Backyard operators

2nd September, 2011

Do you dread prospective new customers asking you ‘Where is your office?”

When the answer is “In my spare bedroom” or “In my garage … and right now I’m working in my slippers”, do you have some polished line that explains this away or do you fess up with the truth?  How do you feel about letting clients know that you work from home?  Do they care?

The term ‘backyard operator’ has such negative connotations, usually referring to someone who is not running a business legally and is accepting cash without telling the ATO.  Do clients perceive that home-based businesses are less trustworthy and more likely to fold?  Would they prefer to hear the soothing tones of “Sorry but our office isn’t open to the public”?

Like many B2B operations, my husband and I can deliver our technology support and advice very effectively via phone, email, remote access and visits to our clients’ premises.  When we do have to bring a computer back to our workshop, it’s often for lengthy, repetitive tasks like virus scans or software re-installations.  None of this work would actually improve if we delivered it from a retail space or office block.  But would prospective clients be more likely to engage with us if we had an office presence?

We did have an office, once.  It was perfect for us.  We sub-leased the mezzanine floor of a client’s warehouse building in an industrial area.  This was done on a gentleman’s handshake and super-cheap rent in exchange for our services to this client for free.  Win-Win!  Until our client moved to the other side of town and we were shocked by real lease prices.

So we’ve been operating from home again for the last 12 months.  The lure of another office is strong sometimes, but the vanity of it is quickly squashed by the pricing reality.  I’d rather pay that off my own mortgage.  If we took on staff, we’d most certainly make the move. But right now, we’re comfortable with our business size and fail to see any tangible benefits from delivering our services from elsewhere.

Personally I wouldn’t expect a bookkeeper, a plumber, an electrician, a white goods repairer or a copywriter to have an office.  If they did, I’d expect that they’d charge more for their services.

How about you?  Do you need to have a ‘real’ office to be perceived by prospects as a successful, trustworthy small business?


Sonia Cuff | Director – Computer Troubleshooters Aspley