A virtual business employs electronic means to transact business as opposed to a traditional brick and mortar business that relies on face-to-face transactions with physical documents and physical currency or credit, per Wikipedia. While you can have a shared office space or co-working space, most virtual businesses are run out of a home office.
When I decided to become self-employed, I knew I wanted to own a virtual business. It is a wonderful setup for a service provider/business consultant, and an inexpensive way to start up. A virtual business should have systems to help manage the environment, just as a traditional brick and mortar business would have. In some cases, more process is necessary since you won’t see your team or your clients in person, regularly.
As virtual business becomes more the norm, work from home is also becoming the rage… and for many of the same reasons. Freelancers and/or subcontractors who work from their homes are becoming a more common occurrence. Whether you already own one, are considering a startup, or even have hired a virtual business as one of your company’s providers, you should know the benefits as well as the downfalls.
There are a lot of pros of owning a virtual business. Here are just a few:
- Very low overhead. You don’t need to pay rent, or purchase and manage an expensive phone system. You don’t need another internet subscription, and you can write off your home office on your taxes.
- No commute. Not having to sit in traffic to get to an office reduces stress, saves money on vehicle wear and tear and gasoline, and saves a tremendous amount of time.
- Less expense on clothes and makeup. Although this might apply to women more than men, another financial benefit is spending less on your appearance. You can dramatically reduce the cost of dry cleaning, work clothes, business shoes, makeup, etc. because no one sees you all day.
- Spending more time with your family. Whether you are married, have children and/or have pets, you can be there with your family with a virtual business. You can greet your spouse when he comes home from work. You can be there when your children get home from school. And Fluffy and Spot (or in my case, Shelby, Sam, and Delilah) don’t tear up the house while you’re gone all day.
- Managing tradespeople. Who cares if the cable company gives you a 12-hour window of when they will show up? You’ll be there anyway. Minor emergencies, like a small leak, don’t turn into major issues like water damage. And, you can easily accept packages, rather than letting them linger on the porch with the potential for theft.
- Set your own hours. You can modify your schedule to go to that yoga class, or throw in a load of laundry, or attend an Australian webinar that starts at 3 am local time. Picking your children up from school becomes a possibility.
- Healthier lifestyle. Healthier meals and snacks are available because you can stock your refrigerator with healthy choices. You can make your lunch at home and exercise is easier to work into your day. If you want a stand-up desk, you can have one. And, if you want to take a nap in the afternoon for extra energy, you have that option as well.
While the pros can easily draw you into the idea of a virtual business, there are other things to consider.
- Client Visits. You do not have a receiving area for your clients. You will have to rely on conference calls, video calls, and traveling to them, rather than having them come to you.
- Need for SaaS. You will have to pay for subscriptions to software as a service to run your business. You will need to be able to access all your documents and information in the cloud so that you can share them with your employees. Paper will be a thing of the past. This can also be a pro! ? And you will need to be technically savvy.
- Isolation. You live and work in the same place. Your communications will mostly be through email, Slack, and other tools, with the occasional conference or video call. The lack of personal interactions can cause depression.
- Work/Life Balance. I’m not a huge proponent of making sure that work doesn’t come into personal and vice versa, but when you work, sleep and eat all in the same place, “turning work off” can become more of a challenge than it does when you have a commute back and forth. There is much less of a clear line of when work ends.
- Video calls. You might be nervous to be on video for video conference calls. You will have to decide how you want to appear. Do you wear makeup? Do you put on professional attire (at least from the waist up)? Are there some clients, team members or vendors that you are more comfortable being more casual with?
- Background noise and distractions. The lawn mowing people will always come during your most important call. The dog will bark unceasingly when the doorbell rings. The cat will walk across your desk while you are on a video call. Your kids will be loud and excited when your spouse comes home from work early.
- Tradespeople. Your 12-hour cable-guy window will always narrow itself down to the doorbell ringing at the exact time of your only conference call of the day.
- Time management. You are not accountable to anyone but yourself. You can get lost in all the distractions at home. Time can get away from you as you get sucked into household chores, your favorite book or just the fact that you don’t have to be anywhere.
Don’t let these cons scare you off though. You can implement systems and processes to tackle the cons. In an upcoming post, I will share tips for navigating through the challenges of running your virtual business.
In the meantime, please share in the comments any pros or cons you have encountered in regard to virtual business. I’d love to hear from you.
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.