This is a guest post by Dan Hawkins of DryLand Business Members Club
For many small businesses one of the most daunting obstacles which must be addressed is organizing the rental and budgeting for the costs of office space. The expenses involved with leasing a suitable premise can easily put a company into a very precarious position – an office in a prestigious location is necessary to appear professional and attract new customers or clients but the rent and all of the associated overheads will sink a business if they don’t see a quick return on investment.
In the past there were few viable alternatives to this dilemma. Some chose to run their business from home in order to cut down costs but in many industries this simply wasn’t an option as it was seen as unprofessional and could scare away potential business, not to mention limiting the company’s ability to expand. However in the past few years rapid advances in technology and changing attitudes towards virtual commerce has begun to alter the nature of modern business drastically.
Modern networking and mobile technology has facilitated the advent of the virtual office ” which allows small businesses to enjoy many of the benefits of a conventional office while saving on many of the associated costs. In its simplest form a virtual office is simply a postal address, usually at a prestigious location, which gives a small business the professional appearance which is expected by their existing and potential clients. These business owners may not actually lease physical office space at this address, electing to operate from home or other less costly premises. This is particularly useful for start-up businesses as it can greatly diminish their costs until they have enough money coming in to consider more permanent office space. It can also be invaluable for international businesses which are looking to expand overseas but don’t want to make any large expenditures on local offices until there is proof of a viable market. Using a virtual office also allows companies to fully utilize outsourcing and free lancers; indeed many virtual companies choose not to have any formal employees at all!
Of course there are more benefits to traditional offices than just their postal address and some virtual offices combine a variety of add-on services in order to replicate as many of these as possible. For example, most virtual offices will provide post and secretarial services, phone answering and more. When it is necessary to meet with clients in person some virtual offices may have luxury meeting and conference rooms for hire on a per-use basis located at their central address. In this way, virtual office members can enjoy most of the advantages of a prestigious office at a fraction of the cost of actually owning or leasing the premises themselves.
The primary drawback of a virtual office is the potential disconnect between various members of the business and its clients. As much as technology has provided an improved platform for communication there are many who still believe that it cannot replace personal interaction – whether between management and staff, colleagues or businesses and their partners or clients. It is also more difficult to monitor employees work and progress, although new software is becoming increasingly proficient at this. As well, it may be more difficult to foster the sense of community, teamwork and company loyalty which many businesses strive for without a physical shared working space.
A second alternative to traditional premises which is growing increasingly popular amongst small businesses is the serviced office. Unfortunately serviced offices have become associated with rather second-rate office space, often for foreign companies who are looking for a temporary office solution for employees who are overseas. However there is now a new style of serviced office which focuses on providing high-end, fully-furnished offices which can often surpass traditional offices in terms of quality. Many serviced offices will often provide various options to accommodate different budgets, from luxurious executive suites down to one man pods. Some contemporary serviced offices are also now blending the concept of furnished office space with that of a private members club, offering m emberships which provide access to luxury lounges and meeting rooms, food and beverage concierge services and more.
Because serviced offices generally come fully-furnished and have an all-inclusive monthly lease, small businesses can save a lot of money on the many overheads which add up when renting a conventional office. Contracts tend to be more flexible and for shorter periods of time, allowing businesses which are in their initial phase of growth to resize or change premises if need be. On the other hand, these short leases also allow the owner of the serviced office to increase rents without much warning if they think that they can find replacement tenants that are willing and able to pay a higher rent.
In serviced offices small businesses may have to share communal space but the advantage of this is the networking opportunities and most good providers will run regular events to promote this. Most serviced offices will also have meeting and conference rooms for hire on per use basis, allowing members to gain the benefits of these expensive facilities without having to pay the annual costs for maintaining a room which will often sit empty in a conventional office.
As a small business owner office space will likely be one of your most costly expenses however there are now alternatives which should be carefully explored. Changing attitudes towards the way businesses are run, combined with new technology which is has been specifically designed to replace and even surpass the advantages gained from working in a traditional office is opening up new office options for many small business owners.
Dan Hawkins is head of PR and digital marketing at Dryland Business Members Club, a London based company specializing in a Serviced and Virtual office space.
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