When you start to grow your business, it can become obvious that you need to move out of the dining room or even home office and into your own premises. I was lucky enough to be able to dedicate a room in our house to Libro, and I work quite happily up here and don’t intend to move out. But if you don’t have space to put aside a dedicated and undisturbed area of your home (or you don’t want to work from home), you are making something that you want to be able to leave out overnight, or you are planning on seeing clients, it can become a matter of necessity.
Here we meet three people who have expanded into their own new premises, and learn how and why they did it, and what happened next …
Jennifer Woracker of Twinkleballs, who makes cake toppers and is one of my Small Business Chat interviewees, has just moved into a workshop in the garden. She and her family recently moved in with her parents in Wales, and her mum helped her to convert the summer house, paying for the initial work, which cost around £1000. Jennifer is now paying her mum back in monthly instalments.
By doing this, Jennifer has none of the disadvantages of paying business rates and rent on a premises, and all of the advantages of having her own studio to work from, which has made the world of difference to both her business and her home life.
Before getting her own space, she had to work from the kitchen in my home, which meant that she couldn’t start work until the family were fed and all the cleaning up done, she could only work at night and had to clear everything away before she could go to bed, “often at 2am!”. She also had to kick out all the pets and make sure the area was spotless before work could commence. What about now?
My purpose-built studio has everything I need to store my tools and materials and I can leave my work out to come back to as and when I want, this means I can pop in and work for an hour or so during the day when the children are other wise occupied. When the children go to bed I escape to my little shed in the garden and get down to doing the work I love, I use a baby monitor so I can be sure the children are safe and sound while I am working. My studio is a lovely fresh, clean and pet free environment that is a pleasure to work in, it has a sink with a water heater, a huge work top and loads of cupboards. I also have a kettle for the all important tea brakes and my laptop with Spotify playing my favourite tunes. It is great to have a place of my own to explore and develop my creativity!
John Ellery of Ellery Consulting, a firm that specialises in grant making and fundraising, has taken one private and one government-initiated path to having premises. Why did he take this route? After trying for a short period to work from home, with a young family and many distractions, he realised that working from home wasn’t ideal for him. As he was a relatively new business with the associated cash-flow concerns, he wasn’t keen on paying out an expense for an office initially.
His initial solution was signing up for a Regus Goldcard, which he did in his second month of operation. This allowed him use of Regus Business Lounges across the country (he picked up a free Goldcard with his membership of the Federation of Small Businesses. It looks like you get a different level of free membership these days: do check before joining either service). His assessment of these spaces:
Whilst these do not provide private space they offer a professional environment, a place to go to work to – separating work and home environments – and free tea and coffee. The Business Lounges were still a fairly informal work environment, with sometimes Lounges being very busy and noisy and the annoyance of having to pack and unpack everything if you wanted to nip out to get lunch.
Looking for something more private as he grew the business, John then found the government ‘Spaces for Growth’ scheme, offering free space for start-ups, SMEs and social enterprises through the use of empty government buildings. This gave him a permanent space of his own, an offer of additional desks as the business grew and a formal office to invite contacts and partners to. In his words, “This gave the business a great saving as we attempted to grow”.
John says of his adventures in low-cost premises:
I have used both of these schemes in order to provide myself with a work space, a place away from home that I can go to do a day’s work, with this separating the work and home environments. Through these two approaches I have managed to do this at a minimum costs allowing me to focus use of business funds on growth opportunities.
They both have the additional and unexpected benefit of mixing with other people and businesses in a similar situations, with this network found to be vital as he faced the challenges of being a new business owner. The biggest issue was the lack of meeting or private space in these environments, “However, this is easily overcome through meeting partners in their offices or going out for a coffee!”
Would John recommend these two schemes? “Definitely. The Spaces for Growth is an especially strong and under-used scheme which will be of great benefit to help the business grow”.
Karin Blak of Interrelate has taken a slightly more conventional approach to business premises. She’s a psychosexual and relationship therapist in private practice but also runs a training business providing courses in emotional first aid, listening skills for teachers, emergency workers, etc.
Karin founded Interelate in 2005 but only offered the training on an ad hoc basis, so premises were not a priority. However, when she started to run this side of the business seriously, she realised that something would have to give:
At the moment, any work relating to Interelate is done at the dining room table at home, which now is no longer appropriate. Having to clear all my work into piles on the floor every evening when the family sits down for dinner is not good and does not encourage my family to realise that this is a business not just something Mum does to keep her occupied. For me, it will instill a working day rather than working from the moment I wake until going to bed at night. I so look forward to regaining my home and having to get out of the door to go to work.
She does already have a practice room in town for her private practice, but there is not enough space there for her desk, books, papers and stuff that is needed to run a training business. So she began to look at other businesses and how they were going about expanding or moving. Having noticed that some were getting some good deals on rent or getting landlords to include additional services, “I realised that I needed to be cheeky, so when I went looking at premises I began to bargain with landlords and managed to get a really good deal without too much haggling”.
The upshot of this haggling is that Karin is currently moving into a lovely room in the centre of town with enough space for both therapy and training, and paying less than she did for just her therapy room. Although she had the experience of running the therapy room before, it’s clear that looking at others’ experiences was really helpful for her [as I hope this series of expert opinions and case studies is for you!]. She has some useful things to say about the financial side of things:
The cost side has become more important than before because of launching Interelate and having to invest in business development services, updating the website, telephone answering services, equipment and so on before I have earned any serious income.
Karin admits that she didn’t do as much budgeting as she now thinks she should have done, and suspects, “I could probably have got more out of my little pot of money if I had”. She did go to her bank, but, while they were willing to help, could only contribute half of what she was asking, mainly because the business wasn’t creating an income yet.
Would Karin do it again? It’s early days and, as she says, it was a leap of faith but in going about the process of research and evaluation, she has already made some valuable connections who are going to be helping her by selling and even buying her training courses. Like John, she’s found a side benefit to getting out of the home office and into the wider world in terms of networking and connections. Her final comment:
My message is that I would always take that leap of faith again because a. I am enjoying all so much b. I am meeting some fantastic people c. I will never be able to say that I didn’t try hard to make it work.
So, we have three ways here in which you can expand your business by expanding into premises. You can build a garden office/workshop, invest in various schemes that give you more or less temporary space, or take the leap of faith and trust that your business will make enough in its new home to pay those rental and service fees. All of them take planning, and you must continually check that you’re getting value for money.
Thank you to Jennifer, John and Karin for their input into this article. I’m hoping to find an estate agent to contribute an expert post on this topic – if you are one or you know one, please do get in touch with me!
Karin Blak Interelate