Should I admit I’m a one-man band or use a virtual office?

I run a one-man band web development company which has the appearance of being a larger organisation than it is. However, it’s always me answering the phone and replying to emails. Is it advisable to go down the route of a virtual office with someone else to field calls and enquiries or should I just be upfront with my clients and let them know it’s just me?

Brad Rosser writes: 

There is nothing wrong per se with you answering the phone and responding to emails. Many clients in fact like to talk directly with the owner of the business and may see this as a real benefit of using you over one of the larger companies where they would have to navigate a maze of assistants and junior staff. I personally prefer to work with talented small suppliers who I feel are hungry for my business and who will go the extra mile because my account is extremely important to them.

However, if your clients are constantly having to leave messages or are unable to contact you because you are working on matters for other clients, then this could be really annoying them. Similarly, if prospective clients find it difficult to obtain prompt responses to their enquiries then they may be tempted to use your competitors instead.

Furthermore, if you find you spend significant time on administration and fielding basic enquiries that add relatively low value to your business you may find these can easily be outsourced, allowing you to spend more time on developing and implementing sales strategies. It has been my experience that one person start-ups get lost in the administration and there is no-one to drive sales. This is where a virtual office can be useful.

What you can do is consider the cost and compare to the extra sales you could generate if some of your time was freed up.

You are absolutely right to be considering the option of a virtual office rather than committing to an expensive lease and hiring a full-time resource. Failing to maintain enough flexibility in your cost base during the early stages of your business is a common fatal error. This may prove more expensive in the short-term, but will provide you with valuable flexibility to scale up as your business grows.

The last point to consider is your credibility. In the early days you do need to work on credibility. The appearance of being large, stable dependable is important. An office and help is part of this. I on the whole would probably lean towards a virtual office so you can be free to pursue growth opportunities.

Brad Rosser is a serial entrepreneur and former right-hand man of Richard Branson.

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