|Image courtesy of DesignDivasGallery on Etsy.|
When I began to ponder the idea, matters like insurance, taxes, permits and lease terms were all considerations. One of the first things I did, which was very helpful, was to organize my questions in outline format with headers to group related questions. You can do this on paper or the computer. The latter will allow you to rearrange your questions and make notes with ease.
At the time, I would have been grateful to access another artisan that was willing and able to candidly answer my questions. So, while it is all still fresh in my mind, I have taken the liberty to respond to the questions I wanted to ask someone in a similar situation. I hope the information is useful and encourage you to post additional questions in the comment field. Please be mindful, the numbers reflected are based upon my specific circumstance in the Northern Virginia area and could vary greatly depending upon your craft of choice, credit score and location.
What line items should I include in my moving budget?
Insurance $400 (per year)
Business License $25 (per year)
Occupancy Permit $50 (onetime fee)
Security Deposit (equal to one month’s rent)
First Month’s Rent (should fit your budget, period)
Utilities (the properties I considered were all inclusive, so this was not an issue for me; but do your research because I have heard tales of HUGE electric bills, in excess of $900 per month in commercial properties! You can and should call the utility company and ask what the average bill is for the property you are considering.)
Movers $50 for my son (and a box of assorted donuts); hubby was free of charge (because he is just sweet like that).
What types of licenses and/or permits will I need?
A federal tax ID, sales tax account, business license, occupancy permit and a fictitious name certificate (if you didn’t name your company after yourself).
How should I go about locating space?
I searched for properties on Craigslist under Housing / Office & Commercial. When I found a place that I liked, I emailed the landlord/agent to ask:
Does the property have a separate entrance? Are utilities included? What type of terms are you seeking? Is there access to a bathroom? Is parking included?
If I liked their response, I followed up with an informal visit to check out the surrounding businesses and semi-discretely peep in the windows. After all that, if the property still made my “short list”, I called them back to schedule a tour.
Everyone that I spoke to was quick to ask “what purpose” I intended to use the space for. Initially, this was somewhat intimidating to me because (if I may be frank) most people, men in particular, just don’t take diaper bags seriously. So, I polished my elevator speech and evaded the “d” word. Next time someone asked the same question, I replied with confidence:
“I own a label called Watermelon Wishes under which I design and produce a line of bags and accessories for women and children. The space would serve as my studio.”
I also created a one page document entitled “Executive Summary” that provided potential landlords with a synopsis of my product and customer base, past performance and future goals. Beautifully crafted, I revisit this document often for inspiration.
Was it difficult to negotiate a lease?
No. The rent was within my budget and I felt no need to dicker over money --- and even if I did, I wouldn’t have, because I am not the haggling kind. Each lease is different though and it is critical that you read every single word. Do NOT skim through this type of document under any circumstance. In fact, you should feel free to take several days and read it no less than three times. If you come across something that is unclear, ask questions and get the information you need. This is a big decision and you want to make the best choice you can with the information you have.
In my case, I wanted to be absolutely certain that the landlord understood that I would be manufacturing products on site and the process involves a sewing machine, serger and use of an iron. I also wanted to disclose the fact that my children would be on the premise. Both of these items are included in my lease under a section entitled “additional terms”. Of course you can propose to add or remove any term you like in a lease; but I would suggest prioritizing your requests and limiting yourself to those items which are essential to your operations.
What type of obstacles did you encounter?
Oddly enough, two times, the agent/landlord who I met at each property confessed they could not find the key to let me in. After much ado, I did get to see both places; but, I still think this was a really strange coincidence if you consider I was the only common denominator. When the time came to make my final decision, I had narrowed the choice down to two units. The first was an office close to home, approximately 800 square feet and the second was 17 miles away, two floors and half the size. The price difference between them was $200. Briefly, I wrestled with the logistics of traveling a half hour each way to work and then I decided the commute was worth wild because the second location presented the opportunity to be surrounded by other unique specialty businesses as opposed to the emblematic office setting offered by the other. Plus, it cost $200 less; which I justified would offset the added fuel expense.
Did the space live up to your expectations?
Absolutely. I put a great deal of thought into defining the purpose of the space and the feeling which I wanted it to evoke. I can honestly say it is everything I had hoped it would be. As an added boon, my existing studio furniture fit the new space perfectly and I did not have to budget additional funds for furnishings. I believe it is critical to define the purpose of the space you want to create before you do anything else. It was important to me to find a place that was aesthetically pleasing and free from distractions. Believe it or not, I don’t have internet service in the studio; because, I want to ensure my time there is spent solely creating. The computer based portion of my work can be completed from home in the early morning and evening hours.
How did your family adjust to you working outside of the home?
Well, I’d be lying if I told you just fine. After spending 15 years at home, it was an adjustment for everyone --- especially me. Thankfully, I have an amazing husband and every time I would begin to doubt my ability to manage so many responsibilities, he quickly assured me it would be fine and reminded me not to be so hard on myself. (Thanks, baby!) It has been six weeks now and I think we’ve found a groove that harmonizes work and family. Of course, school will start soon and we’ll be back at the drawing table trying to figure out how to get everyone everywhere they need to be when they need to be there; but, that’s not really any different than it was before. In a nutshell, I think the key word will be elasticity--- and we will all have to give a little as needed.