One of the ways small businesses are dealing with shifting economic fortunes is finding ways to keep expenses flexible. If you are trying to carve out a new market niche, create a new product line or simply remake your business into something entirely new, fixed costs such as a lease or full time staff can make charting a new course a bit trickier.
Though virtual outsourced labor and flexible office arrangements have been around for a while, these two industries as a whole are experiencing an entirely new round of interest.
Using a virtual assistant to create marketing materials, update websites and even handle customer service calls is a very smart way to keep fixed expenses down. While this arrangement still involves training and monitoring, costs for services can be attributed almost on an as-needed basis.
In many cases, organizations find they can tap into pools of assistants with very high levels of expertise in very specialized areas – something that may be difficult to find or afford in a full-time position.
Sean Sandone President of Utah-based Vulcan Sales, Inc., an online tire retailer, was looking for ways to decrease operating expenses.
He turned to Davinci Virtual, and now five “virtual assistants” pose as customer service representatives for Vulcan Sales. These assistants field inquiries about tires from existing customers and new prospects. When Vulcan was assigned its team of Davinci “virtual assistants,” Sandone and his executives fully trained the assistants on the business, gave them access to their computer systems and prepared them for questions about the products.
According to Sandone, his “virtual” customer service team is “as well trained as any full-time employees, but represent a more cost effective path.”
Another great cost saving strategy is the use of flexible office space. With flexible offices tenants enter short-term leases that allow them to change their office size to meet the growth or downsizing needs of their businesses.
In most cases these arrangements can include add-on options such as data centers and full IT support, to reception services, meeting rooms and even office furniture.
Matthew David Events, an event production company that built a name for itself hosting corporate bashes for companies like JP Morgan and CNN prior to the financial fallout, is one of the many companies in its industry affected by client budget cutbacks. The company, which has been in business for 13 years and moved to flexible office provider TechSpace’s West Village facility in New York in September, notes that saving overhead has been a critical factor to the company’s ongoing success.
“Being at TechSpace has saved us a ton of money in comparison to the traditional office space we were leasing previously,” says Ivan Hall, production manager for Matthew David Events. “Utilizing the support staff – including reception, janitorial and the facility’s loading area – we are able to run off-site to events, knowing that there are people here to accept deliveries, forward our calls, etc. Now, we focus on doing our business without skipping a beat. The other great thing is that if we do get a big job, we can expand our office space to accommodate the increase in staff members for the event, and then drop it after we no longer need the space.”
Technology has enabled outsourcing and collaboration to the point where the traditional location based cubicle and employee based project teams may become a thing of the past entirely. Certainly, these strategies give the small and mid-sized business the needed flexibility to compete in any market.