Given the state of the world economy and the scarcity of jobs, many people have no alternative other than to consider working for themselves, but what at?

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In this exclusive Urban Times series, Business Lessons from an Entrepreneur, serial business owner and Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library, Stephen Fear, examines a different theme each week of 2013 to give the reader useful and usable lessons for enhancing and growing their own business.

Given the state of the world economy and the scarcity of jobs, many people have no alternative other than to consider working for themselves, but what at?

There is nothing better than working for yourself if you are successful because not only does it lead to a better standard of living, it also gives you more flexibility with your time. This, however, can be a double edged sword in that many people new to self-employment and working from home can fall into the trap of family and friends thinking that they are available night and day for ferrying the kids to school or meeting for coffee and other social events.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Levine Design/ Flickr

Photo Credit: Jeremy Levine Design/ Flickr

Being self-employed, especially if you work from home, requires self-discipline and a firm will. It is prerequisite that you put work first or you will find yourself back looking for an employed position sooner than you think. It is essential that you find an exclusive space within your home where you can work without being continually interrupted; a bedroom or warm garage is better than a dining room or the kitchen where other members of your family will want access to. It is difficult to avoid getting involved with conversations when friends and family are in the room, and you will find your time evaporating, which will cause stress for everyone concerned by the end of a day, especially when your business is in its early stages. Working from home has many benefits including the time saved by commuting and the ability to see more of your family but, as I say above, it is essential that you are disciplined and realise that self-employed means that you are employed in a job of work not unemployed or partly employed.

So having set yourself up in a private corner of your home what essentials do you need? Firstly you will need a computer with internet access for keeping records such as accounts and research. It is possible to run a business without a computer but it is becoming more difficult, these days so many of our day to day activities revolve around the internet. My advice is to use a laptop rather than a desktop because it makes life easier if you can pick up the work you’re doing and take it with you when you visit customers or clients. If you can afford both that’s great but if your budget only allows one use a laptop.

Even today with many businesses in our portfolio I prefer to use my laptop for pretty much everything and rarely if ever use a desktop computer, even if I’m sitting next to it. I travel a lot so having all my contacts and business administration in one place makes life easier. I often say that when my laptop is open I’m in the office and when it’s closed I’m out, that isn’t to say I’m not working, I might be speaking at an event somewhere or in a meeting but at that moment, I’m not in the ‘office’. One word of caution, though, is to make sure you back up your information daily to an external hard drive which should remain in your home office. I always keep both separate for obvious reasons.

So what sort of work is it possible to do from home? Clearly anything that involves the internet is a good start because the internet allows you to access the world. It is just as easy via email and skype to work with someone in New York as it is to work with your next door neighbour.

I always advise people to set their office up with as much equipment as they need; a laptop, mobile phone, printer and internet connection is essential, things like cars or private transport often isn’t. Many people earn a living working from home in businesses as widely varied as car dealing and mail order. Property sales and letting are all possible over the web and worth looking at if you are seriously considering working in this way.

If you have been employed and are now considering self-employment as an alternative, make sure you go and see a good chartered accountant and take his or her advice on structuring your new venture. Open a bank account in your new business name and keep your personal and business finances separate. Buy a hard-back exercise book and write every item you spend on the business into it, do the same on your computer and back it up; that way you have protected your record keeping which is essential as your business grows.

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