Barbara Young owns a small consulting business in Atlanta, Georgia. The keyword here is “small” because Barbara knows that her competition has more money, a bigger reputation and more marketing resources. “What I had going for me was personal service and attention to the client, but I was working out of our spare bedroom and calling it an office,” said Barbara. “I needed to keep my overhead low, so I had no intention of running away from home, but I also needed to pull off a polished, professional appearance when I met with potential clients. In a nutshell, I needed to make my business look bigger than it really was.”
Sometimes staying in your home office is the right solution for your business, but that doesn't mean your clients have to visualize you trudging to the computer in your bathrobe. A polished professional appearance is much more important for home-based entrepreneurs than for other businesses because you are always battling the unspoken - the perception that you might not be a “real” business.
Clients, particularly great paying clients, want to give their business to companies that inspire trust. They avoid the fly-by-night operators in favor of companies that look like they will be around for years to come. They are looking for companies who deliver stellar work on deadline and until they get to know you and the quality of your work, potential clients can only judge you by “what they see”.
So, they are noticing your office, how you dress, how confident you look, how tight your presentation is, how organized you seem. And no matter how you stack it, meeting in your living room or in Starbucks, does not exactly scream out that your company is best-of-breed.”
So, what alternatives do you have? Well, the point is - you do have alternatives. I often tell my home-based clients that having a virtual office is absolutely essential if you want to attract and catch the bigger fish. A virtual office space gives you the option to work at home, while giving the appearance that your operation is much larger and more impressive.
Here's how it works: For a reasonable monthly fee, you can rent the services of an office suite without actually renting the office itself. Sounds crazy, right? Well, imagine working from your suburban house outside New York City, but having a prestigious Manhattan address and phone number. When they call you at your Manhattan phone number (the call is automatically forwarded to your home office phone) or when your clients messenger a package over, they'll have no idea you are not really in a big office building in midtown.
You can rent a prestigious Fifth Avenue address for your business and never leave your bedroom or get out of your pajamas. The office suite, also known as an Executive Suite, can collect your mail, forward it to your home and if you choose, a very professional receptionist can answer your calls and take your messages.
The point is -- you choose which services are best for your business and you only pay for what you need. In Barbara's case, she didn't need a receptionist to answer the phone since part of her business' strength was that her clients could always reach her directly. She didn't want to compromise a core value, but she did need to have an office space or conference room where she could do her presentations using state-of-the-art technology, where her clients could work at a spacious conference table and where she could wow them with her creativity.
At my suggestion, Barbara rented a conference room in a nearby Executive Suite for ten hours each month. “Most of my clients just assume the suite is my full-time office, other long-time clients know that I work from home,” said Barbara, “but they respect how I have crafted a professional, flexible environment that allows us to get the best work done.”
Barbara chose ten hours but you can choose as much or as little as you need. That means you can finish up the big client presentation at home and go to your very own conference room in a high-end luxury office suite. Your clients can sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee in your modern, fully-furnished conference room and watch you blow them away with your polished, professional style.
The virtual office gives home-based entrepreneurs four big things - 1) the opportunity to create a polished, professional and a bigger-than-you-really-are appearance 2) an a la carte menu of affordable services to choose from 3) lots of flexibility for a growing business and 4) more control over cash flow. As Barbara told me in a recent phone call, “My clients love that I am savvy enough to care about the details. That already tells them something important about me and my work.”
Jeff Landers is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in commercial real estate since 1974. His company, Offices2share.com, helps small businesses nationwide make the leap from home office to “real” office with simple and cost-efficient alternatives. His advice has helped thousands of small businesses reach the next level of their development. You can reach him at Landers@offices2share.com.
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