As a small business owner, you are more than likely tired of paying expensive commercial rentals and fighting traffic daily to get to the office. The good news is that today’s technology means you can work from just about anywhere if you have internet access. By turning your company into a ‘virtual business’, you can trim costs, improve flexibility and give teams the freedom to work remotely.

Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available, fast mobile broadband covers you where Wi-Fi doesn’t, and you can access applications and data from almost anywhere in the world, provided you have a smartphone or notebook. It’s becoming increasingly viable and attractive for small companies to ditch their expensive brick-and-mortar offices, face-to-face meetings and endless paper documents to go virtual.


Here are a few tips on how to start or run a successful virtual business:

1. The right tools for the job
To run a successful virtual business, you need to invest in the right tools. If you’re working from home and doing a lot of video-conference calls, you need to invest in a cost-effective fibre internet package that offers excellent audio-visual quality. Spending a lot of time on the road means you should purchase mobile devices – smartphone, tablet, notebook – that are powerful, portable and comfortable to use.

You may also need to consider a reliable mobile data solution. It may make sense to invest in data SIMs from two mobile providers in case you’re in an area where your primary provider offers poor coverage.

2. Optimise and automate with cloud solutions
Running your virtual business using paper-based records or spreadsheets is outdated. The most successful virtual businesses automate business processes to save time and money. Today, you have many powerful cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools that can help you run a lean, efficient business. You access these solutions online and pay an affordable monthly or annual subscription to use them.

For example, marketing automation tools can help you generate automated direct marketing e-mails targeted at your customers, schedule social media and blog posts, track inbound sales leads, and so much more.

Cloud-based accounting and payroll solutions can enable you to streamline quotations and invoicing, financial reporting, compliance and reconciliations. Your investment in these solutions is quickly recovered in the time savings alone they deliver. 
Bonus: If you have an accountant helping you, he or she can also login any time and have a virtual catch-up session with you to discuss monthly forecasts. Another bonus: with online apps, your data is automatically backed up to the cloud.

3. Build your virtual team 
If you’re going to build a virtual business, you can be more flexible about how and where you source talented people to help you grow your business. For example, it might make sense to get freelancers or contractors to help with finance or marketing.
You can employ an accounting firm to help with filing tax returns and financial statements, while collaborating in the cloud. If you do project-based work, you could round up the right team to collaborate with for every contract rather than employing full-time resources. It allows you to quickly scale your team based on the workload you have at any given time.

For admin-related tasks, consider a Virtual Assistant to help you with the mundane chores so you can focus on growing your business. Artificial intelligence can also be part of the team. Another tip is to look at using chatbots on channels like your Facebook page. They can answer basic customer queries and, today’s chatbot development tools don’t always require you to know any coding.

4. Work together 
The cloud makes it easy for you to interact and share files, ideas and data with your virtual team - wherever they are. Encourage everyone you work with to standardise on the same set of tools. For example:

File sharing and back-up: DropBox, GoogleDrive or OneDrive
Voice and video comms: Webex or Skype for Business
Accounting and payroll: Sage Business Cloud
Slack or Microsoft Teams for messaging to make communication and sharing easier.

Also, consider using an e-mail solution such as G-Suite where you can access your business e-mails on the go. Some of these tools are also a great solution to introduce to clients to demonstrate your prowess as a technology-driven small business.


5. Create a bridge to the real world
Not all your customers may be ready to go virtual. However, providers such as Regus and The Business Centre offer virtual office services for an affordable monthly fee. Among the many benefits they offer are a receptionist to respond to calls referencing your company and take messages, as well as boardrooms in prime locations for face-to-face meetings.

These innovative 21st century tools can help you portray the right image or provide comfort and confidence to your customers.


By Viresh Harduth, Vice President, Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East