Don't panic. Start at the beginning -- the location -- and think carefully. If you'll be holding frequent meetings with clients, do you really want to seat them in a drafty attic or a basement that looks like a horror movie set?
You're better off addressing your needs instead of trying to jam yourself into a "convenient" cubbyhole. Think big. Think future. How large an operation will you have in three years? If you see nothing but growth in the coming years, you'd better be prepared!
Consider the amount of traffic your new endeavors will generate. Do you really want a stampede of clients -- however valuable -- rumbling through your kitchen or living room? You may need to construct a second entrance, away from the living quarters.
Once you've chosen the location, consider your need for power. Electricity, that is. All the fancy electronic gadgetry in the world won't advance your career if your home office has only one electrical outlet and a single phone jack. If this is the case, you'd better get on the horn to a reputable electrician. Consider adding another phone line, too. One last word on electricity: Buy surge protectors. When your air conditioner, microwave or laser printer kicks into high gear, you'll be glad your precious PC is plugged into a protector.
Now it's time to design the space. To do this, think about how a kitchen or workshop is laid out: all you need is placed within easy reach, never more than a step or two away. How can this principle be applied to your office?
Your physical characteristics play a role, too. Are you tall? Left-handed? Are you physically challenged? Answering questions like these will allow you to make intelligent choices when it comes to the layout of your business space.
You can define your space easily and inexpensively. Try the light touch by placing throw rugs strategically. Or use barriers such as plants, screens, panels or bookcases. Above all else, remember that you are in charge. If you seek professional help, you don't have to adhere to an expert's idea of what is best for you. Listen to the advice, then choose the arrangement that respects your needs for comfort and productivity.
Paint your world, but don't get carried away. It's wise to stick with neutral colors. Keep in mind that potential clients will be seated in your space. Do you really want them surrounded by a distracting personal statement? Best to save the shocking hot pink surprise for the basement bathroom.
Finally, make yourself comfortable. Furnish your home office with adjustable work surfaces and chairs. Speaking of the latter, consider giving the folks at Biomechanics Corporation of America a call (1-800-248-3746). They've got an Intelligent Seat that actually conforms to your tuckus.
In a short while, your home office doors will open for business. What kind of space those doors introduce is up to you. With a little forethought and hard work, you too can create your own office of precedent.
Sources: Compute, November 1991; The Home Office Book: How to Set Up and Use an Efficient Personal Workspace in the Computer Age, by Mark Alvarez; Popular Science, May 1992. Photos courtesy of Bruce Hardwood Floors.