Chris Ogburn is HP’s “mobile and virtual office guru” or director of sales and development for small and medium businesses at HP. He’s put together a list of the “Top Ten Tips for Starting a Virtual Business”. Chris explained to me that HP came up with this list, not from the top of their head, but by talking with small business customers.
HP defines virtual as any employee that is outside of the storefront / office location – this could be home worker or tele-worker.
Proof of the popularity of mobile/wireless technology is that other than HP’s home page, HP’s small business section is the second most viewed page on hp.com.
Another tid-bit that Chris shared was that online collaboration via intranets and extranets is vital for smaller businesses (in fact at the upcoming Small Business Summit, HyperOffice will be donating 2, 25 user accounts as a give away and I’ve just written aboudatabasee databse company eUnify)
Finally, it’s interesting to note that virtual office businesses, often find that finding virtual office space is a challenge for them. Finding “rent by the month office space” is easier in big cities, but I would guess is not as prevalent as some virtual business owners would like.
Tip #1: Make sure your business can operate virtually. Are you meeting with contacts at your place of business, or theirs? Do you spend most of your time outside the office?
Good candidates for a virtual business: Architects, interior designers, home builders, computer professionals, accountants, other service professionals (businesses where most of the work is actually in other people’s homes or businesses ranging from cleaning services to home repair).
Poor candidates for a virtual business: Physicians, mental health professionals, manufacturing businesses that rely on a warehouse.
Tip #2: Consider your personality. Are you a self-starter, or do you need inspiration from others to get things done? Do you prefer quiet time to work, or do you thrive around other people who can provide reinforcement and support? Are your management skills suited for a phone-based relationship with your remote team?
Tip #3: Hire the right people. Do you have trustworthy employees who can get the job done, even if they are not physically in the same office? How much of their work is actually done outside the office? Can you trust your existing staff to work independently from a home-office location? Do you have access to a mature talent pool of potential employees if you are just starting out or planning to expand?
Tip #4: Leverage technology. Do you have the technology in place to support a virtual business, or a good technology advisor who can help wire your business for success? Did you know that with voice-over-Internet (VOIP), you can place a call anywhere in the world from an Internet connection without incurring long-distance fees? Have you considered streamlining your office with all-in-one fax-printer-copier equipment, notebooks, and a wireless LAN network? What about instant messaging and the latest SKYPE technology to stay connected with employees? Thanks to technology, many virtual companies have the face of a traditional company – yet operate with lower overhead and greater flexibility to stay competitive.
Tip #5: Create an online storefront and take advantage of ecommerce. An online presence can give your business the appearance of a traditional brick-and-mortar company. Companies like eBay and JetBlue have proven that virtual offices work ¬? small companies can grow into larger companies with an effective virtual business strategy.
Tip #6: Find a part-time virtual office space for ?on-site meetings. Services like ?The Intelligent Office enable small businesses to emulate the image and professionalism of a traditional office – providing everything from a prestigious business address to impressive offices and conference rooms that rent by the hour, day, or week, to a listing on the office building’?s lobby directory. You can also check in your area for shared office spaces.
Tip #7: Brand your business. A company web site, email address and corporate identity package will add credibility to your business. Consider using a service like LogoWorks to design your logo at a fraction of the cost a designer would charge. You might even develop your own business package, from business cards to PowerPoint presentation templates, that incorporates your brand.
Tip #8: Collaborate with employees and customers. An intranet and extranet will not only keep your virtual team connected, it will make your customers feel like part of the team if they can also access documents, files and online meetings through the web. Have you considered the latest in web-based meeting and training rooms? Even large companies are replacing in-person meetings with these convenient meeting tools.
Tip #9: Go wireless. The mobile workforce really does exist. Arm your team with PDAs and smartphones. For added security think about connecting through a wireless virtual private network (VPN) and watch your productivity expand. Even away from the home office, your employees can tap into WiFi networks at Internet cafes. And don¬?t forget web-based and hosted mail and messaging services.
Tip #10: Take security to heart. Computer security can be a real threat. Fight back with anti-virus, vulnerability and business protection solutions to protect data and secure your networked PCs. And don¬?t forget about a good consultant to advise you on the solutions that best suit the needs of your business.
Follow Chris’ tips and put your talent to work by starting a virtual company. With the right frame of mind, a few trustworthy employees and an infrastructure in place, you can grow your business in no time and enjoy the benefits of working from home.
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