First impressions

Use these tips to make yourself credible to clients

Depending on the type of home-based business you start, you may require customer or client visits. But how you prepare for those visits can spell success or failure.

“You can tear down your whole business by meeting a client at home when the home is not prepared properly,” says Rudy Lewis, president of the National Association of Home-Based Businesses in Owings Mills, Maryland.

So what should you do before a customer comes calling? Use the following tips to create the perfect meeting place.

  • Create a businesslike environment. Whether you operate out of a spare bedroom or an enclosed porch, that area should resemble a typical office setting. It should have a desk, computer(s), fax machine, copier, filing cabinets, telephone and any other items necessary for you to conduct business with a client. Store personal belongings elsewhere. If you anticipate heavy and constant walk-in traffic, you may also want to create a waiting area with tables, chairs and reading materials.
  • Dress for the occasion. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that you can meet a client in sweats and bedroom slippers. Always dress in business attire. Even if your client dresses down, you should dress up. n Clear a path to your office. Since visitors may not think to look for
  • hazards that are part of home life, you must carve a clear and safe path for them to travel. Remove personal items that may pose a threat to customers and project a negative image of your business.
  • Prevent interruptions. When you plan to host a meeting, make arrangements for your children to be out of the house. If they are old enough to understand the rules and regulations governing your business, ask that they quietly stay in another part of the house until your meeting is over. Also, avoid scheduling personal deliveries during your meeting time.
  • Purchase business liability insurance. No matter how hard you try to create a safe environment for customers and clients, someone may still get hurt while on your premises. To protect yourself from claims in the event you are sued, secure adequate liability coverage (see “Insuring Your Home-Based Business,” Enterprise, October 1999). Business liability insurance will pay the medical expenses generated as a result of injuries suffered by a visitor to your home business.

Of course, not every home-based business owner will be able or willing to meet clients in their home.

Cynthia Brower, owner of Atlantic Optical Framewear, operates her business out of a spare bedroom in her Owings Mills, Maryland, home.

But she uses shared office space in downtown Baltimore when meeting with her clients.

“I’m a service client in what is called an execu-center,” says Brower, a certified international trader who imports and exports eyewear from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America targeted to the ethnic market. “So whenever I have a manufacturer come into the country, I rent out one of the conference rooms in the center,” she says.

Shared or co-op office spaces are used by small business owners as permanent locations. But they are also widely used

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