Entrepreneurs Go Virtual!
With the massive explosion of start-ups and home businesses developing, you'll be hard pressed to not know of someone going down the entrepreneurial route. Nowadays you can set-up shop and start trading in a matter of days, and the preferred choice for the neo entrepreneur is a service called Virtual Offices.
I myself, run and operate a Virtual Office company based in Central London and have written this short editorial to educate you in choosing the right provider and hopefully, help avoid the pitfalls in this relatively saturated market, so let's begin.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase "Virtual Office", let me offer you some indulgence.
A Virtual Office is a business location, simulated by Telecommunications and Accommodation Address agents. The core services themselves are better known as "Telephone Answering" and "Mail Forwarding" solutions respectively, which are offered by numerous companies around the world.
Its purpose is wide spread, but more than most, it is used by home workers, small business and start-up organisations, looking to give their company that "big business" image.
Lets start with the Telecommunications "Telephone Answering" solution. Upon signing for this service, you are allocated a telephone number to which someone dialing it, would be greeted by a receptionist who answers calls in your company name.
The level of detail, and by that I mean "how well the receptionists know your business" is down to the company you sign 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 the complete story.
That's not to say that paying more gets you a better service, there are companies out there that offer a fantastic level of professionalism at the lower end price bracket and visa versa.
Done in the correct manner, it's a fabulous service which can really drive down the overheads of an organisation that would be better suited, subsidising the cost of a receptionists full time employment, and putting the capital to better use.
Let us move onto the second core service offered by Virtual Office providers, the Accommodation Address or "Mail Forwarding" service. This service offers its clients an address (which typically is in a prestigious location) for their correspondents to be delivered to. Most providers allow their mail to be picked up and/or have it sent to any address worldwide. In practise, what this offers you is a trading address, which allows you to work on the go or at home, maintaining a level of professionalism associated to established companies that have offices in prime locations.
The costs range from £20 to £100 per month and in most cases, also charge some form of handling fee for the post, if it is being sent out.
Typical questions you should be asking are; does the location offer Meeting Rooms? Do they allow the location to be used as a Registered Office address and are packages allowed at the location? These are all additional services which some, but not all providers offer.
I must however warn you, signing for these services requires extensive research, so do your homework! Ask questions and let these Virtual Office providers prove that they can be entrusted to handle your calls and mail on behalf of your organisation. The last thing you need is a call centre (this is where your virtual receptionists would be based) not answering the calls correctly, or worse! Not answering your calls 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.
It is a matter of fact, that the more personal the company is to its clients, the better the service. Companies that offer no communication, particularly in a field such as this, will never be able to offer a personal service, and lets be honest, they are the first port of call between you and your client, and it really doesn't get more personal than that.
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 an organisation that can do the business.
With such an aggressive market, prices need to be affordable and the level of service needs to be spot on.
Whether your working from home or just starting up, now more than ever, is a great time to Go Virtual!
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My 16 year-old daughter said, "Gee Dad! You look just like an accountant" And she wasn't being complimentary. Accountants are perceived to be boring, stodgy and conservative.Over the years we've been the butt of many jokes. I've heard them all.Why did the accountant cross the road? Because he looked up the file and that's what they did last year! Ha Ha!What do accountants use as a contraceptive? Their personality! Ha Ha!"Why do accountants become accountants? They don't have the charisma to be undertakers! Ha Ha!What do they call an accountant at the bottom of the sea? A bloody good start! Ha Ha!I think I am the exception.That's why I've begun to call myself a business strategist and counselor. "You're still an accountant," says teenage daughter. I am still an accountant and I'm still as passionate about it as the day I started. Because accountants have an impact on people's lives. The advice we give changes people's businesses which in turn changes their lives. I'm excited in my role of accountant.Accounting is not stodgy. Accounting is exciting. Accounting is cool! My ambition is to become the "cool dude of accounting". (do they still say "dude", do they still say "cool". Remember that song: When I say, "cool, man, cool, I don't mean cool, man, cool, I mean you leave me cold, Jack")We were throwing some ideas around with some of our clients as we do from time to time, looking for that unique benefit that our firm gives to our clients. That unique something that distinguishes us from other accounting practices.One said, "You have helped me to improve my business. Not only am I making more profits and have more to spend, but I also have more time to spend away from the business. The more time I spend at home with my family the happier my life is. And the happier I am the happier my wife and children seem to be. When my wife is happy all sorts of good things happen ? even our sex life improves. That's it! You can advertise that using Kelvyn Peters CPA and Associates improves your sex life"I don't think so! Sorry, we haven't accepted his idea. You're completely on your own in that department, but we can help you improve your business and consequently your life. And your goal might not be extra profit but extra time for living! We know we can because we are doing it for others.We repeat ourselves so often because the truth is the truth and there is only a limited number of ways to tell it. You've heard this before. If you are spending every waking moment in a hassle about your business, there must be a better way. There is! Accountants have been ripping off their clients for yearsIn 1973 I attended a workshop for accountants at the Finance Management Research Center then headed by Dr Keith Cleland. The workshop was intended to drag participants into the 20th century."Accountants have been ripping off their clients for years", he told us. The 25 participants were shocked. These represented vibrant accounting firms from all around Australia, both large firms and small. They were at the cutting edge of the industry. Otherwise they would not have been at this kind of workshop.To a person they resented that comment and one fellow wanted to punch him on the nose. (It wasn't me, but I would have held his coat).By the week's end we discovered how we were charging high fees for things that our clients couldn't understand, couldn't use and didn't need. At the same time we were neglecting the information that they did need to increase their profits and safeguard their businesses. 20 Years Later what's Changed? I attended a week long seminar hosted by CPA Australia in 1993 which was to train us in "client based accounting".Dr Cleland presented the initial module. He did not openly criticize accountants this time, after all, it was the CPA's hosting it, but he gave almost the same speech (same jokes, too) as he had 20 years before."These things aren't taught in Universities", he said, "so the accounting profession has mostly ignored them. They have let small business down but things are changing".Know-it-all, Kelvyn Peters had to jump to his feet and say that the doctor had said exactly the same thing 20 years ago. Where were the signs of change? Universities were still not teaching accountants how to help their clients."This seminar with CPA Australia and the suggestion they might make client based accounting a speciality is a good sign", he replied.10 Years Later?Nothing has changed. Our hopes have withered on the vine and small business must look elsewhere for help. Recently I was called in to assist an ailing restaurant. We were happy to work with their existing accountant. 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And they wouldn't pay the fee".Yes they would. They were going to pay me.Most accountants see their role as being the provider of financial statements, cash-flow projections and tax returns, and there's the rub. Each of these is a tool not an end in itself. It's like giving the client a hammer and saw and telling him to go build a house. He needs more than the tools, he needs to be shown how to use them.Of course the client will complain about fees whatever the level if all he receives are not useful to him. Accountants generally are flat out preparing financial statements and tax returns. Meeting dead-lines. They haven't the time to 'smell the roses'. Anything that doesn't help meet a dead-line has to wait until later. Often its too late.I may still look like an accountant, even the cool dude of accounting, but there is nothing I like more than talking with a business owner about his business. 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