Virtual offices are the perfect solution to many business struggles. Compared to a traditional lease, they’re highly cost-effective, which could boost your customer service and provide you with access to a range of administrative support, as well as a professional business address.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a virtual office is, potential benefits, common mistakes when selecting a provider and everything else you need to consider to make the right choice for your business.
Virtual Offices vs. Coworking Space
Virtual offices provide members – including business owners, freelancers, contractors and consultants – with access to a range of administrative services without physically renting an office space. For example, you usually get a professional business address, mail forwarding service and other valuable online services when you sign up for a virtual office. It’s a convenient and cost-effective way to access the benefits of leasing or owning an office space – without any of the ongoing costs. Instead, you just pay a monthly fee.
The main difference between a coworking space and a virtual office is the physical space you actually work in. Virtual office renters work in their own space, whereas coworking space members work in a coworking space.
As a result, there may be some overlap in the online services provided by a coworking space and virtual office. Along the same lines, some virtual offices provide members with meeting rooms to rent on an ad hoc basis, but these are typically temporary arrangements, compared to the longer-term commitments in coworking spaces.
Virtual Office Locations
Because of their flexible nature, virtual offices are available in a vast range of locations. What’s more, some providers even allow you to rent virtual offices in multiple locations.
When choosing a virtual office location, focus on the business address. For instance, if you want to target customers or clients in a specific part of town, you might want to consider choosing a virtual office that’s in that area.
Additionally, review where your competitors are located and the potential influence of a specific address on your business brand. As an example, if you’re a tech start-up, then a business address in Silicon Valley may benefit your business, but you may not be able to afford the rental prices associated with such a highly desirable area. A virtual office can give you a presence in this area–without the high real estate costs.
Amenities & Payment
Every virtual office has a different level of service. The main features include, but are not limited to:
- A professional business address , which provides your business with a professional image, as opposed to using your home address or a P.O. box.
- A virtual receptionist and answering service , in which a real person picks up the phone when someone calls the “office.” This can boost your customer service and improve your professional image.
- Mail receipt/forwarding services , in which mail or parcels received at the address are stored until you come pick them up or forwarded to an alternate address. You may also be able to arrange for mail and packages to be dropped off at a specific address.
- Office facilities , which may include some basic office amenities, such as access to a photocopier, printer or a fax machine.
- Access to conference facilities and meeting rooms – , these are usually available to rent on a temporary basis, where you can meet your customers and clients.
- Coworking space , some virtual offices go one step further, providing access to a coworking space where you can rent a hot desk or private office, for example.
The main benefits of a virtual office are cost and flexibility. While you don’t have to pay to maintain a physical office space – which saves you money on office supplies and other overhead costs – you can still get access to a clean, safe office environment when you need one. As such, a virtual office is often a highly cost-effective option compared to other shared office spaces and traditional office leases.
What’s more, when you lease private office space, you are committed to paying for it regardless of how often you use it. Anytime you’re on vacation, working from home or away on business, you still have to pay for the space. As a result, your office space may be empty and underutilized. Such a restrictive financial commitment isn’t viable and doesn’t make good business sense for most organizations or individuals.
Conversely, virtual offices are usually available on a highly flexible basis. In addition to the low cost and high flexibility advantages, a virtual office also provides:
- Credibility – First impressions count. A virtual office provides your business with a professional address – without any of the high real estate costs – and allows you to keep your home address private. Plus, a virtual receptionist can also help build your professional image.
- Customer Service – A virtual receptionist can also provide your business with an additional layer of customer service, but without any of the costs of a permanent and dedicated hire.
- Support – From mail redelivery to answering calls and other business support services, a virtual office takes on a range of administrative duties so you don’t have to. Therefore, you’ll be able to spend less time on admin tasks and more time on the more important aspects of your business.
- Meeting Space – Some virtual offices also provide meeting and conference facilities, which help build your professional image without any of the associated operational and maintenance costs.
Mistakes to Avoid
When choosing a virtual office, make sure you are clear on your business goals and reasons for deciding to operate in this way. In particular, be sure to avoid:
- Misunderstanding what a virtual office can offer – Every virtual office is different, so be sure you align with a provider that meets your business needs. Moreover, confirm that a virtual office is the right option for your business, and consider whether a coworking space or permanent, private office space would be a better option.
- Misunderstanding the amenities – Some virtual offices charge for certain services, whereas others may not offer the business amenities you require.
- Not considering the flexibility you need – Before you sign your virtual office contract, check into its flexibility. For example, do you need a 24/7 level of service or are you able to operate within the normal 9-to-5 work day?
- Forgetting about customer service – Don’t fall into the trap of assessing a virtual office only on its services. Evaluate the quality of the services it provides, as well. This is an important point from a customer-service perspective. Your virtual office will be the first touchpoint for many of your customers and clients, so make sure it is the best representation of your business.
Questions to Ask
There are plenty of questions to ask when choosing between virtual offices. These include:
What do you actually need?
Virtual offices offer a broad range of services. First, determine which of these services align with your business goals. For example, you may or may not need access to a meeting room, virtual receptionist, etc.
What customer service features are available?
Customer service is a key part of any business, so a virtual office should have adequate systems in place for your customers. For example, some virtual offices provide a 24/7 virtual receptionist, whereas others may only be open during set hours. Check the customer service policies in place for each one.
What’s the location like?
A virtual office provides your business with a professional address in a desirable area. But, it’s important to get the location right as this address will be on your website, business cards and other marketing materials. So, choose the best neighborhood for your professional image. Furthermore, depending on the needs of your business, you may also want to set up a virtual office in multiple locations, which some providers offer.
What is the contract like?
Most virtual offices offer month-to-month contracts and flexible payment terms. However, make sure it’s adaptable to your needs and can grow as your business grows, providing the flexibility you require. Similarly, confirm how much office time can be reserved per month or whether there are any other service caps. Also, don’t forget to ask about your payment and cancellation options, too.
Are there any additional fees?
Review any additional fees that you could incur when using a virtual office. Specifically, ask about:
- Security deposits
- Booking fees for meeting or offices
- Setup or administrative fees
How does your mail forwarding service work?
Some providers forward your mail or parcels to another address, while others ask you to physically come and pick them up. Ask each provider about their process to keep your mail organized and/or forwarded in a timely manner. In particular, ask:
- Who signs for my packages?
- How quickly do you forward mail? Will packages be left at the virtual office for days or do you offer same-day mail forwarding?
- Can I pause my mail forwarding services?
- How often do I need to come and pick up my mail?
What is your meeting room policy?
Some providers include meeting rooms and conference facilities in their monthly plans, whereas others charge an additional fee. Check their policies and understand how to access this service, including any costs you may incur and how far in advance you need to schedule.
Do you have any references?
When weighing different virtual office providers, ask for client references. Also, find out how much training and experience the virtual office employees have, their qualifications and the provider’s staff turnover rate. A virtual office provider may look like a professional outfit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it provides a good service.
Finding Virtual Offices Online
There are plenty of places to research and find virtual offices online, but make sure you choose a reputable provider by using the tips above. In particular, COMMERCIALCafé , provides a range of commercial real estate (CRE) listings, including virtual office spaces, coworking spaces and other shared spaces. Start your search today.