How can I minimize weirdness when hosting clients in my home office?

March 6 |
By: SarahCC BY 2.0
I run a business from my home, and I often have to meet with clients and collaborators. I've been meeting in coffee shops, but I want to make a change: some meetings require lots of materials or even room to spread out drawings and papers, and I hate lugging this stuff around and then splaying out my work in a cafe. However, I want to make sure I'm projecting a professional persona even when I greet a client at my front door and lead them through the living room to my office. My house is fine — it's neat, though doesn't have a ton of furniture. It just feels strange to invite people to see where I live AND work.

Am I silly to worry about this? Is there anything you can suggest to allay my twinge of weirdness about mixing business and personal worlds?

Thank you! -Bessie

I totally get this. Like, if I meet a client here, they have to meet my cat. If they have to pee, they use MY bathroom and WHAT IF THERE IS PEE ON THE SEAT?! The SHAME. We need your help, Homies: What are the must-pay-attention-to items when your at-home business is expecting company?

  1. I'm really struggling with the same problem, so some suggestions from others would be great!!

    I don't even have a full office right now, so I share it with the dining room, which in its own way is even more awkward.

    0 agree
  2. Be upfront and let people know what to expect: tell people that you work from home before giving them your address. When you great them at the door, apologize for having to walk through your home and let them know you'll be going "just through the living room".
    I think most people are understanding as long as they know what they are getting themselves in to.

    10 agree
    • Very true! I once went to a tailor who ran her shop our of her apartment. I had no idea so I thought I had the wrong address at first, and then in my head I questioned the legitimacy of her business until she began showing me examples of her work. Knowing upfront would have helped a lot!

      2 agree
    • "tell people that you work from home before giving them your address"

      This this THIS! My boss's office is at his home, and when I first went there for my job interview I totally thought I had the wrong address too.

      2 agree
  3. When I moved in with my boyfriend to his extremely-bachelor-man-pad, I realized that this was also destined to become my "home base" for most of what I do.

    I write from home, but I also plan weddings and work as an educational outreach coordinator for a non-profit theatre company. All of this means meetings. So many meetings.

    My boyfriend is also involved in the theatre company, and due to the central location of our home, it is the most common meeting spot for most official meetings, planning sessions and yes, cast parties.

    What (to me) is the most important is having (the appearance) of a clean, liveable space. Your clients don't have to see your bedroom (thank god), so it doesn't have to be immaculate, but planning for having a living/working space is the hardest bit. Once you're used to it, it becomes second hand to remember to hang your coats and collect laundry (or maybe that's just us).

    I always, always, always clean the bathroom sink and toilet before I know clients are arriving and I try to have fresh towels stocked as well. Those wax-melting things from Scentsy are the greatest investment I've made. They cover unpleasant smells, create ambient light and make it look like I know how to decorate. (I don't).

    I suppose how your home is laid out would impact a lot of this, but out front door leads staight into our living room which leads into our dining room which leads into our kitchen, so I try to keep clutter to a minimum while also expressing our personality and awesomeness. If my clients are offended by our ever-growing pile of stage combat weapons, then that is their problem. I have found that clients understand they are in "your domain", so having magazines or mail out is more excusable than in an office.

    I bought MANY shelves when I moved in, and those serve as the major storage/focal point of my office area. They also have personal photos, knick-knacks and books on them, and I think the "personal touches" remind clients that yes, I do live here.

    I also have a table that I use for meetings and meetings only, so it is always kept clear save for maybe a sample floral arrangement or pile of tablecloth samples. I have the luxury of being able to put it off to the side when not in use, but if you don't, a foldable sewing table or wall-mounted folding table might serve your purpose well.

    IMHO, the best way to manage the home/office quandry is having designated spaces for "work" and play. Put up dividers or close doors to the areas where you keep your dirty socks. Buy a couple of plastic storage tubs for clutter-collecting sweeps before last minute meetings. Have office supplies/catalogues/samples stored in one closet or shelf, and KEEP THEM THERE. Buy a lot of papertowels and coffee cups.

    In the end, though, it's really about keeping your space as you like it and knowing what works for you and your "real life" as well as your "office life". Hope this helps!

    10 agree
  4. I'm a photographer who has hosted client meetings in my home, and I definitely think there are advantages. If part of what you do is sell yourself as a person, then inviting them into your very personal world establishes a whole new level of openness and trust. It's also a heck of a lot easier than hauling materials around and going back and forth trying to figure out a convenient meeting place for everyone. When I meet in coffee shops, I'm very limited in how I can present my brand, because it's THEIR music that's playing, THEIR chairs we're sitting in, THEIR art on the walls. If I'm hosting at home, I can control all of these sensory elements and orchestrate them into a cohesive client experience. For example, I have a playlist just for meetings, and I usually bake cookies and offer coffee or tea. I have framed photos on the walls and lots of albums for them to look at, and I've decorated my office to 100% reflect me, my style, my business, my brand. As a result, I often get comments like "This is so YOU!" which I see as a success. And I've found that hosting clients is a great excuse to clean my house when I otherwise would've let some things go. ;)

    However, a word of caution: you do have to be legally zoned to host client meetings in your own home. For example, if a client were to slip and fall and injure themselves in your home, you could be held legally responsible, and you could get into some serious hot water. So even though there are tons of pros to hosting meetings at home, I'm actually transitioning out of that because of the legal risks. But if you can get properly zoned, it really is the best way to have meetings, in my opinion!

    3 agree
  5. I think my first advice would be, if at all possible, have your workspace as close as possible to the front door, even if only temporarily. If your office isn't close to there, make sure that the path to your office isn't awkward on its own. Walking through your bedroom to get there, for instance, is way awkward even if everything is tidy and lovely.
    In terms of decor, just be sure you're as minimalist as possible, or that you keep things pretty tidy. The more stuff there is, the less officey it feels. I suggest having lots of lighting in your space, too.
    I say, prepare yourself for a meeting as you might prepare a conference room. If you're using the dining table, remove everything from the table, then add pens, pads of paper and other key implements. If you're hosting it in your home office, remove anything not business related (again, temporarily!) The outside of your space is important, too. If you have a yard, relegate the kid-detrius to the back yard and make sure the outside gives a good first impression.
    And also, relax. They know you work from home. So even if they feel strange about it at first, your own professional demeanor will help steer them away from any misgivings about your workathominess.

    3 agree
  6. Maybe it's because I'm nosy and would love the chance for a peek into someones personal life, or because one of my favourite things about the place I interned recently was the wonderfully quirky office but I think if I was a client I'd love the chance to see your home as it is.

    Unless of course theres a huge discrepency between what you do professionally and what you're into. Like maybe if you worked for your local church but also collected Alchemy Gothic stuff. Then it's probably not worth the risk of someone objecting to something. (That said I did once meet a vicar who regularly wore Iron Maiden t-shirts in public.)

    Anyway, my point is I agree with Catie. As long as it's relatively clean and neat I don't think it should be a problem. I'd avoid a build up of unwashed dishes or random clutter, at least in areas they're likely to spend time, but you shouldn't feel like you need to hide anything that reflects your personality or interests.

    1 agrees
    • I think someone seeing my home and comparing it to my profession is actually what freaks me out the most! I'm an architectural designer…so uh my home says a lot about what I do.

      Which is scary when you are a young couple just starting on reno's and amassing furniture that doesn't look like it came from a dorm room.

      1 agrees
      • Well, if you're in the middle of renovations, just smile and explain it away–say you're always working on renovations. I think that would actually be somewhat encouraging. If necessary, add a little quip–unfortunate that you're not also a builder/contractor.
        As an architectural designer, it may behoove you to complete a very architecturally interesting renovation to your front room or office. And it may be helpful to have some really DESIGNY furniture. This can be easier than you think. Grab some really angular and sleek Ikea cabinetry or top a table with some reclaimed wood. If you focus on a certain sort of design project, let that guide some of the projects in your office. Do mostly corporate design for office spaces? Go concrete or sleek modernist. Do residential or otherwise cozy spaces? You might benefit from some coziness in your office space. Little mind hacks!

        4 agree
        • Those are great suggestions!!! Thanks a bunch. It makes me feel better about having people in my home. I think we have done a lot of what you have suggested already, and are always working to do more of it :)

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  7. My mom owns her own business and conducts several meetings each week within her home office. She works in the childcare field (nanny placement agency) so the home setting is pretty typical; it's actually more comfortable for some of her interviewees than an office building would be. Working from home has given her terrific flexibility and kept her business costs lower. It's been working great for over 20 years.

    I lived most of my childhood with that home business and I worked in the office as well, so here are my insights:

    1. Try to keep the areas that guests will walk through neat and clean. If possible, minimize the distance they travel through your home to the office.
    2. If you have kids or pets keep them away from visitors, at least at first. They shouldn't be disrupting a work meeting with noise, mobbing visitors at the front door, popping in the room etc.
    3. Tell people beforehand that your office is in your home so people don't get confused when they pull up in front of a house. Provide easy directions including a description of what your home looks like.
    4. Let guests keep their shoes on and wear shoes yourself. It feels more "office" than "home."
    5. Make the office itself look professional, even if you use it for both work and personal purposes. My mom's is in a huge lower-level room complete with desks and cube walls (she has two employees who work there as well). People are pleasantly surprised when they walk in.
    6. Have a professional web presence and pre-meeting communications. That way people will know you mean business even if your workspace is informal.
    7. Put a little sign for your business on the door or in the window so people know they've arrived at the right place.
    8. Curb appeal: make sure your house numbers are easily visible, that your doorbell works and you can hear it, that parking on the street or driveway is easy, and that you have adequate lighting for any evening visitors.
    9. Keep the house clean, the lawn mowed, and the sidewalk shoveled.
    10. Your business and field will determine how impersonal vs. personal your space can be, but be mindful of whatever those norms are when you choose decor for your office, bathroom, and other spaces clients may walk through. Will people expect muted colors or bright? Family photos or less-personal artwork? Comfy furniture or office style?
    11. Offer the same amenities that you would in any other office: water or coffee, a restroom, etc.
    12. Occasionally my mom has back-to-back meetings and the second person arrives early. If this could happen to you, have a sitting area available, maybe stocked with a few magazines.

    Bonus! You might be able to write off part of your rent/mortgage, lawnmowing, snowplowing, housecleaning, or other expenses as business expenses–but consult an accountant.

    7 agree
    • This is really good advice that I second. My husband is a wedding videographer, & he does demo meetings in our living room all the time. He meets with clients (a bride, sometimes a couple, sometimes a mom comes too) & show them video on our big screen HD-TV. This is really the best situation bec. they can see the footage at its best & like they'd see their own DVD if they sign him up.

      I help out by cleaning up, keeping the cats out of the way, we make coffee so the house smells good (these are almost always weekend morning meetings), sweep the front porch, etc.

      It's important to get the buy-in of anyone who shares your home (incld pets!). I introduce myself when clients arrive, then go to the back of the house. If ppl are there, don't try to ignore the fact, it's weird.

      0 agree
      • Oh & a little home dec tip — it doesn't hurt to have things reminiscent of your business in the space you'll be doing business. Our living room fireplace mantle has framed wedding photos from our wedding & family weddings, & wedding clients have commented on how nice that looks.

        If you're a photographer, frame samples of your work. I you're a writer, I'd expect to see filled bookshelves. Anything that carries connotations of what you do.

        2 agree
  8. I understand that not everyone can have a set "office space", but having some sort of dedicated area (even a wheeled cart) seems so much more put-together than those people who are scrambling to clear a table, find files, etc. I would also say that over-apologizing or having a person dwell on the negative of the space is rather a turn-off. One quick apology at the door, perhaps, but then keep your focus on the positive in the situation.

    You can also leverage home space into positives — a cup of tea from the kitchen, a great view out the window, etc. And ask a friend or acquaintance to objectively analyze a home-business scenario — do a run-through with them, if you can! Does your place smell like dinner? Simmer some spices on the stove. Is that pile of clothes you don't even see anymore really nasty? Get perspective from some fresh eyes, maybe even trade with someone if you can.

    5 agree
  9. My 2 cents: make sure there's one piece of art or memorabilia or whatever that you WANT people to ask about (as conversation-starter) in either your office or the area you have to lead people through to get to your office. That takes the client's natural curiosity OFF the rest of your home and puts it where you're comfortable working the story into your spiel. If you sense the client's ill-at-ease with the home setting, you can even point out the McGuffin yourself.

    Also: always have lots of toilet paper and visible guest towels.

    3 agree
  10. I really agree that the best things you can do are have an office area (whether permanent or temporary) that looks professional and is tidy, be prepared (have all files and information handy), be a good host (have beverages and/or snacks that are quick and easy to make available), keep pets out of the way, and make it easy to get to your office. I also like the suggestion to ensure any space clients may need to use will be office-friendly. Please, do not be like my last office and have Sports Illustrated in the men's washroom (on a predominately female floor that had 2 single washrooms that frequently were both used by the ladies). Hide personal grooming items as much as possible (nobody wants to think about you spitting in the sink after brushing your teeth, see your hairbrush, etc. ). Personality is cool, especially if it's part of your brand. I'd EXPECT My Little Ponies at Ariel's house, for example, but you need to determine the appropriateness.

    This does all depend on the formality or informality of your business, obviously. I've met professors at their houses and we sat at a kitchen table or hung out in the living room. No biggy. Or going to a house where there's childcare or pet grooming, those would be one thing. But the more formal your business, the more formal an atmosphere you probably want to project. Even if you use a different entrance to your house. My original piano teacher always let me in the back door and I waited outside her teaching studio. The one later had me hanging out with her kids while I waited which felt a little like I was the unpaid babysitter.

    2 agree
    • "I'd EXPECT My Little Ponies at Ariel's house, for example, but you need to determine the appropriateness."

      THIS is awesome! (Also SOO TRUE!)

      0 agree
  11. My dad has run his business out of the family house since I was in 1st grade, so I grew up with this. He put his office in the room closest to the door – which I think helped a lot. Also, us kids always knew when to keep quiet 'cause Daddy has a client over. Our parents definitely talked us through what was expected during that time.
    That being said – I remember when I was running a news website out of my shared townhouse and an elected official suggested meeting at my "office." I nearly had a heart attack at the idea of him seeing my roommate's clutter everywhere. I think when you don't have control over the circumstances (like I did – it was a tense living situation), you should really hold your meetings outside of the house to avoid unpleasant surprises.

    0 agree
  12. I'd try leaving out a tray with a pitcher full of ice water and a couple of nice glasses, along with a few bite-sized snacks (small cookies, tea sandwiches, etc). Or if it's morning, have a pot of coffee going. I think these are really nice touches that welcome a client into your space and make them more comfortable.
    I'd also show them where the bathroom is.
    And try to keep the space clean of pet dander, because you never know when someone may discover they are allergic to cats! Also inform the client that you do have pets, and offer to move the meeting elsewhere if they are allergic, etc.

    1 agrees
    • YES!!! I am severely allergic to cats, and even a 30-minute meeting in a house where a cat lives can trigger an asthma attack, if I don't know ahead of time to take my heavy-duty meds.

      0 agree
      • On a similar note, be wary of using strong scents (i.e., candles, plug-in air fresheners) to freshen up your home, especially prior to/during meetings. These could trigger allergies or migraines in some of your clients.

        2 agree
  13. The parents of a childhood friend both worked from home (massage therapist and a sound engineer) so one of the key things at their house was having separate and distinct spaces: his office, her studio, a living room suitable for both sets of clients, and a space for the kids to call their own. The kid space was incredibly important, as it let them do their own thing without having to worry about disturbing mum or dad.

    1 agrees
  14. Here's my 2c!
    Have a small sign at the front door or gate. So people arriving can be sure they've found the right place. I hate ringing a doorbell only to find I'm at the wrong place. I quite often chicken out and resort to calling their phone to say "I'm out the front". Oh and have an obvious working doorbell! I hate it when you press someone's bell and you don't hear it yourself and you stand there for 10 mins trying to work out if it rang or not. Or having to knock hard on a really solid door that hurts your knuckles! And if you have a gate with no bell, before your front door, a sign to let people know its ok to open the gate and go in to the door (or leave it open) We have dogs so I never go through someone's gate.

    My other tip is to have disposable paper hand towels in the bathroom (and a bin). I hate wiping my hands on other peoples towels not knowing if it's the right one or if it's clean! The worst bit is when it's already damp from the last person that dried their hands!

    0 agree
  15. Anyone have any worries about safety? I.e., clients/potential clients/etc. knowing where you live?

    0 agree
  16. Do not inflict your pets on your clients! I AM an animal person, but I'm totally turned off when I go to a home office where a dog or cat is wandering around and taking even a minimal amount of attention from the owner. Very unprofessional.

    2 agree
  17. If at all possible, having a door installed that goes directly into your office helps a lot. My therapist had a little stone path with a sign pointing you from her driveway to her office, so I never saw her actual living space. Also, there was a deadbolt on the door between the office and the living space, so nobody could accidentally interrupt.

    2 agree

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