Virtual Offices Help Small Firms Play Bigger

By Guillermo Rotman

Your staff roster may consist of “me, myself, and I,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t cast a big shadow. In fact, your one-person firm can have access to the same professional office resources that larger firms enjoy, sending a signal to clients that you’re a legal force to be recognized. In a digital age where the traditional rules of business apply less every day, small companies everywhere are proving that, with the right tools, they can compete on a level that belies their size. As a case in point, the virtual office—which provides a prestigious address, local phone number, staff support, and the option to use fully equipped office space and meeting rooms—has become a powerful ally for small law firms with big aspirations.

What’s more, solo law practices and many other entrepreneurs are finding that virtual offices don’t just create the impression of success—they have proven to be a critical asset in helping promote real growth as well. Here are ten ways that virtual offices can help your small firm accomplish big goals.

Be cost-efficient. Whether it’s your first office or a foray into a new market, high-rent real estate with all the bells and whistles can severely erode your small firm’s bottom line. There’s the cost of the square footage itself, but there’s also the build-out of the space, the purchase of furniture and office equipment, monthly utilities, and myriad other fixed and ongoing expenses that can end up costing you thousands of dollars. With a virtual office you can avoid these expenses altogether. In fact, a virtual office is 80 percent more cost-effective than leasing your own office space, and it can save you as much as 50 percent over traditional executive suite costs.

Play the image game. Sometimes where you are is as important as who you are. Call it unfair, but some clients may choose only to work with a firm in the “right” part of town. Although leasing traditional office space in a booming business district may be beyond your means, establishing a virtual office in the same area can give you a permanent address and phone number at a prestigious location. So while you’re working from home in the suburbs, your prospects’ calls go to the shiny new office tower downtown.

Get out of the house. Working from home full-time has its fringe benefits—it’s as close as you can get to cost-free, it comes with a kitchen, and there’s no commute. The problem is your living room isn’t the best place to hold meetings with clients or conduct a deposition. In addition to a “virtual” presence, some virtual office programs also give you access to ready-to-use day offices or conference rooms, allowing you to meet privately in a professional setting.

Provide better service. In addition to winning over location-conscious clients, an office in the right spot can help you better serve the clients you already have. Establishing a virtual office near major clients, for example, can provide a meeting place or a drop-off point that’s more convenient than your regular office. And the easier it becomes to work with you, the more likely clients are to remain loyal and refer potential clients.

Stay flexible. Looking past the start-up costs of a traditional lease, there’s also an element of risk involved. A multi-year contract may lock you in to the space for several years and impose penalties for vacating early. But depending on how your practice performs, you might find yourself seeking more space or, in a downturn, trying to cut even more expenses. Either way, rigid lease terms work against you. On the other hand, virtual offices offer the flexibility to scale up or down quickly, leaving you unencumbered to make the decisions that are best for your business.

Be productive anywhere. Where do you go to meet with clients or get some work done when you’re on the road? Unlike big-firm lawyers, who may have access to branch offices in cities across the country, sole practitioners often have difficulty finding a suitable place to meet with clients or remain productive while traveling. Some virtual office programs offer anytime access to business lounges, offices, meeting rooms, and other facilities throughout the country or the world. So wherever business takes you, you’ll always have an office.

Stay focused. Consider the time commitment involved in leasing and maintaining traditional real estate. In addition to the up-front time investment to find and set up a space, there is the ongoing effort to pay the bills and deal with everyday hassles such as a broken water cooler. It all takes time that any attorney would be better off spending on billable projects. By comparison, a virtual office can be set up and running the same day, with none of the distractions that keep revenue out of your pockets.

Keep in touch. For professionals who are always on the move, it can be hard to predict where you’ll be from one hour to the next. And with no assistant to track you down, important messages may go unanswered until it’s too late. Virtual offices address that problem as well. During business hours, a receptionist answers the phone in your firm’s name and handles calls at your request. For example, you may have an important customer that you want put through immediately, while all other calls should be routed to voice mail. Even when you’re burning the midnight oil, advanced phone systems offered by some virtual offices can be programmed to send calls to multiple numbers, so you’ll never be out of reach.

Get help without headaches. For solo attorneys, hiring a full-time assistant also means becoming an HR manager: posting job openings, paying a salary and benefits, and dealing with performance issues. Not necessary with a virtual office. Most programs include receptionist support to answer calls, forward mail, and greet guests while you’re in the office, and many even offer light administrative support, such as data entry, on a by-the-hour basis.

Become a tech titan. Most big companies take for granted modern business machines such as high-powered copiers, but small entrepreneurs may balk at the cost. Virtual offices can level the playing field because they also provide access to a business center with equipment that rivals that in the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. Many of these business centers boast the latest copiers, scanners, fax machines, high-speed Internet access, and advanced telecommunications services, all supported by an on-call IT team. Some centers even offer videoconferencing studios that can be booked by the hour, so you can meet face-to-face with clients or colleagues around the world.

In an age where perception is reality, your office plays a role in telling your clients who you are. Backed by a virtual office, you can project a “big firm” image without the big-firm costs or the hassles of full-time leasing.

Virtual Offices at Work:
Virginia Lawyer in Five Places at Once

David Zachary Kaufman is a one-man law firm, but you’d never know it by his multi-office presence. A business and commercial litigation lawyer based in northern Virginia, Kaufman also has practices in Maryland and Washington, D.C., serving clients across a footprint of roughly 8,000 square miles.

How can one person possibly cover so much ground? Kaufman credits virtual offices for his ability to be in many places at the same time.

“Having a regional presence helps me grow my business and offer better service to my clients, and I could never do it without a virtual office arrangement,” says Kaufman.

Rather than lease and outfit traditional office space everywhere he wants to be, Kaufman pays a small fraction of that cost to use virtual offices at local business centers. In addition to his regular office in Fairfax, Virginia, he has virtual offices in Tysons Corner, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore and Rockville, Maryland. The virtual offices allow Kaufman to maintain a permanent address and phone number in each area without paying for full-time office space that would sit empty most of the time.

When clients call, the receptionist at each business center answers in his company’s name and forwards the call to Kaufman, wherever he may be that day. During off-hours, the virtual office phone system seamlessly integrates his home office, regular office, and virtual offices so he never misses an important call.

When it’s time for in-person meetings, the virtual office locations provide on- demand access to fully furnished and equipped offices and conference rooms.

“I don’t need a full-time office in each city, but I do need a place to meet with clients and conduct depositions when I’m there,” says Kaufman. “So being able to use office space on an as-needed basis is much more cost-effective.”

Using office space only when needed also helps Kaufman set up shop at prime locations without the sky-high real estate costs of leasing downtown space on a full-time basis.

“For example, the business center I use in D.C. is right across the street from the federal and local courthouses—it’s an ideal location,” he says. “Even more importantly, the Tysons Corner offices are very close to some of my best clients.”

Kaufman’s success isn’t always about working harder—it’s about working smarter.

 

Virtual Offices at Work:
Illinois Lawyer Benefits from “the Impression of Bigness”

Alan Pearlman, a solo lawyer practicing family and criminal law in the Chicago area, believes in the value of powerful business tools. Pearlman writes a nationally syndicated column called “The Electronic Lawyer,” where he reviews technology products that help lawyers work faster and smarter.

And he puts the efficiency mantra to work in his own 35-year-old firm. Rather than bear the overhead costs and time commitments of a full-time office lease, Pearlman finds that a virtual office suits his firm fine.

With a virtual office, his firm’s listed address and phone number are at a fully furnished business center in his hometown of Oak Brook, Illinois. But Pearlman chooses to work most days from home, where mail and phone calls are forwarded from the virtual office location. The arrangement is far less expensive than a traditional lease yet still gives him a professional space to work or host meetings when necessary.

“I spend about two days a week at the business center, using private offices or conference rooms to meet with clients,” says Pearlman. “The facilities are excellent and the business center staff is always helpful.”

In addition to managing incoming mail and calls, employees at the business center help Pearlman with outbound mailings, making copies, ordering supplies, and other administrative work.

“You have an assistant when you need one, but without having to manage an employee,” says Pearlman.

The virtual office program also allows Pearlman to widen his reach beyond his hometown. With access to a network of business centers all over the world included in his virtual office package, he can go to his clients as easily as they come to him.

“If I need to see a client in South Chicago, or even in another city or at the airport, I can invite them to meet me at the closest business center,” he says. “My clients often think I’m a bigger firm than I am because I have access to all these great facilities. I’m just one person, but the virtual office gives the impression of bigness.”

Guillermo Rotman is CEO of The Regus Group Americas. The Regus Group, PLC, is the world’s largest provider of workplace solutions, operating a global network of more than 950 business centers in 400 cities and 70 countries. For more information, visit www.regus.com.

Copyright 2009

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