Self-employment of one degree or another is surprisingly common in the US. In 2022, for example, there were an estimated 59 million freelancers working either part-time or full-time.
Of course, self-employment comes with its own challenges. For example, many freelancers and small business owners work out of their homes or even their garages. While this helps cut costs, it doesn’t make my the most professional presentation.
To combat this problem, many freelancers and home-based business owners will use a virtual business address. This does leave the problem of how to pick the best virtual business address for your needs. If you’re considering one for your business, keep reading for some essential virtual address tips.
What Is a Virtual Address?
In practical terms, a virtual address is simply an address that a business uses in lieu of another address. So, for example, a home-based business owner might not want their home address splashed all over the internet. A virtual address provides an alternative they can use to help protect their privacy.
Virtual addresses or business addresses come in a couple of forms that offer varying levels of service. Let’s look at three main options.
A private mailbox isn’t a virtual address, but it often serves the same function. It’s simply a post office box that you rent from a local post office or some parcel services.
It’s a place where you can receive and retrieve physical mail, although there are limits. You typically cannot receive packages at a USPS box, although other parcel services that provide addresses will often accept packages for you.
It’s also a physical address that you can use online to keep your home address a private matter.
The next step up in the virtual address world is the virtual mailroom. These services not only provide a way for you to get an office address online, but they also perform a range of secondary services. Some of the secondary services may include:
- Phone apps
- Registered agent service
- Mail scanning
- Mail forwarding
- Digital storage
The precise services any virtual mailroom offers will vary by provider. This option is ideal for digital nomads that run online-only businesses, as those entrepreneurs often lack any kind of home address.
The prestige tier is the virtual office. These services typically fold in the same kinds of options as virtual mailrooms, but they take it one step further. In addition to those services, they actually maintain office spaces at the addresses they provide.
If you need to have a face-to-face meeting with a potential client or investor, you can rent an on-site office space to use or even a conference room. Depending on the particular service you pick, some will even provide you with a virtual receptionist to field calls.
With those essentials out of the way, how do you pick the best option?
Consider Your Needs
You must assess your own needs when picking an option. If you never meet anyone in person to do business, for example, you probably don’t need a virtual office. If all you really want to do is mask your home address, a P.O. Box will probably get the job done.
On the other hand, if you need packages delivered, you’ll need to pick a service that offers that option. Similarly, if you need 24/7 access to your mail because you’re often in a radically different time zone, you’ll probably want a virtual mailroom.
Age of Business
With the special considerations out of the way, picking the best option becomes more about traditional factors. You should dig into how long the business has been up and running.
If it’s going to provide you with essential services, such as mail scanning or a virtual receptionist, you want a business that has a track record. If the business opened six months ago, you can’t really know how solid the business is in terms of revenue or staffing.
You really don’t want the service that handles your business mail going belly up in three months. One potential exception to this is when the business founders worked in the same industry for a while before they launched the business. The odds are better that they have decent funding and a good business plan.
Pay attention to the kind of customer service the business offers you before you sign up for the service.
While smart businesses will work at putting their best foot forward, you often see some flaws in their customer service that will serve as red flags.
Any savvy business owner will take price into consideration. While higher prices often mean better service, there are practical limits. If two businesses offer essentially the same set of services but one is charging double, that business probably isn’t providing double the quality.
Paying prestige pricing for functionally identical services isn’t a good move for your bottom line. Unless they can definitively show that their service outstrips the competition in meaningful ways, avoid the prestige pricing trap.
B2B services aren’t like consumer services or products. The latter get boatloads of reviews online through a variety of review sites.
Even so, you can often find reviews for business-to-business services if you go digging. If nothing else, you can look on websites like the Better Business Bureau site and see if the business has any complaints against it.
If the business does have complaints, did the business resolve them? If they did resolve complaints or don’t have any, that’s generally a good sign.
Picking the Best Virtual Address
Picking the best virtual address for your business means weighing both special factors and regular factors. On the special factors front, you must figure out if all you need is an alternative address to shield your home address or if you need additional services.
On the more traditional factor front, you must look at factors like cost, customer service, time in business, and reviews.
Looking for more tips about managing your freelance or work-from-home business? Check out some of the other posts in our Business section.