What is a virtual office?
A virtual office allows start-ups and small firms to make use of a range of professional communication and address services that were, traditionally, only within reach of larger firms that could afford the costly overheads.
Generally speaking, a virtual office consists of four key services:
- Business postal address
- Telephone answering service
- Meeting room hire
- Day offices and hot desks
Business postal address
Many firms are reluctant to use their home address as their business address. This can be for a number of reasons; it can blur the lines between work and personal life, and clients may think the business is too small for their needs. By having a dedicated postal address the boundaries between your business and home life are kept clear, and it can portray a more professional image if you fear clients would be put off by a residential address.
In addition, you can choose a virtual office anywhere in the country. If the majority of your target market are based in a particular city but you aren't located there, having a prestigious address in that region can give you a distinct advantage during a tender. Clients often prefer to work with someone who is local, and having the ability to access meeting rooms at that location without significant costs could work in your favour.
Receiving post at a virtual office address is easier than you may first think. Many virtual office companies will securely open your post and email it to you as a PDF or image file, ensuring you don't have to physically visit your virtual office to retrieve your mail.
Telephone answering service
Nothing is more frustrating for clients than being put through to voicemail when they need to reach you. One of the benefits of a virtual office is having your calls answered by a professional PA or receptionist. Not only does this ensure calls are never missed, it also guarantees your calls are answered professionally every time. Clients tend to be much happier leaving a message with a real person than a voicemail machine, and if a matter needs urgent attention, your virtual PA will be able to get in touch with you quickly.
Meeting room hire
Most virtual offices allow you to hold meetings in a hired boardroom, giving a more professional impression of your firm than holding it in your living room or at a café. This is a significant benefit for small firms; although you may not hold a large number of meetings, a virtual meeting space will allow you to have on-demand access to facilities (when you need them) for a relatively small fee.
If you find that you tend to work better away from home, you can arrange to hire day offices or hot desks. These include all the equipment you would need from to work, including internet access, printers, telephones and copiers. Certain virtual office providers allow you to access day offices whereever you are in the country - meaning that if you have to travel a long distance for a short meeting, you can make the most of the rest of the day by working from one of their centres.
Starting up a business?
If you are looking at hiring a virtual office for a start-up, it's important to consider the insurance your firm may need.
Travelling back and forth can put expensive business equipment - such as laptops or mobile phones - at risk of irrepairable damage. Business equipment insurance can cover the cost of replacing vital business equipment if it is accidentally damaged or stolen, with the option to cover it on a worldwide basis.
In addition, some virtual offices or hot desks (particularly those run by councils) may require your firm to have public liability insurance in place. Public liability insurance covers the costs of defending allegations of injury to a third party, or damage to third party property, as a result of your negligence. Check with your virtual office provider whether you need to take out public liability insurance.
Both covers are relatively inexpensive but could potentially save your firm thousands should a claim be brought against it.
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