How to create a biz-worthy home office

Presented live on Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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Is your home office making it easier or harder for you to close clients? Is everything the camera sees – everything your prospect sees – amplifying your awesome… or dragging you down a half-dozen notches?

And if your answer is, “Trick’s on you, Jo! I never go on camera!” then we need to have a much bigger talk.

For everybody else – for everyone meeting clients on Zoom or Google Hangouts – today’s Tutorial Tuesday is for you.

In this live Tutorial, conversion copywriters and business owners, Joanna Wiebe, Tarzan Kay & Val Geisler, will walk you through what they’ve done to make their offices look the biz on camera.

From budgeting for your home office (no big bucks needed), identifying the parts of your office that need optimizing… what to do if your office is actually part of your kitchen or basement… and even when you need to move out of your home office into a workspace.


Joanna Wiebe: Hey. Hello, everybody. Good morning, afternoon/evening depending on where you are. Joanna here from Copy Hackers with Sarah, hello, hello, and our two special guests today, two, Tarzan Kay, raising the roof of course, and Val Geisler. Hey guys, how’s it going? Whoop whoop.

Tarzan Kay: Doing great. Doing great.

Val Geisler: Hey. There’s a “whoop whoop” in the chat.

Joanna Wiebe: You know. That’s why I said whoop whoop, only because Brian chatted it to us. Yes.

Val Geisler: Amazing.

Joanna Wiebe: Which brings up, Brian, thanks for triggering that. Chat is where you want to chat over things that you want us to hear immediately. Q&A is where you please put questions that you’d like us to answer before the end of this 20-minute tutorial, which today is all about your office space as a freelancer. Your office space as a freelancer. What does your office look like to people who are on camera with you? One, yes, you should be on camera with your leads and actual clients. Two, when you’re on camera, what are they seeing? This is a big opportunity for optimization, and it’s easy and it’s fun, so there’s really no reason not to do this, and even budget does not have to be a reason not to do this because you could do some really inexpensive things to make your office look the biz. So we’re going to talk about those today, and if you have questions, if you’re looking around … I keep getting a call that won’t go away. Now, I’m frozen. I love the way I freeze. Look at my face.

Val Geisler: So great. It’s so great.

Joanna Wiebe: Right? Cool, that’s fun. So I’m going to go off camera for a second while I wait for the camera to pick back up, but, yeah, let’s talk through first, Tarzan, Val, what have you done to work on your offices? Or, first of all, why is it even important for you to work on your office? Like who cares?

Val Geisler: First of all, I want to say that this space that I’m in is fairly new to me. My office for a year and a half was one end of my dining room table, and that’s the background that lots and lots of people saw. For me, it was really just like it was the end of the table and then a wall behind me, and so I staged the wall behind me, and nobody ever knew any different. The dining room, there’s a little buffet, and I put office-y things on top of the buffet, and if you ate in my dining room, then you saw some office-y stuff, but I guess what I’m saying is there’s kind of no excuse to not have a nice-looking background, even if it’s the end of your dining room table that you work at on a daily basis.

Joanna Wiebe: yeah, and I love that you mentioned staging it, because all you have to do is look at how much your client sees in the camera and who cares what’s on the other side of that. It could be an actual disaster area on both sides and no one would ever know, so I think it’s awesome that you’re talking about staging a space to look like what you want to project to your clients rather than, “Oh, I’m in the kitchen and my kids are in here sometimes so I’ll just make it look like a kitchen and it’s fine,” but this is real. Your clients are looking at this.

Val Geisler: Yeah, it feels like workspace.

Tarzan Kay: I don’t think freelancers realize how much they’re signaling to their potential clients all over the place. So possibly the first signal could be like, I don’t know, your email address. If it’s Gmail, that’s a not serious signal, and if you open up … I’ve had calls with so many … I hire freelancers all the time. I have seen them take calls from their bedrooms. I’ve seen them have kids running around, which is fine. I have kids too, but they’re contained during client calls. You’re signaling so much. When you get on video, it’s a chance to be so strategic and send so many messages to them. They’re looking for all those messages as much as they’re actually listening to your words, so I want people to think of me as a premium service, so everything about my office I want it to say premium. I also want them to feel like they’re interacting with a brand, therefore logo behind me. I don’t ever want them to think of me like a freelancer. I don’t want them to be like, “Oh, you need a freelancer? Call Tarzan.” Tarzan is not a freelancer. Observe. I’m a brand.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk about your office Tarzan because I’ve seen it evolve a little bit over time, but you’ve always been, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been in a room, like an office outside of your home that you rent.

Tarzan Kay: Yes. So I joined Your World, Jo, when I turned to a serious freelancer, but I was a fly-by-night freelancer for a couple years before that, and I worked at the kitchen table. I wasn’t that serious and I didn’t really make any money, but when I decided to be serious and actually support my family, the first thing I did was rent an office because we lived in a small space, I had a toddler, actually he was only one. It would not have been possible, and getting an office was one of those things. We talked about this when I was incorporating as well, and you were like, “Oh yeah, this made me think of myself as a real business.” Same thing getting an office. I took myself so seriously. I needed to get out of my space, so even being in an office was like I couldn’t escape to the fridge or doing laundry or anything like that, so having an office was a really big deal.

My last office was like, it was pretty nice. I think it looked good. When I watch videos of myself, I’m like, “Oh, but I could have done this.” But now I’m actually back at home because we bought a new house, and in this house it has a [reno-ed] attic, which is amazing. It’s meant to be the master bedroom, so it also has the most chic, gorgeous bathroom, and nobody comes into this space unless they’re coming to my office. There’s no reason to ever pass through here, and I have a small child, another baby now, so I kind of had to be at home and I love being at home now, but only because I have this separate space.

Val Geisler: Yeah, 100%. I rented a desk from a friend who had her own business and office space about a mile from my house, and she had tons of space, and I asked her to rent a desk from her, and I spent $250 a month on renting a desk in her space, and it was well-lit and had a nice design, décor, when I was just tired of the dining room table situation, and I was there three or four days a week and I was there for client calls, and then I would come home sometimes and work from my dining room. But being there and spending that $250 a month was fuel for the fire, right? I had to make that back or it was no longer worth investing in, and then she ended up changing her business and moving locations, which is why I’m now here. This room is actually in my basement.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. So I’ve heard that my volume is a little low. Sorry if you can’t hear me as well, but I think it’s interesting that yours is in your basement, Tarzan, yours is in your attic, I’m also in the attic for my home, Sarah is in a special room in her home as well, but a thing that seems consistent is that once you take yourself seriously as a person in a business, running a business, you no longer make excuses for the space you’re in, and that means even finding $250, which I know some people would be like, “I can’t do that. $250?” But that’s part of the hunger that will like, “Well, I have a bill that I have to pay, so I have to charge a good amount of money now. I have to go out and make ends meet,” instead of just kind of existing in a lump in the corner of your house. So you can modify your basement to look fab, your attic, or a different space in your house to look fantastic.

I do want to point out that we have a prize today, because lighting is also a big part of how you look on camera. I know that if I turn my light off, I feel and look a lot darker and sadder, but then when you turn your light on, things are better. So I have a light that I love. I used to have huge windows on the other side of my laptop, so I just had all this natural light coming in, but now that I’m up in an attic, you can see all the windows in the attic are that size, and I’m on a standing desk, and I’m still here, but there’s trees outside. You just can’t solve for all that beautiful natural lighting all the time, so we’re going to give away one of these to anybody else who is also dealing with that problem, and how should we go about giving it away? Best question. What do you think?

Tarzan Kay: Well, wait. Can we talk some more about lighting first?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah.

Tarzan Kay: Because, Jo, I feel like you’re breaking one of the cardinal rules, but you’ve done it so effectively. A common mistake I see is people putting lights behind them, and it’s a major mess. They look bright and they make you look dark, so can you tell us how you pulled that off?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. So if this is off, then I go a lot darker. I still have on a light in other spaces and I do have some natural light coming on me, but I knew when I put those lights in, which were exactly what I wanted, I knew it was going to happen that I’d need to have a light on me as well, but I think that’s a really good point, Tarzan, is … if you have a window in your room, face the window, even if you’re like, “Well, but then my back is to everything.” So what? You need that natural light coming in. Don’t have a window behind you or you turn into this black silhouette. So it’s also just as simple as to know what’s wrong with the space that you’re in.

Open up Skype, which you probably have on there if you don’t use Zoom, or open Zoom. Look at what the camera sees, and be critical of it. Okay, so when I’m here sitting like this, I look dark. If I turn it up here, then I look a little lighter, but I can’t see anything because the light is so bright. But really it’s about looking and optimizing the space that you’re working in. So, can I ask you guys, what are some of the most important things you see in like, Tarzan, when you’re working with freelancers, Val, when you’re working with people too, offices that … What are some quick fixes people can use in their home offices?

Val Geisler: Tidy up behind you. I mean, that’s the simplest thing, right? Even if you are working out of a corner of your living room or your bedroom or the guest room with the guest bed behind you, tidy it up and kind of just own the space. If you’re in your guest room and that’s the only place you have for a desk and there’s a bed in there, don’t line a bunch of books up on the bed. That looks ridiculous, right? Figure out if maybe you can turn the bed.

My husband also works from home. He’s not on camera as much as I am, but we switched out for a futon instead of a guest bed because he’s in the guest room. So switching out furniture, moving things around, seeing how you can just rearrange things and then tidy up. Put clothes in hampers. Put books on shelves. Line up your favorite … Move things around from inside your house. Most of what’s on this bookshelf was shopped from my house. I didn’t spend a ton of money on the items on my shelves. It’s things that existed in other places, and I just moved them here and arranged them.

Joanna Wiebe: Nice. Tarzan, how about you?

Tarzan Kay: So I always wear my most beautiful, best jewelry on calls and make sure I wear makeup. You don’t have to wear makeup, but I want to feel my best, so I’m fully dressed. You can’t see what I’m wearing, but I’m wearing pants, man. Just because you’re not in an office doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear pants. The way you feel has a huge impact on how people see you, so you’ve got to get that game going as well.

Val Geisler: Yeah.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. Completely. Completely. Cool. Okay. At what point do you think people need to move out of their home office, or ever? Do you think it’s always like if you can optimize the space, we’re good? Or, Tarzan, because I know you moved out of yours when you had a smaller home and children inside of it, so is that a reason to go get your own space, or how do you [crosstalk]-

Tarzan Kay: Oh, yes. Oh my god, yes. You can’t work with kids around, unless perhaps you have a deal with your spouse or whatever that they are watching the kids, but even in that case, if you are in the same room and your kids can see you, they are going to want to be next to you. You can’t. You have to get … Yes, it’s a bit of an investment, but that … So my first office was $290 a month, and it was a bit scary, but it was a bit scary mostly because it didn’t go on my Visa card. It was a check, so the money had to be in my bank account, and I didn’t even … I gave them all the post-dated checks. I couldn’t even withhold it, but never once, even when I was first starting out, I never, ever didn’t have the money to pay that $290, ever. I mean, not having the money, I don’t buy it. If you have kids, you need a private space. You just have to.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. Cool. I know that we’re getting to the end here. Oh, and we do need to figure out how we’re going to give away our prize. But how do you think, if at all, and I know this is kind of pretty anecdotal, but how do you think it’s paid off for you with attracting and landing, securing better clients or clients at all having optimized the space that your clients see on camera? Val?

Val Geisler: The space that the clients see has value, but truly the space has the most value for me and the work that I do. Everything around me is there to reinforce what I am creating for myself, right? So having this dedicated room, it has a door. The rest of our basement is not finished at all, and this is a barely finished room. I laid down a really big area rug, but it’s concrete floors and cement walls, but having this space is … this is my space. My kids’ toys aren’t in here. It’s dedicated to me and my work. It makes me feel like the professional that I am, and lots of times when you work for yourself and you work at home, even when you are making good money and have great clients, you can still kind of feel like you’re playing, and so this makes me feel legit, and then everything around me just reinforces that for my clients and it gets me in a place where I can have powerful conversations with my clients and not worry about, “Are they thinking about what’s behind me?” They’re not thinking about what’s behind me because it just blends into the background, it’s kind of neutral, it supports my brand, it doesn’t take away from it.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. Tarzan?

Tarzan Kay: That’s awesome. I agree. I second what Val said. I just wanted to rewind a sec because I thought of two things. I also have an ethernet cable installed. The connection is better with ethernet. With WiFi, the router is in my basement. Had to get ethernet, and also this seems obvious but don’t use Skype. Skype sucks. The connection is so bad. Even if your client is like, “What’s Zoom?” they have to use Zoom. It’s mandatory.

But as Val said, mostly it’s about how I feel about the work that I do. When we moved into this house, I decided to start over with a new desk. At my old office, I had a table, and that was my desk. So I went and picked out a beautiful piece of wood and I had a live-edge desk made. I even went to my bro’s factory and made these beautiful steel legs. It’s a million-dollar desk. It’s the desk of a million-dollar earner, and no client ever sees it because nobody ever comes here, but it is essential to how I feel about myself and how seriously I take my work.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. Agreed. Totally. I think that’s a really good point because we’re often optimizing for like the most obvious thing, which is: Am I going to land that client? But then there’s the part of actually when you’re not trying to attract and land a client, you’re doing the work, and you have to have a reason to stay in that office, and it’s not always going to be this extrinsic motivation of, “Well, I’m getting paid for it,” especially when your kids are downstairs and you’d rather be with them and you’re just like, “Ah.” So if you have a beautiful space to work in and it makes you feel something about yourself and about yourself as a business owner as well, I think that’s a really good point about optimizing your office that we don’t ever talk about. I’m like, “Just make your clients believe that you’re not just a freelancer,” but that’s a really good point. And now people are saying, “I want to see everyone’s desk.”

Yeah, [crosstalk] desk. It’s a good standup desk. You could get an IKEA standup desk if you wanted to, but I recommend that when you’re on calls with clients presenting copy or presenting proposals no matter what you’re standing so you have more energy and you don’t feel slump-y, but there’s all these little tricks as you grow and as you start like optimizing your business to figure that stuff out. So I know that we have time for questions. Val, Tarzan, do you have any like last final notes for people when they’re thinking about, “Okay, it’s time for me to do something with my home office”?

Val Geisler: Yeah. I was going to say … Sorry, Tarzan.

Tarzan Kay: Go ahead.

Val Geisler: There’s lots of chat going on about like, “Well, what light is it, and should I be in front of the window, and what about I’m in the basement?” This room is new to me, and so I’m still testing out. There’s two little basement windows, those are like six-inch windows. I’m still testing if I want to be on this window or this window, depending on where the light hits during the day. Play around, test it, try different lights, buy them on Amazon so you can return them, whatever you need to do that, or if you have a local lighting store you can partner with. Just make sure that you’re testing things out that’ll work for you in your specific space and your budget and your needs at the time.

When I got this space and I invested, before this call I looked at my bank statements, and I did spend $2,900 on this space between book shelves and rugs and a new desk chair and all that kind of stuff, but that was after a year and a half of working at the end of my dining room table. But what made me confident in making that expenditure was just knowing that … You know what they say about a mattress, that you spend so much of your life on a mattress it should be a good one? Well, you spend an equal amount of time probably at your desk or in your office, so make it a good one and feel really good about it.

Joanna Wiebe: Tarzan?

Tarzan Kay: Yeah. I was going to say what Val said, but perhaps less eloquently. I think if you can only do one thing, work on the lighting. There are a lot of places I could have put myself in this room that were the lighting would not be good, but there’s a light so I’m lit from the side, and I have a skylight that’s coming down. I have the ultimate primo scenario, but if I had put my desk this way, there would be a window behind me and it would be total crap. I have a standing desk as well, but I don’t take calls from there because there’s a light behind me and the light absolutely sucks. So if you don’t have anything to invest, I challenge you to question that, but work with the natural lighting and just work different angles.

Joanna Wiebe: And to that point, I think it’s also important to watch the tilt of your camera. So if you’re using your laptop, the worst thing is when it’s like that, right? People are like, “Uh.” All I’m thinking when someone is like that is, “Please tilt your camera the right way. Just please.” Think about that.

Okay, so those are awesome tips, and I think it’s a really good point too, Val, that spending $2,900 might feel like a lot, but you didn’t do that right out of the gate. You optimized the space you had until you had money and a desire to move into another space. You don’t have to spend a lot, and when you are ready to, you can go on Wayfair and buy knockoff fancy lighting for like $90 a pop, get an electrician to install it, and you’ll feel really good in the end. We put together that far work bar for like … That’s crappy lumber from the back of Home Depot, and when you’re up close, you can see that, but it’s just like … and the Wayfair chairs are also inexpensive, right? It’s all done on a budget because I am a pretty frugal person when it comes down to it, so you don’t spend a lot of money at all, and you might think that this isn’t the office you want and that these aren’t the offices you want, but what is the office that you want then? What space do you want to work in? And then just start like, honestly, get a Pinterest board together. Start planning for it, and that might be enough to inspire you. Okay. Yes? We have-

Val Geisler: Oh, no. People were talking about testing audio too, so there was a lot of questions going on about audio. I’m just on my headset mic right now, but I do have a podcast mic I use for recording podcasts in this very same location.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. I think that’s a good point. I’m on my MacBook and I know I could optimize that. I have other mics. I hate them. They always seem to flake out with Apple stuff. I don’t know, but, Tarzan, what are you on?

Tarzan Kay: Oh, my gosh. I feel so liberated by my AirPods. I want everyone to have them. I also have a high-back chair that I talk on sometimes, and then I’m like. I’m a sloucher actually, but I love being free from my laptop, and I can hit mute and like, I don’t know, walk around the room if I have to or go grab something without losing the audio. I love these AirPods. They are awesome.

Joanna Wiebe: Maybe I’ll get some.

Val Geisler: Yeah, I love my AirPods.

Joanna Wiebe: [crosstalk].

Val Geisler: I don’t usually use them for calls, so you’ve inspired me.

Tarzan Kay: Yeah. I find they work great.

Joanna Wiebe: Val, Tarzan, how can people keep reaching out to you and asking you things? Tarzan, then Val.

Tarzan Kay: Well, I’m a master of email, Val is a master of email. If you want to be a master of email, you should be on my email list.

Val Geisler: Yeah, same. Join our email lists. and

Joanna Wiebe: Well done. You did Tarzan’s, too. That’s awesome. Absolutely do. Thanks you guys for being on here and sharing all of your tips for incredible office spaces, and thanks Sarah as well and everybody for asking great questions today. Next Tutorial Tuesday is canceled because we are doing a much larger presentation on being a freelance copywriter. You’ll see an invitation to that very soon, and then we’ll return with Tutorial Tuesdays in December. Thanks, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving [crosstalk].

Tarzan Kay: Thanks for inviting me.

Joanna Wiebe: Have a good one.

Tarzan Kay: Bye.

Val Geisler: Bye.

Joanna Wiebe: Bye.

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