A Virtual Office is a great way to expand your local presence in an affordable way. Here's 7 things you need to know before buying.Virtual Office
Using a Registered Business Address: Is it a good location?
Let's start with one of the most important elements of a virtual office: location.
For a low cost, you can use a professional address for your companies house registration, website, business cards and Google My Business location.
A good, central address in a professional office can really provide an edge and make it look like you have a real office, while in reality you'll be working from home (or the beach).
Google My Business is a great way to boost your website SEO and get your business found in search results, so you'll want to factor this into what people see when they search for your business.
Today, the Google My Business "card" features in search results in 93% of searches today.
When you Google a business name, you've probably become accustomed to seeing the company card on the right of the search result. This provides an accessible way to locate the phone number, website and address of the business (as well as products/ services and offers).
One critical thing site visitors can see with your business address is the exterior of your "office". For example, here's how the exterior of Mail Boxes Etc. appears at its Covent Garden location:
If anyone searches for you on Google, and you've set up a Google My Business profile, then they'll see your Mail Boxes Etc Professional Office.
Other providers offer "Premium" central London business addresses, yet in reality the exterior can best be described as awful. Here's just an example of a low-cost and widely used London address looks like:
This image literally pops up for anyone searching for businesses registered at that location.
It's important to find a good price point for a professional address that represents your business but doesn't break the bank.
Here's how our address looks for only £25 a month:
At the end of the day, we're proud of our location, and we want you to be proud of yours too.
Mail Forwading, Handling and Redirection: How quickly will you get your mail?
Virtual office and business address providers will provide some elements of mail handling, but this can vary significantly.
One thing that you should check is what the additional costs of mail forwarding, handling, scanning, redirection or notifications are.
Most providers will give you a basic package where you can come and collect mail from their office (would you want to when the location looks like this though?).
The basic service offering is mail handling, also otherwise known as mail collection. With this free option, you can come into an office during normal business hours to pick up your mail.
The pricing of mail forwarding services may vary, depending on your provider. It may be offered as part of your package, at a cost + markup percentage or at a fixed additional monthly cost (we've seen instances of this service being charged at an additional fee of £50 per month).
Mail redirection is similar to mail forwarding. It refers to having your mail forwarded to you on the day it was received at your virtual address.
A lot of people want their mail on demand, and to store it online for reference i.e. tax documents, registration documents.
Being able to pull this up in an email or online folder is way easier than fishing through a drawer of documents.
Some companies may charge an additional fee for signage in the lobby to use the location as your registered address. At a minimum, this should be priced at an additional fee of £10 - £25 per month.
Other business address providers may have features for digital notifications when mail arrives—you can then decide what they do with the mail.
Use of an Office or Coffee Shop: Can you work there?
So, assuming that you put your business address on your website, business cards or online business directories, you'll hopefully start getting enquiries from partners or customers who may want to meet.
What happens if someone asks to meet you there?
You could offer to meet them at a location close to the office, suggest a phone call or book a meeting room or office to meet them.
Generally, most virtual office providers will make you book a meeting room if you want to meet with a customer and it typically involves emailing an inbox and waiting to confirm a meeting room.
We wanted to do things differently, so we let our virtual office customers meet in our coffee shop and cafe.
After all, as a Virtual Office customer you're generally starting out and looking to secure your first customers and meet other people.
It's also a great part of London to meet people after work or meet multiple clients in the city (you can also leave your stuff in a locker if you need to) or use a private phone booth for free if you need some peace and quiet.
Be careful, there's also a few comfy spots where you may fall asleep.
Use of Meeting Rooms: Can you meet people there?
As mentioned above, some virtual office providers offer a meeting room but prices and quality varies considerably.
Some may ask you to book a meeting room for a minimum of three hours or half a day.
You can also get meeting rooms that are priced cheaply, but this is what you get:
We tried to find a balance with ours—a fair price for an inviting meeting room with lots of light and a view of London.
Here's what you'll get for £60 an hour at our space:
Warning: the sun can get in your eyes at different points in the day, so you may have to pull the blind down a little bit.
Call Answering: Building a local presence
Do you use your personal phone number on your business cards and websites?
If you've landed on the website and a personal mobile number is featured at the top right navigation bar, do you call it?
Whilst it may not feel super important on a business card, it's a pretty critical factor on your website.
Insider tip: Having spoken to a range of conversion rate experts, it's been recommended that you put your number on the top right in the navigation bar. This makes your business appear more accessible and encourages enquiries.
Local Phone Number: Building a local presence
These two contact numbers—0203 411 1004 and 07520 233 240—may affect how your business is percevied by prospective customers. As such, you may want to consider a local phone number depending on your the nature of your business.
Prices are reasonable from most providers and can vary, depending on whether you choose a freephone, national or local number.
We offer a London 0203 number for only £10.
Do I want call answering?
The next thing you may want to consider is a call answering service. From around £25 per month, a staff may answer calls in your company name and forward it to your mobile or voicemail.
Most of the time, you'll be able to indicate your availability and specific instructions, such as having your calls answered on your behalf every Monday afternoon.
This is a particularly useful service if you need to ensure calls that your calls get answered, even when you're unavailable.
Onboarding Process: Is it Quick and Digital?
The onboarding stage is typically where things fall apart.
Our CEO would know, given his experience with managing the virtual office service for 150,000 customers across 3,000 locations.
One major thing about registering a virtual office in London is that you're required to undergo Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance and verify yourself. These are strict guidelines imposed by HMRC and London Local Authorities. So beware: if a provider doesn't ask for your ID when you sign up, then they aren't legitimate.
In most instances, your virtual office provider will ask you to come into an office to complete your registration. You won't be able to receive any mail before you pass compliance with a legitimate mail handling service.
We recognise that this process is inconvenient, so we made our verification process digital. The registration takes just three minutes to complete online.
How long are the agreements?
The final component of your virtual office or registered address agreement is how long you have to sign up for.
Some providers look for a 24-month agreements. Others take a 12-month upfront price.
We didn't like either of these options. We'd rather adapt to your needs as your business grows, so you continue to stay with us as a choice—so we're not going to trap you into an agreement.
Make sure you check your terms and conditions around cancelling—particularly for companies taking an upfront payment. Certain providers may require that you forfeit just the deposit, while others may not refund any payment made.