When you make the decision to become a self-employed consultant, you’re probably more focused on clients and cash flow than the rather mundane tasks, like finding good office space. But a major factor in finding success on your own is choosing the right environment for your work.

Many new consultants assume they can easily work out of their home, but too often, they erroneously choose that route based on finances rather than sound work-style analysis. In this article, I’ll explain how to perform a work analysis that can help you decide which working environment might be better for you: converting space in your home or renting office space elsewhere.

How a work analysis works
There are obvious advantages to each situation. If you choose to work from home, you won’t have the expense of renting an office, you won’t need to sign a lease, and you can avoid a commute. At an off-site office, on the other hand, you’ll have a private, professional, and dedicated space for your work.

Although both settings have particular advantages that may tend to sway you one way or the other, you should not make a decision without first carefully analyzing how you work best and what your business needs are. You must perform a work analysis. Look at it as doing some consulting for yourself—just as you analyze a client’s needs, take a good look at your own personal needs and the needs of your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do you do most of your work? If you’re an on-site management consultant, then it’s likely that a desk on which to file paperwork and some storage space at home would suffice. If you perform the majority of your work on your own, away from the client site, then the privacy of a dedicated off-site office may be your best choice.
  • How much and what kind of space do you need? How much room do you need to work? What’s worked well for you at previous employers’ offices? How many PCs, printers, fax machines, etc. will you need—not just now, but as your business grows in the first year? Does the space you’re considering have adequate power outlets and phone lines for your business? Do you have room for administrative tasks such as paying bills, taking telephone calls, preparing taxes, and any work that you don’t perform on a computer? You’ll also need space for office supplies and a place to file bills, receipts, invoices, and other paperwork, as well as copies of work for current and past clients back several years. Don’t underestimate the need to be organized. Regardless of whether you work at home or off-site, you will not impress a client by putting them on hold for five minutes while you search frantically for the information they’re calling about.
  • Where do you meet with clients? If your clients are exclusively midsize to large companies, you can probably depend on meeting at their offices. But if your clients are small companies or individuals, they’re less likely to have adequate meeting space. In this case, decide whether meeting in your home is feasible—this point alone may force you to rent space elsewhere. Few clients will care if you work out of your home but meeting there may be another issue.
  • What kind of worker are you? In the past, what type of environment has enabled you to do your best work, and what type has been the most challenging? How easy is it for you to leave your work behind at the end of the day? Even if you haven’t previously considered yourself a workaholic, you may be surprised at how tempting it is to sneak in extra work on evenings or weekends when your computer and files are in the next room. Conversely, if you tend to play computer games or surf the Internet at home, consider how easily those extracurricular activities can bleed into your work time when there’s no employer looking over your shoulder. Having a space away from your home that is defined for and dedicated to work can help you stay focused when you’re there.

Meredith Little runs InfoDoc Solutions, a documentation consulting business she started in 1998. Based in Colorado, the company provides procedural documentation, knowledge-management expertise, and solutions such as user manuals and online help to IT companies nationwide.