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This chapter is from the book

You Need an Office for Clients

Whether we like it or not, sometimes people judge us and our ability to deliver based on their perception of us. Okay, that’s a lie—it happens all the time. Whether they base that on the clothes we wear, the number of piercings we have, the color of our hair, or the office we work from, clients and customers judge us by measures we may not be aware of.

For some industries, this is less of an issue. I work mostly from home, as a digital strategist, author, and speaker. My office doesn’t matter as much as my ability to get to my clients’ offices. If I’m doing a strategy session, I prefer to go to the client, or at least video conference with them so that we are all on the same page at the same time. Also, they tend to relax more in their own surroundings.

Other professions require an office space; for example, would you be comfortable with a lawyer who suggested you meet at your home? Would you be worried that they didn’t have an office? Some people would probably be fine with it, but I think many would not be. It’s expected that when taking that kind of advice, you receive it in a professional environment, usually the law offices.

Some consultants feel that an office adds an element of professionalism that separates them from “freelancers” and other solo-run businesses that do not have the budget for an office. If this is you, then although I understand, and have even explored those thoughts myself, I would say that you are seeking the more traditional in-office work style and probably will find it harder to adjust to the Out of Office work style.

An office doesn’t make you more of a professional; ultimately what gives your business credence is the product you produce or the service you provide. Providing excellence in those areas will overcome pretty much any resistance you might meet from clients or potential clients who want to visit your swanky office.

Of course, if you are chasing those types of people as your source of income, then again perhaps the Out of Office work style isn’t going to fit with your overall business plan. It doesn’t work for all businesses, nor for all people and certainly not for all target markets. I have clients who are Fortune 500, household names, and they never seem to be bothered that I work from home; rather, they are more concerned that I can deliver a quality service at the right price—and, of course, by reducing my overheads and working from home, I have a competitive edge over other providers who have to support the cost of a large, luxurious office.

Renting an office space is certainly an option for many solopreneurs. It can and in many cases does lead to improved productivity and provides for an alternate workspace that is as (if not more) controllable than a home-based office. This is certainly a factor to consider when looking for viable Out of Office work locations—even though it is technically in an office, it is not the formal organizational setting that I am referring to as “in office.”

If the expense of renting an office on your own is something you are unsure about, there are other options.

An office is quite probably the largest expense any individual or organization will take on—whether you rent or purchase, it is a major overhead. Executive offices that rent by the hour or have shorter-term leases are a good solution for this type of situation if you need an office on a frequent basis, but what if your need is more sporadic, less structured? Do you just accept the nature of this type of requirement and pay the overhead, hoping to get utility from a space that you only use infrequently?

Actually, several solutions fit this need. Many co-working spaces provide meeting/conference rooms that can easily be tailored for any meeting and can be rented on an hourly basis.

Their rates are usually lower than those of executive offices, and although they might not present exactly the same image as an executive suit, they are most definitely a step up from a coffee shop table.

Here is a story about an Out of Office worker who chose the co-working space to keep him motivated and sane:

  • I finished graduate school and moved back home to the U.S. in 2010. My plan was to start my own business. I have a background in programming and online marketing and started my first online business at age 16. So this didn’t feel unusual. What was unusual was that I was no longer in school. This difference didn’t seem like much, but I quickly realized I wasn’t being productive after a couple months. Days seemed to disappear.
  • It was hard to get work done with an infinite supply of distractions and no peer group or structure to stop me. I was a mess.
  • I was lucky enough to recognize it. I tried a lot of different things to spark my productivity. Nothing that kept me at home worked. Four months later I joined Affinity Lab, Washington D.C.’s oldest co-working space. Suddenly, I was in an environment full of other entrepreneurs being productive. It also gave me a social group, which I desperately lacked after moving to a city with very few friends. It got me started and has sustained me for the past 19 months. I built my startup, Review Signal(.com), which I built and launched (last week!) during my tenure at the co-working space. I would have never managed without getting back into an office environment. I don’t need a boss, but I need colleagues for social and professional reasons. Having access to 60+ other companies who have faced similar challenges and help each other was the difference between giving up and wasting my time and being productive and launching a product. Getting back into the office environment has kept me sane and even made me happy living in Washington, D.C. again.

That need for like-minded individuals—to be around those who at the very least share an understanding of what it is like to be facing challenges alone or with only a couple of other people for support—is why co-working spaces are so popular, especially with new entrepreneurs who have yet to build out a team but still need the proximity of others. For employees of larger organizations, co-working spaces can also provide the social setting that they may be missing; however, the infrastructure/security concerns can outweigh the social benefits.

Hotels often have conference rooms as well as meeting rooms that are available for hire for short periods, especially during the week when they aren’t being used for conferences or weddings. Although having someone meet you at a hotel might seem awkward, the environment can actually lend itself well to a different kind of professional experience. If you go with a more upmarket hotel, then the furnishing and fittings will certainly be of a higher level than you would find in all except the most formal and expensive of office spaces. Hotels have the advantage over other office spaces of also being able to offer catering services. So if your meeting is going to be timed around lunch, but a restaurant isn’t appropriate, why not have lunch catered in the conference room?

Far from being an odd place, the hotel setting can actually enable you to step up your presentation and increase the perceived value of your business, if you think creatively.

Of course, if these elements are outside your budget, or simply don’t exist in your locale, then a formal office might be your only resort, and again that is a major consideration to take into account before committing to the Out of Office work style.

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