Creating a business identity is an essential task to open your doors for business, or "hang out your shingle", if you prefer. Here's Step 1 in the process necessary to create an identity for your home business.
The second step I recommend in establishing a business identity is to set up an address and phone number for your new business. You'll also want to decide how you want to handle faxes. You can accomplish this step after you decide on a name but before you register your new business with your state. Completing this step early means that your home address and phone number won't become public record when you do register your business.
You'll also need this business contact information when it comes time to order your business cards and when you set up your web site (if you're going to have one), which are later steps in the business identity process. That's why I suggest taking this step first.
If you initially register your business using your home phone number and address, changing your registration later with your state's Secretary of State's office may not be as easy as you might think. And, it's something you might forget to do later. I've been trying to get my business address changed for over a year. From personal experience, I've found it's easier just to update your mailbox or telephone billing information to include your business name once you know it.
Your Business Address is Part of Your Business Identity
If you're going to operate your business from your home, the basic choices for a U.S. business address are:
- Open a post office box with the US Postal Service
- Use a private mail service, like the UPS Store
PO boxes are considerably less expensive than private mail boxes. However, your decision may in part depend on the image you're trying to project for your business. Some prospects may view your use of a PO box address for your business as meaning it's small or not fully established, or that you operate a "fly by night" company from your garage. If that's going to be a problem for the type of business you want to engage in, private mail services can give you a more distinctive address, like 504 Main Street, Suite 1640, Anytown, USA 99999, which implies to those who don't know that your business has a legitimate public location.
I started with a private mail service and switched to a PO box, primarily for cost reasons. I never regretted it and don't plan to switch back any time soon. Since my clients typically assume I'm a one-person business operating from home, image isn't an issue for me.
Your Business Phone
If your home business is small and you're starting on a shoestring as most of us have, consider using a cell phone as your business phone, at least when you're first starting out. If you already have a cell phone, you can use its number or buy a second phone for your business line.
Getting a cell phone with a prepaid wireless plan like TracFone works well because you don't have to pay a monthly service fee and you won't have any surprises when it comes time to pay the bill. The downside is you won't get a business listing in the local phone book, but you can always get that later if you feel it's an important part of your business identity. Again, you don't need to know your business name to complete this step in the business identity process.
Another option for your business phone is to use a virtual telephone service, like Grasshopper (formerly GotVMail). Using this option you can establish either a local phone number (available in most areas) and/or a virtual toll-free number for your home business. For information on how virtual phone systems like Grasshopper work, see my review of Grasshopper.
Whether you have an additional land line installed for your business or you decide to use a dedicated cell phone as your primary business number, the biggest benefit of having a separate phone number is that whenever that phone rings, you'll know it's a business call. Additionally, your children and spouse will know not to answer the phone when you get an incoming business call if you don't want them to answer your business calls.
Your Business Fax Number
Whether or not you need a separate fax line strictly depends on your volume of faxes sent and received. If your home business depends on sending or receiving faxes and you want to keep your voice line available, a separate line is pretty much a necessity. However, you can also send and receive faxes using most virtual phone systems, like Grasshopper. Using an online fax service or a switchable voice/fax setup are other options.
Using Long Distance Calling Cards
I buy prepaid long distance calling cards for business long distance. I use the card whenever I need to make a business-related long distance call from a land line - regardless of where I am when I need to make the call. In my opinion, it's hard to beat the incredibly low cost per minute of my prepaid calling card. I also use the calling card for sending long distance faxes. I never get any surprises with unexpected long distance charges using this method. If you don't have a dedicated business phone line or cell phone, the added advantage is that you'll be able to track the costs of your business calls very easily.
More in the Business Identity Series
- 8 Steps to Your Business Identity - Introduction & Overview
- Brainstorming Your Business Name and Tagline
- Checking into an Employer ID Number with the IRS
- Opening a Business Bank Account
- Creating Your Business Logo
- Ordering Your Business Cards
- Creating and Ordering Your Business Stationery
- Establishing Your Business Website