An entrepreneur’s guide to establishing that first office
It was an opportunistic move for Last Frame Pictures.
Brendan McCarney and Mike Gillespie, co-founders of the film and editing company – which works with clients ranging from indie bands to corporations like VISA – heard their friends in a band had purchased a building in Toronto’s hip Junction area on Dundas West for a jam space/de facto studio.
They offered a floor to McCarney and Gillespie, who at the time were working out of their respective apartments.
“The rent was cheap and we’d just finished a couple of high-paying contracts so we had a bit of surplus cash,” says McCarney. “It was a tough decision but we knew we needed to.”
Gillespie had been pushing for Last Frame, which started three years ago, to move into a shared office space. Like many entrepreneurs weighing their spatial options, McCarney was worried about adopting the overhead costs prematurely.
But the duo was finding it increasingly challenging to run the business fluidly without a proper space, so they took the spot.
“We’d send five page emails back and forth, five days a week and we felt like we weren’t accomplishing a lot,” says McCarney. “Being around each other more has made it easier to communicate and be more productive.”
It also gave their predominantly freelance staff — which includes two full-time editors and four to seven contract employees — a central meeting hub.
Last Frame’s story is from unique: Finding and setting up that first office space can be daunting for any entrepreneur.
“There are a lot of factors that come into play,” says Gillespie.
Ella Mamiche, principal of interiors for Toronto-based firm ZAS Architects + Interiors, says knowing when to make the leap from a home office or incubator varies based on the needs of the entrepreneur.
“It could be that they’re growing or maybe the incubators don’t offer as much stability or fit the overall feeling of the business,” says Mamiche.
She points out that some businesses need access to proper boardrooms or meeting rooms.
For Gillespie, being in an office space adds a social element he just didn’t have in his home office.
“You can get a little bit of cabin fever when you don’t leave the house for like a week,” he says. “That’s definitely something to consider – your sanity is important for the growth of your business.”
Scouting a spot
The first step is to set a budget, which Mamiche recommends should be 8 to 10 per cent of revenue.
“In addition to rent, that includes electricity, heating, equipment, driving and parking,” she says.
Location is also very important.
“Do you have free parking or will your customers get towed? Things like this can turn customers away,” says Mamiche.
Research is vital to understand an area’s character — some act as hubs for certain types of businesses or offer resources for fresh-faced entrepreneurs.
In addition to being cheap, Last Frame’s office space also fit the vibe of their predominantly music industry customer base.
“Accessibility was also key. There is a free parking space in the back and it is right on a bus loop,” says Gillespie.
Parking in downtown Toronto, on the other hand, varies from $10 to $30 for a full day.
When iPolitics, an Ottawa-based politically-geared news outlet with a staff of 22, found it had nowhere for new employees, deputy editor Sally Douglas realized it was time to move.
Having worked as an interior design project manager before her publishing career, she took a leadership role in the move.
“The trick is to carry your business and not let your revenue get interrupted while you’re moving,” says Douglas. “When planning, start from what you believe the end result will look and feel like, and work back — build your tasks around a timeline that always leaves some space for error.”
For iPolitics, the most important components of the business are phones and computers.
“So, while there were 1000 other things to think about, we had to make sure those elements of the move were sorted coming out the start gate,” says Douglas. “Your list of ‘things to do’ needs to include redirecting your mail, determining what packing boxes will be required, if a street permit for the moving truck to park is needed.”
One of the best spots to look for office furniture is on Kijiji or Craigslist.
“We found this guy online who had a whole warehouse of office stuff from downsized companies,” says Gillespie, noting that they already had the computers and speakers needed for their business so they set aside a budget of $500 for tables and chairs. “We got four matching office chairs that would normally be $150 each for $50 a pop.”
iPolitics set their budget at $15,000 and scavenged the Internet and garage sales for a mishmash of old and new furniture.
For electronics and office supplies, The Source, Staples and Office Depot offer discounts for small businesses.
“Always ask for a discount whether one is offered or not, if it is possible to use your business to help strike deals — do it,” says Douglas. “Offer the supplier advertising space on your website, free coffee from your coffee shop or books from your bookstore.”
Prepare to grow again
Ultimately, it’s important to plan for the long term, says Mamiche.
“Once you’re in and setting up, make sure that you can reconfigure and rearrange without major construction or disruption of computers – you need to be able to add more people without having to close the business down for a few weeks,” says the interiors expert. “Young companies need to always be prepared for evolution and growth.”