Driving Hastings forward 01424 205481

A Virtual office  is an ideal way for any budding entrepreneur to get a prestigious office address and access to other office services whilst keeping business costs to a minimum and is also just as ideal for those who are moving to the area to have an immediate base whilst setting up. We asked Jenny Haley from the Innovation Centre in St. Leonards to give us a guide on what they are, how they work and what the benefits are.

Is a virtual office right for your business?

A virtual office provides you with a business address and telephone number, without the full time office premises to go with them.

For many people who run a business from home, this is an ideal way to cultivate a professional image and means you don’t have to give out your home address.

It can also be an ideal first step for entrepreneurs who plan to have their own premises later but want to get their business up and running first.

A virtual office or a PO Box?

A PO Box is a lower cost alternative to a virtual office. It provides an address for your post, which you collect from your local Royal Mail delivery office.

This typically costs as little as £8-£10 per month. But there are big limitations:  there is no associated phone number; it doesn’t give your customers the impression that you have a local office; the Royal Mail won’t accept mail from other carriers; and a PO Box is not acceptable under the Distance Selling Regulations if you want to sell online.

A virtual office service, on the other hand, will normally give you an address at an established business centre; will accept deliveries from other carriers; and you can choose either to collect your mail or have it posted onto you.

Many virtual office address providers also offer other invaluable benefits such as meeting room hire at your virtual address, networking events and ‘hot desk’ facilities.  So as well as having it as a professional postal address, you can use it as a base for meeting clients and business contacts.

Top tips when choosing a virtual office:

  • Decide what services you want first. You can then seek out the service that’s right for you instead of convincing yourself that what you happen to have found is what you want.
  • Are you looking just for a business address for mail and visitors, or are you looking for a telephone answering service as well?  Depending on where you are, you might find local providers who offer both these services, or you might have to source them separately.
  • Visit the premises to be certain they portray the right image. Are they presentable and reputable? Do they have the kind of feel that will appeal to your customers? Do they fit the style of your business—your business brand, if you like?
  • Speak to the staff working there. They will be the face of your business, so make sure they will make a good impression on your customers.  Even if you don’t expect regular visitors, remember that potential clients may investigate where you are based, either in person or by searching on the Internet.
  • Look at what associated services are available. Are there meeting facilities there for you to see clients or suppliers on-site? Are there hot desks available for you to work at on an ad-hoc basis if you’re in the vicinity or in between meeting clients on the premises?  Ask to see these and find out about the costs.
  • Find out if there are networking or training events held there.  Are there any useful bureau services on offer such as admin assistance, photocopying and an outgoing post service?
  • If you intend a virtual office to be your first step as you grow your business, see if you can find a business centre that also has a range of office units for rent that will suit your future needs.
  • Ask to speak to other virtual clients to see how happy they are with the services provided.
  • Make sure you understand the costs and contract. Clarify what is and isn’t included in the monthly fee and look at how this will affect your budget.
  • Read the terms and conditions in full. Check what notice you are being asked to give and how long the contract is for. A good contract should be written in plain English. Make sure you ask about anything you’re not certain about and, as ever, don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
  • Put the service to the test. When you find a virtual office service you think is right for you, ask for a free trial before you commit. Most providers will be happy to agree to a short test period.

Send yourself a letter and make some sample phone calls to check everything works as it should. Only use the address or phone number with your customers when you’re fully confident with the way things work. Even then, test the service a couple of times a year once it’s up and running.

After all, it’s not just a simple support service you’re buying. You are putting your business reputation on the line. What could be more important than that?

To find out more about virtual office services for companies in the Hastings & St Leonards  area, contact Jenny Haley on (01424) 858199 or visit the Innovation Centre website at www.innovationcentrehastings.com