Virtual offices are not just a popular choice for small business owners in the US. They are quickly becoming a trend over the globe, and especially in the UK. The following article was originally posted on Bytestart, a fast-growing site run by online business specialists that provides advice for start-ups and SMEs.
Virtual office services have sprung up over the last five years and are now being used extensively by small businesses to allow them to present a professional image to clients, and provide them with a wide range of support services, such as telephone answering and mail forwarding.
Virtual offices can provide an easy way to outsource the administrative aspects of your business. You use someone else’s business to handle the time consuming stuff that has to be done but just isn’t that important.
Typically services offered by virtual offices centre around handling your phone calls, both incoming and some outgoing for basic sales follow ups and customer enquiries. Important messages are passed to you by email or text message, or by calling you and introducing the caller. This can be a good way to cut the number of unwanted sales calls you get.
You can go further, getting them to handle email and ordering systems, and deal with your [mail]. Some virtual offices also offer full secretarial services such as typing, transcribing audio, [appointment] management and event co-ordination. And increasingly they are offering basic bookkeeping services such as invoice management, supplier management and payroll.
The beauty of the virtual office in the internet age is that you can integrate them into your business so that customers have no idea you are outsourcing. Callers dialling your phone number are greeted in your company name, with messages passed on instantly. If someone wants to book an appointment to see you, your virtual office can access your [calendar] and update it, meaning you can see new commitments instantly (including away from the office if you have a PDA or BlackBerry).
Because the services offered are fairly easy to provide there is plenty of choice in the virtual office market, and that is keeping prices low. But before you find one to help your business, here are a few things to consider.
How much are these services worth to you?
Don’t look at the price of the service. Instead work out how much is an hour of your time worth. How much money can you bring in to your business with an uninterrupted hour of selling or providing your product or service? If you can sell your time for [$50] an hour, surely it is worth outsourcing an hour of admin for [$20]?
What are the core skills of your virtual office?
Many virtual office services are based round particular core skills, with other services bolted on. For example a former [personal assistant] now working from home may be an exceptional audio typist, and only offer call handling as an extra service. It may be more sensible to use that service for typing, and find a different provider with better infrastructure for call handling.
Are they big enough to cope?
There are a lot of one man bands out there providing these services. There’s nothing wrong with a one man band, but you need to be confident they can successfully handle your business. If they have just one person answering the phones for 10 different clients, what happens when three people call at once? It’s an easy way to lose a sale. Ask difficult questions of your potential suppliers and visit their premises to see for yourself.
But are they too big?
Be careful about taking on a service that is nothing more than a call centre dressed up as a virtual office. If someone calls your business every day and speaks to a different person each time (with the usual noise of a call centre in the background), they will soon twig you are outsourcing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but most customers want to feel they are talking to someone who works for the company and can make things happen. How customers feel is more important than what’s actually happening in reality.