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Cheap and Affordable Ways To Create A Virtual Office For Your Small Home Business

Published 1/2/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

If you run a small home business on the side like I do, it's not always easy to project a professional image without breaking the bank. If your business is new, it's unlikely you have the financial means or even the budget to afford a commercial office space, a secretary, a furnished meeting room, or any of the usual business amenities. However, depending on your budget and needs, there are affordable options out there.

Rent A Shared Office For Meeting Room Or Virtual Office Needs

More established small businesses might be able to look into renting a shared or serviced office space through a workplace solution company like Regus. These business office rental locations are usually fully furnished with desks, meeting rooms, functional kitchens, and business amenities like secretarial service and a professional front desk to handle clients, mail delivery, and customized call answering. They provide a professional working environment without the long term commitment. I would know - I'm currently working a contract project at such a location.

Rental offices are a good alternative for small but growing businesses looking to expand but don't want to deal with the hassle of property ownership or long term commercial leases. However, many small business owners run things from their own homes. For them, there are virtual office solutions available:

1) Telephone Service

Sharing business phone calls with your personal home line isn't a good idea, especially if you get a lot of incoming business calls. Dialing out is fine, but for incoming business calls how does one line handle voicemail greetings for both personal and business calls? You can always get another landline or cellphone number, but that can get awfully expensive, especially if it is underused.

Since I don't have a separate landline at home, I currently use my cell phone plan in conjunction with eBay's GrandCentral free phone service to re-route business phone calls to my personal cell phone number. The service provides customers a free separate number that can be given out as a business line, and have calls automatically forwarded to your personal line.

Since exceeding monthly cell phone plan minutes may be a problem, another solution is to sign up for an established Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone service like Skype. For $3 a month, along with an extra charge for a personal SkypeIn phone number to handle business calls, you can receive unlimited incoming calls from a cell or a landline. SkypeIn calls are handled through the online Skype interface and calls can be picked up anywhere you have internet access.

2) Fax Service

Although it's ancient technology, it is still widely used, surprisingly. If you fax frequently, I'd recommend just going ahead and buying a cheap fax machine. But if you only need to receive faxes on occasion and rarely send them, you can try going with eFax Free, which will give you a free non-local fax number to accept incoming faxes through e-mail.

If you want to send faxes for free and don't mind having cover page ads automatically attached to your outgoing fax messages, then you can always go with FaxZero. However, you will only be allowed to fax 2 document sets per day, with a maximum of 3 pages each.

3) Mailboxes That Offer A Professional Mailing Address

Personally I use my home as my business address, but if you want some privacy or if you expect to receive a lot of packages, you may want to get a larger standalone postal box. The U.S. Postal Service and most major private postal carriers like UPS and Fedex offer free pickup and the option to conveniently pay and print your postal stamp labels at home.

You can get a separate standalone P.O. Box through the U.S. Postal Service, but your mailing address will contain the "PO BOX" tag followed by your personal box number. If you want to get a more professional sounding mailing address that contains an actual street address, you may want to go with a private mailbox at a place like the UPS Store. Prices vary but private UPS box prices are usually about $200 a year (compared to less than $100 for a standard PO Box). However, unlike a standard PO Box, a private mailbox through UPS is 24 hour accessible.

4) Business E-Mail Addresses

Free e-mail addresses are simple to find - just check out Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail. However, if you want to sound professional and want to be taken seriously, you probably will need to get an e-mail address that contains your business name. There are plenty of email hosting options out there depending on your needs. For example, with DreamHost, you can get unlimited e-mail addresses and email forwarding for a pretty good $5.95 a month.

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16 Responses to “Cheap and Affordable Ways To Create A Virtual Office For Your Small Home Business” 

  1. MobilePro says:

    Another great virtual fax service is offered by CallWave -- easy to use, a few different price offerings -- I'd highly recommend it.

  2. Raymond says:

    Callwave looks like a good virtual fax program. Too bad after the trial period there is a subscription fee :(

  3. Chuck Clark says:

    Check out HQ Global for a complete virtual office service. They have locations in most metropolitan areas.

    (I'm not associated with this company, I just thought it might be helpful to this subject.)

  4. mark says:

    Happy new year, Creating a virtual office into home business is not very difficult but i think u forget to mention about Virtual meeting live conference which is very important for business and one of the simple and best solution.

  5. Phill Handy says:

    FYI- HQ Global belongs to ( thus is ) Regus.
    There really is no other company that covers the whole business planet as Regus does.
    Local players are every where.
    If you do not need coverage outside of your home area/state or country then I would recommend pricing and playing all local providers against each other.
    If you want to go international and multi location - you are almost forced to go Regus.
    I am X-Regus. No Hard feelings here - just thought it would be helpful on this subject.

  6. James Jones says:

    A great article, but remember, whilst Regus is usually the best solution for larger, blue-chip style corporations, there are lots of low-end competitors that are more value for money for the people that this post is aimed at.

  7. Saul says:

    Thanks for the information. I have been wondering about free email to fax options. With my wife's business we have several faxes to send and receive and I just hate having the paper when everything else is in the computer. Another great technology is ooVoo, for whom I have been doing some work for. They offer free video-chat for up to 6 people (very cool for meetings) and several other features. I think that they are a good technology to integrate into the virtual office environment. I love the virtual office realm. No more commuting - yipee!!

  8. Philipp Grunwald says:

    Hello Raymond,

    nice post. You mention the most important points.
    I just want to mention the differences here in Germany:

    What I'm wondering about, is the costs you have to calculate over there in the US for all the different solutions. The prices for (shared) offices are the same in Germany, but concerning telephony, I see especially SOHO-Users use a VoiceOverIP-Flatrate, as don't have a complex telephony system they might have to reorganize as big firms. These flatrates are often only provided including Internet (that's the matter of expense you didn't talk about ;)) and it only costs around 80-100 �������������� for SOHOS, sometimes you can even use the private offers for around 35 �������������� incl. www & VoIP flat.
    2) Same goes here, there are several ad free virtual fax services for business professionals, some like sipgate you can even use without a monthly basic fee and they charge you only for the exact amount of sent faxes. So no need to buy a fax machine, which will be a hassle, especially if you buy the cheapest model.
    3) Mailboxes: They are both used by businesses and private persons and go for a cheap 15 �������������� (~ US$ 27) installation fee and you're not charged a monthly fee! Although those don't include your packages. But for this, there is currently also service named "PACKSTATION" implemented by DHL.
    4) Business E-Mail Addresses. Something that is so normal to me, that I have one since I'm 16. In this case, you go with DreamHost which is really the best and cheapest solution, as in Germany Webhosting on the contrary seems to be a little more expensive. But I would recommend everyone at least a professional e-mail address!

    Kind regards,

    Philipp Grunwald

  9. Jon T. says:

    Great post. You may also want to check out (link) which offers free professional email accounts when you sign up for a domain name.

    For those who are unaware, a domain name is the ".com" (or other extension) which is the address for a website.

    Their domain registrations are only around $7 per year, as opposed to paying a montly fee. Also the domains come with a bunch of other free stuff, including an easy website builder with hosting included (if you don't mind a small ad placement), or without ads their hosting costs about 4 bucks a month currently.

    Having a website is also a must-have for any business, no matter what size.

  10. KAA says:

    I don't send or receive that many faxes. I have an Efax Free account for RECEIVING faxes and a Soho66 account for SENDING faxes, both via email. Unlike EFax Plus there is no monthly subscription to send faxes, you just add some credit onto your account and you are charged on a per page per fax basis, no ads. You can send faxes all over the world. If you choose to use Soho66 to receive faxes too the monthly subscription is ����2, much cheaper than EFax Plus. Here is the blurb from Soho66 website.

    Fax to Email and Email to Fax
    We provide fax to email (fax2email) and email to fax (email2fax) services.

    Email to fax allows you to send a fax to any fax machine, anywhere in the world, simply by sending an email. You sign up, add your email address as an authorised user for your account, add some credit (a minimum of ����2) and then you're ready to go.

    Outbound faxes costs 10.5p per page for UK faxes, can be sent anywhere in the world and we support Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe PDF, Tiff, JPEG and many other formats as attachments for your Email to fax.

    Fax to email is our inbound fax service, which allows you to receive faxes from other people via email. We give you your own business fax number, or multiple numbers if needed. You tell us where to send faxes that arrive on that number to. When a fax comes in to your number, we convert it to an Adobe PDF document, add it as an attachment to an email and send it through to you.

    You can sign up for fax to email, email to fax, or both. Email to fax has no standing charges, for fax to email, we charge you a standing charge of ����2 each month for the inbound fax number and that's it.

  11. WALE says:

    SIR, CAN YOU RECOMMEND A VIRTUAL OFFICE ADDRESS IN UK./US THAT IS NOT MORE THAN $10-15 MONTHLY? ONLY WHAT I NEED IS OFFICE ADDRESS..PLS HELP ME OUT

  12. ABetterOffice says:

    I recently found that some of these least expensive virtual office providers are in New York City, but unfortunately for WALE, none so cheap as $10-15. The cheapest office address-only virtual option I have found is $75 per month.

    Regarding GrandCentral, I know a few people that have this and one of the great services it provides is sending voicemail to an email address. I find it quite a chore to listen to my voicemail, but if it was just an attachment in an email, I'll listen all day long.

  13. moussette says:

    In regard to UPS boxes being about $200/year, what year was that...1985? they are more like $40/month. I have gone in and asked. Maybe outside of New York, NY, they are that price, but here it's closer to $500 a year, my dear!

  14. Tony Conz says:

    Cna any body help me? I am looking for a very simple auto attendant. I just want people to call in and be prompted to "press 1 for sales (and have the call go to my cell phone) or press 2 for your free consultation (an have the call go to my wifes cell)" I will even record my own voice. It seems like there should be a cheap easy option for this, I don't need voice mail (my cell has that) I don't need ANY other features! Why is everything so feature rich/expencive?

  15. Madeleine says:

    Nice article. One of my clients (The Belfast Business Centre belfastbusinesscentre.com ) offers an excellent virtual office service. We have found it very attractive for people who as you say value their privacy (what could be worse than clients calling randomly to your home) and those wanting to test a new market before they commit to setting up an office. The additional services e.g. admin, fax to email etc are available for those who need them. Some clients only use the service for telephone answering when they are on holiday. Generally virtual offices are affordable and a low risk option.

  16. Michelle says:

    I need a referal. I am building my small business from home and it is a virtual admin business. I need a professional business address that i can use for image purposes. Suggesstions anyone one!

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