Could a virtual office be your start-up’s next step?

Image: A welcoming reception via Shutterstock

Although they may sound like the settings of ropey science fiction films, virtual offices are a reality that can save startups both time and money.

Whether you are a home-based business or an established company looking to relocate or expand, virtual offices can help take the pressure off. They provide an opportunity to try new markets and locations before making a physical move at a fraction of the cost. They can also be great for home-based businesses that don’t want their home address to be used on official databases.

With London recently overtaking Hong Kong as the world’s most expensive city to live and work, the economic beating heart of England is growing ever further out of financial reach for most startups. In fact, Sunny Sandhu from Acton based estate agents iProperties has reported that “in recent years, an increasing number of businesses seeking commercial property in London have been trying to save costs by renting spaces in the capital’s outlying areas like Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush”. But within moments of signing up for a virtual office package, a tech startup could reap the benefits of owning prestigious office address in the enviable heart of “Tech City”, East London. Meanwhile, their real office can be somewhere much more affordable.

Most virtual office providers will also provide a range of communication and address services on top of the exclusive business address. However, add-on costs can add-up quickly. You need to judge whether it’s the right investment at the right time for your business.

Here is what to expect from a quality virtual office provider.

The Basics

 A Business Address

Does a prestigious address matter to your customers and partners? Does your current location reflect how you want to be seen and your aspirations? Often it doesn’t matter. But in some industries being seen to be close to the pulse, or even being seen to be local, will undoubtedly inflate your reputation and value. If you’re a home-based worker, the value of a separate business address may be protection of your privacy.

Mail Forwarding 

Your virtual office provider should offer a mail forwarding service. International orientated virtual offices will provide global mail forwarding as standard. With services like these, a business set up in Stoke can expect to receive their forwarded mail from the registered virtual office address in New York.

 Meeting Rooms

It’s a dreaded scenario: you have your virtual office in a prestigious location, one of your clients is in town and wants to have a meeting, but your real office is in the middle of nowhere!

The company that supplies your virtual office should provide quality meeting rooms that enable you to impress your clients within a professional context.

You may want to think about the technology and hardware on offer too. As your business grows, it’s not unreasonable to envisage that you may end up needing anything from projectors to other video conference equipment. If there’s no hardware to be found, you should probably keep looking.

“AV equipment is one of the most overlooked but crucial features of any meeting or boardroom” says Ryan of technical event production specialists, Perception Live. “It’s an expensive arena whether you’re planning to buy or rent, and it can be costly if you don’t know precisely what you need.”

The “Nice-To-Haves”

Local Telephone Number and call forwarding

The facade of your business could be vulnerable if your phone number doesn’t match the inspiring  address where your virtual office is situated. Again, you can shop around for this service which can also be provided at reasonably good value by VOIP providers. All the calls to the local telephone number should be forwarded to any phone number of your choice.

The Luxuries

Call Answering

Virtual office providers i2 Office say: “If you want to give your business extra sophistication, dedicated call answering services by trained receptionists can cultivate a professional image and save you valuable time”.

Call Screening and messages taken

The best call answering service will also include call screening. This will help reduce the amount of time wasted on taking non-pertinent calls. A quality call answering service should expect that you may not always be able to take calls. When they’re taken on your behalf, a detailed message will prevent the likelihood of you missing out on potential business.

If your business is growing, and you are starting to feel that your postcode could be holding you back, a virtual office could be just  what you need to get to the next level at a fraction of the price.

Think ahead. A change of virtual address can be just as inconvenient to your customers and your business as the change of a real address.  What does your future business look like? Choose a service that has the flexibility to fit into that future as well as your present needs.

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