Time to read: 6 minutes

We live in a competitive business world. Gaining a foothold quickly is vital for new startups. Quickly gaining an advantage on your competitors can be crucial for establishing yourselves in the market. And a virtual office is an excellent way to kickstart a new business.

We also live in an expensive world: we all know how the residential market has priced out many first time house buyers. Property – whether residential or commercial – in Central London is notoriously expensive. But the office market is adapting to the needs of both startups and rapidly expanding established businesses alike. The proliferation of serviced offices, followed by co-working space makes flexible space in great London locations readilly available to the financially strapped. But virtual office space in London takes this one step further:

Some years ago, I read James Caan’s autobiography – that’s James Caan, the entrepreneur of Dragons’ Den fame, not the Hollywood actor! It’s an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone starting out in business. One passage in particular stood out and stuck with me:

When he first started his recruitment business in the 1980s, he quickly understood the importance of image. He decided that an impressive London business address was essential. He settled on Pall Mall in St James’s, but being a one man startup, he could only afford a “broom cupboard of an office”. Through perseverance, however he managed to rent a tiny space in a building on Pall Mall, just as he’d visualised. When new clients arrived for a meeting, he would hurry down from his broom cupboard to intercept and meet them at the impressive foyer. He quickly explained that the office was very busy with all the meeting rooms currently occupied. He then suggested a short walk to the Ritz, where they could hold their meeting instead.

First impressions count

Fast-forward 15 years and Caan had transformed his business – Alexander Mann – from a one man operation in a broom cupboard into a multi-million pound recruitment empire. He believed that making the right first impression in business was critical to his success.

These days even a broom cupboard in Pall Mall would be beyond many startup businesses. Fortunately there is still a way for a small company to have an impressive central London address: the virtual office.

These days even a broom cupboard in Central London would be beyond many startup businesses. Fortunately there is still a way for a small company to have an impressive central London address: the virtual office.

A virtual office?

“Virtual” in this context is derived from the computing use of the word: “not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so”. Think virtual reality. We’ve adapted the meaning somewhat, as these aren’t computed-generated offices! IT does play a big part in making the concept work, however.

Back in 1982, the New York Times journalist, John Markoff displayed great foresight, when he first used the words “virtual office” in an article for the magazine, Info World:

“In the future virtual office, workers will no longer be constrained by computer equipment or geographic location…They will be free to travel or to interact with others while communicating information freely. The office as we know it will cease to have the central importance it does today.”

Have a look at this timeline which shows the history and development of the virtual office.

Today’s virtual offices allow businesses to have the impressive business address without the expense of renting permanent space. Technology – specifically the Internet – has made this possible. In the age of email, VOIP, mobile phones and the web, your location no longer matters so much. Work from your home office in the sticks or even from a beach in the Bahamas, whilst still being physical represented in central London.

A virtual office means you can work from your home office in the sticks or even from a beach in the Bahamas, whilst still being physical represented in central London.

Not just for startups

Virtual offices can help larger, established businesses as well as startups. Maybe your business is based in another UK city or abroad. Maybe you are expanding and want access to the London market. In London especially, traditionally different locations are associated with different business sectors: the City with financial services, Soho with media, for example. A video production house may find premises in Soho are impossible to find or beyond their means. With a virtual office, however, they can have the credibility of a Soho address without the associated expense. As James Caan discovered, perception is everything in business.

Perception is everything in business. A virtual office can give you the credibility of a prime central London address without the associated expense.

More than just a business address

Of course a PO Box has long allowed you to receive mail securely, without giving away your real location. But a PO Box is not the same service at all. First of all, the word “PO Box” in the address gives the game away! Secondly a PO Box is just a place to have your snail mail delivered. A virtual office does this and so much more. Have your mail opened, sorted and delivered to the right person – or not at all if it’s junk mail. Telephone answering services are also available. No voicemail: a human being will take all calls using your company name and forward it to the relevant person – regardless of their location. If you need more extensive help, virtual PA’s are also available.

Flexible physical space when you need it

Virtual offices are usually offered by serviced office providers – so physical space is available at your virtual address should you need it: a co-working workstation for an afternoon or a few days a month, for example. Printers, wifi, tea and coffee are all standard. Fully equipped meeting rooms with video conferencing can be hired as and when you need them. So just like James Caan, you can meet your clients in the reception of your address. But now there is no need to escort them to Ritz (glamourous though I’m sure that is!). You can host meetings with important people at your business address. The video production house with the Soho virtual address can now be physically located there on a flexible basis. They can sit next to their clients and suppliers when necessary even if the actual work is done elsewhere.

A virtual office isn’t just a business address. It comes with a range of services – telephone answering, mail sorting and forwarding – and flexible physical space when you need it – meeting rooms or a workstation

Is a virtual office right for you?

If this sounds like it might help your business, hop over to our virtual office page for more details and tell us what you are looking for…

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