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How to Grow Your Business with a Virtual Office

By Jo Meunier on September 21, 2020

Editor’s note: this article is written by our friends at Alliance Virtual Offices.


2020: A year synonymous not only with a global pandemic and Tiger King marathons, but where ‘virtual’ became a universal concept. From virtual meetings with your clients, to virtual dinners with friends, the world has adapted fast to the current situation of quarantines and staying at home. Of course with it, the necessity for remote work.

That’s where the virtual office comes in.

The virtual office works hand-in-hand with today’s remote businesses and teams, but it’s not actually a byproduct of COVID-19. Virtual offices have been around for decades.

What is a virtual office?

Here’s a handy definition:

A virtual office is a combination of people, a place, technologies, and processes that come together to help businesses and individuals work more efficiently, often in a remote way.

Most businesses operate pretty well without a physical office—the past few months have been testament to that. Outside of lockdown, a lot of entrepreneurs choose to operate a remote company because it’s cost-efficient, doesn’t tie them to a specific location, allows for greater flexibility, and expands the talent pool to a global base.

A lot of companies don’t actually need full-time physical office spaces. When it comes down to it, the essentials are: a mailing address, an ad hoc receptionist or call answering service, and occasional access to conference rooms or coworking. That’s it.

And that’s exactly what a virtual office provides.

Anatomy of a virtual office

Let’s look a little closer at the main virtual office components:

Standard virtual office This is a business address in an office building and a mail pick-up/mail handling service. A receptionist is on-site to sign for your mail and store it for collection, or forward it to your main location (normally your home).

Live receptionist services Some virtual office companies offer a live answering service, which often includes call answering and call forwarding, message taking, appointment scheduling/calendar management, and general customer service. This is usually an optional add-on to the standard Virtual Office.

Business number and phone system Another common optional extra. This is a cloud-based phone system offering features like voicemail, message forwarding, caller greetings and menus, automated filtering, and more. You can usually pair your VoIP system with a phone number, which comes with either a toll-free or a local area code.

Other services Some centers offer a digital mail service with their virtual office. If you receive a lot of mail, or mail that’s time-sensitive, a digital mail system ensures you receive the content faster. It enables you to view a scanned image of your mail—and the contents, if you require—so you always know which items of mail are waiting for you.

How does a virtual office help my business?

Here are the core reasons companies use virtual offices:

On-demand workspace and services Entrepreneurs that spend a lot of time out on the road rarely need a full-time office. A virtual office provides onsite meeting rooms and furnished ‘plug and play’ offices by the hour. This might be a hot desk in a shared space (think coworking spaces) or a private office for sole use. Same goes for other services like live receptionist support—it’s a flexible way to get the call answering services you need without hiring a receptionist full-time.

Protect your personal assets Publishing your home address as your business HQ is a risky move. If your business is involved in any legal disputes, an opposing counsel could reach into your personal assets—also known as ‘piercing the corporate veil’—which puts your home at risk. Having a dedicated corporate address can help separate your home from your business.

Build credibility with banks Reputable lenders usually request an office address and a dedicated business number for credit applications rather than a home address or PO Box and a cell phone number. A commercially recognized address therefore helps your business build credibility ahead of any funding applications you may need.

Show professionalism A physical address in a recognized office building looks more established and helps instil trust and confidence in prospective clients—particularly larger businesses and corporates.

Target a specific location Having a virtual address in a specific city helps you establish a presence in your target market, and boosts your local marketing efforts. You can also add your virtual office address to your business cards, website, email footer, and other marketing material.

Who uses virtual offices?

Virtual offices have long been an important step on the corporate property ladder for small businesses, startups, and independent professionals. In more recent years there has been much greater demand from larger organizations with a distributed workforce strategy for virtual offices, as well.

The virtual office strategy is particularly beneficial for companies with a centralized head office who want to create small virtual offices in multiple locations. This enables them to show that they are visible in a specific market, to provide a contact point for clients and suppliers, and to provide a place for workers to touchdown and work whenever they are in that location.

Typical costs of a virtual office

One of the major benefits of a virtual office is its cost efficiency, as it negates the need to commit to an expensive real estate lease.

There are multiple providers of virtual office services. At Alliance Virtual Offices, plans start from $49 per month for a standard Virtual Office, which includes a business address with mail processing and mail forwarding (there is a small additional fee to cover postage costs). Hourly access to onsite conference rooms and workspace, such as a hot desk or a private office, starts from $10 per hour (this varies depending on location).

Additional services include Alliance’s live receptionist answering service, which starts at $95 per month, and a business number with VoIP phone system, which is priced at a flat rate of $30 per month.

As you may expect, costs vary depending on location and supplier. A large supplier with multiple centers can often provide services for less while smaller, boutique operators may be more expensive—but they may offer better service and flexibility. We recommend shopping around to get a feel for the costs and services on offer, and check review sites such as TrustPilot, too.

Also, watch out for setup fees! Like most providers, Alliance Virtual Offices charges a setup fee for new Virtual Office plans, which is a flat fee of $100. This covers all of the account set-up costs, including a remote notary session to complete your account activation. Some other providers might charge a higher setup fee, so make sure you factor this into your cost comparison.

What else should I know?

Whichever virtual office provider you choose, be sure they comply with US Postal Service rules. This is a specific rule designed to protect your company and prevent fraud, so it’s incredibly important. When handling mail on behalf of your company, you MUST sign a legal notarized declaration; this gives your permission to the virtual office company to handle and forward mail on your behalf. All you have to do is fill out a form and sign it in front of a notary (an online notary service is fine). Without this declaration, nobody is legally authorized to handle your mail or carry out mail forwarding on your behalf.

Another thing to watch out for is PO Box providers. They often operate out of retail mail centers designed purely for mail, which means they keep costs low. This is fine—but be sure it’s what you want. There are no onsite meeting rooms or offices, and you won’t get the curb appeal of a recognized office building. If you need a place to meet clients as well as a place to receive mail, be sure you’re getting a virtual office and not a mailbox rental.

Conclusion

So, to recap. Here’s that definition again:

A virtual office is a combination of people, a place, technologies, and processes that come together to help businesses and individuals work more efficiently, often in a remote way.

The keyword here is ‘efficiently’. There are a lot of services out there competing for your business budget, and you’ll want to know how integral a virtual office will be to your business growth. Sooner or later, you’ll need some—or all—of the services provided by a virtual office, but not necessarily all at the same time.

That’s the great thing about virtual offices. If you just need a mailing address and a place to meet clients occasionally, the basic virtual office plan works just fine. Later on, you might add a live call answering service and a business number. By their very nature, virtual offices are cost-efficient and flexible, and are designed to enable businesses to operate more flexibly without compromising on services or professionalism.

As we come to terms with the current situation and our new ‘virtual’ way of doing business, virtual offices provide a tried-and-tested infrastructure that has been decades in the making, and can help businesses of all sizes move through these strange and unprecedented times, ready to pave the way for future growth.

If you’re interested in how a virtual office can help your company grow, check out Alliance Virtual Offices to search for virtual services in your area.

If you are looking for even more ways to operate with more flexibility without compromising professionalism, try Bench! We provide online bookkeeping powered by real humans. Get the benefits of a professional bookkeeper at a price you can afford, and powerful financial reporting software with zero learning curve.

Get a free consultation with a member of our team today to discuss how we can help you and your new virtual business!


This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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