A virtual office doesn’t have to be a specific room geared only towards freelance writing or another work at home career. My own virtual office has moved from several different locations as my needs changed throughout the years. When we first moved to this house, we used a big behemoth computer in our bedroom. After my freelance writing career took off, my husband bought me a laptop and I began working from my kitchen table. When it became a pain to close and reopen shop every day to accommodate meals, I moved to the dining room, and finally, my husband converted a very tiny bedroom into my own home office about two years ago.
Dedicated Virtual Office or the Gypsy Lifestyle?
When I first began freelancing, I was OK with not having a dedicated home office. Instead, I took my laptop to the kitchen and dining room so I could keep an eye on what was happening with my family. There was only one problem. I had too many distractions. The gypsy lifestyle enabled me to care for my son and handle work, but it wasn’t very productive. My preference is for having one room to use as a virtual office instance of my former “have laptop will travel” situation.
Here are a few things that worked for me. If you’re thinking about freelancing or working at home, you may find them helpful as well.
10 Tips for Setting Up a Virtual Office
- Invest in a laptop: The single most important tool for a freelancer, a laptop enables you to bring your work wherever you go. I’ve been known to work during piano lessons, in the waiting room at my dentist’s office, at my in laws’, the library, the coffee shop and anywhere else I need to be.
- Have some sort of instant messaging system in place: Though I do use the phone to talk to my clients, most of my conversations take place via Skype. I primarily use the instant messaging service, but I’ve also been known to rock the headset and use the voice service as well. Premium Skype only costs a few dollars a month. Instant messaging doesn’t clog up email when there’s a lot of back and forth and allows you to have live conversation. It’s also good for talking with other freelancers and sharing ideas.
- Enlist the aid of a calendar tool: Outlook and Google Calendar rock. I love how Outlook pings me when I need a reminder and Google Calendar emails all of my scheduled tasks for the day. Staying organized and meeting deadlines is one of the most important rules for any freelancer. Calendar tools are a must for all virtual offices.
- Keep track of invoices and payments: Whether you buy software such as Quickbooks or use an online service such as FreshBooks, you’ll need to keep track of the business end. Accounting software or apps allow you to compare hours worked vs. money earned, notice trends, monitor invoices and outgoing money and make sure everything is paid up in a timely manner.
- Keep regular business hours: You’ll be able to focus better when you allot specific blocks of time each day for work. This also shows friends and family you’re serious about work, and also prevents clients from calling at all hours of the day and night. For some reason many people associate freelance as being available all the time, set limits by keeping regular business hours.
- Invest in high speed Internet: Whether you specialize in writing for the web or your preference is for print or business writing, a high speed Internet connection with WiFi is a must. High speed is more expensive but it’s worth it as dial up takes too long to effectively resarch or communicate with clients.
- Don’t worry about furniture….yet: With the exception of a decent chair, the fancy office furniture can wait. I have my own office, but my husband and I share a long folding table to use as a desk. I also have an old bookshelf and a second hand filing cabinet. Don’t go bankrupt searching out the furniture or those office module things. Invest in a good chair and provide an office space with plenty of elbow room, but don’t buy the mahogany desk until after you hit the big time.
- Consider childcare: Even if you can’t do it every day, consider hiring a babysitter or helper for the days when you have conferece calls, teleconferences or need to work in peace and quiet. Many clients know you’ll have children at home, but they don’t want to hear them – or you interacting with them – during important calls. They want to feel as if thier project is your only prioirty.
- Find your quiet place: Try and set up your office in a quiet spot. If you’re on a busy road, the front of the house means traffic noise. If kids are playing in the family room, you might want to work on the opposite end of the house. Noise is distracting and keeps you from focusing on the task at hand.
- Keep your virtual office as far from the kitchen and TV as possible: The television and the refrigerator also distract. If someone is watching television, you might be inclined to join him if you can hear what is on. Also, if you hear someone in the kitchen making something good to eat, it’ll get you thinking about food. The kitchen and the television are two of a freelance writers biggest distractions (Internet is the first). If you can choose a spot for your virtual office, set up as far from distraction as possible