Photo - Harald Weinbrecht, Executive Director, Incube8.
If you have just decided to start your own company, take note of three points often totally overlooked: Image, Safety, and Convenience.
Let's start with image:
Because image matters, companies should choose the location of their office very carefully. The location of your office conveys an image of your company, and creates a first impression as soon as you say "hello" and hand over your business card. And it does make a difference if your office location on your business card is a residential address or a known office block in a prestigious location.
The only problem for a startup is that they have very limited funds, and no money to waste on overhead. And while a prestigious business address is important for the image of your company, the cost of renting physical space can in most places not be justified for a startup. Working from home is (mostly) free, and meeting clients can be done in a coffee shop.
That is exactly where a virtual office comes in. A virtual office provider allows you to use their office address for your company, which in turn allows you to put a nice office address on your business card without having to physically rent the space. Usually a virtual office has three components, and depending on your requirements your may need all three:
1. Mailbox. This is just the usage of the address. On your business card you can now put the address of the virtual office provider, and your mobile phone number for clients to reach you. Mail sent to your address on your business card will be collected by the virtual office provider. They will then inform you, and you either drop by to pick up your mail, or they will forward this to you.
2. Telephone number / fax number. For a better impression, using this service allows you to have a qualified receptionist answering calls to your business phone in your company's name. Typically the incoming call will then be forwarded to a number of your choice, and you can answer the call from there. Doing so creates the impression your office is big enough to justify a receptionist / secretary to answer your calls. Incoming faxes usually will be automatically sent to your e-mail, so you can respond anywhere.
3. Workplace. Some virtual office providers allow you to use a desk or office, as well as a meeting room for your physical office space requirements. This will come in handy if the client wants to come to your office, or if you want to do a sales pitch outside the client's premises.
A virtual office creates an impression of a real office to your prospective clients and business partners without having to invest in renting physical office space. And because virtual offices are almost always situated in Grade A buildings, you create a significantly better impact in your first meeting as compared to having a business address in a residential location, and your handphone number as the only way to call you. First impressions matter - and you won't get a second chance to make a first impression.
Secondly, you need to consider the safety aspect. If you don't have a virtual office, what information will you be printing on your business cards? In Asia, if you don't have a business card, you simply "don't exist". You therefore need a business card, and you need an address out of which you run your operations. Do you really want to put down your private home address on business cards? Furthermore, you will have to provide either your home phone number or your private mobile number as potential means to contact you.
It is simply unsafe - specifically for women entrepreneurs - to do so. Having a virtual office allows you to print a professional office address on your business card, and provide potential business partners, customers or suppliers with a phone number that will be answered by a receptionist instead of going straight to your mobile phone. In most cases incoming calls will be screened, so you are able to give your business card out freely without worrying about a potential invasion of privacy.
And lastly, it is also very convenient to have a professional receptionist answering your incoming calls. If the only way to reach you is via e-mail and your mobile phone, you are practically forced to pick up the phone every time it rings - it could be a prospect, or a business partner providing you with a golden opportunity that you just can't miss.
This is extremely difficult to do if you are already in the middle of a conversation with a prospect or another important person - do you simply interrupt the conversation and answer the phone? Or do you ignore the incessant rings of your mobile device in order to pay full attention to the person in front of you? Either way - if your mobile phone is the only way how potential prospects can reach you, you are forced to make such a decision every time your phone calls for your attention.
Using a virtual office with telephone answering services relieves you from this pressure. You can choose to whom to give your mobile phone number to, and have everyone else "call the office", where a professional receptionist will screen incoming calls.
Depending on your instructions the calls with then either be forwarded to your mobile phone or the receptionist will instruct the caller that you are in a meeting, and you will call back once available. You would then receive information about the caller in an e-mail, and you can return the call at your convenience. At the same time you know that you won't miss a call anymore - so you can focus on the prospect in front of you during the next sales meeting.
So whether you are only contemplating on starting your own business, or already are in the middle of your first deal negotiations, consider image, safety and convenience as significant reasons to have a virtual office for your startup.
Harald Weinbrecht is Executive Director of Incube8 Sdn Bhd - the New Smart Office Solution in Malaysia.
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