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Virtual Offices for Small Businesses – What to look out for

December 14, 2008

A Virtual Office provides a business location and address for smaller businesses by accepting inbound communications on their behalf and forwarding them to other addresses/numbers. This enables smaller businesses to have many of the benefits of a permanent address and business presence, but with much lower costs and administration.

The core services provided by a virtual office are “telephone answering” and “mail forwarding”, and are offered by a multitude of companies around the world.

These services are often used by small business and start-up organisations, looking to give their company that “big business” image.

Telephone Answering

When new clients sign up for this service, they are allocated a telephone number, which will then be answered by a receptionist using the client’s company name. The call will then be transferred to the small company’s designated phone number, wherever they are working at the time.

The level customer service (i.e. how well the receptionists know your business) will vary depending to the company you sign up for, and of course, the amount of money you pay. Typically, the costs vary from between £40 to £120 per month and in most cases, also carry “per message fees”, so make sure you know what the monthly fee includes (and excludes) before signing up.

It is worth bearing in mind that paying more does not always guarantee a better service – many less well known companies offer a high level of professionalism at the lower end price bracket and visa versa.

Done in the right way, telephone answering can be an invaluable service for small businesses. Such services can drive down the overheads of a new company which, rather than hiring a full-time receptionist, would be better off putting the capital to other uses.

Mail Forwarding

This service offers clients an address (typically is in a prestigious location, such as Central London) for all their business post to be delivered to. Most providers allow their mail to be picked up and/or have it sent to any address worldwide.

In practice, this offers small businesses a trading address, allowing them to work on the go or at home, maintaining a level of professionalism associated with much larger, established companies.

The costs typically range from £20 to £100 per month and in most cases the service provider will charge some form of handling fee for the post if it is forwarded to another address (as would usually be the case).

What to look out for in a virtual office provider

Typical questions you should be asking when choosing a virtual office provider are;

  • Does the virtual office provider offer Meeting Room facilities?
  • Does the provider allow the forwarding address to be used as a Registered Office address and are packages allowed at the location?
  • Can larger packages be sent to the address?

(These are all additional services which some, but not all providers offer).
Virtual office
Signing for these services requires extensive prior research, so it is well worth spending some time looking at a number of virtual office providers.

Ask questions and let these providers prove that they can be entrusted to handle your calls and mail on behalf of your business. The last thing you need is a call centre (this is where your virtual receptionists would be based) answering your calls incorrectly (or even worse – not at all!)

Ask if you can visit their location. If not, then why not and are they hiding something? You don’t want be told by one of your clients that they passed by your office (that’s effectively what your address will be), and it wasn’t up to scratch.

In closing, getting a Virtual Office is a great way to quickly establish yourself as a professional company and helps your business be perceived as a professional organisation.

In such an aggressive marketplace, prices need to be affordable and the level of service needs to be spot on.

More help on offices

For more on offices and business premises, try some of our other guides;

Offices

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