1: Introduction to the Virtual Office
Why do business need virtual office (Cyber, online office) service?
The rapid development of digital communications and shared cloud storage has made it easier than ever for people to run their own business entirely from home. In fact, surveys from the GEM Global Entrepreneurship Report show that as of 2016, 69% of U.S. entrepreneurs started their business at home. Almost two thirds of these businesses continued to be operated from home. Remote operations have great potential to save business owners money while maintaining a quality work life balance. People across the world are using technology to work smarter, preserving precious time and money.
However, as anyone who has conducted business at home can tell you, it can be very easy to get distracted. We all know that when it’s time to get work done, the brain leaps to other tasks to avoid the dreaded laptop. Whether this is housekeeping, cooking, playing with kids or getting groceries, we can’t help ourselves when we work where we live. While it’s appealing, business at home is not always the smartest way to work.
So how can we go about maintaining a professional identity to our clients or employers, and still keep that work-life balance? Here’s where the virtual office comes into play. Enlisting a third party to handle mail, phone calls and provide a verified business address can free up time and open up a world of opportunities for your business. By definition, this is how you work smarter, not harder.
Whether you’re self employed, work for or own a small business, flexibility is your best friend. While you don’t need a full size office, managing your entire career from home isn’t ideal. This guide will outline the different options a virtual office allows, and how you can leverage them to work smarter, not harder.
2: What is a virtual office or virtual address? Is the service different from coworking space or P.O Box?
The Virtual Office is defined differently by many people. A virtual office is a suite of connected services, technologies and people hosted at a physical place that helps people work smarter and more efficiently regardless of their location. Generally, when people refer to a virtual office, they’re describing some set of office services that avoid engaging in a physical, leased space.
To best define what a virtual office is, it’s important to address the problem it solves. Startups by nature are on a shoestring budget, and all expenditures must pay back dividends for them to be worth investment. Think of a company with less than 10 people: do they really need a full office suite to operate? Or will this be an inefficient use of time and money?
At the same time, a company with no official business address lacks acumen, credibility and a certain image that customers like to see. The utility of the virtual office emerges from this need for credibility, and lack of budget to engage in a lease. The virtual office solves this dilemma by providing small to medium startups with a solution that’s in between a home address and an official office.
History of Virtual office:
The history of the virtual office can be told similarly through the history of computing and communication.
Virtual offices originated from serviced office spaces. At first, they went under a moniker as an “off-site tenant program”. This started in the early 70s, so as new mobile phone tech emerged in the 80s, so did more forms of remote work. This prompted the labelling of the “virtual office”, as a “set of capabilities at a remote site that are indistinguishable from those available at a real, physical office.”
Then, in the late 80s, VOIP technology emerged as a way to place calls using the internet. This opened the door for most virtual offices as we know today, along with the creation of many online businesses in need of an address.
What differentiates a Virtual Office from coworking space or a PO box?
The virtual office is a popular terminology that’s commonly misused for marketing purposes. Often times, business addresses and PO boxes use this term to describe their business, despite not offering the full suite of services that comprise a virtual office. Similarly, coworking offices are often times confused for virtual offices, given the large number of remote workers housed in coworking space.
To define the distinction, a virtual office many times includes mail handling services and a usable business address. However, they include options for other office services like printing, meeting rooms and phone call handling that you can’t find at a PO box.
Some coworking spaces offer a virtual office service, but the two are not interchangeable. A coworking office provides consistent physical space for remote workers, freelancers or small businesses. A virtual office may offer physical meeting spaces as part of their services, but it is only one component in a host of other services to facilitate businesses operating virtually. In turn, a virtual office is typically less costly, more flexible and more helpful to someone running a startup from home, and is in need of one or a few of these services.
3: Why businesses use a virtual office – Cost saving, time saving, professionalism
Businesses, from small to large, can save thousands by utilizing a virtual office to handle more menial administrative tasks. The fact of the matter is that after employee salaries, the highest cost for most businesses is rent and property related expenses.
A virtual business address provides access to the many of the same utilities and services as an office space, at a fraction of the cost. A full office lease is often more dedication than a small to medium sized startup is ready to engage in. These types of businesses value mobility above all, and being tied down by lease obligations and dedicated space can often be more of a hindrance than a benefit. With the advent of virtual conferencing tech, the need for a costly meeting space like an office is becoming less viable for a starting business.
For those who are self employed (i.e. freelancers), using a home address can get extremely cumbersome and time consuming depending on their work. SImply owning a business results in a ton of unsolicited mail being sent to your address. Another concern is the amount of phone calls that must be taken through the course of operation. Whether from clients, suppliers, or cold calling salesmen, you can expect your personal phone to be ringing off the hinge. Registering a domain name, making marketing materials (i.e. business cards, posters) or advertising all become many times easier once you ditch your home address.
Opening accounts with vendors or suppliers is risky on a home address, especially if your business requires the handling and processing of many mail parcels and packages. For contracts, licenses and permits, a business address is often required. For example, many bank or merchant accounts will not accept a residential address. If you intend on listing your business on Yelp, Google Places or similar online review platforms, your home address is the last place you want to use! These sites build immense credibility for your business, and can go a long way with clients, but using a home address can come off as unprofessional and isn’t appropriate to be shared with the greater public.
All of these factors drive the decision of what address to use for your business. For this reason, choosing a proper location could not be more meaningful. It may seem trivial, or purely aesthetic, but when it comes time for a client to choose between you or a competitor, they will appreciate a professional address that sets you apart from the rest of the pack.
4: Top Advantages/Benefits for using a Virtual Office
Building trust towards other businesses and your customer base is the top use for a virtual office. As consumers' habits and purchasing patterns change, so do branding strategies. The user’s experience plays a more important role in marketing your business than ever before. A virtual office can help narrate your brand’s story, and your customers perception in ways your home cannot. Location has indescribable benefits in the eyes of outsiders and can conjure an image in their mind of what your company can provide and the experience they have when using your product or service.
For example, IT service providers will inherently get more notoriety and brand awareness using an address in large urban centers like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Bangalore or London. These addresses signify a well established business handling large volumes of customers.
As a business owner, working smart means focusing on the tasks that you’re good at while delegating the work that you know isn’t your area of expertise. Keeping a high standard for customer service can be exhausting, especially when you are spread thin and lack the budget to take on new employees. You can’t expect one person to punctually address every single call, email, or meeting by themselves.
A virtual address often provides options to handle these tasks, freeing up your time to do the work that’s important to you. These provide mail handling services and sometimes, secretaries who are trained to provide exceptional customer service. In some cases, a web chat service is also available to provide even quicker responses to customers.
Freelance marketers and developers receive clients from many different time zones. If they are to use a personal email and phone number, they could be flooded with calls at any time of day. These could be important client requests and questions, or from sales agents pitching their technologies that will “boost their business”. Delegating these calls allows the discerning freelancer to choose who and what to respond to, freeing up their time from unwanted solicitors.
Physical Location(Business Address)
This factor can be similarly linked to trust, but in a different way. For many businesses, face to face interaction is a most valuable asset. A helpful example: let’s say you run a small law firm or accounting practice. Dealing with people’s personal problems or finances involves a certain level of trust, beyond that of the normal business. Customers want to know that their personal information is handled with care, and by a professional. It’s difficult to build that level of trust when operating from a home, or a coffee shop. Your meeting space sends a message about the person you are to your client. Are you going to take care that their needs are handled professionally, or are their needs just jumbled in clumsily between your personal life? These are concerns that a client processes subconsciously.
A virtual office that extends a physical space for meetings is a perfect solution to this problem. A lawyer or accountant in this position may not really need to lease out an office or suite simply to meet with clients a few times a week. The virtual office lets them conduct these meetings without having to manage a full office space or lease.
Virtual office service customization
The most important benefit of the virtual office is that it supplies the business owner the choice between one or all the utilities listed above. This flexibility comes at a low cost, allowing you to choose only what you need and save you huge expenditure on rents.
In any case, the variety of options you have in terms of packages greatly boosts your mobility. You can select one or all services, and change them accordingly as your business grows and develops. Out of the 69% of small businesses that were started at home, only one quarter report that they have no employees. As your business grows, a virtual office space allows you to take on new clients, employees, and contracts that may not be feasible from your home address.
Customizing your virtual office means you can add or subtract additional services as this growth continues. Maybe you hire a secretary, and no longer need phone call service. Maybe you need to add physical space to meet with employees, a virtual office has you covered either way.
5: How to choose your virtual office?
Within the scope of the virtual office, there are a variety of different services to choose from. As we’ve mentioned before, every business has unique needs. Choosing a virtual office that’s right for your business begins with determining the needs your business will fulfill with a virtual office.
Start with your customer:
Question the needs of the customer you’re servicing. Some good asks are: Where is your client base mostly located? Are you dealing with people across the country, or in a few specific regions? Do they value confidentiality, a physical space to meet in, prompt customer service or all of the above? How might your business appear to a potential customer searching for it online?
For example, eCommerce businesses are becoming significantly easier to set up with new online tools like shopify. However, people running these businesses from their homes face a variety of problems dealing with scale. When a shipping delay occurs, the owner can expect a barrage of emails and phone calls from dissatisfied customers. An unsavvy operator may suggest simply not making one’s phone number available to customers. As any professional knows, a store that makes themselves difficult to contact builds distrust in consumers and loses out on business.
Someone operating the business above will need someone to answer these calls promptly, regardless of the time of day. However, dealing with these on a rolling basis (and keeping a cool head under pressure) is a ton of work for someone who needs to run a business. Virtual offices can provide hands on customer service on your behalf, using professionals trained for customer facing responsibilities. Happier customers will make your business easier to run.
Address your own pain points
The next step in defining your need for a virtual office is to question yourself. The goal of leveraging a virtual office is to help you work smarter after all! So ask yourself, what are the things keeping you up at night about your business? Do you have trouble keeping up with the volume of mail you receive from clients? Are you tired of working and meeting clients at coffee shops, or in your own home? What are some tasks in your business that feel too time consuming or inefficient?
Another example using eCommerce businesses as a model. Let’s say someone is designing clothing for sale online. On a small scale, the producer can buy textiles, fabrics or print supplies on a retail basis using packaging small enough for a home address. However, as this person’s business grows they may need to fulfill hundreds of orders within a week! Buying this amount of supplies at retail pricing would be unprofitable, so a wholesaler is needed. When it comes time for them to purchase wholesale materials, they run into roadblocks.
Manufacturers and vendors of these items require more invested relationships, and will only consider someone with a verified business. On top of that, getting a huge shipment of goods to the place they live at may not be ideal. These are all huge pain points for a burgeoning entrepreneur trying to focus on their business. A virtual office can provide a verified business address for the person to use, gaining them credibility and trust in the eyes of vendors. On top of that, they can also use the virtual office as a shipping address.
Choose a virtual office that can adapt as your business grows
When it comes to addressing your pain points, you should develop an idea of what these might look like in the future. What you’re worried about now, may not be what you’re worried about 3 years from now. When deciding on a virtual office, you should anticipate your needs for the future and choose an option that can be flexible in addressing them. The goal is to save you time and money, so your solution shouldn’t require much more effort in 6 months, a year, or 5 years. Choosing an office with a host of options ensures that you can expand or retract your service package based on your needs.
Consider the Location
The suite of services and options are what sets a virtual office apart from a private mailbox rental, or business address. However, one of the more vital components is still the location of the business address. This is one of the first interactions the customer will have with your company when doing research. As stated before, your address will send a message to the consumer, and you want to make sure it’s the right message being sent.
An example, Silicon Valley is a well known hub for technology companies. If a small app developer wants to gain credibility in the eyes of potential investors or clients, an address here could mean volumes, and open up access to capital and customers who would not normally consider a client outside of the Valley.
Consider your cost constraints
To reiterate, the virtual office model thrives on being cost effective, and flexible. The point is to pay for the services you need, and cut costs on the ones that you don’t. So consider your constraints: will you be handling large amounts of mail? Or could you leave that service out? Would you need to access physical space for meetings, or do you not often face clients?
The cost value of each additional service should be looked at and analyzed. Like the 3rd section states, it’s still important to keep your future needs in mind but not at the cost of jeopardizing your budget. For this reason, compare your virtual office options, and pick one that will allow you to expand your services package if needed. For example, Regus virtual office offers relocation to different addresses for no additional cost.
6: Looking ahead
Virtual offices have plenty of utility now, but they are poised to grow into a much larger market in the future. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 100 million startups are created each year. Just about every startup begins with one or a few employees.
As these small companies progress through their life cycle, most will never need a fully serviced office to house their employees. The appeal of a startup is that it offers flexible hours and the mobility to get things done from anywhere. With this smarter working style, the need for a fully serviced office is less important to successful businesses.
The use of virtual offices will only expand as the number of small businesses increases. In fact, most employees simply need a laptop to be successful. With the cloud, most materials can be shared with employees virtually. Innovative capabilities like video conferencing also allow for meetings to be conducted digitally, without the need for physical space. In the near future, we could even see virtual reality and augmented reality used to facilitate meetings between employees. VR is already being used in training processes for surgeons, military and police. It won’t be long before we see this become standard practice for businesses to train employees without meeting them physically.
Virtual offices and business practices are often times, simply a smarter way of working.
In summary, a virtual office is a powerful tool to control your image and marketing capabilities. In addition, administrative services couldn’t be easier for a small business with a virtual office space.
While a virtual office is a significantly smaller investment than a full office, great care should still be taken to ensure you maximize the benefits. Keep in mind the options that your virtual office offers and does not offer. Are these of use to you? Will they help you work smarter, and open up more time for your recreation or family? Make sure your virtual office benefits are worth the cost.
You should consider your customer’s experience, and how the virtual office may impact them both positively and negatively. Look for a virtual office that can fulfill your customer’s needs, and in turn make your life easier by taking away your responsibilities on this front.
After all is said and done, you can troubleshoot your virtual office and test the benefits out for yourself. Make a mock phone call, and map the customer experience. Look up your address online, and see what comes up. What businesses are near it? Is there anything undesirable about the search? What would someone local to the area think when searching your business? It’s helpful to ask locals about the location, and the image it generates to them.
Working smart is taking advantage of the technologies afforded to us, and using them to avoid time consuming, inefficient work.
This guide is brought to you by ZED Silicon Valley in hopes that you’ll find it useful. For any further questions about virtual offices send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org