The low-cost way to a classy business address

As the world of work changes, the slow economy continues to bite, small companies downsize even further, and work-from-home becomes a common way to run a business, virtual offices are coming into their own.

The concept is simple: a permanent suite of offices, with staff and equipment, is available for rent on as ‘as needs’ basis, blending the advantages of working from home with the need to have office space, a good address and secretarial/administrative back-up. The idea, which started in the United States in the mid-90s, has now become a successful and growing global concept, with many specialist virtual office service providers becoming national and international chains, and even offering franchises.

So how can a virtual office save you money?

  • One of the most obvious is to enhance your professional image by giving you a prestigious business address. Few, if any, independent professionals or one-or-two-man (or woman) bands can afford to rent permanent office space in high-status areas like Maude Street in Sandton or Palm Boulevard in Umhlanga Rocks. Virtual offices let you meet with important clients in impressive surroundings and can also provide the ‘right’ address for business cards, letterheads and company websites;
  • You can save money by having office space available at the drop of a hat, but without the need for your own permanent premises, complete with long-term lease, office furniture and other expenses. It’s also an ideal bolt-hole for work-from-home professionals who need to occasionally escape screaming kids during school holidays, mum-in-law’s month-long visits, and the disruption caused by the builders who are renovating your kitchen!
  • If you’re a frequent traveller who can spend days, or weeks, meeting and interviewing in other cities, a virtual office lets you move out of expensive luxury hotels, with their equally pricey on-site business centres and meeting facilities. Instead, stay in a more cost-effective guest house and conduct your business from a nearby virtual office. Many virtual office specialists now have branches across South Africa, making the renting process easier as you move around the country.
  • If your usual ‘receptionist’ is you with a cellphone, present a more professional image, make your life easier, and put a stop to ‘sorry, this mailbox is full’ problems by using the phone answering service that virtual offices provide. It’s a receptionist at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee … and this one doesn’t drink your coffee either!
  • Having a virtual office obviates the need to buy/lease a fax machine, photocopier, overhead projector and video conferencing facilities that you may use once a month. Instead, hire these on an ‘as needs’ basis from your virtual office service provider.
  • Save on staff costs. No need for a full-time PA (who spends her time filing her nails when you aren’t there) and a tea lady/cleaner (who seldom makes tea and cleans even less frequently). Virtual staff are there when you need them, but don’t cost you money when you’re not around.
  • Stay abreast of technology. As an entrepreneur or small business person, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the latest technology in computers, computer programmes, etc. A high quality virtual office, because of its larger client base, is more likely to be able to afford at least some of the newest and best. Using their equipment – particularly if you only need it occasionally – can save you a vast amount of money and protect your cash flow.
  • If time is money, then using a virtual office can reduce onerous non-core tasks like paying the electricity bills. In short, your administrative burden will be dramatically reduced.

In simple terms, a virtual office is a half-way point between a home-office and permanent business premises. Depending on your circumstances, it can be an ideal stepping stone to the next business level.