I'm Stressed Out!Setting up your first office for your blossoming business is an exciting adventure, but also often an anxiety-inducing one. There are so many things to consider when getting started; the task can seem like more than you can handle. We’re here to tell you: “You got this!” Yes, it is a stressful time, but an incredibly rewarding one as well. The main stressor usually revolves around money. Getting your office up and running is not cheap. The initial start-up costs are vast, and for a budding business, your budget may be tight. Luckily, with some planning, preparation, and research, you can successfully set up your first office without going bankrupt before you even get started. Below are some of our top tips for saving money and getting off to a successful start.
Finding a SpaceThis is the initial, and often the most stressful, step for new business owners. Rent is a HUGE expense, and office-hunting is something that most people dread if they’re on a budget. Still, a growing business needs a permanent address and a place to operate. By getting organized, and by being willing to compromise, though, you can find a space that will benefit your business for at least the first few years.
First things first: set a budget. Set this budget based on what you can afford now - not what you hope to be making a year from now. Rent is a big expense every month, and while hopefully your business will expand quickly and the cash will be rolling in before you know it, you don’t want to be overly-optimistic when it comes to being able to keep a roof over your business. Consider the fact that you will likely be on a lease, and you need to be sure that you can make payments throughout the remainder of that lease, even if you don’t show profits right away. Be practical, and set a realistic max-rent for your office space.
Before you start looking, sit down and make a list of all your requirements and desires in an office, starting with non-negotiables and working your way down to preferences. Treat this process at first as you would if you were looking for a new apartment to live in. What do you absolutely have to have? What could you live without for a year (or however long your lease is)? If you were on the hunt for a new apartment, you may know that you absolutely have to have two bedrooms. In-unit laundry may be very important to you, and you would also really like a nice bathtub and a balcony. Oh, and preferably it all be in your favorite trendy neighborhood. Well, if you’re on a limited budget, you’ll be lucky to get two out of five. The same comes when shopping for office space. You have to be willing to make compromises.
So, what’s most important? Just like for many people when looking for their next home, square footage is usually the number one concern. How many employees do you have? How many employees do you plan on having within the next couple years? You want to make sure that you have enough room to grow without feeling like you’re running a sweatshop. More square footage means more money per month, though, so think about what size space you can be productive and comfortable in, while perhaps be willing to forgo that extra conference room or relaxation space if it isn’t really necessary.
Another big consideration when it comes to renting is location. Sure, it may be exciting to work right downtown, amidst the buzz of booming businesses all around you, but that location is likely to carry a hefty price tag. Finding an office space right near your home may be convenient and save you a little on gas, but if rents in your neighborhood are on the spendier side, it may be worth it to expand your search a few more miles out. Sometimes a few blocks makes a big difference when it comes to rental prices.
ALWAYS check out the space for yourself before you make a commitment. Anyone can make a rental space sound appealing on an advertisement or over the phone, but don’t take their word for it. You don’t want to get caught in a lease just to move in and find that the place is wrecked with water damage, peeling paint, and smells like it was home to a cat commune for the last ten years. Really explore it and make sure everything is up to snuff. You’re going to be spending a large portion of your week in this space, remember, so make sure you aren’t going to be sacrificing your health and happiness while there. Also, make sure the space is viable for your business plan. Envision it filled with desks, people, technology, and storage. Can you see your business effectively running in the space? Is there room for growth? You also may want to check out the space at different times of the day. Yes, we said to look for spaces in less trendy neighborhoods, but if you managed to find dirt cheap rent, make sure it isn’t in a neighborhood where you’re going to be fearing for your safety when you lock up for the night.
There are also a few more things you may want to consider before committing to a space. Of course, it is imperative that you read all fine print on your rental agreement and talk to the landlord. Is the landlord willing to quickly respond to any maintenance issues? Electrical issues can shut your whole business down until it gets resolved, and that is money lost. Also, consider extra costs that may be associated with the space outside of rent. Is there parking available, or are you and your employees going to have to pay an exorbitant amount of money each month for a spot in the nearest parking garage? Lastly, don’t forget to get renter’s insurance! You are going to be filling your office space with a lot of expensive capital. Should something happen (theft, fire, earthquake, etc), you can’t afford to just eat the loss.
Choosing Your Office LayoutBelieve it or not, how you choose to set up your office has major cost implications. Of course, you have to first consider what kind of layout will be most appropriate for your business model. Productivity and growth are the number one goal, so before even thinking about cost, first consider if any model will prohibit your company’s success. For instance, if you’re dealing with a lot of client facing, or you’re dealing with confidential projects, more privacy will be required in your office setup. On the other hand, if the work you’re doing is highly collaborative and creative, an open office layout may be more conducive to your business’ growth. You may also be constrained in this regard with the office space you were able to secure. A wide open loft allows for some flexibility, while a smaller or more broken up space can force you to get more creative with how you setup your space.
If physical space and privacy or collaboration concerns aren’t too restrictive, it's time to think about cost. While there are many reports that suggest the open office design results in a less productive work environment than, say, a cubicle layout, there is no argument when it comes to which is cheaper. An open office is hands down the more budget-friendly option. Large tables are less costly than individual desks, and cubicles are an extra expense. Plus, if you envision employee growth in the future, an open office layout is much more conducive to that. It’s much easier to fit more people in a smaller space with this setup. So, when you’re just starting out, an open office layout may be a better decision for you. That is, of course, if privacy isn’t a major concern for your business. If you begin to worry about productivity and employee comfort with this setup, you can always go in a different direction in the future, but for a new business, an open office setup is much more cost effective.
ComputersHere comes the biggie: computers. Supplying your office with the right technology feels like an overwhelming task to many new business owners. After all, computers can be costly, and there is a massive selection to choose from. Do you go laptop or desktop? Mac or PC? How cheap is too cheap? Do you shell out the extra cash for the extra power? All of these questions have likely been swarming through your head. While you are right to make this decision with great consideration, it doesn’t need to be the headache that most people make it out to be. Take a deep breath, relax, and like with everything else, just evaluate your needs.
When choosing your own personal computer, you had certain preferences and requirements and were likely to pay more for the right device to satisfy your needs and tastes. When supplying for an office, though, you want to make sure you are suiting the needs of your business and employees, without breaking the bank.
With so many cheap options out there, it may be tempting when starting out to just go with the cheapest office. When it comes to technology, though, what’s cheapest in the short-run may end up costing you more in the long-run. What’s really important when selecting computers for your business is selecting ones that will last. Sure, you could go ahead and purchase those inexpensive mini laptops, but are you going to end up having to completely replace them after six months as your business grows? Also, do they even have the capability of completing the tasks you need them to? It’s far better to spend a little extra on technology at first, rather than having to spend more in the near future. Choosing something that will get the job done, and won’t need to be replaced quickly as your company expands.
As for the desktop vs. laptop debate, that is more a matter of preference. If you’re planning on using the open office layout that has become so popular, laptops are often more conducive to a collaborative work space. They’re easy to maneuver, with generally fewer wires getting in the way, and less of a need for easy access to a power source. They can also be less expensive. Desktops have their perks, too, though. Larger storage capacity, larger monitors, and more power make them appealing to many.
A few things worth considering when purchasing computers for your business:
1. How many computers do you need?This sounds obvious, but don’t just think in the immediate, here. What are your growth plans? You may only be starting out with three employees, but do you plan on expanding that number within the next six months to a year? If more employees (and more computers) seem certain in your near future, plan ahead! Not only is it better to have everyone using the same technology, but you may be able to get a better deal the more you buy. However, be careful not to overestimate - you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of leftover technology you can’t use or sell for anywhere near what you paid for it.
2. What will you be using the technology for?If you are running a firm that relies heavily on speed and storage, you’re going to want to spend more than a business that mainly uses technology for email, spreadsheets, and documents. A graphic design firm or media firm, for instance, is going to require programs that need a high-speed, high-storage device to function properly. Make sure you do some research and find computers that can handle what you need them for.
3. Look for deals!
Many companies offer discounts on technology for businesses. Many individual manufacturers (such as Apple and Dell) and big box stores (such as Office Depot and Best Buy) will offer special discounts for business, but be sure to read the fine print. Some of these “deals” can actually be more expensive than they are for an individual, so be sure to research these discounts carefully. Also, you may not qualify for many. Most small business discounts have a range of qualifications and requirements, and many stores will offer multiple discount categories you can apply for. If you only have a handful of employees, you may be left out in the cold - but not always! Explore your options. There is definitely a deal out there for you. You just have to be willing to do a little digging.