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Open all hours: Virtual office vs. shopfront

15th Jul 2015
Editor AccountingWEB
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Does the traditional high street storefront still have a role in the digital era? Richard Hattersley reports on a recent debate that pitted adherents to the ‘Open All Hours’ tradition of Arthur E Arkwright against those who prefer the advantages of the virtual office. Which option is best for your practice?

AccountingWEB member scrasey opened out this dilemma to the community in a recent Any Answers post that sought advice on the best next step to grow their firm.

ShirleyM could see both pros and cons, but highlighted how shop front premises could generate new business: “We get approx 50% new clients per year just from the signage, the rest come from referrals. Signage is a one-off cost, unlike marketing.”

In terms of branding, a potential client is likely to trust a practice that has the legitimacy of a prominent position on a shopfront more than one picked from Google ad results.

Having your practice on the high street brings visibility, but can also attract the wrong kind of clients. Prospects may start viewing your practice in the same way as any other high street store, with people popping by to drop off a form or some other accounting equivalent of just buying a pint of milk. Or worse - looking for free advice.

This poses the question whether you want the sort of clients who will up at your shop carrying a shoe box full of receipts and payslips seeking your help.

If you are going down the shop front route, Ken Howard  advised hiring your receptionist wisely, recommended hiring a “battle axe” receptionist to fend off nuisance callers. “My mistake was not having a back office to hide in, so I was always visible to clients too, meaning they just popped in when they fancied instead of making an appointment,” he added.

Another way of filtering your clients depends on the adage ‘location, location, location’.ShirleyM suggested that the ideal location is on the edge of a town, in a visible location on a busy high street. AccountingWEB user Andrew55 agreed: “We have a similar location and get enquiries from people in the area who have seen the shop but relatively few timewasters as we're not in a main shopping area.”

However, the clients you attract to your shopfront are not just dictated by your location, as AccountingWEB member Lechiffre explained: “your reputation will attract the bigger client work, your accessibility will attract everyone.”

In spite of their enthusiasm for the shop front, other members didn’t think it was worth the cost. But what are the alternatives? Rather than an ‘Open All Hours’ high street shop, might the convenience of a virtual office be right for your practice?

The shop front presence will create an expectation of 9-5 opening hours. In contrast the virtual office offers a more flexible working schedule. It eliminates the need for a bothersome commute and hunting for an elusive car parking space before rushing in to open the doors on time.

An online shop front encourages a more effective use of your time, and allows you to think in terms of servicing clients wherever they are. Not only does going virtual offer you the flexibility to work on the go, you will also see a considerable decrease in your overheads: there’s no physical rent to pay and without the inconvenience of unsuitable clients and prospects dropping by, you won’t need to employ the defensive receptionist to keep them at bay. Virtual receptionists are available to take messages, book appointments and handle other admin tasks.

The other option is a compromise between the two, as cheekychappie explained: “I work from a serviced office. It's appealing to clients that they don't have to battle with high street / town centre parking. There is plenty of marketing avenues to go down without having a shop-front. For example, the difference in rent could be a constant Google ad campaign.”

Your practice shop front will attract the passing trade, and will raise your profile in the neighbourhood. But could you risk limiting your business. While the virtual office allows you to have clients from all over the world without leaving your living room, it doesn’t have the luxury of ‘window shoppers’ to guarantee business.

So what do you think is the best option? Embracing the virtual office or having high street visibility?


Replies (7)

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Stephen Quay
By squay
15th Jul 2015 18:11

Business Park Office

Rural business park office for a professional appearance if clients visit. Rent and service charges affordable for a decent sized single office. No business rates for the last few years due to small business rate relief. Free parking for clients who visit and they seem to prefer to travel the 4 miles from town to us because the parking is a nightmare there.

No passing trade but we get word of mouth referrals and people find us on Google easily enough. Business park is close to a main road so easy to find us and convenient to drop off or collect records when passing. When I've had enough I can just shut the door and go home. I live in the same village so not much of a commute. Much better than working from home which I did for 20 years until the office came along. Been here 10 years and no regrets.

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
15th Jul 2015 18:39
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Sarah Douglas - HouseTree Business Ltd
By sarah douglas
16th Jul 2015 11:09

Business Centre visibility

Our business increased by 50%  .  There are 62 other business in the center and everyone looks after each other and passes work on to each other.  

Health wise  I think it is healthier to leave your house.  I enjoyed working and running a large office for us at the house.  We were all mums so it suited, but 10 years on we all wanted to be in a office and feel healthier  for it.   We have a large offices and use it as a show room for clients .  They do seem to be impressed.    It is a local Business centre 20 mins walk from my house and the school so it works out well.  I think it is important you do not lose too much traveling but a 20 min  walk twice a day is good for you. 


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Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
16th Jul 2015 15:27

the flexibility of the virtual office

I had the chance to speak with Daniel Gefen from Jet Virtual, a proponent of the virtual office.  Daniel decided get rid of his office, outsourced everything, and worked out of a hotel lobby. This was the fastest growing year since he started his business. Explaining the virtues of the virtual office, Daniel said: “People want to have a better lifestyle, whether they want to be spending time with their families, or whether it’s going and playing some golf. Having a virtual set up allows you to be able to control your day rather than your day controlling you, and having to be somewhere all of the time.” Rather than spend his working days dealing with staff issues etc, he is able to be more efficient with his time, focusing on marketing and increasing his clients.

By outsourcing everything, his business has minimal overheads: “If I had a bad month, or a number of clients cancelled, or a low call volume, I’d still had to pay out my rent, pay out my receptionist and my staff and all of the costs of running my office. Now I only pay for the work that gets done.”

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Sarah Douglas - HouseTree Business Ltd
By sarah douglas
16th Jul 2015 16:01

Controling you

You do not have to be at your office all day . You can still go and play golf if you want to.   We are not at our offices all day.  Some clients maybe happy meeting in Hotel lobby.   I see it as unprofessional unless someone is on the move and it is the only time they can see you.   I certainly would not like take on for a example a lawyer who had a virtual office.  I like to know the companies I deal with have a proper abode or even a house.  I am not keen on virtual offices I think you will find a lot of businesses feel the same.    So many rave on about virtual offices but I hear loads of businesses who say they will not deal with a virtual office. 



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Replying to SXGuy:
By ollielaw
16th Jul 2015 17:19

But surely that comes down to the person they are dealing with?

I've met plenty who have a virtual office as part of their set up and it makes no difference to me as long as they understand the work that is proposed. Yes, an office helps and I'd rather go into a Virgin Media store (for example) than have a representative come up to me in the street, however if that representative knows how to communicate with me, understands my issues and has a genuine solution for me, I'm not going to worry about where I'm being approached.

To add, if you're not at your offices all day, you have solid and well planned marketing concepts arranged for your firm, you have great customer service and sector knowledge - do you really need an expensive office to deal with each quarter? Offer to go to office/home - that way you're selling yourself in their environment and come across as someone who is taking the step up to talk with them (which is normally only a short car journey) 

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Sarah Douglas - HouseTree Business Ltd
By sarah douglas
17th Jul 2015 16:15

The simple fact is

Firstly my office is not expensive and the huge increase to business from having a office that clearly pays for itself.    Secondly and lot of people do not want to go to someones home.  There are issues here for safety.  

As a woman one of my clients for over 10 years suddenly told me after moving into our office that he did have a problem and that he as a gentleman much preferred to visit a office especially if lady was on her own.   A nicer man you could not meet.  

Whether you like it our not you can argue till the cows come home the simple fact is there is a huge number of other business that will not deal with a company who has a virtual office. 

Anyway your virtual office can actually be your office if your virtually there.   Loads of our clients want to visit our office and we also visit offices so I am struggling to see how we are losing out.   The only reason we got a 50 per cent increase was because we have a office.   I am virtually everywhere.    Never miss out on anything. 

When you have a office you are just as good as the skills mention above. 

If virtual office works for people then great but do not be under the illusion that every business man or women is fine with it.   


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