Setting up a business can be an expensive proposition, especially if you go the traditional brick and mortar route. Many new entrepreneurs are simply not able to raise the capital to establish a business in this way and so they have had to look at alternatives. This has led to the current surge in interest in virtual businesses.
Here we are going to explore how to start a virtual business and the key ways it differs from the more traditional route.
Many people who start a virtual business decide to run the company from their home. In this way they don’t have any overheads for property rental and they don’t have any ongoing running costs. The potential downside is that the business can look less professional, as you don’t have a business postal address, and if you need to meet with clients the only option is your living room or a coffee shop.
One solution is to opt for a virtual office, this gives you a stronger corporate identity as it provides you with a postal address and you can also use a physical space on an ad hoc basis for meetings with colleagues and clients. The Workstation provides a comprehensive guide to using a virtual office, which is very helpful if you are considering this option.
Another big overhead in any business is employee salaries. A virtual business usually favours employing freelance staff who can be employed on a project by project basis. The key advantages to this are that the business has no long term commitment to staff and no responsibility for PAYE. Freelancers are usually always home based, so there are also no overheads in terms of office space.
The upsurge in companies such as Elance.com and Freelancer.co.uk mean that you can now find people who are skilled in almost any area of work, from graphic designers, web developers and virtual assistants, right through to solicitors offering legal advice virtually.
The ability to store data in the cloud makes working with freelancers much easier, as large data files can easily be transferred and accessed from anywhere in the world.
The cloud also means that you don’t have to have large servers at your home to store data. You can access the cloud from your laptop or PC at home, or when you are out on the road from your tablet or even from your mobile phone. One of the big advantages of having a virtual business is that it gives you the freedom to work from anywhere in the world.
Getting new business
As we have seen above you can reach out to find clients locally, even if your business is a virtual one. However, you can also spread your net much wider.
Your marketing efforts will probably be most effective if you focus online. Social media is a good, low cost way, to get started. Facebook and Twitter are valuable for companies selling direct to consumers and LinkedIn is particularly effective for business to business marketing.
Your virtual storefront
Your primary asset as a virtual business will be your website. Your domain is your ‘property’ on the web and you need to make it work as hard for you as any office space or brick and mortar store on the high street. A clean easy to use interface for your site, beautiful web design, effective search engine optimisation, strong social media profiles for your business, well researched and written content marketing and some capital invested in online and offline advertising will make for a successful start.
Because your website is going to be so central to attracting new business, it is one area where investment is important. Every business is different and because yours is a virtual one, it is vital that the web design company you choose understands the unique needs of your business model. As Opace highlights, it is very important not to go the cookie-cutter method of web design and promotion but to build a working relationship with a company that provides tailor made, rather than off the peg solutions.
Of course the one downside to a virtual business is that there is no-one to chat to at the water cooler and an element of working from home can be loneliness. It is important therefore to network and to meet with peers whenever possible. Initial networking can be done online but you can then also progress to meeting people in your local area or by attending workshops and conferences. Just because you have a virtual business there is nothing to stop you from joining your local Chamber of Commerce and meeting peers and potential clients.
A virtual business does hold some distinct advantages over a more traditional route, especially if your start-up capital is low. You may well enjoy the flexibility that a virtual business can offer and many people will want to retain their business in this format. However, there is also nothing to stop you progressing from the virtual world to a brick and mortar premises should you wish to, as your business grows. Both choices are equally valid and ultimately it will come down to personal preference.
Image credit – theGoldenLine
Do you have any advice, hints or tips for start-up businesses? We would love to hear from you.
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