Virtual offices and virtual assistants (VAs) are becomingly an increasingly popular choice for SMEs. And at the same time, many people are making successful, home-based small businesses of their own by offering such services.
These days there are a plethora of virtual and serviced office services available. For many SMEs, they’re the ideal way of making a great first impression with an exclusive CBD office address and the appearance of reception staff, without the full-time costs of owning or renting their own fixed office space.
Virtual assistants (VAs) are now also offering a flexible and low cost approach to admin and reception help for busy small business owners struggling to juggle everything themselves while often balancing family commitments at home. So, could it work for you?
Credence International is a home-based executive search and selection firm that identifies and retains the best talent from mid to senior level roles, primarily for small to medium businesses. Founder Judy Wong-See, has been in the executive search and selection industry for over 15 years.
Judy began Credence International after starting a new family, preferring not to return to the grind of working in the city. Initially, her goal was to find occasional project work in order to help bring in extra income for the family. But as work began to increasingly come her way, she started to look at ways to grow the business. After much thought, she found that the only way she would be able to sustain her career and raise her children was if she developed a business model that worked from a home office.
“Initially I was hesitant to work from home. I really did question whether the corporate audience I was targeting would accept or even understand the idea of a home operator,” she says. “It was a struggle that initially kept me from turning my project plan into an actual business. However, as the results of my work were starting to get noticed in the industry, I decided to develop a home/work plan that could give me the best of both worlds.”
Credence International has used virtual and serviced offerings from the very start. Judy made a conscious decision not to market her business as home-based, instead choosing to ensure that a seamless image is always projected to clients, regardless of whether she is available or not.
The first solution she turned to was a virtual office, preferring her clients to get a professional first impression, rather than the managing director answering the phone. Credence is a longstanding client of Serviced Offices International, which provides the business with both a virtual and serviced office offering. Serviced Office International staff have been an extension of Credence’s staff for over six years. All business calls are handled by reception and whenever needed, Judy works and conducts meetings from the CBD address.
“Ten years ago, the virtual solutions available were very simple. You were given a CBD phone number and address and all your mail was redirected to you. This was great and still is. I’m able to leave the office, attend meetings or spend time with family without the fear of missing a client or new business call. However, as my business has grown, so has the level of service available to me. My virtual solution with Serviced Offices International is not just a reception, office and mail service. My virtual team are up to speed on all activity within the business and I am able to involve them as heavily as I want in different projects.
“For example, I recently landed a large client who wanted to conduct a global search for a senior role within their business. Serviced Offices International took a very hands-on role in this project with me. I was designated a personal assistant who I thoroughly briefed on the assignment and involved in the client relationship from the beginning. She was able to track a comprehensive log of responses from all over the world and ensure that the client was updated at all times, thus giving me the time needed to focus on generating results.”
She adds: “You’re able to take on as much help as needed, without the added pressures of payroll, superannuation or office equipment. They have helped me grow my business without me having to hire, relocate or ignore my family responsibilities. All this shows that with a virtual office solution, you can be home-based and still maintain the best standards of work, in any industry.”
There are, she admits, some downsides to working from home: “It can be lonely for some people.” But, she adds, the upsides way outweigh the downsides. “I save money on office space, I save on salaries, payroll and staff. Virtual is the way to go!”
On the other side of the coin, Monika Newman works as a VA and runs Absolutely Virtual (www.absolutelyvirtual.com.au) as a successful small business. Many of her clients are also small businesses. With a background in the corporate world, she spent the last 10 years of her on-site life working for Getty Oil and Exxon before having children.
She says: “The journey towards becoming a VA started unexpectedly with a friend asking if I would help him out with his new home-based business as he didn’t have the space or the need for full-time staff. However, his business grew quite rapidly so he needed to move to larger premises and employ a full-time assistant. As I had three young children, I wasn’t able to join him. This left me at a loose end as I wondered how I could move forward.”
It was then that she came across an article about VAs and realised what she’d been doing up to this point had actually been being a virtual assistant, which was considered a viable profession. “This suited me very well as it enabled me to look after my children, run my own business and continue to keep growing as an individual and in a professional capacity,” she said.
Monika, who recently achieved Certified Virtual Assistant status, now has a core group of clients that she supports, including speakers, consultants, SMEs and entrepreneurs. The tasks she does for them include mail merges, labelling, email blasts, complex formatting and compiling e-books, which she specialises in. She also creates flyers and newsletters, manages databases, does media monitoring, internet research, editing audio and other tasks. She says being a VA gives her the opportunity to constantly add to her skills base.
“Social media for business is also of interest to me and I’m enjoying watching how businesses can benefit from being part of this huge explosion by participating in social media conversations,” she adds. “Virtual assistance suits my lifestyle and allows me the freedom I need to grow and develop. I get to work with wonderful clients with whom I have developed a great rapport. I thrive on the constant challenges and opportunities offered to me.”