We originally ran our web design business from our home, but in June 2010 found ourselves moving into an office. It has been quite an experience setting ourselves up in the office. I’ve learnt a lot from it and thought it was worth summarising some of our experiences here:
The first thing we sorted out before moving into the office was our insurance. There are several types of insurance to consider:
a. Building insurance – if you are renting, check that this is covered by your landlord.
b. Contents insurance – as a home based business our contents insurance was covered by our home contents insurance (we had checked this out with the insurers) but of course with moving into office premises we needed to make sure that we had separate cover.
c. Public liability – one of the pluses of getting the office was that we would be able to hold client meetings there, so public liability was a must. Plus, it was a stipulation in our tenancy agreement that we were insured up to one million for this (our insurance broker advised us that two million was the standard so that’s what we’ve gone for).
d. Employer’s insurance – now that we’ve got the space we can think about taking on an employee, so we made enquiries about employer’s insurance. I had thought that we would take this up later but it was bundled in with our insurance policy so we’re all set for that.
e. Professional indemnity – we already had this but it’s worth including in the list here.
Insurance is something that I know very little about, so having an insurance broker that we trust and can talk to in person is very important to me. Our broker went through all our requirements with us, got us a quote and set it all up for us. Of course there are many comparison website which can help you get the best deal, but in this case I was much more comfortable going for the personal service.
2. Electricity (and other utilities)
Electricity has turned out to be an interesting one for us. Again, you can get comparisons and shop around – something that we may do in the future when we’re feeling a bit more established. We found that the previous tenants of our office had used the same supplier that we use at home (EDF), so we decided to sign up with them. We’ve actually had a very good experience with them so far as far as customer service goes – when our paperwork didn’t arrive within the specified seven days I phoned to enquire and happened to get through to the same member of staff that I had placed the order with and she remembered me – major brownie points there. She then went on to give me her direct line so I could always get through to her if I needed to discuss anything. There’s nothing like getting a personal and consistent service to make you feel good about a company.
The interesting thing about the whole process is that since we have moved into the office we have been absolutely inundated with calls from other companies trying to sign us up for electricity. Many of them make it sound like they are some kind of official energy company who we have to go through – they tell us that we haven’t been signed up for a proper contract and that we are on a high tariff as a result. Talk about making us paranoid! Of course this isn’t the case at all, they’re just trying to get some business out of us. A couple of things we’ve learnt from this:
- Don’t give your details out unless you’re absolutely sure who you’re talking to – if in doubt take their details and check them out first (it can be a real eye-opener when you find out they’re some tiny setup trying to blag some business)
- If you’ve already chosen your supplier then deal with them directly – ours has been very helpful in making sure our account is set up correctly (thanks Carli!)
- If the cold caller is very pushy and won’t go away you can always hang up
That was basically it for our utilities – we’ve got no call for gas, and water is included in our rent. So a good bit of advice here is to always check exactly what is covered by your rent when doing your sums – we would have had additional expense if we had our own water meter to deal with.
3. Phone line
The next thing we set up as quickly as possible was our phone line. This was essential, not really for the phone aspect as we could use our mobile to communicate with clients, but to get broadband up and running. As a web design company internet is pretty darn essential to us. We decided to go with BT for phone (but not broadband, see the next section) and quite frankly I wish that we hadn’t. Really not impressed with them so far:
a. They insisted that we needed an engineer out to put in a phone line although we knew there was a line in place already which just needed activating. They reckoned that they had searched for a line and couldn’t find one.
TOP TIP: if you think you’ve got a line already installed, plug a phone into the phone point and ring 17070 – if the line is still available you will get a recorded message telling you your phone number. If you don’t get anything at all this means that the line is no longer available. We did this and got the number for our line and armed with this managed to convince BT we didn’t need an engineer – this saved us £99(+vat) and a 8-10 day wait. In fact we were up and running by the end of the same day. So the lesson learnt here was to not believe a word BT say and check things out for yourself.
b. The next pain I had from them is that it’s incredibly (and I mean incredibly) difficult to get through to an actual person if you need to discuss a problem. Their phone system is absolutely appalling – and this is a phone company, so surely they should know better? I wasted a huge amount of time getting through to the same useless recorded message and then having to start again. The only way I could actually get through to a person would be to deliberately choose the wrong options!
c. The other problem I had was that they kept sending different order numbers. On the same day I got two lots of paperwork through, both with different order numbers – one claiming we needed an engineer and the other with the correct details. A couple of days later (when I thought I’d got everything sorted) I got an email with yet another order number which again mentioned the need for an engineer. After 20 minutes or so of trying to get through to someone to find out what was going on (see b. above), I managed to speak to someone who checked it all out for me and made sure that only the correct order number was active.
Fingers crossed we’re all set now and have no more nonsense from them.
As I mentioned above we didn’t want to use BT for broadband. In theory this would have got us set up more quickly, but we’ve not heard brilliant things about their broadband service and have been incredibly happy with the company we use at home – Zen Internet. Admittedly they’re not the cheapest option around but as it’s so essential to our business we’re happy to pay a little bit more for a reliable service – which is exactly what we’ve had from them. As soon as we had got our phone line sorted we placed an order with Zen. They very quickly confirmed the order and gave us a date for the activation – just over a week later, which is pretty good (particularly as the activation process involves BT). On the date that we’d been given, lo and behold we had a working internet connection. No complaints there!
5. Business rates
The last thing I’ll touch on here is business rates. We knew that we would be eligible for small business rate relief but had stupidly not realised that we would have to apply for it, which made our bill a bit of shock when it arrived! How the small business rate relief works is that if your businesses premises are below a certain rateable value then you can get up to 50% off your bill – very nice, eh? Once I’d got over the panic of a much higher bill than I was expecting I looked it up and found out that we needed to put in an application – it’s not automatically applied to your account, you do have to ask for it. I phoned the number on our bill and asked for an application form. We’ve sent that off and are now waiting for the revised figures … fingers crossed! So, if you’re in the same position check your local council website for details and talk to them about how to apply.
That’s just a few things that we’ve encountered so far, I’m sure there are more joys to come. I hope that reading of our experiences has been helpful.