The Joy and Hazards Of Finding Your First Office

by Tim Knox
Copyright © 2005

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Q: I have outgrown my home office and need to find office space for me and two part time employees. I am really excited about opening my first official office, but never having rented commercial space before I don't know anything about how this process works. What are some things I should consider before signing a lease? I'm really eager to get started!
-- Jay P.

A: Congratulations on the growth of your business, Jay, and I understand your excitement. Putting your name on a commercial lease is one of the first tangible commitments an entrepreneur makes to his or her business and searching for that first office or retail space can be a truly invigorating experience.

We entrepreneurs like to imagine ourselves as modern day explorers, going out into the cold, cruel, commercial world to plant the company flag in our own little piece of rented real estate. I remember that feeling of triumph when I rented my first office so many years ago. Funny how you never get the same feeling when laying claim to future office space. For us old timers searching for new office space is about as exciting as watching paint dry on a new office wall.

For entrepreneurs who have never rented commercial space before, however, moving into that first office or storefront serves to validate their membership in the Official Entrepreneur's Club and makes them feel that they have arrived.

They are like business-minded debutantes at a grand cotillion. They stage an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony that involves the mayor and a pair of giant scissors. They invite the entire membership of the chamber of commerce, all their customers and vendors, total strangers they meet on the way to work, and all their friends and family. The more the merrier!

There's a big cake with their logo on it and they hand out twenty-five cent pens that have the company name screened on the side and a good time is had by all.

Then reality sets in and they realize that they used one of those twenty-five cent pens to affix their name to an ironclad lease that is invariably slanted in favor of the landlord. By the time they use that pen to sign the next month's rent check, they often find themselves sitting in a leased space that does not suit their needs, staring at a 5 year lease that they really don't understand, wondering just what the hell they have gotten themselves into.

Many entrepreneurs get so caught up in the swell of their first commercial space that they fail to look beyond their immediate needs. You can't predict the future, but the biggest mistake you can make when leasing space is to put very little thought into whether the space will suit your needs for the long term.

So my first advice to you is to curb your excitement and call in a professional to help you find the perfect space for your business. A good realtor or commercial leasing agent can not only save you time and money, but can also help you avoid mistakes that can cost you thousands of dollars over the course of your lease. They can help you locate property, negotiate with landlords, and possibly spot problems with the space or neighborhood that you might have missed.

My second bit of advice is this: once you find a space that suits your needs have an attorney look over the lease agreement before you sign it. A commercial lease is a legally binding agreement that should not be taken lightly. I have found that many entrepreneurs never even take time to read the lease until they try to get out of it, which is always impossible to do. When you sign a lease on behalf of your business, you are the one on the hook for the remaining cost of the lease should your business decline and no longer have revenue to cover the rent. It's worth the money to pay an attorney to make sure you that your interests are covered.

My third bit of advice is to imagine your needs down the road, not just in the here and now. Rarely will you find a landlord willing to grant a one year lease. Most leases are three to five years in length, which means you must take future growth into consideration when looking for space. It wouldn't be wise to sign a 5 year lease on a 1,000 square foot office if you think you might outgrow the space within a year or two. That's why it's a good idea to request a clause in the lease that gives you an out if your company outgrows the space.

Here are a few other points to consider when shopping for commercial space:

Location, location, location. Is the location convenient to your customers? Is the neighborhood growing or going downhill? Are there major improvements or renovations taking place or are businesses moving out in droves? Also make sure the property is zoned for your kind of business.

Is there sufficient parking for customers and employees. Parking is especially important for a retail store, but also for any business that may have customers coming and going. Very few customers will park four blocks away and hike back to your door. A lack of parking can drive you out of business.

How many employees do you have? The amount of bodies inhabiting the space will help dictate the amount of space needed. Employees get awful grumpy when stacked up like cordwood (trust me on this one). You should have enough space for everyone to work comfortably.

When leasing commercial space the devil is often in the (overlooked) details. If you will be using computers and lot of electronics, make sure the building's electrical system will support your needs. It's a terrible feeling to turn on your computer and blow every light bulb in the place.

If you like a quiet work environment and your office windows are twenty feet from the street, you'll be in for a rude awakening when the rush hour traffic hits.

If the air conditioning in your office is controlled by the thermostat in a neighboring suite that is inhabited by an old lady who freezes in ninety degree weather, you will be in for a very long, very hot summer.

Since locating the perfect space is only half the battle, we'll look at the specifics of a commercial lease in next week's column.

Here's to your success!

Tim Knox tim@dropshipwholesale.net For information on starting your own online or eBay business


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