One of the most wonderful things about having an online business is you can operate most of them on a budget from anywhere. There are legitimate, online business opportunities that can work for almost any situation. If you’re one of the many who will be setting up an office for your online business operations, this practical guide will ensure you have everything you need.
Setting Up An Online Business Workspace
The primary considerations when setting up a workspace are usually budget, functionality, reliability, efficiency, internet connection, electrical capacity and space. Decide which of these applies to you and add concerns that are specific to your situation. Keep an eye on this list as you plan and work on your new workspace.
Following are the basic needs of most online businesses. You may not need everything listed here, depending on the services you offer, or you may have to prioritize what you can afford for now. Either way, don’t forget to save any receipts for tax time.
Your Physical Workspace
If you’re setting up a physical workspace, the first order of the day is measuring and finding room for everything you need. Your workspace could be a closet or an office with shipping area and room for inventory. If you’ll have employees or people visiting your office, the requirements will be different. You may also want to set up multiple workspaces, such as one on the deck for nice days or the living room when you need a change of scenery. A floor plan will help tremendously and you can use free online tools to easily create one, such as Room Sketcher.
List what you need and then find products that will fit the space you have. For example, you may want a work desk with a PC & office supplies at hand, but also like the benefits of a standing desk. If you don’t have room for both, you can go with a regular desk and buy a standing desk converter.
Put some thought and planning into maximizing the space you have. For example, I have a corner desk with a hutch so I can minimize the horizontal requirements and maximize the vertical space.
“Don’t sacrifice form for function,” suggests HGTV. “Your desk, shelves and storage should serve you, not the other way around. Consider your workflow and what items you need at your fingertips before investing in furniture, and then look for pieces that are both beautiful and functional.”
Home office tools & equipment you may need:
- Reliable, high-speed internet connection.
- Computer, laptop, tablet or hybrid choices can be overwhelming. Some websites are making it easier with a Home Office section, like TheSource.ca does.
- Printer (We save a lot of money on ink with our Brother monochrome laser printer).
- Scanner/Copier (a portable scanner comes in very handy for mobile businesses). Before you buy, check out the various scanner apps for your mobile device to see if they’ll be sufficient.
- Communications: Webcam, headset, Skype (you can get a business phone number via Skype too), Zoom, Join.me (Video conferencing and screen sharing), etc.
Your Virtual Workspace
Microsoft Office, Open Office or similar office program.
Collaboration tools, online project management tools, time sheet tracking tool such as TimeTracker.com, and cloud storage for easy access & sharing (such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Evernote).
Graphics design & video software for customization, illustrations and marketing. GIMP is much like Photoshop and it’s free.
Backup storage: I prefer an external hard drive but you can also use cloud (online) storage.
VPN to protect yourself from hacking and surveillance, especially when using public WiFi (I’ve used Express VPN for several years).
Domain name: Even if you don’t intend to have a website, it’s a good idea to have a domain name for professional email communication. Host Papa is a Canadian registrar of domain names, including .ca.
Website / blog with professional hosting (see our Checklist: Choosing a Website Host for your Canadian Business). We’re hosted on GreenGeeks’ Canadian servers.
Payment processing (PayPal, Square Canada, etc.)
Canadian accounting software, like the popular QuickBooks, will also track your time and make invoicing easy.
Marketing software can come later, but the sooner you can get it the better off you’ll be. There is a wide range of marketing tools available at various prices, sometimes they’re even free. In the meantime, you can manually manage most online marketing tasks until you’re able to expand your toolbox.
Don’t let a tight budget stop you from starting an online business. Chances are, you can start with what you already have and grow from there. An older computer, free website hosting and a free email address might not be the best way to start a small business in Canada, but it’s a start nonetheless. Once the money starts coming in, you can invest more into your online and offline workspace.
Please share your home office tips or questions in the comments below, or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.
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Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.
Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.