What About an Office?

One of the most pressing concerns of someone looking to start a firm is renting an office.  Having an office is much like planning a wedding.  Just as you can’t invite Uncle Joe without including Cousin Tony and his wife Angela and if you invite Angela you have to invite her sister Teresa and her kids Vito and Michael, and now one relative has morphed into five, the expense of an office isn’t limited to the monthly base rent.  If you have a physical office, you need insurance.  And a receptionist to be there when you’re not. And phone and internet. And utilities. And office equipment. And furniture. And you should probably have a plant or two.  See what I mean?  Before you know it, that $1,500 a month base rent becomes $3,000 a month in ancillary expenses.  That’s a lot of overhead to cover right out of the gate.

As you’ll discover is a theme for this blog, I have good news for you.  You don’t HAVE to rent an actual office.  And, in my experience, no one worth having as a client will judge you poorly for it.

There’s something called a “virtual office” or “executive suite” that is possibly one of the greatest concepts since Nutella.  A virtual office is an actual physical office, with a reception desk and a bunch of smaller offices. Think BigLaw firm but without any of the fancy signage or branding you’d find in such digs.  They often host hundreds of clients at different service levels, depending on what you need.

You can start out just paying for the use of their business address.  [I especially like this option because I discourage my clients from using their home addresses as their business addresses.  For those of you doing family law, bankruptcy, and criminal law, this is especially important.  No one needs to know where you live.]  Most virtual offices will even forward your mail to you.  Then you can buy time in their conference rooms or day offices so that you can meet your clients there instead of at Starbucks.  It conveys a more professional image. They usually have a receptionist that answers the calls for all the client businesses, using a script you write so that it sounds like the receptionist actually works for you and only you. Some of them even have back office staff like bookkeepers, legal secretaries, graphic designers, and administrative assistants.  With a virtual office, you can have an actual office with staff, without having to worry about payroll or health insurance.  Plus, if you get to the point where you want to rent a physical office, you move right in without having to change the information on your business licenses and marketing collateral.

I’ve had a virtual office since I started my practice almost four years ago.  I love it because I didn’t start out office poor and I can add services as I grow.  Plus, my clients come into a fancy office, are greeted by a receptionist, and unless I decide to tell them, don’t know the whole shebang isn’t mine.  For what it’s worth, I have learned it’s better to be up front about the fact I have a virtual office because my clients get it.  They’re all small businesses too.

Make sure you take a tour of the office first.  Find out what services are included and what services cost extra.  Some virtual offices tend to nickel and dime you for added services.  I just met with a CPA who was charged $.50 when her office accepted a UPS package for her.  I’m not sure the $.50 the office earned was worth the “WTH” moment the CPA had when she saw that charge on her bill.  Start out with a smaller service package until you figure out what you’ll use.