Taking the Plunge: Running Your Own Small Business From a Virtual Office
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I read an article recently about how it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to interview job candidates in public places like Starbucks, instead of at their offices as has traditionally been done. Apparently employers feel it lets them see an ‘unscripted’ side of those they are considering hiring and gives them what they feel is a better idea of how those candidates will interact casually with other team members.
As a freelance copywriter, I have held a number of “interviews” (a.k.a. client meetings) at several of local Starbucks locations and I’ll vouch for them being used as a virtual office of sorts. Not having an office of my own to work out of keeps costs down and allows me to get out into the community a bit more. That article got me thinking about how to organize a small business when you’re just starting and specifically, how to make your business real to your customers when you work from home. I’ll offer a few tips here that Mr. Frugal Rules and I have found to be helpful in building positive relationships with our clients and to keep the virtual office environment somewhat sane in our hectic, busy home.
The Benefits of Meeting on Their Turf or a Neutral Setting
What is the state of your home or home office at this very moment? Do you have a few dishes in the sink? Some crumbs on the counter? If you have kids like we do, are there toys strewn about? Knicks in tables? Stains on the floor, that try as you may with every product imaginable you can’t quite get out? If you’re like me, your answer to one of these questions is going to be yes. Now, do you want to bring a client back to that setting? I know that I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t feel it’s okay to live in squalor; we have our kids pick up their toys multiple times throughout the day and we do our dishes after every meal but still, it’s our home; we live here AND work here so things get cluttered throughout the day. I prefer to meet a client on a neutral setting or at their office.
The first benefit is that it helps maintain a delineation between my work and personal life; granted it may be thin, but still, the line is there. Second, meeting a client on their turf or at a neutral location like Starbucks or a local diner or even a public library lets you get to know your client better by seeing where he or she works. Third, it just feels more professional. Fourth, it’s safer. Especially when you’re meeting someone for the first time, a public venue in a safe spot surrounded by other people is a good idea and is honestly just one of those things I think about as a woman.
Using Skype or iChat to Create a Virtual Office
In-person client meetings are not always possible. Sometimes scheduling conflicts or geographic separation necessitate an online or phone meeting. Video connectivity tools like Skype, iChat, and GoToMeeting harness the power of the internet and your web cam to create an instant virtual office and make it possible to connect with anyone, anywhere. These tools make meeting clients incredibly convenient because they are generally free and don’t require travel to and from a physical location. Make sure you get a program that has screen share software which will make it easier to collaborate with clients.
My biggest piece of advice here is to set up a virtual office backdrop for any video conversations you have. Think about what your clients see on the walls and in the space behind you when you Skype or iChat from your virtual office. Choose an uncluttered space with a non-busy background so your clients can focus on you and not be distracted by those pictures of your Aunt Edna or your kids’ latest wall art.
Maintain Sanity with a Go-To “Offsite” Workspace
When you work at a physical office space distinct from your home, you usually have a quiet place to get your work done. When I worked for my former employer, I had my own office with a door I could shut if I needed a quiet place to concentrate. When you run your own business out of your home, “offsite” is anywhere else you set up shop to get your work done.
A public library, quiet coffee shop, local bookstore, heck even mall food courts are quiet during certain times of the day and all make good virtual office workspaces when you need somewhere to go to crank out your work. Just look for a well-lit place with a good internet connection, power outlets, tables and chairs. You may even be fortunate enough to snag a client who lets you work out of their office from time to time when you need a quiet place to concentrate.
If you’re ready to consider taking the plunge into self employment, don’t let lack of a physical office space hold you back. Set up your virtual office and get busy earning income for yourself!
Do you run your own business? If so, where have you or where could you set up your virtual office?
Photo courtesy of: Mike_Fleming