The Internet has indeed made the world a smaller place, and there are now so many things you can accomplish online. One of the things that more and more people are now starting to do is work from home via a virtual office. Many small business owners have also chosen to reduce their expenses and maximize their profits by running an online store and managing it from a virtual office. This may indeed be an excellent idea, provided that you know how to set up an effective virtual office, regardless of whether you’re a work-from-home service provider or a small business owner.
When you set up a physical office, you’ll have to consider such things as how much office space you need, whether you need a landline phone or not, how many phones you need to have installed, whether you need filing cabinets or not, what kind of furniture you need, and other similar concerns. All of these concerns involve cost and as the cost adds up, things can get pretty scary; many have chosen to forego starting their own business just because of this. With a virtual office, however, you can do away with most of these concerns and therefore significantly cut down on cost.
It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of setting up a virtual office first came out. It is perhaps a natural result of continued technological advancement and the increasing connectivity of people from all over the world. In a virtual office, you can expect to have a remote receptionist, a customer service team, a virtual assistant, web seminars and business meetings, and more. A virtual office allows you to transcend international borders and time zones. The process of setting up a virtual office can be a bit complex unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
Hiring a Remote Receptionist
A remote receptionist can be a person you hire to take and make calls for you. It can also be a simple VoIP service that records calls for you. Skype, for example, not only allows you to call other Skype users for free regardless of where they are in the world, but also enables you to record both audio and video calls via the Pamela for Skype application. For just a little over $30, you can record an unlimited number of audio and video calls. Skype also allows you to make and receive calls to and from non-Skype users for a minimal fee.
Selecting a Virtual Assistant
There are so many repetitive tasks that need to be taken care of when you run a business of any kind. And regardless of whether you are offering products or services, there will be tons of paperwork to take care of. These are things you may not want to be bothered with because they can take your focus away from the core of your business, which is what you really should be focusing on. As the business owner, your job is to grow the business, not be mired in administrative work.
One effective solution may be to hire a virtual assistant to take care of all these repetitive tasks for you. Since you do not have a physical office, it probably isn’t necessary to have a personal assistant beside you all the time. For just about $10 to $15 an hour, you can get the services of a qualified virtual assistant to take on administrative tasks on your behalf. You could even hire a team of virtual assistants working on different schedules so you can be sure you get the necessary assistance round the clock.
Select a Virtual Meeting Place
There is a number of special software currently available that allows you to speak with a group of people in real time, even if each of you is located in a different part of the globe. This enables you to conduct meetings practically anytime and anywhere. You save a great deal of time because none of the meeting participants will have to travel to any location; as long as you all have a computer, Internet connection, and the necessary software, the meeting can proceed. You also save a considerable amount of money because you only have to pay for the software; every meeting participant handles the cost of his/her own computer and Internet connection.
You can get this type of software for as low as $49 a month. For this cost, you can make an unlimited number of calls and hold as many meetings as you want with up to 25 attendees per meeting. Even better news is that the most reliable software offers videos in HD quality as well as 24/7 support. There are also free solutions, but they usually allow you to hold meetings for very few people at a time or limit the free calls to only a few hours.
Using Google Apps
Google Apps has so much to offer that it’s probably safe to say this is a must-have for any virtual office. Email services are offered via Gmail, a web-based office suite is available via Google Docs, and a professional calendar is within your reach with Google Calendar. It even offers instant messaging services via Google Talk, although Skype is still recommended for IM because of the group chat, voice conference call, and video conferencing support that it offers in addition to the standard text and audio chat features.
The calendar feature is especially useful because it allows you to set up calendars for every member of your team and share those calendars with everyone no matter where they are based. Perhaps the biggest advantage of using this app is that it gives you the ability to centralize the individual calendars of each team member and present your overall business schedule in a single big calendar. And no one on your team will have any excuse for missing appointments because the app sends an email and SMS to anyone who has an upcoming appointment plotted on the calendar.
Another huge advantage Google Calendar has over its closest competitors is its offline capability. There are very simple steps to follow, outlined in the Google Support page, to take advantage of this wonderful feature. Of course, there are other free online professional calendars you may want to consider for your virtual office. Some of these services offer a note manager, a to-do-list, an idea voting system, and an email scheduler, among other features. There are also those that allow you to assign photos and drawings to ideas. It may be a good idea to go for an application that can easily be used on both desktop and mobile gadgets.
Just as you need filing cabinets for a physical office, you’re going to need a repository of your virtual documents and files. For general files and documents, you will need a central storage location that can easily be accessed by all members of your team, even if you are scattered across the globe. You will also need a secure storage location for confidential files and other important documents that can be accessed only by you or by a select few. The good news is that there are now plenty of reliable online storage systems known as cloud storage that can cater to your specific file storage needs.
Other than the above, you will also need to take a few more things into consideration to make sure business operations run smoothly at all times. For one thing, you will have to set up a physical workspace from where you will coordinate every aspect of your virtual office. This means you will still have to buy office supplies and equipment (a computer, printer, scanner, fax machine, etc.) and maybe even furniture, albeit you only need to do it for yourself.
You also need to make sure your computer has all the necessary components to effectively run your virtual office: software, antivirus, etc. The Internet service you choose should also be a reliable one to ensure that business operations won’t be derailed by unstable connections; don’t forget to remind every member of your team to get excellent Internet service. And even if you are running a virtual office, you shouldn’t forget to open a bank account for your company. Business transactions will still require physical money, after all. Finally, if the Skype Pamela feature doesn’t meet your demands, you can always hire a call center.
Setting up a physical office can indeed burn a huge hole in your pocket. It also limits your options as regards the people you hire to be members of your business operations team. With a physical location, you are limited to hiring only those who live within your area. With a virtual office, on the other hand, you can get people with the right skills for every position you need to fill, regardless of where they are based. As long as you know how to go about it properly, setting up a virtual office may indeed be an excellent solution for a small business owner like you.