by Jim Martin
Do you have a service business whose nature is such that clients never visit your office or one that you are currently managing from your home. To separate home from business completely, you might want to consider establishing a virtual office. You can either use a post office box for your address, or contract with one of the firms that have sprung up over the last few years who offer virtual office support. Many of them have reasonable fees for providing an answering service that sounds like a real secretary, an address and (in many cases) occasional by-the-hour office space.
You can keep all your files in a spare closet at home, and you can keep all of your supplies and materials in your garage or in a storage locker. Plumbers, electricians and other professionals in the construction trade have long found this a handy way to do business. Businesses of this sort can also grow: employees can also operate quite well in a virtual environment. In fact, you can achieve better use of their time when the go from home to a job site rather than from home to an office and then to a job site.
If you need to train employees, you can rent a small conference room at a hotel. One day at a hotel will obviously cost only a fraction of a month’s rent for office space. A hotel can also provide audio visual equipment that can be linked to your laptop to display graphs, charts and the like.
A virtual office separates your home and business addresses. It eliminates the risk of customers calling on you at your home. It also gives you the opportunity to impress prospective customers by visiting them at their place of business. Your willingness to take the time to see them at their convenience can add a strong service message to your pitch.
Look at what you could do with the money a virtual office could save. You could spend more on marketing, on advertising brochures and on giveaways (like calendars and the like) that keep your name in front of your customers. You could also treat yourself to an occasional vacation. If you take that vacation, you won’t have to worry about staffing the office in your absence.
If you want a further argument for virtual operation, consider this: the Santa Cruz County chapter of SCORE has operated from a virtual office for over a decade. During that time our staff has more than doubled (to twenty-five volunteers) and our client base has expanded dramatically. We can provide the Santa Cruz County small business community with service that has earned us the title (several times) of SCORE chapter of the year. And remember: we can mentor you in a virtual office just as well as anywhere else.