Updated: 3 days ago
Much has been said over the last few years about data protection in terms of the data businesses collect, store and use with their clients. The pandemic, however, brought yet another burning topic we used to neglect—the issue of how to protect YOUR privacy as a business owner who works from home.
As freelancers and small business owners, we put a lot of effort into becoming and staying visible, especially online. But If I ask you, “Do you want everyone to know where you live?”, for example, I am sure that most of you will answer, “No way!”. And rightfully so.
It is not a well-known fact that business license (Gewerbe) owners in Austria have their business addresses on a display for everyone to see. By obtaining a business license, you become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which has a public registry of the owner of each license. You can check out how does this look here.
Moreover, under Austrian law, a business license owner identifies themselves with the address of the business. That address must be listed on your website, invoices, emails, and letterheads. As you can see, you can’t choose to hide your address.
Another significant aspect of maintaining your privacy while running your business from home is a virtual one, and only very few of us take steps to ensure their protection. So, in this article, we’ve put together the minimum you should be doing to safeguard your privacy as a freelancer/business owner.
#1 Opt for a virtual office so that that address can be listed anywhere you need it to be
As mentioned above, once you obtain a business license, your business address becomes part of the public domain. And even if all of your clients are overseas and you think there is no chance an unhappy one shows up at your doorstep, that doesn’t mean random people won’t
You might think that using your home address as your business address is one of the benefits of working from home. After all, why commit to more fixed costs when you already have an address? Registering your business at your home address might not even be possible. Many Austrian landlords oppose it, and there is a specific provision in your rental contract about it.
The benefits, however, outweigh the small fixed costs you will have. For example, you can list your businesses on Google my Business, avoid snail mail, and project a professional business image. We have talked about these advantages before. Take a look.
#2 Use a different location for meetings
I don’t want to say we are returning to the old normal. We are rather coming up with sustainable ways to keep the best of two worlds, and it turns out that the “best” is the hybrid working model. Many clients or potential leads are craving face-to-face meetings, albeit they are more time-consuming, and you need to put on actual pants for them. Hosting meetings at home is counter-intuitive to maintaining your privacy for the same reasons as having your registration at home. But also, you have to clean before each meeting and who has time for that! Most importantly, you are literally letting strangers know where you live.
Many places that offer a virtual address provide a certain amount of hours of usage of a meeting room. Ours included.
But you can also use hotel lobbies, more quiet cafes and restaurants.
#3 Get a business phone number
So many things are tied to your phone number that you don’t want just anyone to be able to get it. A business number will also help you switch off work when you want to. One of the downsides of running your business from home is that you work where you live, and you live where you work. Having a mental break might be difficult, especially if your phone is buzzing while trying to rest.
#4 Obtain a proper home business insurance
Running your business from home means all equipment you use is in your house. Check your home insurance contract. Most home insurance policies don’t cover you for files, professional equipment, or technology.
This might not seem like a privacy issue at first. However, if your business suffers a customer data breach, you’ll definitely want the personal liability coverage provided by business insurance.
#5 Have a business bank account and pay for expenses with a business card
In Austria, self-employed individuals don’t need a separate account for their business transactions. However, having one is very much recommended. Suppose the tax office decided to audit your operation, and you are using one account for your private and business life. In that case, you will have to grant the authorities access to every transaction you have ever made in the requested time. If you keep separate accounts, however, you will only grant them access to your business account. You don’t need to be doing anything illegal or immoral to benefit from privacy.
The best and most secure payment method for business expenses is a business credit card. Most will have zero-liability fraud protection. Besides, if a transaction needs to be disputed, you won’t be out any money during that process.
#6 Keep your personal email private
This should go without saying, but use a work email to communicate with clients, suppliers, partners, and registrations.
The more you use your personal email across various online systems, the more vulnerable you are to privacy breaches or telemarketers gaining access to your personal email address.
#7 Use a VPN while working
A VPN is a virtual private network. If you are running your business from home, you are using an ordinary residential connection, which is not the most secure. And given that you are probably online all the time, that puts you at a big risk. In the same way that a firewall protects info stored on your computer, a VPN protects data you share through public networks. By using WiFI networks, you are actively increasing the risk of outsiders gaining access to your business’s data. However, if you are using a VPN, you are making sure no one is snooping on your connection.
A VPN works by creating an encrypted connection between your computer and the remote private network, so only computers and networks with a particular key can decode the information. In addition to enhanced security, VPNs let you access your website and files remotely, share files, and maintain online anonymity without your data being monitored, tracked, collected, and stored.
You can get your own VNP. The list of providers is huge. Check out the best in the industry.
#8 Use two-factor authentication (2FA)
I admit it; I was very annoyed when this was introduced by all banks, even Facebook and Microsoft. But now, I don’t trust almost any website that doesn’t offer this as their usual log-in method. Apparently, hackers are using tools that test thousands of password combinations per minute. I have read recently that 90% of our passwords are vulnerable to hacking, which is not even hard.
2FA was devised as an answer to the shortcomings of the password. It enhances security by providing an extra layer of account protection, like a PIN or confirmation request sent to your phone in real-time. You can use it to boost the protection of your business email address, data transfers, etc.
If you are wondering how difficult it would be to set it up for yourself (it was my first question, too!), I have found a very handy guide to help us through the process.
I hope you already had half of these in place. And if you didn’t, you will put it as a priority task on your to-do list. We, from The Collaboratory, can help by hosting your business address (and handling all individuals who show up without an appointment!) and your meetings. We will also help you change your address anywhere you have to. Get in touch!