How to Run Your Business Without an OfficeGuest_Blogger | Nov 15, 2011
Entrepreneurship is on the rise—more than half a million new businesses were created each month in 2009, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation. Many of these business owners aren’t factoring rent into their expenses but wireless technology and cloud-computing tools have made it possible for many entrepreneurs to make their businesses portable, eliminating the need to maintain dedicated office spaces.
Office-free working can mean a lot of things, from setting up shop in a spare room or at your kitchen table to taking your laptop to a coffeehouse or along with you on vacation. For entrepreneurs, running a business outside of a traditional setting can drastically reduce overhead by cutting rent and commuting costs out of the equation. It also can increase your operation’s mobility and scaling capacity—going mobile allows you to serve more customers and provide greater value for your services while increasing profit margins.
Storing data remotely enables you to access files from anywhere, and there are resources discussing essential tools for building your business in the cloud. It’s equally important to consider the operational issues involved in running a company that has no dedicated office space, so we developed the following strategies:
Work from home or a shared space
In most cases, you can save on office rent by simply running your business out of your home. If you don’t have the room or there are too many distractions in your house, a co-working space — for which you’ll pay a small monthly fee — could be the ideal solution. Regus, for example, has 1,100 locations worldwide offering a range of fully equipped and staffed offices to virtual office packages.
Under this scenario, you can use the building’s reception services, mailing address, and conference room. If you’re unable to pick up your mail, you can arrange to have it shipped to you in bundles. These types of rental agreements can cost less than a quarter of what you’d pay to rent a full office space.
Hire online workers
If you’ve already hired staff, empower them to work from home, too. Set them up with the necessary tools — computers, software, wireless internet, and an online communication and collaboration tools. Consider scheduling regular chats with your team, so that you can update them on current priorities and give them opportunities to share what they are working on.
If you don’t currently have any full-time employees, or if you’re seeking additional help, it may be in your best interest to hire online to accomplish tasks that you can’t do yourself. A virtual assistant can help you with anything from emails to booking reservations, and the cost will generally be significantly lower than hiring an in-office assistant. Use Elance to connect with designers, programmers, and other skilled professionals to flexibly staff up with the skills you need in your arsenal. You’ll be able to expand or shrink your team on demand according to your business needs.
Use remote management and storage tools
When you’re working with remote employees or contractors, collaborative project-management software (such as Basecamp or any number of alternatives) can help you prioritize tasks, set milestones, and determine whether your team members are meeting the deadlines you’ve set for them. These services typically provide remote storage options for your data files; services such as Dropbox and Google Docs offer additional options for online data storage.
Using a cloud-based web host, such as Rackspace or Amazon EC2, also eliminates the need for the costly maintenance of your own server and IT staff. Under this model, you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee for your data storage and rely on the hosting service’s team to handle any technical problems.
Replace on-site meetings with telecommunications
Thanks to advances in telecommunications technology, it’s no longer necessary to meet with clients , employees, or contractors in person. Most business-related correspondence can be handled through email, but for more detailed discussions and presentations, clients and workers can connect via online webinar tools. Join.me, for example, offers a simple screen-sharing tool to review documents and designs, train staff or demo products on the fly. TokBox is a cloud-based, plug-and-play app that allows for quick access to video conferencing for virtual meetings online, and both services are integrated into Elance’s platform as additional collaborative tools for online work.
Invest in equipment that allows you to work on the go
Having a virtual office means that there’s no need to be tied to one location. The right equipment can help you set up shop wherever you need or want to be. A smartphone that allows you to check and respond to email, use apps, and browse the web will prove invaluable. A laptop computer is also essential for when you’re on the road—you’ll be able to use free public internet access at libraries, coffee shops, and many other Wi-Fi hotspots, or you may be able to use your hotel’s Wi-Fi for a small daily fee. An iPad or other tablet device may prove useful when a smartphone is too small, but a laptop is too unwieldy to tote with you.
While you’re mobile, a portable wireless router will allow you to build a full mobile office setup by wirelessly linking computers, printers, scanners and other equipment. If you want to meet with staff or contractors in person, you can authorize their computers to join your wireless network so that they’ll be able to instantly access the relevant data files for the project.
Today’s business owners have no need to be tied to their desks: take advantage of the available tools and technology to make your business portable, and your company will remain nimble enough to grow and transform organically. Without an office to box you in, your ability to scale your company is unlimited.
About the Author
Kathryn Hawkins, a Null Media author, is a Maine-based freelance writer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. She writes for publications including BNET, Intuit Small Business Blog, Portfolio.com, GOOD Magazine, OPEN Forum, and Family Business Magazine when not chasing after her two-year-old daughter. She also co-owns and operates Gimundo.com, a site dedicated to positive news.