It’s a wonderful time to be in business. Opportunity is everywhere, with new and exciting markets and sub-markets emerging all over the place. Technology is taking us places we’ve never been before. We’re no longer chained to the bricks-and-mortar ways of the past, so the question becomes – where do you run your business from?
Let’s run through some options…
Ah, the coveted home office! There are no words to describe the first forays into the work-from-home lifestyle. Sleeping in while your partner trudges off on their hour-long commute in the rain, listening to mid-morning TV while you browse through emails, taking your first conference call in a crisp blouse knowing all the while you’re rocking PJ bottoms and ugg boots beneath the desk – these are the joys of the home-based entrepreneur.
It all sounds wonderful, but I hate to tell you – there will come in a time for 99% of businesses that they will outgrow the home and need to move out. Perhaps you run out of space, you need meeting rooms, you’re going insane from a lack of human interaction. Whatever the cause, the home office can lose its shiny glow after a little while.
If you’re going to make it work, here are the keys things to consider:
- A dedicated space
It’s important that you carve out a dedicated area for yourself, so when you’re in that space, you know it’s time to work. It’s important for the others in the home too – they need to know when you’re available and when you’re not to be disturbed.
- Get dressed!
I dare anyone who’s worked from home to say they haven’t worked a day in their pyjamas. Unfortunately, it’s not a sustainable fashion choice. Even if you never see clients face-to-face, getting up in the morning and getting dressed for work is about discipline. You’ll also find that your attire will impact your motivation and productivity through the day.
Now, I’m not suggested you wear a full suit, heels and pantyhose (ugh!), but just get dressed as if you were going outside the house. Something that makes you feel good and professional.
- Keep work and personal life separate
This is a hard one. It’s very easy to let your personal and work lives collide in a work-from-home situation. Suddenly, your lunch breach becomes laundry time. A 5-minute tea break turns in a half hour in front of the telly. Your finishing hour gets closer and closer to dinner time.
If you’re going to keep this up, you need to keep a strict line between home life and work life. It can be hard for other people in your life too – they think because you’re at home you’re available. You’ll find them calling for a chat or popping around for coffee. Make sure you let your loved ones know that you’re at work while you’re at home and you’re not to be disturbed, just as if you were in an office. If it means screening their calls during work hours, do it.
It goes the same way too – don’t let your work life slide in to your personal life. Set yourself working hours and stick to them! Make it a rule to truly “switch off” when you’re done working.
- Avoid distractions
When you’re plugging away at a somewhat monotonous task, it’s natural to reach for distractions. It’s a little harder in a workplace where there’s always someone looking over your shoulder, ready to catch you browsing Reddit or scrolling Instagram. At home, there’s zero supervision to scare you away from these technology temptations. Plus, you’re in your own home – all your favourite distractions are right here. Even your not-so-favourite things – like dirty dishes or a messy playroom – can tempt you away from your work. The key here is discipline, discipline, discipline.
- Mod cons
If you’re going to work from home, make sure you still have everything you need. Sure, you don’t need the big, fancy printer-fax machine-copier from your previous corporate job, but you’ll probably need a printer and scanner of some sort. The lusted-after stationary cupboard is no more, so you’ll need to make sure you head over to your local office suppliers and pick up what you need.
Chat to your accountant about what expenses you should be claiming as business expenses (for example, you may be able to claim part of your mortgage payments as a business expense). Make sure your business starts paying its own way as soon as possible and resist the temptation to support it from your personal funds. You didn’t buy yourself a job when you chose to go out on your own, so make the business work for you, not the other way around.
If you can make it work, the home office is an easy and affordable way of running your own business. With little to no extra cost involved and no commute, it can afford business owners fabulous flexibility and is especially suitable to early-stage start-ups. On the other hand, it can be isolating and not very productive. If you find yourself falling into the latter category, it might be time to search for another option.
Licensing Coworking Space
The tech wave has also brought another wonderful innovation to our shores – the coworking space. Need commercial office space, internet and meeting rooms, but can’t afford (or afraid to commit to) a lease all on your own? No worries – the coworking space makes finding a place easy and affordable.
There are certain things you need to be aware of when signing up to either a licence (i.e. coworking) or a lease of property. We explain the key differences between them and the things you need to be aware of below.
In a coworking arrangement, the set up usually looks a little like this:
OWNER/LANDLORD > TENANT > LICENCEES
The owner of the building leases the property to their tenant, the entity that runs the coworking space. That entity then licences its members to occupy certain parts of the premises in exchange for subsidised rental fees (often called membership fees, licence fees or occupation fees). The coworking entity uses the licence or occupation fees to pay their rent to the landlord.
Important things to note:
- Who everyone is and what their responsibilities are.
You need to be clear on exactly what your coworking entity is going to do and be responsible for, and the role of the owner/landlord in the whole thing. For example, if the building suffers damage that means you can’t use the space, who takes care of that?
- The term of your agreement
At the most basic level, you need to know if you’re locked in for a minimum term or not. By the same token, can your coworking space kick you out whenever they like?
Be clear on what fees you’re liable to pay and how often. Be on the look out for any “hidden costs”. Know when you need to pay them too – late payment can sometimes mean you’re out.
- Services provided
Coworking spaces often appear attractive for the extra services they provide that would be expensive to sign up for on your own, such as high-speed internet, reception services, and so on.
Coworking spaces often have “levels” of membership (usually a virtual office where the space functions as a mailing address only, a part time membership where you hot desk and can’t leave anything behind and a full-time membership where you get a dedicated desk or office space and storage). Be clear on the inclusions in the membership package you choose and any minimum service levels the entity is willing to commit to.
- Insurance coverage
Ask your coworking space what insurance you need to have in the space. If they can’t answer you, speak to an insurance broker familiar with coworking spaces, who’ll be able to advise you on the best coverage for your business. Often, coworking entities provide no insurance against things like property theft or damage, cyber hacks or workplace injuries. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got insurance in place to minimise those risks to your business. A big one is public liability insurance – the last thing you want is to accidentally burn down the building making your morning toast and face a bill for it at the end.
- Internet security
For ease of connection, coworking spaces often use WiFi to let members to connect to their network. Although password protected, the network is open to all members and may be hacked (either from the inside by another member or from the outside by a professional hacker attracted to a network with multiple business’ information accessible within it). Make sure you speak to your coworking space about their internet and cyber security protocols and what you can do to minimise your risk (such as requesting the installation of a VLAN). Make sure you’re complying with any standards required in your industry for adequate data protection. If you haven’t already got it, invest in cyber insurance to minimise the financial risk of hacks to your business.
- Compliance and Codes of Conduct
Coworking spaces involve lots of people with different personalities sharing common space. Accordingly, coworking entities frequently put in place codes of conduct, which set out the standard of behaviour required of members. Make sure you read up on these before you enter the space, as breach of the Code will often mean a breach of your agreement (meaning they can probably kick you out).
Coworking spaces are the answer to many a lonely or unproductive home officer worker’s prayers. They offer the commercial facilities of an office without the expense or commitment that usually goes with it. Most coworking spaces also offer a wonderful sense of community. But they’re not just for solopreneurs – for teams under 8 people, coworking spaces can be more affordable, even long term. Coworking is a great low-risk way to house your team, with the ability to scale up and down without holding the cost of excess space you don’t need. As your business and team grows, however, it’s possible to outgrow a coworking space and need to look at taking your next step..
If you’re considering sub-letting part of your office, or taking up a sub-lease, make sure you think about the following:
- Whether sub-letting is permitted
The most important thing to know in a sub-letting situation is whether sub-letting is permitted under the head lease (i.e. the original lease between the owner/landlord and the tenant) and, if so, whether there are conditions attached.
It’s common for leases to prohibit sub-letting altogether, so it’s very important to check this before you enter into a sub-lease. If sub-leasing is prohibited altogether, you’ll need a formal variation of the lease before you can safely sub-let.
- Whether consent is required
Another common term is for landlords to prohibit sub-leasing unless the landlord consents in writing. It’s important to actually get that consent in writing, but (happy days!) it’s often cheaper than a formal variation of lease.
Landlords may even specify that if you want to sub-lease your premises, the proposed sub-lessee must go through an approvals process.
- Know who you’re dealing with
Remember that when you enter into a sub-lease, it’s an agreement between the sub-lessor and sub-lessee. Unless you’ve got it in writing, the head lessor isn’t bound by the terms of the sub-lease. For example, if you were to sub-lease premises to person X, and person X failed to pay rent for 3 months, you’re still obliged to pay rent to your landlord monthly and need to keep making payments regardless.
- Know the risks
If you enter into an illegal sub-lease, it’s a bad idea whether you’re the sub-lessor or the sub-lessee. For sub-lessors, the sub-lease will be a breach of your lease with your landlord, meaning that they can terminate the lease and kick you out. For sub-lessees, you’ve got no rights and if the landlord finds out, they can terminate the head lease and kick out the lessee (meaning that you’re out too).
Sub-letting can be a useful stop-gap for businesses in that awkward growth stage. You’re expanding your team and need more space and a sense of identity, but you’re not quote at the level where you’re ready to be on your own. While handy, sub-letting isn’t usually a long-term solution for businesses, as it can be risky and volatile.
When it comes to leasing property, you’re generally taking on a much bigger and more serious commitment than licensing coworking space, and you should take the appropriate amount of time to think it through. Go through a budget and cashflow forecasting exercise with your accountant and be confident you’ll be able to pay your rent on time each month.
The keys things you’ll want to be looking for in your lease:
How long will you be able to use the premises for? Is there an option period, where you can extend the lease?
- Fit-Out Costs
Do you need to invest money to fit out the premises for your business? What do those costs look like? Who will bear them?
Considering the term of your lease and the fit-out costs go hand in hand: at the end of the day, furniture, carpet, paint and fixtures are all worth nothing without a lease.
- Make Good Clauses
At the end of the lease, are you required to “make good” (i.e. return the premises to its original condition)? Weigh up the fit-out costs against the lease term and make good costs to help determine if a premises is a good fit (and a good investment!)
What is the amount of rent you’re required to pay? How often? Who to and how? Think about the practicality of the arrangements and whether your cash flow will allow you to make payments as required. Consider what will happen if you have a sudden downturn in cashflow and how this would impact on your ability to pay rent. Do you have a safety net, in the form of savings or business interruption insurance?
Landlords often require tenants to pay all outgoings for the premises, meaning water, electricity and other costs, such as maintenance on air conditioning units or contributions to cleaning of common areas.
Be clear about the outgoings you’re required to pay, how often they’re due and how they will be calculated.
- Rental Increases
How often can the landlord increase your rent? Is there a regular review period or is there a trigger event, such as the exercise of an option to extend? Is there a formula set out for the increase? How will this work in practice? What will happen if you can’t agree (for example, what if you can’t agree what the new “fair market rent” is)?
What insurances will you need to have in place? Landlords often require public liability insurance coverage, with their interest noted on the policy. They may also require different types of insurance, such as plate glass insurance for office spaces, and will usually require you to produce a certificate of currency before handing over the keys.
- Landlord Contributions
Will the landlord be contributing to any costs? What are they? When are they required to pay? How clear is this or, on the other hand, how open to interpretation? As a general rule, you want everything in the lease to be as clear as possible, to avoid misunderstandings and disagreements down the track.
- Rent Free Periods
Is the landlord offering a rent-free period? How long for? How is that period defined? Are you required to pay outgoings during that period?
What else is included, apart from the lettable area itself? Does the premises come with car spaces? Are they marked? What about common areas you can use?
Leasing premises is a big commitment for any business, whether you decide to sign up from day one or day 1001. In saying that, leases offer long-term stability and sense of identity, so if you have a stable idea of your next 5 year growth and it involves a large team or stock area, then leasing your own premises is likely to be a financially sound decision. As long as you’ve got the cash flow and the consistency to keep up with the rent, you’re good here.
Buying Commercial Premises
Business owners sometimes get to the stage where it makes sense for them to buy their commercial premises. This is particularly so if you have a factory or plant.
If this is something you’re considering, keep these things in mind:
Commercial property costs a lot more than residential property. Survey the market and know what you’re likely going to be up for. Look at different types of commercial property, different locations and different sizes to find something in your budget. Figure out how you’re going to fund the purchase. Talking to a financial planner will be invaluable in helping you make these key decisions.
If you’re going to be renting some or all of the premises, consider the return. Keep in mind that while commercial property offers a greater return than residential property, it comes at a higher risk. If you’re relying on rental returns to fund the purchase, what will you do if part of the premises remains unoccupied longer than expected?
Make sure you talk to a tax advisor about the tax implications of buying, leasing and selling your commercial property.
Upkeep on commercial properties is a huge ongoing cost. Consider how you will maintain things like air-conditioning systems and facilities. Also consider how frequently you’ll need to refresh the look of the building to maintain rental interest from the market.
Factor outgoings into your budget. If you’re leasing all or part of the building, you’ll be able to recoup outgoings from tenants, but if you’re buying to occupy, you’ll be looking at that expense on top.
Buying commercial property is a serious investment, not to be undertaken lightly. Getting professional advice from a financial planner, accountant, tax advisor and lawyer is essential to ensure you’re making a smart commercial decision.
Your Perfect Premises
The type of premises you go for will depend in large part on what your business does, your growth trajectory and your appetite for risk. If you’re a product-based business or one that requires a lot of physical space, you might be forced to go straight in at a sub-let or lease level (or even purchase!), unless you can overcome space issues with a managed warehouse solution, where an outsourced provider picks and packs your orders for you. If you’re a lean service-based business, you might start off working from home and work your way up to a lease over time. Each option comes with its pros and cons – careful decision making should help you make the right decision for your business.