Is the cost of leasing office space giving you major start-up pains? No wonder: Besides monthly lease payments, you're responsible for utilities, phone service, parking, equipment rental and insurance. If you need a full- or part-time assistant to answer the phones, type reports and take care of the mail, add salary and payroll taxes.
Fortunately, there's a lower-cost alternative: a shared-office facility. You rent space in an executive business center, and pay for any support services you use.
"In many cities, it's hard to get into an office space without paying a huge overhead," says Erik Emanuele, general manager of Columbus Corporate Center, a shared-office environment in Hartford, Connecticut, that houses 30 businesses, including a software consulting firm and a human resources consulting firm. "A shared-office facility is a low-cost way to get in, get established and grow from there."
A shared-office facility provides many workspace solutions. You can rent space on a full-time or as-needed basis. It can be a small cubicle or a corner office with a window. At the Columbus Corporate Center, a small cubicle rents for $300 a month. A 10-foot-by-12-foot windowed office costs you $800 a month. Your payment includes a workspace, a phone line, a receptionist, furniture and parking. On a "pay-for-what-you-use" basis, you're billed for support services such as secretarial help, toll-free phone lines, Internet access, computer and graphic services, use of a conference room, furniture rental and parking.
"You're not burdened with out-of-pocket expenses for furniture, equipment and salaries, and you can work in an office environment that offers a full array of services," Emanuele explains. In addition, your costs for office space and support services are deductible as a business expense.
Concerned about conflicts? "Only twice in three years have we had a conflict where two tenants wanted to use the conference room at the same time," says Emanuele. "We've experienced no other problems."
How do you select the shared-office facility that's best for you? Consider these factors:
- Costs: The package price for a shared-office facility covers your basic needs--generally, your workspace, phone line and receptionist. Add to that the cost of any other services you may use, such as voice mail, secretarial support, mailing services, conference facilities, furniture and the use of the copy and fax machines. "Since such support services are [priced] a la carte, make sure the costs are competitive and not excessively marked up," suggests Emanuele. Since you'll pay extra for these services, make sure the facility you select is equipped with state-of-the-art computers, fax machines, copiers and a voice-mail system.
- Parking: For convenience and security, select a facility with on-site, monitored parking.
- Location: Look for a shared-office facility with a well-known and reputable business address. Your site should be close to customers and easily accessible to major streets and highways.
- Support staff: Choose a facility run by a full-time, on-site manager. Interview the people who will greet your customers and answer your phone. These people may not work for you, but they set the tone for your business.
- Furnishings: You'll either have to buy your own desk, chairs, bookcases, lamps and filing cabinets; rent your own; or pay a monthly fee to use furniture furnished by the business center.