Small Business Tips: Virtual Office

One of the big challenges for a business owner is being able to truly take time away from the business, especially early on. Despite our best efforts for fully digital banking, many of our clients may pay with paper checks that we have to watch for and deposit. It can also be overwhelming dealing with lots of paper files, and taking the time to scan or file everything. And of course, if you don't have a physical storefront or office building, you probably don't want to list your home address on your public business paperwork, but there aren't a lot of options.

So what's the solution?

Virtual Offices (also known as Virtual Mailboxes). These services go far beyond a PO Box (which cannot be used as a legal business address), by offering a wide range of services. There are several providers including Earth Class Mail, Anytime Mailbox, , VirtualPostMail, and SnapMailbox.

Features

I've been using Earth Class Mail for my Indianapolis-based business for the last two years, so I'll tell you more specifically what I love about their service, and how it's helped me run Andromeda. Please keep in mind that this service can be useful for smaller and larger businesses than ours, and even for individuals!

I'm not associated with Earth Class Mail in any way, just a happy customer telling you about my experience.

Business Address

Your virtual office address is a legitimate address that can receive mail and packages, and be used as your official business location. I've listed this address on our website, in our email footers (as part of CANSPAM), and as our official address with the Secretary of State. This not only let me avoid putting my home address on our official business documents, but also allowed me to list a major city (Indianapolis) as our official address, instead of the small town I actually live in.

Note: You can choose from a large number of addresses, but in order to list your virtual office as your official business address you may need to be legally organized or incorporated with the Secretary of State within that State. You'll want to check with your attorney and accountant for advice whenever you move across state (or country) lines.

Mail Scanning

When mail arrives at our virtual office, it is automatically opened and scanned, and I receive a notification that it arrived. I can customize this notification, and can even use a New Scan trigger in Zapier to create my own automation routines when mail arrives. Additionally, I can forward the scans directly to my preferred online storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box) and can automate this integration so that new mail just shows up in my drive automatically.

Mail Management

In addition to scanning the mail as it comes in, the physical item (from small envelopes to large packages) is stored. You can then choose if the item is shredded, stored, or forwarded to another address. You can set up some automation, or make different decisions based upon the mail.

For example, I have tax documents automatically scanned, and then stored. I wait until my taxes are filed to have the original documents shredded. If it was ever necessary, I could have the original mail forwarded directly to my accountant. All with a few mouse clicks and never touching the physical paper.

Package Management

When clients and vendors send us packages, I have these forwarded by Earth Class Mail to my home address using the shipping method and timing of my choice. This way I can receive the package on my terms, without sharing my address with those clients and vendors. While this does introduce a delay in receipt of your packages, I find that it's well worth it for the privacy and convenience.

Check Deposits

At least in the United States, payment by checks is still common for small businesses. And while small checks can usually be deposited using a mobile app from your bank, for larger checks (the size I hope your business receives) this isn't an option. When mail is scanned by Earth Class Mail, they flag items that contain checks. These can then be deposited into the bank account of your choice. You can even set up automation rules so that the deposit happens automatically without any intervention.

Based on personal experience, this means that even when you're travelling outside the country you can accept paper checks and have them deposited promptly, without needing to be home or to have an employee staffing an office.

Multiple Users

One of the things that's really important to me is the ability to delegate. With Earth Class Mail I can assign multiple users to my account, and control their level of access, without any additional fees.

Running Your Business

The Virtual Office or Mailbox service is one of the services that I consider essential to the operation of Andromeda, and I recommend this for your small business. As of this writing, prices started as low as $20/month for an individual so it's also very affordable.

In the coming months I'll be following up this article with an entire series of Small Business Tips, which will focus on tools, techniques, technology, and services to help you become more efficient and productive in running your business.

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