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Beef Up Your Small Business, Lay Off With Care

BUSINESS IDENTITY CRISIS: You're basically a one-man operation run out of your garage, and you can barely afford to hire a receptionist to answer the phones. So how do you create the illusion that you're a successful agent with offices on Wall Street or Rodeo Drive?

A growing number of small business owners are joining virtual offices to get a business address in a prime location, access to professional office facilities and a team of assistants, according to one company that offers such services, Davinci Virtual.

Paying a monthly fee for business identity products isn't a new concept, but it's catching on as the faltering economy makes it difficult to rent expensive office space or pay a receptionist's salary, said Bill Grodnick, president of Davinci Virtual.

''When you call a company and someone answers his own phone, the immediate first impression is that it's a small business that doesn't have a staff,'' Grodnick said. ''You've got to stop answering your phone and take your home address off of your business card to be taken seriously.''

An affordable monthly plan can buy a local or toll-free number and fax number, receptionists and a customer service and sales team. Professionals can even gain access to a first-rate office in their city where they can hold meetings and receive mail, and might even have their names printed on the lobby sign.

''You can give the appearance of being a larger organization without the overhead, the expenses and responsibilities of having full-time employees or an actual office,'' Grodnick said.

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