The Virtual Office
As someone who has been involved in setting up three businesses in the last 20 years, I really was amazed when starting our current venture in July 09, at just how easy it now is to create a professional business infrastructure for minimal outlay and without the need for business premises, a Virtual Office if you like.
The convergence of two industry sectors, namely IT & Telecoms has given birth to a new breed of hosted communications solutions that will help to make your new or existing business a more flexible and responsive outfit. The great news is that for most of these services there is little or no capital outlay and no lengthy contracts, meaning you can get up and running quickly without hitting your cash flow too hard.
At the hub of every virtual office is a broadband connection, this can be a fixed or wireless broadband in your home office or a dongle to use with your laptop, if you have this in place and a mobile you can easily create a virtual office.
Put simply a ‘hosted’ service is one where the equipment delivering the technology is located offsite at the supplier’s premises. We use a number of hosted solutions to help shape our business, here are the main ones:
A Hosted Telephone System:
In my home office I have a Cisco IP Telephone Handset which plugs into my BT broadband router, enabling me to make calls over the internet at a reduced rate. Two of my colleagues are on the same system and despite the fact that we are in three separate locations we can transfer calls between each other, place calls on hold with music and see when one of us is already on a call. The service also comes with voicemail and whilst we each have a direct line, any of us can pick up the designated main line. Calls between our group are free of charge which is great. The phone has all the features of a phone system yet costs approx £80 for the handset and £10 per user per month.
We have in effect outsourced our server and software requirements. This service gives us the latest version of Microsoft Professional plus our email (Outlook). The only difference is that we access our hosted desktop via our broadband connection rather than using the hard drive on our PC’s. We have also been able to add our own licensed version of Sage Accounting software. The benefits to our business are immense, importantly it means I can access my desktop and email from anywhere, the remote servers that are hosting our service are very quick and more secure than my pc or laptop, and our data is automatically backed up every four hours. The hosted desktop service also includes synchronising our email, calendar and task lists with our Blackberry’s, so we really are able to work from anywhere in the world. The hosted desktop service is widely available and costs between £40 & £50 per user per month…… A Virtual Office & Your IT Support Covered.
Virtual Telephone Numbers:
The wrap around our business is our virtual telephone numbers that come with loads of inbound call management features as standard and can be controlled online 24/7.
For our main line we decided to use an 0800 number so that customers can call us free of charge from a landline, we use this in conjunction with one of the call management features known as a Virtual Reception. This is a simple menu driven service with three options, in our case Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Technical Support and Press 3 for Accounts. We have set this up so that calls to the sales department are first directed to an external live call answering service at a cost to us of £1 per call, before calls are patched through to one of our mobiles based on the nature of the enquiry.
Calls for the technical support department are directed to our team in Manchester and calls to the accounts department are directed to a voicemail service where the caller is asked to leave a message on our ring back service, these messages are automatically emailed to me and I am usually able to call the customer back within the hour.
In addition to the main line we each have an 0844 number as a direct line. This has a Call to Group feature set up. I love this feature it is so simple, but incredibly effective, whenever someone calls, both my office landline and my mobile ring at the same time, if I am working from home I answer the call using my landline handset and if I am on the road I use my mobile. There is a cost to me of 10p per min when I use my mobile, but I keep the calls short and call people back.
The majority of telecoms service providers offer a similar service and you should be able to achieve the same for approximately £200 set up and £20 per month.
Well that is how we did it… not only are hosted services cost effective, they are quick to implement and scalable. If we take in to account our Blackberry’s, mobile broadband plus all of the above services our cost per person per month is less than £125 including the various call charges.