For home based business, virtual office offers edge

For home-based business, virtual office offers edge
By Carolyn Duffy Marsan Star correspondent 
Consultant Lalita Amos recalls an initial client meeting that went awry. When the client began banging his head on a desk and crying, Amos calmed him. But she was glad the meeting was at her virtual office -- instead of her home office. "My husband was always concerned about me having initial client meetings here at the house, mostly because of security," said Amos, who has run a strategic planning and coaching business called Total Team Solutions out of her Indianapolis home since 1995. "If that meeting had been in my home instead of a professional setting, it may not have gone that well."

For four years now, Amos has used Intelligent Office of Indianapolis, a virtual office that provides receptionist services and conference room rentals.
Using a virtual office not only has made Amos feel more secure, it has burnished her image and bolstered sales, which topped $140,000 last year. "My business has grown by about a third since going to Intelligent Office," she said. "I'm getting bigger-ticket clients and international clients."More entrepreneurs are setting up shop at virtual offices.

An offshoot of executive suites, virtual offices provide a business mailing address, receptionist services and conference rooms that can be rented by the hour. These services allow cash-strapped startups to present a professional image without paying for a full-time office or staff.

"A lot of professionals have home offices, or they're on the road all of the time. They just don't need a full-time office. . . . But they don't want to have all of their meetings at Starbucks," said Bill Grodnik, president and chief executive of Davinci Virtual, an executive suite firm with three locations in Indianapolis.
Customers of virtual office services include insurance brokers, financial planners, lawyers, consultants and tradesmen, such as electricians and plumbers.
Intelligent Office of Indianapolis has 220 virtual office clients and 15 clients who rent space full time. Intelligent Office opened six years ago in a 6,000-square-foot space near Castleton Mall.
"Virtual services have always been a part of our offerings," said Dierdra O'Rourke, owner of the Intelligent Office franchise. She worked in corporate sales at AT&T eight years before buying the local Intelligent Office franchise, which earned $850,000 last year. O'Rourke said her staff of four receptionists and an office manager is well-versed in clients' businesses. When staff members answer a client's dedicated business line, a screen pops up with information about that particular company. "We are part of that company," O'Rourke said. "We know the client's schedule for the day, so we know where to direct the phone call. We connect it instantly, seamlessly, so the caller has no idea that the client is not co-located with us." O'Rourke said the demand for virtual office services is on the rise locally -- with clients ranging from corporations with "lone eagle" representatives in the area to people starting their own small businesses.
Tapping that market for 10 years has been executive suite leader Regus, which serves 200 clients around Indianapolis. Regus has offices at Keystone Crossing Center, Parkwood Crossing and Capital Center, which opened in December.
"The main advantage of having a virtual office with Regus is speed to market," said Mike Ketzner, regional vice president for Regus. "You give your business immediate credibility by having a professional person answering the phones. You also can utilize our business centers on an as-needed basis as opposed to signing a conventional lease." Arne Pedersen, founder of Human Capital Management, pays $250 a month to Regus to assist the two-year-old leadership-consulting business he runs from his home."I work around 40 hours per month at the Parkwood location," he said. "All of my corporate mail goes there, and I have somebody professional answering the phone. They have administrative services that I can pay for, such as typing." "My business has grown, but I don't know how much of that to attribute to the virtual office," Pedersen said, adding he's on track for $300,000 in sales this year. "What the virtual office has done is give me a professional look and feel."