Are you self-employed and your home life is being over-run by your work life? Have you considered getting an office, but it’s more than you need and out of your budget? Do you find yourself meeting customers in noisy coffee shops or not at all because you don’t have a professional spot to invite them to? Does it feel like your phone is permanently attached and you can’t get a minute away from it? Are these problems keeping you from winning new customers or costing you existing customers?
A virtual office may be the perfect solution for you. This flexible office solution can perhaps be described as an office without the office. That is, it provides all of the services a professional needs to run a business, like a business address, phone number, and meeting rooms, minus the full-time private office.
The Heart of a Virtual Office: A Business Address
Probably the most popular virtual office service is a business address. In contrast to a P.O. Box or residential address, a business address lends legitimacy and a professional image to a business. It demonstrates that you’ve made an investment in your business and treat it seriously and aren’t hiding it behind an anonymous PO Box that a customer can’t visit. Also important, a real person is always available during business hours to accept packages and help your customers. So, if your customer, or potential customer, should happen to drop in, a professional receptionist will greet them, may try to contact you if it’s something urgent, and can get their contact information and relay it to you.
The address also separates work and home spaces, protecting you and your family’s privacy. Plus, if you move your home, you don’t also have to change your business address.
A new feature offered by many virtual office providers is a digital mailbox. Here’s how it works: your virtual office receptionist snaps a photo of your unopened mail and uploads the images to your digital mailbox which then sends you an email notifying you that you have mail. You can look at the photo online or using a phone app and decide if it’s worth a trip to pick it up or not. You can even provide directions to your virtual office receptionist on what to do with it, including opening, scanning and forwarding a copy, if needed. Some business centers will even go so far as to deposit any checks for you at your local bank. If you’re out of town or too busy to go to your mailbox to see what’s in it, this feature saves you time and effort.
The Added Boost To Your Business: A Phone Number and Receptionist
Separating work from home can also be accomplished by establishing a business phone number separate from your cell phone or home number. It creates a unique identity for your business and adds another layer of credibility. A call answered by a receptionist with, “Good Morning, Joe’s Great Business, how can I help you.” Instead of, “Hi, this is Joe” will communicate professionalism, personalization and competence for your business. It also frees you from answering telemarketer calls and the receptionist can screen your calls and let you know who’s calling, so you can decide if you want to take the call or not. This convenient service will often include a customized voicemail box in addition to professional live call answering and forwarding.
The Cherry On Top: Professional Meeting and Work Space
Rounding out a virtual office is the ability to rent a meet room at your company’s business address. Sure, you can meet a client at the local coffee shop, but which lends more credibility - Starbucks or a professional conference room at the same mailing address customers see on your website or business card? (Not to mention the coffee is free.) Rooms can usually be booked online and, when your customer arrives, a smiling receptionist will greet them, let you know they’ve arrived, and offer them a beverage while they wait for you in a comfortable waiting area. No coffee shop can compete with that.
Maybe you don’t need a meeting place but might need a quiet place to work from time to time. Let’s say you have a day when you need to complete a project uninterrupted so you can meet a deadline. You decide to rent a quiet workspace for the day in the same location where a receptionist manages your phone calls and mail. You work uninterrupted by the kids, the dog or the doorbell. You can even tell the receptionist as you head to your office for the day, to hold all your calls.
Who Uses Virtual Offices?
Those who find them most beneficial are freelancers, home-based businesses and startups. This encompasses a diverse group of industries including IT, mental health, accounting, landscaping, property management and more. It is ideal for those in trades or professions in which workers want to keep the overhead low by avoiding full-time office space, but still need services to maintain a professional image and wisely manage their time. It is office outsourcing, if you will, for independent workers and small businesses.
You’ll find virtual office services provided by most business centers (sometimes called executive suites). Most offer month-to-month agreements for a variety of virtual office packages letting you pick and choose what you need most at the price that fits your budget. This flexible and streamlined approach allows customers to easily adjust services as their needs change.
For those who need the service without the permanent space, a virtual office may be the best deal around.