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Using virtual offices to appear bigger than you are

Virtual offices aren’t just about seeming bigger, they’re about being bigger, and they’re ideal for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

A misconception about virtual offices is that they’re about looking bigger than you are. Yet while a premium address and a full-time receptionist will certainly make a bigger impression, the fact is that virtual offices are not simply about appearing bigger – they’re about being so.

Today, people and data are more mobile than ever before. To make the most of available opportunities, businesses (especially those in the export game) must be enormously flexible about where they do business and with whom. The better they are at operating anywhere, anytime, the better they’ll be at exploiting new markets, securing new customers, and serving the ones they already have well.

For these reasons, SMEs should be considering virtual office tools not only for appearance, but expansion.

The power of the virtual

With virtualisation taking hold in everything from cloud computing to communications, virtual services are having a sweeping effect on the way we do business.

In essence, virtualisation is about efficiency: extracting the most from a resource by sharing it between different users to reduce their individual costs. It’s also about flexibility: improving mobility so that business can take place anytime, anywhere.

Whether it’s a computer system or business infrastructure, the benefits are plain. Virtualisation will keep your costs low – something that’s vital if you want to give yourself every chance to succeed. It will allow you to pay-as-you-go, buying resources only as you need them.

Finally it will also help you to grow your business, increase your sales and improve your customer service – which is where virtual offices kick in.

More than an address

Make no mistake – the quality of your address is critical when it comes to projecting the right appearance. Especially in Asian countries where there’s a lot of emphasis on ‘face’, a reputable address will give locals the confidence they need to deal with you.

But an address is only part of the story when it comes to virtual offices. Today, they encompass a range of services, including:

  • Telephone services – not only a local number, but local receptionists who can answer and route calls.
  • Office facilities – centrally located meeting rooms, board rooms, desk and lounge spaces, all suited to the expectations of the local country.
  • Technology – collaboration and communication tools must allow your staff to work together regardless of location. From file sharing to email, faxing and video conferencing, cloud computing services and virtual office services go hand in hand.
  • Human support –local administration staff can take care of some of your more mundane office management tasks.
  • A location portfolio – perhaps most importantly, a list of cities across the globe where you can establish an immediate presence. These should represent the most important and fastest-expanding markets in the world.

How can you benefit?

Old rules about what constitutes a business are becoming outmoded. Indeed, the idea of a permanent office with a full-time employee on hand to answer calls and perform mundane tasks seems increasingly extravagant and unnecessary.

Efficiency is now much more valued. And that’s what virtual offices provide. They’re a tool to access the kind of global infrastructures that your business could otherwise not afford. Again, it’s not about looking bigger, but being so. The most important benefits are these:

  • A first impression – An office with the right address can impress. In Hong Kong, for example, the only affordable way for an SME to acquire an address within the iconic Two International Finance Centre is through a virtual office – a building prestigious enough that it’s a definite business edge.
  • Customer comfort – customers find it a comfort to know that they can reach you locally – that you have a local presence and local contact details.
  • Immediate on-ground support – In new places, becoming familiar with language, customs and business protocols can be a challenge. With a virtual office, you’re able to trust the knowledge and recommendations of its local staff.
  • Lower market entry costs – Establishing new markets is the lifeblood of the exporter, and virtual offices are the most powerful tool available for quickly and efficiently creating a presence in new locations.
  • Reach – Likewise, by harnessing the virtual office provider’s portfolio, your business can rapidly expand its footprint while utilizing the same infrastructure anywhere it goes.
  • Better customer support – a full-time local presence even when you’re out of town makes your business and its customer service much more responsive, increasing satisfaction and encouraging repeat custom.

That said, virtual offices are of course not meant to supplant the role of the traditional office. What virtual offices do mean is that working between the two (or more) locations is much easier. Mobile and cloud technologies are the lubricants that are allowing smart operators to move both themselves and their data transparently between locations, making businesses less geographically ‘trapped’ and more responsive.

How to chose a virtual office provider

Because virtual office providers offer different services, locations and technology platforms, it’s important to select a provider carefully. Here’s what to consider:

  • Portfolio size and address quality – From to Istanbul to Bangkok, the more locations a provider offers, the better. But the addresses within the cities on offer are often just as important as the cities themselves. Examine what addresses are on offer in the markets most important to you.
  • Control – how easily will you be able to manage your services and account? Are there automated online and mobile tools for booking meetings, changing contact preferences and the like? The more integrated your experience is, the more you’ll benefit. Often, this will be affected by whether the offices in each city are separately owned and managed businesses, or part of the one corporation.
  • Technology – Many of the benefits of virtual offices flow from the ability to move seamlessly between them. Virtual offices and cloud computing should go hand in glove. It’s essential that your provider have a worldwide infrastructure that helps you to carry your information and operations with you to new markets. Ask what software solutions and communication platforms can be provided as part of the service, and whether they’re available in all locations.

Summing up

From computing to office space, virtualisation is creating new and more efficient ways for global businesses to operate, delivering the services and resources they need while allowing them to pay on a for-use basis.

These are trends that exporters should be taking advantage of, regardless of their size. Appearance and customer comfort is only part of the equation. Just as important is the ability to achieve lower costs, faster speeds to market and higher levels of agility while providing better customer service.

Businesses who stick to the traditional path face the prospect of higher costs, less flexibility, less mobility and, ultimately, less capability. To improve your chances of success, consider and embrace virtualisation wherever it makes good business sense.

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Marcus Moufarrige

Marcus Moufarrige

<a href="http://www.servcorp.com.au/">Servcorp</a> Chief Operating Officer Marcus Moufarrige is a prominent IT industry spokesperson in Australia, and a member of the National Standing Committee for Cloud Computing. As the COO of a multinational business, Marcus has a truly global perspective, and is across the key technological issues and regulatory issues relating to the cloud on a daily basis. He is passionate about the transformational role of technology, and was responsible for building Servcorp's global technology platform: growing the organisation into an ASX listed company that has become Australia's second-largest exporter of services. Marcus is a frequent speaker at events on cloud and future workspace related issues.

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