I have a small satellite installation business with 2 staff members. Can...

I have a small satellite installation business with 2 staff members. Can I operate from my house?

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Two out of three companies (of all sizes) begin in a spare bedroom, garage, basement or sometimes even a bathroom. That’s how companies as diverse as Apple Computer, Baskin-Robbins ice cream, Hallmark cards and Mark Shuttleworth’s Internet security company, Thawte Consulting, began.

If you want to operate from your home, either permanently or temporarily, here are some things you must consider:

1. Firstly, is it legal to do so? This is one of the many possible restrictions on your being allowed to make your home a working castle. Whether and how flexibly you can operate a business from your home is covered in local zoning ordinances and also by the codes and restrictions of body corporates, home owner associations and the like.

2. How are you going to separate your home and your workplace? While the demanding hours required to start any business affect an entrepreneur’s family, when you bring the workplace into the home, your family’s needs must be taken into account even more.

3. How are you going to establish and maintain a professional image? This is especially important if your address is on Cow Path Lane, your dog loves to bark or your teenager loves to play his drums in the room next to your home office.

Most cities have zoning ordinances that limit, to a degree, whether you can operate a business from home. While many communities have modernised their zoning ordinances to recognise that a computer-based business isn’t like a noisy auto body repair shop, an odorous hair salon or a 6am gathering point for a construction or cleaning crew, many communities ban certain kinds of businesses and prescribe limitations that may limit some businesses.

Here are some common activities communities don’t like and may restrict within their zoning code:

  • Increased vehicular traffic, both moving and parked on the street
  • Prominent signs
  • Employees not related to you who are working in your home
  • Use of the home more for business than as a residence (determined by the percentage of space used for the business)
  • Selling retail goods to the public – sometimes communities limit this to specific hours
  • Storing dangerous amounts or kinds of materials inside or outside your home

So, if you’re planning to launch your business from home, the first thing to do is to check out what commercial activity your city allows in your neighbourhood. While many people blithely ignore zoning, a complaining neighbour can put a real kink in your business plan, as you may find yourself with a cease and desist order and have to suddenly move or close down.

So find out what you’re allowed to do, and get along with your neighbours. With their support, you may be able to get a waiver of restrictions, called a variance or conditional-use permit. Since most people who operate a home business have a family, keeping personal and work spaces separate is critical to peaceful domestic relations.

So location is the first thing to think about when you’re planning where your home office will be. If you can have your office in a separate structure, like a garage or a guest house in the backyard, you probably need to think no further.

Entrepreneur
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