If you don’t like the idea of working from home, or if your home is not a suitable place to work from, the good news is there are several low-cost alternatives:
1. Shared office space
If you like to have the buzz of other people around you, why not rent a desk in a shared office space. At Le Bureau in Battersea, South London for example, you can rent a desk for £99 a week, with a minimum term of a month. The only other thing you pay for is the cost of phone calls. Far cheaper and more flexible than renting an office of your own, much more sociable than sitting at home alone. Outside London, it will be even cheaper for a similar arrangement.
The chance to network with like-minded entrepreneurs; provides a structure to your working day.
The cost compared to working from home; lack of privacy.
2. Rent a desk in a friends office
If you know someone with space to space, why not ask if you can borrow a desk for a few months. They get a bit of income; you get a bit of company and possibly some inspiration.
The sociability; feeling part of something bigger.
You may not have friends with offices and desks to spare in them.
Six months after starting up his business Exposure, a communications agency, from his flat in West London, Raoul Shah was so lonely working on his own that he rented a desk in the corner of a friends’ design agency in central London. Even though the two businesses were not in the same industry, he was overjoyed to be part of a stimulating office environment again.
He says: “It was very conducive to my work, feeling that I was suddenly part of something. Even having someone to talk to for five minutes while I was making a cup of tea really helped. It gave me a real sense of aspiration of what it would be like to have an office of my own one day. It helped to focus my mind on what I would love to achieve.”
An incubator is a free or low-cost, supportive environment designed to help and encourage new businesses to thrive. They are usually set up for a specific industry – the mobile phone company Telefonica, for example, has established incubators in several cities for fledgeling tech firms. Entrepreneurs who are accepted onto the Wayra programme receive free workspace, training and support for a year, in return for Telefonica taking a small equity stake in their venture.
Inexpensive; surrounded by like-minded people to discuss ideas with; access to shared resources.
Some, although not all, incubators require you to give up a stake in your business in return for the assistance provided.
4. Build a mobile business
Work from other people’s houses or offices instead of your own. If you are providing consultancy work or IT support, for example, it makes sense for the client to provide you with a desk in their office while you work on the project. This arrangement can even work for ventures which have traditionally needed premises of their own – mobile hairdressers can cut hair in the customers’ home and do away with the need for a bricks and mortar salon.
Minimal outlay; being in constant close contact with clients means they are likely to put more work your way.
It can be exhausting to constantly travel to new places and always work in other people’s working environments; lack of privacy.
5. Rent a serviced office
A serviced office provides you with office space complete with furniture, phones, broadband and receptionists, and you can be up and running within 24 hours. Serviced offices require more commitment than shared office space, but they are still far more flexible than taking on premises of your own. Some providers such as Regus (regus.co.uk) offer the option of offices on a full-time or part-time basis, short term or long term, plus additional services such as telephone answering and mail handling.
Looks professional; you can rent meeting rooms by the day to see clients; is usually easy to upgrade to a bigger office as your business grows.
Can work out expensive in the long term; serviced offices can be bland and lack individuality or character.
6. Work out a self-storage unit
A growing number of entrepreneurs who need space to stock their stock have discovered that self-storage units are great places from which to run a small business. It is not hard to see the appeal – in return for a rental fee payable by the month you get 24-hour access and round-the-clock security, there are trolleys on hand to move stock around, and deliveries can be left in reception. Storage sizes range from a lock-up box the size of a washing machine to a 5,000-sq-ft warehouse.
Indeed some self-storage operators such as Access Self Storage (accessstorage.co.uk) now provide offices to rent by the month on the same sites as their storage units. Offices can be rented for a minimum of one month, and the price includes business rates, heating, lighting and service charges.
Lots of space and included support; easy to add more space as you need it.
The set-up works best for wholesale and online businesses — retailers are not permitted to trade from the sites.
Chris Beattie runs his environmentally friendly courier service, WEGO couriers, from an Access self-storage unit in the centre of Nottingham. He rents a 200-sq-ft unit on the ground floor to store his bikes and has a separate space upstairs which he uses as an office for the business, which has a turnover of £250,000 a year.
He says: “Using a storage unit is very flexible. You are not restricted to three-year contracts, and you can add more space when you want. They have a forklift truck, which is great because it means I don’t have to train staff, and all the health and safety of the building is managed by them.”
7. Join a co-operative
The past few years have seen a surge in the number of co-operatives which have been formed by entrepreneurs and small start-ups with the aim of cutting overheads by sharing rent, equipment and expertise. Known as co-operative consortia, they work in the same egalitarian way as other co-ops, such as housing and community groups, with all members sharing the benefits, but the emphasis is squarely on the bottom line.
Co-operative members can swap skills too and work on projects together.
Problems can arise if members disagree on issues; collective decision-making can be slow and time-consuming.
The Open Space co-operative in Manchester was set up by six individuals wanting a better deal on renting offices. Since 2008 the members, including a web designer, an online marketing company and a political cartoonist, have been renting a former workshop in Hulme, each paying only £100 a month for a desk with a telephone and internet access. The group, which has grown to 12 people, has also discovered the benefits of sharing skills.
Finn Lewis, one of the founders, who runs a web design firm, said: “The great thing about being a co-operative is that we are our own landlords, but over the past 18 months all sorts of other benefits that we weren’t expecting have also come to light. The marketing guy advises us, and we advise other people about their websites. The amount of knowledge in there is incredible.”