It seems more and more people are discarding the rat race lifestyle and embracing the notion that they don't need to leave the house every day to go to work — they can have successful home office meetings with clients without the hassle and expense of commuting. There are over 38 million home businesses in the U.S., making up 50 percent of all small businesses.
Having a home business that includes meeting with clients in your home office has many other advantages. You save money by not having to rent and maintain retail office space and if you have children, flexible work hours can make it easier to be there for all those important moments from picking up kids from school through taking one to the doctor. And you’re on the spot if some crisis occurs. Working from home is also great for the environment.
But you can only reap the advantages if you can do what needs to be done to give your home business a professional appearance and make it client-friendly. If your clients are uncomfortable for any reason coming to your home to do business, running your business out of your home won’t work for you. Here’s how to keep your clients (and your neighbors!) onside and meet successfully with clients in your home.
Arrange for Parking to Be as Unobtrusive as Possible
Having suitable parking for guests is important if you wish to conduct business from your home. Give clients specific instructions on where to (legally) park when arranging appointments. If you own a house, in your driveway or in front of or on your property is best, so do what you can to make that happen. Put your own vehicle(s) in the garage or elsewhere if needed. Try not to park (or have clients park) in front of anyone else's house on a regular basis.
If you are in an apartment or condominium, see if you can secure an additional parking space for visitors. Having clients constantly using up the "visitor" parking space will eventually cause problems with management.
Creating a parking annoyance for your neighbors will not improve your standing in the neighborhood, nor will having a client's car ticketed and/or towed improve your customer relationships!
Keep Up Your Street Appeal
Having well-maintained premises will give your clients a favorable impression when they visit your home office. That means keeping your outside premises as attractive and inviting as possible.
If you own a house, the exterior siding should be clean and the paint or siding in good condition. Lawns need to be religiously mowed and garden beds should be kept weed free. Shrubs, trees, and bushes should be neatly pruned. If you can’t keep up with the yard work yourself, hire a service to do it for you. Toys, garden implements, etc. should be out of sight.
Have a Separate, Appropriately Decorated Space for Meeting With Clients
Depending on your business, having a separate space in your home such as a home office to conduct business is important - you should not be conducting business with clients in the kitchen or living room.
If, for example, you are a travel agent or notary public or financial adviser, you should have a separate office in the house with access to the technology you need to do your job, such as a laptop/desktop, multifunction printer, etc., as well as a comfortable seating arrangement where you and the client can meet face to face or side by side as necessary.
If you are offering a service like hairdressing or massage therapy in your home, you should have a separate studio space for needed equipment such as sinks, chairs and tables used in your business.
Make Sure the Route to Your Client Space Is Visible and Clear
Clients should not have to go around the house, up a stairway and through a passage before they get to ring a bell and get escorted to your meeting room. If the door they should be knocking on is not clearly visible from where they are expected to park, you need to put some signage (discreet enough not to annoy your neighbors but visible enough that clients will see it when they get out of their vehicles).
Clients should be able to move unobstructed from their vehicles to the room where you are meeting with them. Safety first! Prune shrubbery as necessary. Clear potentially slippery moss and/or ice and snow from walkways. If outside stairs are involved, make sure they are kept clean and have proper railings and a no-slip surface. Be especially vigilant for accident causers such as children’s toys left out where a client could potentially step on one and fall.
Remember your business (and you personally if your business is not incorporated) can be liable for any client accidents on your premises — make sure you carry adequate business insurance as a regular home policy will likely not cover accidents related to business activities in your home.
If you have or expect handicapped customers you should make your premises handicapped accessible (the cost of any handicapped upgrades can be deducted from taxes as a business expense).
Pay Attention to the Decor
Appropriate decoration of your home business space depends on what you do. Tasteful, inoffensive, and politically correct reigns. You don’t want anything distracting or potentially offensive in your client’s view. You want them to focus on you and what you’re offering them, not on the things that are in the room.
You also want to make sure your décor creates the professional image you want to project. Your young children's drawings are great if you are running a daycare in your home but not so good if you’re trying to impress clients with your professional acumen. Pay special attention to the condition of your furnishings. Anything that looks tatty, overused or like it came from a bargain bin somewhere has to go. You want to look successful, not needy.
Keep It Clean and Uncluttered at All Times
Clients are not going to be impressed with dust bunnies, old coffee spills, or extensive clutter in your home office. If you are not cleaning/decluttering your home business space on a regular schedule, make sure you do so before client visits. If you don't have time consider hiring a cleaning service.
For additional information on keeping your home office shipshape see 12 Steps to Organizing Your Office. For a quick cleanup, you may also find 5 Small Manageable Things You Can Do to Organize Your Home Office Right Now useful.
Try to Have the Calmest, Quietest Surroundings Possible
If your home includes small children or dogs, this can be difficult! But even small children have routines and you may be able to schedule meetings at quieter times in your household, such as nap times.
Another option is to have someone else look after your children or pets (either in or out of your home) while you meet with clients. Depending on what you do, you might be able to schedule your meetings for two or three days a week only, cutting down on the childcare you require.
Make Sure Your Children Keep Their Distance
Children (particularly small ones) should never be greeting clients or interrupting you when you’re meeting with clients. However, they may do both of these things if you don’t train them not to. Using a simple ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door of the room you use to meet with clients and telling your children not to knock or enter when the sign is on the doorknob can be very effective. They don’t need to be able to read to know if the sign is there or not.
If you want to make exceptions where it’s okay to interrupt you when you’re working, be sure you present them to young children as specific cases rather than generalities. (Not “you can interrupt Mommy when she’s working if something bad happens” but “you can interrupt Mommy when she’s working if there’s a fire”.) And do not have children answering business phone calls unless they are old enough to speak properly and have been taught how to answer the phone properly.
See Running a Successful Home Business With Kids for more tips on how to combine happy kids and a thriving business in your home.
Contain Your Pets
Many people love animals — but that doesn’t mean all your clients will unless you are running a pet grooming business. Some will be afraid of them. Some will have allergies. Others just plain won’t like them. If your home includes pets, you need to make sure they are under control when you are expecting clients. For example, if you have a dog that tends to bark or bound to the door when the bell rings then contain it elsewhere in your house or on the property for the duration of the client visit.
Because many people have allergies to pet hair, you should try to eliminate the risk as much as possible in the spaces your clients will visit by regular vacuuming and cleaning. If possible, you may want to keep your pets out of your home office at all times to cut down on the problem.
A Home and a Business Can Peacefully Co-Exist
If you can keep them separate enough that one doesn't interfere with the other. Remember, clients are coming to your residence to do business, not to visit your home. And it's your business you want them to remember when they leave and the benefits of the product you've shown them or the great service you've performed for them - not that your front entrance was cluttered with junk or that your dog almost knocked them down.