Get credibility, without the expense
So you’ve taken the leap, quit your cushy corporate job, and started your dream company. However, never underestimate the power of your image and credibility. There are areas where you should spend money and areas where you should save. The biggest savings for an early stage company can be found in your office space. But – even when you can save the money – be smart about where you economize. You always need to project a professional, well-established corporate image.
First impressions are everything
You took my advice and your office is in your home. Great, but don’t publicize that you are a small startup. It’s great to save the cash, but the hard truth is that no one wants to sign big contracts with or give serious money to a guy who can’t even afford an office. An office in your basement with one phone line that you answer is not going to work unless you’re smart about it. You need the right image. You need to look bigger and more professional than your home office projects. The first impression is everything.
Strict rules to live by
Consider your environment. Yes, you are working from home, however, everyone in your family needs to live and breathe the rule that your office space is your sanctuary. Your significant other needs to understand that even though you are technically at home, you really aren’t. Furthermore, it is his or her job to keep the house quiet and the children (and the dog for that matter) away from your office at all times during working hours.
You are never, I said never, to be disturbed in your office, especially by children and animals. Yes, you love your children and animals, but your client’s don’t want to hear them or even hear about them. In fact, your office should be as far away as possible from the rest of the house so that a client will never hear the sounds of a household or a family in the background.
As for work ethic, don’t ever do chores or errands during working hours. You work from home, but must pretend you work in a big corporate office with a boss breathing down your neck every second of the day. Yes, I understand that your significant other can be that way about laundry, but he or she will just have to live with it. You are working.
Your address is more important than you think
Since we are talking about the home, let’s talk about your corporate address. A home address for your business does not project a professional, stable image. A post office box is an idea, but not a good one. Something about having a post office box as your corporate address screams “scam.”
Consider a commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA), also known as a mail drop. Typically, CMRAs operate as a private mail box operator. Addresses at a CMRA are street address, not a post office box. Although CMRA addresses require the use of the designation “PMB” (private mail box), most people don’t know what a PMB designation means. Best of all, unlike a post office box, not only can you receive mail there, but you can also receive package and courier deliveries there. You can then pick up the mail or have it forwarded to you. As an added bonus, CMRAs often provide ancillary services such as copy or courier services.
As an alternative or an addition, consider using an office suite in a Class-A building central to where your potential clients might be located. All you need to sign up for is the ability to receive mail and the ability to use the conference room for a few hours a month. The cost should be minimal, and you get an impressive corporate address and the use of an impressive conference room to meet clients.
However, if you use an office suite, don’t use the telephone numbers offered by the management of the suite. Many people don’t realize that if they obtain corporate telephone numbers from an office suite, those telephone numbers belong to the management of the office suite. You don’t have the ability to take the numbers when you discontinue your contract with the suite. You’re stuck. You need to own your own corporate telephone numbers so you have the freedom to change suites or even open your own offices as you grow without having to brand entirely new telephone numbers.
Go high tech with your phones, but don’t waste money
Virtual private branch exchange (PBX) is the way to go. Since we’re talking about phones, here’s a list of absolute dont’s:
- Don’t use your home phone as your office phone
- Don’t ever, ever let anyone in your family answer or even use your office phone lines
- Don’t answer your own phone unless it’s after hours
A traditional PBX is a hardware based phone system – it’s a lot like a switchboard that adapts to the size of your company and is usually very expensive. Using a PBX, you can have all of your calls answered with a custom, professional business greeting; play music while the call is on hold and record a personalized voicemail.
However, a quality “virtual” PBX can provide you with most, if not more (emailing voicemail to your handheld device), of the functionality you’ll get with an entry-level traditional PBX. It can easily and cost effectively scale with your company. As your company expands, you may find the need for multiple extensions and voicemails for contractors around the country and even the world.
Let’s say you hired developers in California and Texas and a project manager in Canada. You work with them via cell phone and Internet, but you don’t want clients to know that your staff is spread out and that you don’t even know what they look like. You need a unified corporate image.
A good virtual PBX can help your company look big and unified. Clients can call your business telephone number, and the system can ask the caller to enter an extension or can provide an audio scroll-through of your employee/contractor directory. Once the extension is entered, the caller can then be connected directly with the desired person. Grasshopper is just one example of a good virtual PBX. It will provide you with a complex phone setup for next to nothing.
Use a VoIP. As for your actual telephone number, I wouldn’t recommend obtaining business numbers through your virtual PBX provider. Consider using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). A VoIP is just like a land line but generally cheaper and better. VoIP plans are generally flat-fee and include unlimited long distance. Even for international calls, the per-minute savings can be enormous.
There are three methods of connecting to a VoIP network: using a VoIP telephone, using a regular telephone with an adapter, or using a computer with speakers and a microphone.
One such VoIP is Vonage. Although Vonage has received mixed reviews, most companies like their service. You can get multiple phone lines, 800-numbers and fax numbers for a considerably lower price than available with standard land-lines. You can have all of your numbers, including your 800 numbers forwarded to your grasshopper system.
If you lay down the unbreakable ground rules at home and implement some cost-savings big ideas, your small home office can project the image of a stable, well-established corporation.
Salmeh K. Fodor, Esq. is a Partner with KF Law, LLC with 18 years of financial and legal experience. Her practice focuses on corporate, business and securities law, and her clients have ranged from start-ups and emerging growth companies to publicly held corporations. For a full resume, see the firm’s site at www.kflawllc.com.
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