Finding the perfect space for your business

When first starting a small business, it may be imperative to set up shop from your living room. In time, however, most businesses will benefit from some added living space.

10/28/2007 6:10 PM

09/08/2014 5:32 PM

If you have been running a small business from home, it might be time to think bigger picture.

Perhaps your clientele has increased, you need more assistants, and zoning frowns on the number of cars that approach your home. Where do you start?

Designer Lucille McKey -- herself a small business owner with four to five employees, depending upon her workload -- can help.

"The most important thing for a business person getting ready to move to the next level is to determine his or her needs," says McKey, owner of Business Interiors in Coral Gables. "They must think about exactly what they need."

Such needs may include:

• Location -- "It's so important. You don't want to locate to a place where clients don't want to come," McKey warns.
• Reception room -- What size should it be? Some businesses have more walk-in trade than others. Will two chairs do or will there be a need for more? Insurance companies and CPAs usually work by appointment only so a large reception area may not be necessary.
• Private office -- One private office may suffice and it may be necessary for the boss for handling delicate tasks, such as hiring or firing staff.
• Conference room -- It can double as a staff meeting room, as well as a place to consult with clients.
• Support area -- For fax and copy machines and storage for supplies. A must.

Doctors' offices are a special case, McKey notes, because "they are required to keep files under lock and key to comply with new privacy laws."

Medical offices also are the most traditional, keeping patients' files in paper folders rather than on computer in many cases, so a file library must be configured into the space. Medical facilities also may need space for a laboratory.

And a doctor's office in South Florida probably needs a bigger reception room, says McKey, whose husband is pediatrician Dr. Robert McKey. "Not only does the mother come with the patient, but also siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There may be five to seven people with the patient," McKey says.

A small law firm will need a library even if clients' information is computerized. ‘‘Law books provide a certain ambience, a feeling of stability," McKey says. "A law library can also double as a conference room."

• Coffee/lunch area -- "It should be separate from the work area," McKey advises. ‘‘By nature it is what it is -- unsightly. It can be a little nook, but it should be a place out of sight from clients. You are going to have food and drink in the office because sometimes there is no place to go out for lunch or no time to do so."
• Art -- Once you get moved into your new office, choosing the art is "the fun part," in McKey's opinion. "Most all of my clients want art of some sort. But in a public area (such as the reception room), art cannot insult or be offensive. You have to be careful of ethnic sensibilities. I don't use art with people in them and I stay away from florals and sentimental landscapes. I use abstracts."

In her own office, McKey has a sketches of Coral Gables landmarks, which are appropriate to her location.

There are other things to consider besides office space when moving a business from home to a commercial space.

"If you have a three-year lease but a five-year business plan, think about that," McKey advises. "Perhaps you can negotiate a better deal with the landlord. A lawyer, banker or designer can help you with that."

Negotiations with a landlord can also help with configuring the office space and providing new carpet and paint. "A designer can help with plans that are figured into the rent," says McKey, who does both commercial and residential design. "It's cost effective to hire a professional to do a space plan."

If you have negotiated a modest rental fee, you might have to install new carpeting yourself. If so, consider commercial grade carpet which will wear better than residential carpet.

And -- an important thing to consider -- determine if your new business location has enough parking spaces for your clientele.

Then there's insurance.

"Hurricane protection is usually the responsibility of the landlord," McKey says. ‘‘A small business owner should talk to a lawyer to make sure the lease is properly negotiated. Find out what is the landlord's responsibility. And talk to a banker. Should you get with business checks, for example, if you have been using personal checks while working from home?"

Another throat-grabbing situation is if the sprinkler system goes off -- and there's no fire. Usually it's the landlord's responsibility to make repairs but check with a lawyer to see where you stand if files and equipment are damaged.

An alternative to leasing a small office might be renting space in an executive suite in which several small businesses share a receptionist and someone to handle mail. "It gives a presence of professionalism to have someone answering the phone," McKey says.

Many interior designers, like McKey, have small offices. But their storage needs are great because they have catalogs on furniture, flooring, lighting, hardware -- whatever a business or residential project requires.

Strolling through McKey's office is like going to a library -- at least four rooms are devoted to thick catalogs of furnishings and drawers containing enormous amounts of materials. But she makes double use of the rooms by placing a desk and one of her designers and/or support staff in the library space.

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