Open all hours: Virtual office vs. shopfront
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?