In my last post, I discussed the fear of failure that comes with recently quitting my job to fulfill a life-long dream of opening my own business.  I’m not going to bore you with the nature of my career, but I will say that I am a “professional”–whatever that means–and that I live and work in the northeast United States.  (of course I also have a freelance writing side-business).

Now that I’m out of the comforting atmosphere of a small business run by others, I’ve quickly realized just how much goes into running a small office.  There are many things you take for granted each day.  For instance, I rarely thought about how much work went into everything from invoicing, to accounting, to making the coffee in the morning.  Now that it’s just me, all of these tasks and more are my sole responsibility.

Whether you are alone–or will be able to hire some employees–it will likely be your responsibility as a business owner to make sure everything runs smoothly.  The best small business owners can do all of the tasks required of the job proficiently, even if they delegate some of those tasks to others.

Here is a list of some of the things you likely need to start a small professional office:  (I’m going to assume you already have office space).

Bookkeeping

It’s important to have your bookkeeping system set up correctly from the start.  If you let this slide too long you’ll end up in over your head.  One need look no further than the United States Congress to see the dangers of fiscal irresponsibility.  Bottom line–spring for Freshbooks, or Quickbooks, or some other “books” to get your internal finances in order.  Many of these programs allow for not only accounting, but also invoicing and other features as well.

Furniture

Desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and bookshelves are the top priorities when you’re first opening a small professional office.  These are the essentials.  Other items such as water coolers may seem like essentials, but they’re really a luxury.  And when you’re first opening a small professional office, they’re likely a luxury you cannot afford.

Utilities

Don’t forget to set up telephone and internet, it will be hard to work today without either of those two essentials.  You may need to set up a network as well.  A fax line (I like E-Fax although traditional fax lines still work fine) and an extra telephone line or two won’t hurt either.  Remember to work out who will be responsible for heat, electricity, and other utilities within the office space.  Being efficient and budget-conscious throughout the process is a must.

Office Supplies

Printers (I like laser printers), scanners (paperless offices can save you money on a copier and other supplies), staplers and stables, shredders, tape and a tape dispenser, a hole punch, files, paper, pens, pencils, a computer, computer software, paper clips, a waste basket, computer paper, envelopes, a postage meter/weigher, decorations for the office, light bulbs, telephones, and more.  Note: Don’t underestimate just how quickly all these expenses will add up.  You’ll find yourself walking into a store for “just a few items” and then later wonder just “where that $100.00 went.”

Marketing Supplies

You will likely require (i.e. expensive) letterhead, business cards, and/or announcements.  If you go to a professional printing company, these items might be quite expensive.  In today’s world, a website and/or blog is almost required as a digital calling-card.  Beyond that, your marketing can be as expensive or as basic as you and your budget allow.

Bank Accounts

You will need to set up proper banking accounts.  You may also look into accepting credit cards for your business.

Business Registration and Insurance

Before you can do anything,  you will likely have to determine what type of business entity you wish to create (examples: LLC, sole proprietorships, corporations).  You may also be required to carry certain types of insurance, such as office insurance and professional/executive liability insurance.

Miscellaneous

How will you back up your files?  Do you need a car for your business?  Professional dues?  What types of career-specific items or services are needed to efficiently run your business?

Conclusion

When you’re first starting a business, it’s likely going to be a lot of money going out, and very little money (if any) coming in. Hopefully you have adequate savings to properly start and fund your business during these dark times, although for many new small business owners that is not the factual reality.

Remember that for many businesses, the steps and supplies necessary to effectively start a small professional office will be field-specific.  What is needed for an architect may be quite different from what’s needed for a public relations guru.  With that caveat in mind, however, most of the services, items, and actions suggested in this post are universal, regardless of your professional field.

Best of luck as you start a small professional office.  It will likely be one of the most stressful yet rewarding periods of time in your life.