Growing your business in cyberspace
Home-based businesses, according to the Federation of Small Business, are less likely to expand their operation than those based in traditional work premises. Most of these businesses also have a turnover below the VAT threshold. But for those with the ambition and the product, cyberspace is opening up new opportunities
A business can expand without taking on large premises and staff. The web as 'shop window' and a strong network of associates who can work with you when you need them – that's the modus operandi for the new generation of live/work entrepreneurs.
Virtually in the office
Do your business meetings require delicate footwork round the children's bikes to the one part of the house you've kept free from domestic overspill? Or maybe you spend hours on basic admin because you've neither the time or budget for a part-time employee or labour-saving office equipment you only rarely use.
The tipping point for Regus founder, Mark Dixon, was running a business meeting in Brussels witnessed by a Corby trouser press. Convinced there must be a more professional solution, he set a now thriving service for nomadic and home-based businesses: the ‘virtual office'.
The service, at its most basic, registers your work premises to any address in the Regus Global Network, available across a wide range of towns and cities in the UK and worldwide. In the UK alone, Regus has 100 offices, all with impressive facades and in locations as diverse as Inverness, Slough and Canary Wharf. Worldwide it offers a further 600, including a substantial presence in the USA.
As part of the package, you get use of an exclusive business address for your corporate stationery. You are also given a local number, with all phone calls and post channeled through Regus staff who answer the calls in your company name. Post is forwarded by courier and messages by SMS text.
‘Virtual Office Plus suits people who enjoy working from home but who also want the option of popping into the nearest Regus office for up to 40 hours each month,' says Natasha Watts, Regus product development manager.
Once on site, meeting rooms are available for business meetings, or clients can connect their laptop to Regus' sophisticated IT equipment to video conference, download large files at high-speed or print their work. Admin support is also available and Regus offices can cater for both PCs and Apple Macs.
Regus hosts 300 virtual office clients in London Berkeley Square alone. ‘Lower facility costs and outsourcing admin to Regus is an easy way to boost the productivity of a home-based business,' adds Watts. 'We already provide this service to thousands of such businesses in the UK.'
Regus is offering a special introductory discount to visitors to liveworkhomes. For further information call 0870 880 8484 or visit the site www.regus.co.uk/virtual, quoting 'VFREELIVEWORK'
Stay in touch online
Another way for live/workers to stay in touch is to sign up to key websites supporting the sector. Our sister organisation Live Work Network offers a wealth of information on the live/work sector. Membership is free to live/workers.
Enterprise Nation is another excellent website aimed at all types of modern home based business. Both sites send registered users email news and offer special services and products
The Telework Association is the oldest agency supporting those who work from home, mainly self-employed people. Its members receive a pdf magazine and work opportunities
Regus operates on a grand scale but there are also many regional business hubs across the UK operating on a similar principle but with a distinct local connection.
In the west of Cornwall, the Penzance-based Digital Peninsula Network has been helping creative, knowledge and IT micro businesses for seven years with both practical and social support. It now has over 150 members and in recent years has played an influential role on boards and taskforces shaping the county's digital future.
DPN was first set up to serve new businesses sprouting up in Cornwall on the back of rapidly advancing communications technology. While business support was readily available in the region for more traditional forms of employment like tourism and fishing, the newer industries were isolated professionally and, in many cases, geographically.
‘Cornwall needed a lot more effort put into these businesses of the future - those able to operate here, despite the physical distance from the major centres of economic activity,' says DPN director Lynda Davis.
The Penzance-based service provides self-employed people and micro-businesses with business and admin support, access to high tech office equipment and software, meeting spaces, and the added bonus of opportunities for social and business networking. Plus coffee!
Further north in Leeds, Creative Space Management offers both virtual and actual office facilities at the Round Foundry Media Centre. The centre is part of a wider a development including 70 flats, plus a bar, café, restaurant and news agency in a previously run-down area of inner Leeds.
Today it is home to more than 60 digital, creative and media businesses with over 200 employees. Through Creative Space Management, residents working from their apartments and more than 60 businesses based in the centre have access to high tech virtual office services, business and admin support, and use of meeting and seminar rooms with free wi-fi.
Managing director Toby Hyam, who previously set up a business hub for live/workers at the award-winning Huddersfield Media Centre, has noticed a distinct trend in working patterns over the past five years. ‘More people are working for themselves, managing portfolio careers and setting up businesses,' says Hyams.
‘As a workspace provider our customers kept telling us that they wanted more and more flexibility.
‘Then we found out more how people were using the services - some working partly from abroad, some wanting a very specific response when their customers called and others who just wanted to be part of a business network.'
The Round Foundry Media Centre's clients are typically digital, creative and media businesses so CSM's virtual office service are aimed at similar client group.
‘About 30% of our clients eventually take up office or studio space and we have these fantastic work pods which mean a sole trader can be operating within the building at a fraction of the cost of taking a whole office,' says Hyams.
Cost is a significant factor. ‘The key issues are the cost of delivering the service and comparative costs in the market place. Because we are already offering services to clients in our buildings, we can offer a much lower cost than some conventional business answering services. But we also think our team provides a very friendly and professional service with lots of added value.'
It's also freely available to home-based businesses, whether or not they choose to come into the media centre. ‘It's entirely up to them,' he says. ‘We always like to meet home-based businesses and to include them in our events if they live close by or are visiting.
But the service can be provided entirely remotely.' And, he adds, amazingly easily. ‘All the technology is at our end. Just a phone (mobile or landline) and the ability to divert to another number means we can answer in your company name during business hours and provide a friendly and professional response rather than just a voice mail. And if picking up mail is important, we can forward that to an address of your choice.'
The next decade, he predicts will see more and more people working from home. ‘But there will be more neighborhood resources so it will be so much easier to drop in on a hub where you can print out high quality documents, meet clients for presentations and meetings as well as network with large and small businesses whose staff are working from your community.
‘Your virtual services will connect you to networks of like-minded people all over the world. The ability for people to trade locally and globally is already here but it will become so much easier.'
See more tips on setting up a business hub in latest.
Do you know an organisation supporting home based businesses and live/workers? If so please email us with details so we can add them to this article