Questions that you should ask before joining a Virtual Office service
The Business Side of things
How long have they been established?
It is important to know how long your service supplier has been in the business. Do they really know what is required to look after you, the client with all technical, legal & operational.
Do they own their property or have a long lease?
This is very important to you. A VO service provider in a short lease property may have to move (sometimes often) that will mean that YOU will have to move.
What does the centre they are offering look like?
Have a look on Google to see where your business will be seen.
Some service providers offer very poor, sometimes a basement, addresses even if in prestigious areas.
Make sure that you are seen to be in a smart, professional environment.
After all, looks do matter.
How long are the contracts & notice periods?
Good VO companies will offer you 90 day revolving contracts with 90 days’ notice. However, take care as some invoice during the middle of a 90 day period for the following period & if you wanted to terminate, you will find that you cant for a further 90 days. e.g Original 90 days + next 90 days + another 90 days. Instead of 90 + 90 days.
Is proof of ID required and why?
Yes, proof of ID is an absolute must for a VO provider. VO industry is regulated by HMRC and conditions under HMRC MLR regulations must be complied with. Severe penalties apply for non compliance.
How often are invoices sent and for what periods?
Invoices should go out according to contract terms and start from the new month of service.
Is there a dedicated VO team?
Some VO services are an “add-in” for Serviced Office companies. Their receptionist are expected to handle this business in addition to their other duties. This can mean that the building’s receptionist cannot dedicated enough attention to the VO clients.
Is there a dedicated telephone answering team?
Many VO providers use their receptionists at their office buildings to answer VO calls. If they are dealing with people in front of them, they cant answer your calls.
What are telephone patching,email & SMS message rates
Telephone rates vary enormously and you could find yourself paying 25p per minute to one provider for the same as another will charge 0p.
Same with Email messages & SMS messages.
Business Address, Mail Address & Postal Services
Difference between a Business Address & Mail Address?
A business address is just that, an address but without any forwarding or holding services. Quite commonly used for businesses looking just for an address to put on their websites but not expecting post, visits etc.
A mail address is the same as above, however with normal mail handling facilities incl. forwarding etc.
If you are a proper business, go for a Business Mail Address.
Business Address v PO Box or Home Address
This is an old old question. People working from home wonder why pay a VO provider to have their post sent there. You need to ask yourself some questions:
Do I wish to look like a business or a home worker?
When my business is Googled, do I want my house to be seen?
Do I want people to turn up at my home?
Do I want to put my children at risk?
When on holiday, do I want my business post hanging out of my letter box?
Is my whole appearance to the business world not worth c.£25 – £50 per month (depending on locations)
Is it a PO Box or a Suite number?
At a proper VO you put your business name and the location’s address. No Suite and No PO Box.
Can I register at Companies House using this address
When you subscribe to a VO Business Mail Address, you can purchase Registered Office Hosting (ROH). This is usually extra and you will have to comply with some additional regulations and documentation.
If you do not apply for ROH and register the address to Companies House, this is considered as FRAUD under the Misrepresentation Act.
Will my post be forwarded to me and How Often?
Yes, post can be forwarded to you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This is part of the Business Mail Address service and you should only be charged for the postage at PO rates + 10 or 20%
Do you just write my address on the received envelope & put it in the post box?
Beware of VO Providers who want to save money and time (theirs, not yours). By just taking the received envelope, striking through the address, hand writing the forwarding address & throwing back in the post box saves them time and money.
Often such post never arrives and there is no record.
Recorded, signed for post should be forwarded to you in the same way.
What happens with signed for or registered post?
Recorded, signed for post should be forwarded to you in the same way.
Note that if someone such as HMRC sends you a recorded letter, they deem it received when the VO signs for it.
If then it gets lost, HMRC will hold you responsible as they will have a signed for confirmation and you face a possible fine for not replying or paying.
Can I receive parcels?
Most quality VO providers will not accept packages unless certain criteria can be met. Best to discuss with the VO provider.
Telephone Answering Services
Telephone Answering Service v Own Answering?
When you call a business and the call is answered promptly by a professional sounding receptionist, consciously or unconsciously you get a feel for the company. They dont have to be big, they just need to be professional.
So why not have your callers feel the same when they call you.
Receptionist- v- you answering when you are:
- With another client
- At home when the children are screaming (children should be able to scream in their own homes)
- On your mobile in the car or street
As this service can be used full time or just when you cant (don’t want), it is such an obvious requirement for a modern professional business.
Do I get a new unique number?
Quality service providers allocate unique numbers to each client and therefore can answer in the client’s name.
Can I have a number for any area or country I want?
Quality service providers can offer any type of number in the world.
Can I forward my number to the service provider?
Yes, you can.
You can do this:
- Unconditionally (all calls)
- When engaged
- When not answered (out or having a rest)
Will calls be answered in my business name?
Again, with the professional service providers, calls are answered in your name, just as if they were in your office.
As always, there are some that don’t.
Are you a call centre with 100s agents answering our calls?
Some are Call Centres where dozens if not hundreds of transient “agents” will answer for you, however you may not get the same agent answering for you again.
The really good reception services will have small teams, anything from 3 to 5 receptionists answering for you. this gives good continuity, the receptionists recognise regular callers and regular callers recognise them.
Will calls be forwarded to me?
It is called Patching. This is just as if the switchboard were to be in your building.
Beware of patching charges. They can be very low but some providers can be naughty and charge hard.
Can messages be taken for me?
Yes, they can be Emailed or Texted or both.
Copies can be sent to colleagues.
How & when are messages sent?
Should be immediate after call ends.
Can I book a meeting room nationwide?
Only the larger groups have nationwide coverage.
How do I book & pay for a meeting?
Meeting rooms should be bookable on the service providers website.
Payment will be on their monthly invoice to you (unless otherwise agreed)
Is there a reception facility?
Good quality centres will have well trained receptionists to receive you and your visitors.
Are there audio visual facilities at the centre?
Good quality centres will have audio and visual equipment.
You will need to request these at the time of booking a meeting room.
Are refreshments & Catering available?
Teas, coffees & water are available at most quality centres
Most centres will be able to arrange various levels of catering
What exactly is a Virtual Office (VO)?
A complete Virtual Office will have:
- Business Mail address & Registered Office
- Telephone Reception Service
- Meeting Rooms
- Clerical support