When you go out on your own to start a side business or become a full-time entrepreneur, the first big decision you’ll make is choosing a location to work.  This also has the potential to be an expensive decision, and for many just getting started, keeping costs low is very important.  A lot of small businesses I know, myself included, struggle with this and end up spending a lot of time working at home or in public spaces.  Though you free yourself of extra costs, the decision to work from home has its own challenges.

When I started my business, I knew I wanted to “go virtual,” because the cost of full-time office space is very expensive and I wanted to limit my start-up costs. I also wanted the ability to work from anywhere, and knew my clients would appreciate the option to meet virtually via web conference.  Skype meetings and google hangouts have become second nature to me because that was the primary way I met with my teams during business school. So, I thought working from home was the best choice for me.  

However, even though I loved the flexibility, after a few months working from home, I started missing the daily coworker interactions.  

I also found that when I would get into a rhythm, I was working long hours and sitting in uncomfortable positions. Eventually I found found some ways to cope. I changed my environment and I signed up for a co-working space. Some of these tips seem obvious. But I wish someone had shared these tidbits with me, so here they are:

Create a Comfortable Ergonomic Space To Work

Sitting on the couch with your laptop seems cozy and comfortable, but without a proper workspace you’re prone to repetitive stress injuries. This is something I found out the hard way. After a few months of working at home, I injured my wrist by sitting in awkward positions on the couch, and I’m still trying to rehabilitate it with physical therapy exercises. My advice is to vary your work space, take breaks and don’t sit in one position for too long. I set a timer to remind myself to stretch and refocus my eyes on far distances.

To prevent future injuries, I set up a standing desk station so that I have some breaks from sitting all the time. When I do sit, I try to prevent myself from sitting hunched over or curled up on the couch for long periods of time.  I also make sure to use an ergonomic mouse sometimes rather than constantly working with the trackpad.  I’m not sitting in an ergonomic position 100% of the time, but I’ve noticed significant improvement just by varying positions. 

If you’re interested in a few more tips on ergonomic work stations, here’s some from LifeHacker.

Vary Your Work Locations

You can also prevent boredom and increase social interactions by varying your work location. Coffee shops are ok, but they lose their luster too.  I also spend time at the public library and at the Whole Foods café from time to time. It’s nice to have the variety.  It’s also nice to get out and walk to new places.  Having somewhere to go, besides my living room helps me with productivity. 

Some people take this to the extreme, and embrace the “location independent” lifestyle.  A recent article in Wired Magazine talks about the rise of digital nomads, traveling around the world while keeping a day-job.

My status as a digital nomad is aspirational — I’m not quite there yet. I took a few vacations last year after I became self-employed, and decided that they would NOT be working vacations.  But in the coming year I plan to take some trips where I’ll be working remotely from another city.   It’s freeing to know I have that kind of flexibility in my life today instead of having to show up at the downtown office Monday through Friday. That’s a great perk of being an entrepreneur!

Tap Into a Co-working Space

Did you know that the DC area now has over 50 co-working spaces?  Co-working is quickly becoming the norm, and it makes excellent financial sense for small businesses. As mentioned, one of the biggest start-up costs is finding office space. You can limit your costs by joining one of these co-working arrangements on a part time basis. Many of them also allow you to go month-to-month, without committing to a lease.

It’s a huge financial benefit to limit recurring costs and to scale up or scale down as needed.

I use my co-working space on a regular basis.  It’s ideal for when I have client meetings, but it also comes in handy when I need a productivity boost.   I also like it because it’s a great way to get my need for social interaction met. Plus business opportunities often arise from spending time with people in other industries.  You never know where your next potential client or business idea will come from.

Stay Healthy

A week or two in advance, I plan at least a couple lunches or coffees with friends so I am scheduled to leave the house mid-day. It’s good to have some structure outside of work or client meetings, and it’s good for me to have a set reason to get ready for the day.  Outside of lunches, I also plan regular workouts with a workout buddy.  I appreciate the walk back and forth from my house and I like that we vary our routine.  I prefer this over trying to motivate myself to get to the gym on my own.

No matter how important growing your business is, staying healthy is always more important. 

When you work for yourself, being able to separate work from personal life becomes a lot harder, but a lot more necessary.  As you think about starting a side gig or becoming full-time entrepreneur, think about the financial implications of choosing your work locations. To maintain good balance, I’ve learned it’s also worth it to think about the health and comfort implications of your workspace.


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