility to be away from your desk during business hours and still stay on top of work.
It's not hard to look professional even if your office is your dining room table.
Whether you've gone solo or are working with a small team, modern technology can help your small business look and feel like a big business.
Here are five clever things you can do if you're running your own business from home:
1. Use your own domain name for your email and website, helps you look professional
Nothing screams amateur hour more than writing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org on your business cards.
These might seem like the easiest options, but it's not hard to secure your own domain name from a domain name registrar (you'll find a list of accredited registrars at auda.org.au
Do this, and now you can use email@example.com and set up a professional-looking website at www.bobsfinance.com.au.
You'll probably need to produce your ABN in order to purchase a com.au domain name, then you'll need to renew it every few years.
Once you own your own domain name you can still keep using Gmail as your inbox, but you can configure your email so it appears to come from bobsfinance.com.au.
If you run a small business you might sign up for a Google Apps account which makes it easy to create new email addresses for all your staff members, as well as leverage a wealth of cloud services. Alternatively you might look to an Office 365 business subscription from Microsoft.
Using Google or Microsoft webmail makes it easy to check your email on the go from a wide range of devices.
You can even set up aliases such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, forwarding them all to the same inbox, to help your solo venture look bigger.
Now that you own your domain name you can keep the same email address if you move to a different ISP or email service, just like keeping your phone number when you move house.
2. Use a business service centre as your postal address, avoid waiting by the door for couriers
Life in the 'burbs might be quieter than the bustling city, but you can still maintain a CBD mailing address while working at home.A city address helps you look more professional, maintains your privacy and saves the hassle of waiting for couriers to arrive.
It's easy to set up a PO Box at your local Australia Post office, but the postal staff won't sign for couriers on your behalf.
If you regularly deal with couriers or have other requirements which the post office can't meet, consider using a business service centre such as MBE
. They'll receive your mail, sign for couriers, notify you when parcels arrive and provide after hours access for collecting items when it best suits you.
Why do this? A managed postal address might be worth the expense if it means you don't need to sit by the front door all day waiting for a courier who may never arrive.
Often you can give out your address as Suite 121, rather than Mailbox 121, which sounds more like a "real" business.
Some managed and virtual office services go even further, not only accepting deliveries but also letting you hire meeting rooms and boardrooms for important client meetings. It certainly makes a better impression than serving your clients instant coffee at your kitchen table.
3. Personal answering service, so calls never go unanswered
Rather than sending callers to voicemail when you're busy or away from your desk, a personal answering service offers your very own receptionist - ensuring a real person answers incoming calls in your company name.
Personal answering services can answer your calls 24 hours a day if you always need to be contactable, reassuring your clients that they're in safe hands.
The answering service staff can then send you a text and/or email with the details of the message, plus your messages are available via an online portal.
Many telcos offer a personal answering service for business customers, plus you'll find a range of other providers.
Depending on the package you sign up for, some personal answering services can also forward certain calls to your landline or mobile. They'll also take messages for specific staff members, helping a small team look like a big business.
If a personal answering service seems like overkill, you still might opt for the convenience of a voicemail to email and fax to email service which sends your messages as email attachments.
4. Have one number at home for personal calls, another for work calls
Rather than pay for a second copper telephone (PSTN) line into your house for your business calls, there are other options.
One option is to consider the savings of signing up for a Voice over IP telephone service for your work or home number. This runs over your Internet connection, and you don't need a second phone line. What is VOIP? Read our basic intro here.
We've a tip here: if your Internet Service Provider offers VoIP you'll often find it's more reliable than third-party consumer-grade VoIP services.
The other advantage of having two phone numbers is that you don't need two separate phones on your desk. You'll find dual-line DECT cordless phones from the likes of Uniden and Panasonic which have two phone sockets on the back of the base station.
The handsets use different rings to indicate whether the incoming call is on Line 1 or Line 2, and you can call out from either line. If you get more handsets, then both lines can be used at once - useful in a busy household.
Here's another tip: If the work phone line is a VoIP telephone service, you might be able to divert it to voicemail at night so an after hours work call won't ring your bedside handset but a personal call will.
Some regular non-VOIP (PSTN) telephone services can also be diverted after hours, such as Telstra's "Call Forward Set The Time" feature.
If you're not using VOIP, another option is to allocate a second phone number to your telephone (PSTN) service. For example with Telstra you can setup Multiple Number or Duet Phone and Fax service.
You can set separate ring tones and call forwarding for each line, but it requires a tone phone with distinctive ring capability. Remember with this method, the two phone numbers are sharing the same line so it's not possible to use both numbers at once - which might not be the best solution for busy households.
5. Lease equipment, it might make better sense to rent rather than buy
Leasing equipment rather than handing over the cash upfront sounds like a great idea, but it's important to crunch the numbers.
Leasing can be advantageous from a tax perspective - letting you turn a large upfront capital expense, which needs to be depreciated, into a small ongoing operational expense which can be claimed straight away.
Equipment leases fall under two main categories:
Under a capital or finance leasing agreement you own the equipment at the end of the agreement.
Under an operating lease you don't own it at the end and you need to return it.
It's also important to consider servicing arrangements during the lease, if servicing and maintenance is included then it might sweeten the deal.
However you look at it, leasing often works out more expensive in the long run than simply buying a new computer every few years and retiring the old one. If you upgrade more often, it might be more advantageous to resell the old computer rather than leasing.
One key advantage of leasing is that if there are no upfront costs. It frees up cash which you can then use to grow your business or pay off interest-bearing debts.
You should weigh up the pros and cons of a capital lease against borrowing money to buy equipment.
Depending on the conditions of the agreement, leasing can also let you access more or less equipment as your business goes through peaks and troughs.