Could Your Business Go Virtual?

Cloud computing lets more and more service providers forgo a physical office space. Should you be one of them?

Written by Josh Zweig

A Google search for “cloud application” will yield hundreds of apps with some gimmicky variation of the term in their name. While at first glance it’s tempting to dismiss the trend as some marketing fad (yes, the cloud used to be just called “the internet”), it actually signifies a fairly meaningful change in the life of the small business owner.

Cloud computing signals the end of the traditional office – making a physical presence in many ways unnecessary and presenting new ways of engaging with clients.

The transition to a virtual model is doable for many service businesses and can create some significant competitive advantages €“ but not without some challenges:

1. Expand your market

As a new consultant, you’ll likely be bending over backwards to meet new clients all around the city at some physical location. However, as videoconferencing software such as Skype and GotoMeeting improves and creates a relatively seamless business meeting, a new consultant can tap into clients around the globe from a home office.

The challenge of course is sticking to the model—many clients are still not fully comfortable with the idea of only meeting virtually. It’s very tempting to surrender to a client who prefers to meet face to face. As a new consultant, it may seem scary or counter-intuitive to reject clients who wish to meet the traditional way. Yet clients that don’t believe in your value proposition are less likely to be good clients. They’ll likely distract you from focusing on the clients who do believe in your model and place a higher value on your service offering. Challenging yourself to take only clients who appreciate the efficiencies of a virtual meeting can help you realize the full potential of the virtual office.

2. Reduce your overhead

A designer with an office or store front would have to invest a significant amount of cash in rent, renovations, design, etc. Today with a few cloud based applications, you can build your own website, install an e-commerce plug-in, and even link it up to your accounting system all for free, eliminating the majority of overhead costs, including the store front. The challenge however is
replacing that physical presence with an online one. While you may not have to shell out tons of cash on overhead with a virtual

office, you’ll need to invest time and money in proper advertising, blogging, and web design to ensure you’re replacing your physical real estate with a strong online presence.

3. Go paperless

With the rise of cloud accounting software in Canada, small business owners can invoice their customers, accept payments, move inventory and pay suppliers all from a smart phone or an iPad. Yet business owners who are looking to convert from their current paper ridden offices often face a number of challenges during the switch. Many worry about having a hard copy backup just in case€“ if the CRA comes knocking, don’t I need to have the original paper document? Not so €“ the CRA is quite clear on their electronic document policy: if you have a good quality scan of the document it can be considered to replace the original paper copy (which you can happily send to the shredder).

What about the time and money to put document management and storage policies in place? Going paperless can actually save your business time and money no matter how small€“ no more physical storage space costs, no more lost documents, super-fast document retrieval. There are lots of inexpensive, high quality software options on the market that will reliably backup and organize your documents in the cloud €“ giving you peace of mind that your data is safe and saving tons of hours in document management.

In addition to changing your own system, going paperless requires some buy-in from your clients, too. Free webinars, workshops and software demos are great ways to show to your clients how a paperless system can make their operation more efficient. Helping your clients to adopt paperless practices—such as replacing cheque payments with e-transfers, file cabinets with e-document management systems and desktop accounting software with cloud based bookkeeping services—will make it easier for you to do the same.

Josh Zweig is the principal of LiveCA, Canada’s first online accounting firm allowing today’s mobile entrepreneurs to connect directly to a chartered accountant wherever, whenever.

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