Running a virtual business can be tricky but with the growth of such businesses more and more people are giving it a try.
A virtual business is one without brick-and-mortar offices and only a few physical assets. Most of the work is done remotely using technology, with little need for face-to-face meetings or commercial office space.
The benefits include saving money on rent and office infrastructure, as well as becoming more flexible in how you work. You and your team will generally collaborate using cloud applications, giving each person the ability to work from home, a coffee shop, or any other venue that meets their needs.
Get your web presence in place
As a virtual business, you likely won’t have a physical store or a sales team knocking on doors and calling prospects. Your digital presence, including your social media accounts, blog and website will become your storefront and sales force.
If you don’t already have a website in place, you should register an appropriate domain for your company and start building one ASAP.
With tools like one of the popular website builders, you can build a professional website from your smartphone in under an hour. Start with a simple site now and add new capabilities, like e-mail marketing, social media integration or an online store when you’re ready.
Choose appropriate tools for your virtual business
The combination of ubiquitous internet access and affordable cloud business applications has made it easier than ever for people to work together without being in the same place. Messaging and conferencing apps like Webex, Skype for Business and Zoom allow you to hold voice and video conferences with people across the web.
Solutions such as DropBox, GoogleDrive or Office 365’s OneDrive functionality make it easy to share files with one another via the internet. Slackor Microsoft Teams offer collaborative hubs.
Trello or Basecamp are useful project management solutions for virtual teams. When you’re working together via the cloud, the great thing is that all team members have access to the same files, data and applications and can work on them together in real-time.
Organise your virtual team
If you are running a virtual business, you probably want to take a more fluid approach to sourcing talent and skills than hiring people to come into an office each day. Rather than hiring a full-time marketer, salesperson or accountant, for example, you could outsource to someone who is effectively running a virtual business of their own.
You may also use sub-contractors and freelancers for some of your billable work. The good news is this approach enables you to seek talent from across the country or even from around the world.
The bad news is you will need to think carefully about how you manage your relationships with people without face-to-face interaction every day.
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Consider the customer’s perspective
Some customers are conservative and worry about buying services from someone who appears to run their business out of their garage. A strong list of contactable references can often overcome their scepticism.
Also, speak openly to clients about the technology you use, your vision for your business, and how you do things to reassure them that where you work matters less than your expertise and professionalism.
If it is important in your industry to project a more corporate image, you can purchase virtual office services from the likes of Regus and The Business Centre. They can, for example, give you boardrooms in prime city locations for meeting clients, as well as a receptionist to answer calls in your company’s name and take messages.
A growing trend
There is still a perception that the virtual business approach is best suited to creative types like writers and graphic designers. But today’s technology and a growing acceptance of mobile and remote working means many services businesses are going virtual.
Among them, you’ll find many marketing, sales, accounting, tax, legal, consulting and e-commerce businesses. As traffic gets worse, rental gets more expensive and we all look for better work-life balance, the trend towards virtual business will only grow.