Once you’ve decided on the kind of business you wish to pursue, you should start thinking about the place at which you want to base your operations. Before rushing into signing that office lease agreement, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need to rent a place immediately?
  • What options are there other than renting a traditional office?
  • Do I need to rent a place in the long term when I expand my team?
  • What premises best suit my needs?
  • How much will renting a place going to cost me annually? Can I afford it?

In this Office & Retail Spaces In Singapore series, we’ll explore the various options available for your business operations, ranging from home office (including HDB flats), virtual office, HDB retail and office space to light industrial premises.

Let’s take a look at virtual office.

Copywriting for virtual office

What Is A Virtual Office?

Before we dive into the details of virtual office, let’s recap why we may need one. When you incorporate a business in Singapore with ACRA, you need a registered office address. What if you don’t intend to rent an office? Now, ACRA does not allow the registered office address to be a P.O. Box, but you can list your home address (including HDB for certain trades) or virtual office as your registered office address.

So, what exactly is a virtual office?

Consider this scenario: Suppose you’re a business consultant operating your business mostly on your own. You can work from home, but you need to meet your clients occasionally and you don’t think it’s appropriate for your clients to visit your home to discuss business matters while your dialect-speaking mother offers her opinions about your business plan (we don’t think that’s appropriate too!). Besides, it’s nice to impress potential clients with a swanky office where you can entertain them in luxury. And whenever you’re out of the office or out of town, you want someone to help you answer your calls, take down messages, collect your mail, and deal with other administrative matters. But since your business is a start-up, you probably can’t afford all these expenses, at least not at the beginning.

Introducing the virtual office. Also known as cloud office, it allows you to do all these – running your business from home, but at the same time, have a professional, public-facing business address to use, less the overhead of a long and expensive lease and administrative staff.

Who Offers Virtual Office?

Most corporate services firms provide virtual office service. They are companies that also offer services such as business incorporation, accounting services, Company Secretary, Nominee Director and filing of Annual Returns. Most of them are located in prestigious central business districts with area codes that you’re proud to print on your business cards. While some firms may offer office space or desk space as a package, many virtual packages do not have “full-time” desk space.

No doubt there are many varieties of virtual office packages out there, but most include the following basic services:

  • A business address that doesn’t say “I’m still living with my mum”. You can now list your business address on your website without telling the whole world where you live.
  • A receptionist who can identify your specific business telephone number and answer your incoming calls with your company name, like your “real” secretary. Yes, that means you can actually use a land line number, and not your personal mobile phone number for business!
  • Business meeting spaces that you can book and pay on a per-usage basis. The receptionist mentioned above would probably be helpful in arranging meetings and booking a meeting room on your behalf (with a fee, of course!).
  • Basic administrative matters such as collection of mail, opening your mail, and scanning and sending them to your email if you’re too busy to collect them.

Do note that a virtual office is different from a co-working office space, which offers actual desk or work space for you and your staff. Make sure you do your research on the difference.

Pros & Cons Of A Virtual Office

Pros

  • Cost – The overheads for a virtual office is far less than that of a traditional office, with none of the maintenance and staff costs that usually come along with a traditional office.
  • Flexibility – Since a virtual office is leased on a short-term basis (monthly or half-yearly), it allows for greater flexibility and scalability.
  • Prestige – As it comes with a legit office address, land lines, meeting rooms and even a professional phone answering service, it can give the illusion that your small business is more established than it actually is.

Cons

  • Limited use of shared facilities – Shared facilities such as meeting rooms are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, thus, they may not be available if you have to arrange for last-minute or urgent meetings.
  • Restricted access – As the firms that provide these virtual office services are usually corporations operating only during working hours, you might not have access to your desk, mails or messages on nights and weekends.
  • While it is cheaper than a traditional office, it still costs you money to lease a virtual office. Comparatively, your home is absolutely free.
  • There are certain office buildings in Singapore that are known to house many virtual offices, and if yours happens to be in one of them, your clients may know immediately that it is not a traditional office.

How Much Does A Virtual Office Cost?

Prices vary, depending on the package that you take up, and the desirability of the address. In Singapore, it ranges from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per year. Usually, the cheaper packages offer only the most basic services, like a mailing address, and you may need to pay more for added services like call-forwarding. My advice here is to check your package carefully for the services offered and beware of any hidden charges.

So, what’s the verdict? Should you lease a virtual office? At the end of the day, it all comes down to your business needs. If you think that a cheaper alternative to a traditional office is important for your business right now, I’ll say, go for it! But if your business doesn’t require you to have a proper space to entertain your clients (you can always meet at your clients’ office), a home office may be the right solution for you.

Final Note on Virtual Office: Don’t lease a virtual office for the purpose of creating an illusion of a grander business. Experienced businesspeople can pretty much tell whether the business address is a virtual office or not. Our advice is this: don’t oversell the size or operations of your business just because you have a prestigious address on your business cards. It’s better to be honest about where your business status is right now to avoid embarrassing yourself.

About the Writer:

Judy Tham is a writer and founder of One Elephant, a copywriting firm in Singapore. She co-authored Are You Brand Dead?, one of the few books on branding in Asia that focuses on SMEs.