Virtual Offices – Providing Support For Home Businesses

Many people that work from home find it difficult to manage all aspects of their business by themselves. Unfortunately many business owners simply do not have the capital to be able employ or accommodate an administration team to provide them with support. Virtual offices offer affordable support solutions for people that run home based businesses. Work can be outsourced to virtual assistants who have the skills and knowledge to handle both administration and customer service tasks.

License: Creative Commons image source
License: Creative Commons image source

Virtual office services

Virtual offices usually offer a telephone answering service, where a business’s calls will be directed to a virtual receptionist, rather than to the business owner. This enables business owners to get on with other more productive tasks. Using a virtual receptionist will also make your business look bigger and more professional.

They will answer your calls using your personalised business greeting and learn information about your business so they can answer your customers’ queries. If you are not available to speak to a customer, the virtual receptionist will take a message which will be sent to you via email or text message.

Giving out a home address to clients can often look a little unprofessional, giving them the wrong impression about your business. Combat this issue by using a virtual office’s mail forwarding service. You will be able to use the virtual office’s address as your own, which looks far more professional to customers, especially if the office is based in a prestigious area. The mail forwarding service will also help to increase efficiency, as you will no longer feel like you have to wait around at home to sign for important letters and packages.

Virtual offices also carry out other general administration work for businesses such as invoicing, scheduling and faxing. Some companies even offer extensive services such as social media and project management.

Benefits of using a virtual office

Virtual offices provide an affordable solution for home business owners that require additional support. Rather than having to hire an employee who would require a wage and other benefits like sick and holiday pay, you can pay a monthly fee to receive the services of a virtual office. Not only is this more cost efficient for small businesses, but it is also less of a commitment. Virtual offices usually offer small contracts or provide services on a month to month basis, preventing you from having to tie yourself into long contracts.

Working with a virtual office will also help to increase productivity. You will have much more time to spend on sourcing products, marketing your business and planning expansion as you will not be sat at home taking your customers’ phone calls all day.

How to choose a virtual office

When it comes to choosing a virtual office it is important to find one that will take the time to get to know you and your business. It is important that the virtual receptionists and assistants are able to represent your business in a way that you are happy with, as they will be the people speaking directly to your customers. Do a little online research and you are sure to find a company that is capable of representing your company to a high standard.

Outsourcing work to a virtual office will mean you have more time to work on the parts of your business that you enjoy!
License: Creative Commons image source

Conclusion

Virtual offices enable home businesses owners to grow and develop their company with a supportive team behind them at just a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-house admin team. Everyone needs a little extra support sometimes and this is something that virtual offices are there to provide. Not only will a virtual office benefit a home based business in terms of support, but it can also make them look more professional, creating the right impression on customers.

About the Author: Written by Megan Hunt who likes having home business support

Should I Work from Home? Pros and Cons

If you’re growing tired of the rat race and yearn to set up your own business, doing something you love and making money from it, you’re far from alone. And in this time of recession, with people still being made redundant left, right and centre, more and more people are choosing to set up shop themselves.

If you’re thinking of doing the same, one question you will probably ask yourself at some point is: should I work from home?

work from home
Image by Jelle Vandebeeck

It’s true that working from home can be enormously beneficial in terms of satisfaction, productivity and time spent with the family, but it is not without its pitfalls. So you need to think long and hard before deciding whether you want to turn a little corner of your house into a home office or workspace and shelling out for office furniture or equipment.

The pros of working from home

No boss

If you’re working from home, you’re either your own boss, or you have permission from your boss to work away from the office. Either way, you don’t have the feeling of someone over your shoulder all the time.

Make your own working hours

Some people are far more productive outside the general office hours of 9-5. If you do your best work early in the morning, or later in the evening, or even in the middle of the night, you have the freedom to set your own hours and work when you’re at your most productive.

Save the environment (and some money!)

If you’re not using you car ever day on that daily commute, you’re helping to cut down on fuel emissions, and reducing your carbon footprint. You’ll also be able to save money, without the cost of petrol or train fares to worry about, or the cost of renting an office.

Spend more time with your family

If you’ve not got a horrendously long commute to worry about every day, it gives you more time to spend with your family. You’ll be able to get the kids ready for school, maybe even walk them to school, and have breakfast as a family in the mornings. And in the evenings, you’ll be there to listen to their stories about their day, and have dinner as a family too.

Work in your pyjamas

If you find you’re much more comfortable in your pyjamas, or tracksuit trousers and a slouchy jumper than you are in tailored work suits, then you’re probably not alone! And if it makes you more productive, there’s no reason why you can’t wear whatever you’re most comfy in when you work from home.

The cons of working from home

Distractions

When you’ve got no boss to worry about and you’re working at your own speed, it’s easy to get distracted. The TV, the cat, making a cup of tea, surfing the Internet…. all of these things can command your attention, making it hard to focus on your projects.

Procrastination

When you make your own hours, it can be very easy to think, “I’ll start in an hour or so”. Then that can quite easily turn into a couple of hours, and before you know it, it’s lunchtime!

Lack of designated work space

Not everyone who works from home is lucky enough to have a home office or workspace. Many people simply don’t have the room. This can make it hard to focus, especially if you have to move, for example if you’re using the family dining table, or if there are other people around during the day.

You can’t get away from it

Unless you are lucky enough to have a designated study, studio or other workspace that you can just shut the door on at the end of the working day, you’ll find it hard to escape your work. And you might also feel that you have to work all hours of the day or night to please clients, particularly if you’re a new business. When you work at home, this is all too easy to do.

Trust signals

Even in today’s age of ecommerce and doing business online, many people still like to see a bricks and mortar shop/office. So not having one of these could be detrimental.

In many cases, working from home can be hugely rewarding, whether you have the option to do so from time to time, or you run your own business. However you do need to be careful to strike the right work-life balance, not let your work impinge on your family life and vice versa, and make sure you maintain a sense of structure. You might need to be strict with yourself in terms of procrastination and the hours you keep too, especially if you’re easily distracted!

Author Bio: If you’re thinking of working from home, it’s a good idea to have a home office, which should be tidy and organised, and allow for maximum productivity. ForMyOffice are a leading supplier of office and home office furniture, as well as lighting and desk accessories for all your office needs.

Eight Ways to Stay Productive When You Work from Home

Regardless of what you do, if you work from home, the name of the game is productivity. If you telecommute, your boss is likely to be watching you like a hawk. Did he make the right decision when he let you work from home? If you freelance, your clients don’t care about your hourly rate? Did that fifty dollar project really take me three days to complete?

Yes, if you work at home, productivity matters. It pays your bills, it keeps you out of the office and it allows you to have a social life. Therefore if you work from home and you notice that your productivity levels are not as high as they could be, chances are you are suffering. And if you’re telecommuting, chances are you are about to get fired. Before the hammer drops, here are eight highly effective tips for getting more done in less time when you call your office home.

work at home

Image by Thomas van de Weerd / Flickr

Don’t Become a Recluse

Work from home jobs don’t necessarily require you to literally work at home. Most can be performed effectively at a local café or a quiet bar. Getting out of the house on a daily basis is essential if you want to stay sane, let alone productive. If you find that you get more done when working in your home office, focus on going out in the evenings. Isolation and productivity never go hand in hand.

Figure Out How to Tackle Procrastination

Procrastination seriously harms productivity and problems with productivity can spell death for any work at home career. There are a lot of techniques that can be employed to fight productivity and what works for you is something that you are going to have to find out on your own.

For me personally, I have found that the most suitable weapon against procrastination is to devote a single hour each day to doing the tasks that I hate. Those tasks still take a while to complete, but they always eventually get done. Procrastination is more than capable of leaving tasks uncompleted forever if you let it.

Limit Your Time

If you’re paid per deliverable rather than per hour, your goal is always going to be to get the most done in the shortest amount of time possible. An important part of doing so is limiting the amount of time that you allow yourself to complete your tasks.

If you give yourself the entire day to do something, chances are it’s going to take the entire day. Whereas if you limit yourself to only spending four hours, you are far more likely to fit that task into that timeframe.

List Your Tasks

When you work from home, you don’t have a boss scheduling your day and this is certainly a good thing. Unfortunately however, unless you take on his role, your productivity is going to seriously suffer. Sitting down in the morning with no real plan is a recipe for both procrastination and missed deadlines.

You should start each day by listing the tasks that you hope to complete. They should be ordered according to their importance and completed according to their order. And any tasks not on your list should be avoided entirely. Provided you follow this simple system, you will get your most important tasks completed every day. You also won’t waste time on those that are unimportant.

Work Where You Work Best

If you think that you are going to get a lot done while sitting on your couch with your feet up, think again. High levels of productivity require that you sit up straight and that you are not surrounded by distractions. A home office can fit the bill perfectly but some people find that they get more done outside of their home.

You should experiment with working in different environments and you should establish where you are at your best. Regardless of whether it’s a café, a bar or your aforementioned home office, the important thing is that you establish where works for you.

Disconnect (or Pretend)

Most people that work from home do so with the aid of a computer and an internet connection. An internet connected computer however is home to all manner of distractions and you might be surprised by just how many hours you can kill telling your Facebook friends how great it is to work from home.

If you have the discipline to avoid the recreational side of the internet then by all means do so. But if like most, you’re a bit of a social media addict, you might find that you can get a lot more done if you only connect to the internet when your work actually requires it. Out of all the tips in this article, this is probably the easiest to apply. It also happens to be one of the most effective.

Tell People You’re at Work

If you have friends, a partner or a young child, it’s important for you to let them know that when you are working from home, you actually are working. You can’t do housework, you can’t do babysitting and you can’t go to the pub at two in the afternoon. Just because you don’t have to be at your office by nine am, that does not mean that you don’t have deadlines.

Take Care of Yourself

Finally, take care of yourself. Many people take working from home as an excuse to take less showers, to stay up until four in the morning and to practically live on their couch. Showers keep you fresh, exercise keeps you energised and eight hours sleep keeps you in straight thoughts. When you work from home, there’s no boss to get angry at you for looking like a corpse. That responsibility is therefore left to you. Get some fresh air, dead people don’t work from home.

About the Author: Brian Wills is a freelance writer and blogger. Through his posts he talks about SEO and internet marketing and believes that alexa ranking service is the most reliable page ranking service for checking the credibility and popularity of websites.

Tips for Being Productive Outside the Office

If you have ever had a job working in an office, then you have probably heard plenty about productivity. Many bosses take great care about finding out how productive potential employees will be when looking to hire new staff, and productivity is often a big part of performance evaluations.

Productivity is simply a big part of having a job; however, productivity should extend outside the office. After all, going the extra mile is what separates the good employees and the excellent employees. But it can be difficult to be productive outside the office if you do not know how.

business productivity tips

Separate You Work and Social Life

One big part of being productive outside the office is separating your work and social life. One good way to help keep these two sides separate is to get a second phone line. This does not mean you need to carry two phones, since the SmartPhone app Line2 can work as a second phone line on a SmartPhone for business calls. Separating your phone lines can help you to seem more professional and productive.

To further keep your work and social lives separated, avoid making many friendships that might interfere with your work. It is fine to have a colleague or two that you get a drink with after work sometimes, but it might be a problem if you find yourself invited to your employee’s daughter’s birthday party.

This is a matter of common sense and personal judgment, since all business relationships are different, but it’s generally not a good idea for business associates on different levels of “the food chain” to get too close. This not only can cause people to become suspicious if you or your friend gets a raise or paid vacation, but it can also lower your productivity dealing with the issues that can arise.

Working From Home

Another situation that can give people trouble is when they have to work from home or a hotel, such as finishing and sending in a report while on a business trip. It can be distracting and demotivating if you do not have to get ready or dressed to go into work, so many people find themselves becoming less productive in these situations.

The best thing to do is pretend you are at work. When you wake up, take a shower and get dressed. This gets you in a working mindset. Set a strict schedule and follow it, and avoid all distractions such as television and friends. Also, make a list of things to do every night for the next day. This will help you keep track of exactly what you need to do.

If there is one thing that impresses employers and future employers, it is an individual’s ability to be productive outside the office. It is often the deciding factor when an employer is deciding between applicants for an open position or when deciding who they need to lay off. Increasing your productivity outside the office is a great way to put yourself ahead of the competition.

About the Author: Jessy is a stay-at-home mom and business blogger.

The Beginner’s Guide to e-Commerce

In the current economic climate where employment opportunities can be scarce at best establishing a small business can seem like a tempting proposition. Being self-employed can free an individual from the endless process of job hunting and provide much desired independence.

However, establishing a business is not as straightforward as some may presume. There is a lot more involved in creating and managing a business than may at first be imagined. The owner of the company is not only responsible for day to day operations but also for managing the business itself.

A working business idea

In many respects coming up with a working business idea can be the most difficult part of establishing a new business. The majority of entrepreneurs approach this problem from one of two very different directions: having a business idea and creating a business based upon it or simply having the desire to create a business with a working business idea yet to be created.

Either way, caution should be exercised. In the first instance the prospective entrepreneur must ensure that there is a market for the business and that they do not simply press ahead with the idea based upon passion and emotion. This would be a sure route to failure.

In the second instance the prospective entrepreneur should ensure that the business idea that is adopted is of course viable but they should also ensure that they have sufficient knowledge and enthusiasm for the product. This is essential to succeed.

The basics of e-commerce

Once the newly established business has a product with which it can proceed, the next challenge is to create the infrastructure necessary to sell the product. This generally starts with a website. For more sound business cases this may involve designing and building a professional website or having one created on the business’ behalf.

ecommerce basics
ECommerce 101

If the desire is to simply test the water before committing significant resources many companies have found eBay to be a good starting point. Products can be advertised and sold on eBay for minimum investment and maximum return.

Of course the business should ensure that it has sufficient stock to be able to sell to clients, whether using eBay or a professional website. Moreover, the business should consider supplies of consumables including cardboard boxes, jiffy bags and other packaging. The business should also consider the creation of address labels, packing slips and invoices.

Business development

It is always a fine balance between failing to take advantage of a market and overreaching too soon. The business should be ready to take full advantage of the market if it is available and the sale of the product is successful.

However, the business should also ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support this expansion to prevent overreaching. The company should aim to expand progressively in a controlled and calculated manner. By doing so, the owner of the company can ensure continued success and this will allow the business to grow naturally.

Treat Your Home-Based Business Right

When working from home, it can be very easy to cut some corners and leave things out. Falling into this trap can be a huge error on your part and can cost you loss in profits and potentially even a loss of your business. Setting things up the right way will help you to build a strong foundation for your business to grow on.

Financial

Having a system for accounting in place for your business in imperative for success. Just like with your personal finances, you need to be able to account for the money coming in as well as for the money going out. Not only will this information be important for you, personally, but it will be needed come tax time. Another time that your financial documents will come in to play is if you need to prove the success of your business for loan purposes; business and personal alike.

Keeping track of your income and expenses does not mean that you have to go out any buy special software and then try to learn how to navigate through it all. Accounting can be done in just about any fashion that you are able to do. If you are computer savvy, you can get software that can ease the process of tracking your finances, there are plenty of programs that are already loaded on most computers, or an Excel spreadsheet can be used. If you are not comfortable with a computer, there is no reason why you can’t use the tried and true paper, pencil, and calculator. Regardless of what you use, make sure that you are comfortable using it so that you can maintain it.

Licensing

Not every business needs to have a business license, but many do. Before you begin anything where money is trading hands, find out if you need a license to do business. Do not operate your business without a license if one is required as you will then be liable for anything that may go wrong as you will most likely not be covered by insurance.

Insurance

Depending upon what the business is that you are running out of your home, you may need special insurance coverage. Do not overlook this as you could have issues you do not want to be involved in should an issue arise. It is often thought that just because you do not need a business license or that you are not doing a business that could potentially harm another (like massage), that insurance is not needed. This is a costly misconception. Before you open your doors for business, call your insurance company, or one that deals with business insurance, to find out if you need to have coverage. Even if you do not need coverage, you may need to change your current insurance policy in order to cover your new business. If you have people coming in and out of your home or even hold a significant amount in inventory, your insurance company may want you to have additional coverage. Auto insurance could need to be changed as well, especially if you are carrying any sort of inventory that needs to be covered in case of a loss.

Operating a home-based business should be treated as seriously as if you operated one out of a building. Any business is just as important as another, regardless of where the headquarters are. Having a strong foundation in which to build on will help you to see the growth that you desire.

About the Author: Chris Baker is a freelance writer and blogs for www.cheapestcarinsurance.org.uk where you can find great deals on cheap car insurance for new drivers!

Working at Home – Know Your Stuff and Avoid the Scams

Having the opportunity to work from home is a dream for many people. Some people choose remote working as a way to earn a little extra money while looking after their kids, while others opt to work from home so that they can avoid the daily commute, or just structure their work day a little differently to the average 9-5 job.

Because remote working is so popular, this has led to a lot of scams job advertisements cropping up. Job sites do their best to try to remove the scams, but it can be difficult for them to stay on top of the sheer number of job postings that are submitted. If you want to avoid dodgy work-at-home advertisements, try the following tips.

work at home

Remember That Real Jobs Don’t Cost Money

If a job posting asks you to pay money up front, steer clear of it. A real employer would not charge money for training materials or equipment. Never hand over cash when you apply for a work-at-home job. You won’t see that money again.

Don’t Expect to Get Rich

Avoid listings that promise good incomes for part-time hours. Those listings are almost always pyramid schemes, MLM, or something similar. Work at home jobs are still jobs, and you’ll have to put in real work to earn real money.

Read the Advertisement Carefully

Before you apply for any remote working job, make sure you understand exactly how it will work. Many jobs work on a commission basis, or a revenue sharing basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a scam, but it does mean that your income isn’t guaranteed. If you need a fixed income to pay the bills, be careful applying for commission related jobs.

Common Scams to Avoid

Until recently, assembly related jobs were a common work-from-home offering. These jobs tend to require fiddly, difficult assembly work. You can expect to work long hours to meet your targets, and will then have a sample of your work quality tested. If any of your work fails the test, you won’t get paid for that batch.  Home assembly jobs might sound nice, but you’ll probably do a lot of work for very little money.

Another common remote working scam is data entry. While fast typists can do very well financially from real data entry jobs, in the work-at-home world, data entry is a euphemism for posting spam advertisements on forums and job boards. Your income (if you get any) will probably come from scamming other people into paying to buy the “data entry” start-up kit that you just purchased yourself.

Finding Real Work-at-Home Jobs

The best way to approach the work from home job hunt is not to look for jobs that advertise themselves as “Work from Home”. Instead, treat it like a normal job hunt. Figure out what your marketable skills are, and look for jobs in those areas. Jobs such as tech support, public relations, accounting, and software development all support working from home these days. Look for jobs with well known, reputable employers, and negotiate remote working with them if you want to avoid scammers.

About the Author: This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Maintel the remote working experts.

Image: Eric__I_E / Flickr

The Challenges of Working From Home

Many people believe that working from home is a luxury. Yes, you don’t have to make the commute every day, and yes, you don’t have to deal with those annoying co-workers, but while working from home may save you from the boredom of your cubicle, it still poses the following challenges.

Home Office v 2.0

1. Communication Barriers
If you work in an office, and you need to ask a coworker a question, you can simply walk to their office, pop your head in, and get your answer. When you work from home, you rely on other forms of communication, such as email, phone and/or social media. While these are all great ways to communicate, you can end up playing phone tag or waiting all day for an email response. This is fine when the answer you need is not time-sensitive, but it can be extremely frustrating if your deadline is fast approaching and you have a question about an important aspect of the project.

2. Distractions
There are distractions at the workplace, but there are more at home. Those dishes piling up could be driving you crazy. Your dog could be begging you to go for a walk. Your bed is also a short distance away, and would anyone really notice if you took a quick nap?

While you are working in an office, you can focus solely on doing your job. Aside from your co-worker’s drama, there is nothing there to distract you for the entire day like that to-do list around the house.

3. Allocating time appropriately.
If you work from home with a lax schedule, it can be hard to allocate time to complete your work. Maybe you have errands to run during the day that need to be done while the stores are open. Then when you get home, you have to make dinner, and after dinner, you have to help kids with homework. By the time you’re ready to start working for the day, the day is long gone.

4. Lack of social interaction.
Sure you are working in the comfort of your own home, but working by yourself can be depressing. We all enjoy taking that five minute break to talk about last night’s game or discuss social happenings with our coworkers. We get to know each other and build a rapport, and having an adult conversation, no matter how trivial it may be, is good for our social lives. When you work from home, you miss out on that social interaction. You don’t talk to anyone face to face, and you’re left out of the “goings ons” at the office. Plus, think of all those tasty treats you’re missing at those impromptu office parties.

While working from home does have its benefits, it also has its challenges. If you have the choice to work at the office or work from home, consider the pros and cons of both. Working from home may be the gig for you, or maybe you would be more productive in the office.

About the Author: Hillary Fox is a marketing major at the University of Texas with a passion for writing on the side. She is a proud advocate of dining on quick and easy freezer meals. Hillary cannot cook.

How to Become a Freelance Writer

Have you ever wondered where all of the information on the internet comes from?  The information on the net is called internet content, and someone has to write it; that someone can even be you.  Freelance writing is a fun and interesting career or sideline, depending on how good you are at it and how much time you want to devote to it.  One of the biggest advantages to it is how few the tools are, and how small the investment is, that you need to get started.

Computer

This is a given, of course, but you do have to have a computer that is speedy and powerful enough to process your documents efficiently.  If you have to spend half of your time downloading and uploading documents, or getting “hung up” because of a sluggish computer, even as a part timer, you will not make enough money to make it worth while.

Word processing program

Almost any word processing program can be used to write, but if the one you are using is not compatible with the most popular programs, you may leave yourself out in the cold.  There is a lot of competition in the field, and if a site owner wants to buy your material, he will be quickly dissuaded if he has to go through too much trouble to do so.  There are plenty of other writers using Microsoft Word.

freelance writing
Freelance writing

Internet access

Slow dial up connections will not only slow you down when you need to transmit your texts, but navigating on the sites where you will find your writing assignments will also be slow and tedious.  Time is money, so you have to be prepared to quickly review and bid on interesting projects.

Decent writing skills

The first three ingredients to being a freelance writer can be bought, but writing is indeed a gift.  You must have a good command of the English language and a real desire to write and an enjoyment of the writing process.  Most good writers are avid readers and learn a lot through their reading.  You can improve your writing skills by studying some writing guides or even taking a writing course, and you should have a usage guide (Fowler’s is the bible for most writers) that you can refer to when you are unclear about how a sentence should be constructed.

Great imagination

Here is where the rubber meets the road.  Unless you intend to concentrate on technical writing (which can be a lucrative niche if you have a strong specialty), you have to let your imagination run free and be able to call upon all of your life experiences, shared histories with others, and perhaps even a bit of fantasy.  You may want to make sure you have the highly developed imagination before you invest in the computer and the high speed internet access.

Before hiring a freelance writer, or agreeing to work as a writer for a new employer, you may want a criminal background check. Both parties involved can save themselves time and problems by doing this one simple task.

Image: ElvertBarnes / Flickr

How to Save Money on Business Printing Expenses

When you’re running a business, you have a lot of financial burdens on your plate, from payroll to office supplies. One of the costs in almost any industry is the cost of printing up marketing materials. Whether your business requires brochures, posters, business cards and more or you simply need to have menus printed for your restaurant, the costs of printing can add up quickly. However, there are ways you can save money on your marketing materials. Continue reading How to Save Money on Business Printing Expenses