Working from home: Business plan … marketing plan … security plan?

Working from home offers many advantages, both in convenience and economic terms, but it also can make you vulnerable.

According to the FBI, a violent crime is committed every 19 seconds. A larceny theft (as opposed to a misdemeanor or petty theft) occurs every 4 seconds, a burglary every 13 seconds, a vehicle stolen every 23 seconds, an aggravated assault every 31 seconds, a rape every 46 seconds and a murder every 27 minutes.

As a home-based business owner, why should these statistics be important to you? Because the majority of home-based workers operate without the safety net of a conventional office — while at the same time they let clients into their homes, travel frequently to meetings and support services and connect with business associates in a variety of locations.

The fact that your business takes you to different places every day and enables you to interact with a wide variety of people may be exciting and interesting, but it can also increase your chances of becoming a crime victim. Home-based business owners must be prepared to protect themselves both in the home office and out on the road.

On the road

According to experts, the keys to protecting yourself on the road are preparation and being aware of your surroundings. But it’s easy to become absorbed in the business at hand and not give thought to protecting yourself or being aware of what is going on around you.

When you’re out on calls, look alert and confident. Hold your head up and stand straight. Have pepper spray with you and keep it handy — in an emergency, you won’t have time to dig in a briefcase or purse. Keep your cell phone handy and charged up, too. Whenever possible, arrange meetings in a public place. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, faking an incoming text, email or call can expedite a controlled exit.

When returning to your car after a business meeting look around you, look into your car on the passenger side floor and the back seat. Look at the vehicles parked next to your car on both the driver’s and the passenger’s sides. If a van is parked next to your car on the driver’s side, enter from the passenger side. If there’s a vehicle on either side with someone sitting in the seat nearest your car, consider going back into your meeting and asking someone to walk out with you. If nothing else, lock your car immediately upon entering and don’t linger. It’s common once back in the car to take a few minutes to jot down some notes, do paperwork, check for messages and so on. Don’t! As soon as you get in your car, lock the doors and leave.

In the office

Within the home office itself, the keys to protecting yourself are similar — preparation and control of your surroundings.

Begin by placing your office close to the entrance of the house. If setting up in a back room is unavoidable, conduct business with clients in a front room when possible. Whatever room you’re in, though, arrange yourself so that an office visitor cannot block your access to an exit. And, regardless of where your office is located, avoid displaying valuables.

Next, control who comes into your home office. Screen clients carefully, and whenever possible meet first-timers away from the home office. This is especially important if your business requires that you advertise in widespread locations or publications. Generally, referrals from current clients or business acquaintances are less risky. If a potential client indicates that he or she has been referred by someone else, check with the referral source before inviting the new client to your home.

Think ahead and have solutions for situations that might be uncomfortable. Just as you have a fire escape plan for your family — you do have one, don’t you? — have a mental escape plan for uncomfortable business situations.

  • If your office is in a rear room and your copier (or other large equipment) needs service, you will need to take the service tech back to it, of course, but try to schedule the appointment when a family member or neighbor can be there.
  • If someone is scheduled to visit your office on behalf of another company, call that company ahead of time and verify the contact person’s information.
  • If someone is in your office and you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself to make a phone call, but make the call in their presence. Call a neighbor or family member, and in the conversation make it sound as if you are expecting them to arrive soon. That will generally make it easier to end your current meeting.
  • Consider a security system with a panic alarm. These can range from the simple hand-held variety to those wired into a home alarm system.

Finally, many local law enforcement agencies offer free residential security inspections. Request this service and ask for additional suggestions regarding home office security. You can also browse security tips in Risk management, insurance & security.