Virtual office packages are aplenty in Singapore, with competitive prices ranging from as low as $8 from small operators to over $100 for big brandnames like WeWork, Regus, Justco, The Great Room, etc. just to name a few.

For those starting out on new businesses, it makes perfect sense to scale up slowly in operations and fixed costs like office space as the business grows, especially in a country like Singapore where the costs of doing business keeps rising over the years.

In any typical business, besides labour costs, rent would likely form the next biggest expenditure item on income statement.

For this reason, new entreprenuers just starting out may wish to keep costs down by working from home or in cafes, as long as the business can acquire new customers and grow existing ones with no need for renting of office space.  A virtual office package caters to this need as it provides a commercial business address for correspondences which presents a professional “façade” when interacting with customers who do not come down for sales presentations in an office setting.

Still there are important considerations to evaluate when you choose to work anywhere with a virtual office plan in Singapore:

1. Location Of Virtual Office Address

There are many cheap virtual office packages in Singapore with most of these located in fringe areas outside the city centre. When you decide to sign up for a virtual office package, do not loose sight of the primary purpose of why you are doing that – you want a good office location just like when you choose to rent at a physical office location.

Why do we say that? There are two reasons. First, a CBD (central business district) address that is easily recognized by customers would instil confidence in them to want to deal with you – this is paramount as that is the whole purpose of why you have to sign up for virtual office in the first place! Is is not penny-wise, pound-foolish to decide on virtual office address simply on price when you are trying to ensure the existence and continuity of your new business?  After all, you have already decided to save so much more by taking on a virtual office versus renting a physical desk space.  Then, go all out and get what matters most to ensure you can grow your business.

Second, think of all the times you will give yourself excuses not to go down or procrastinate to pick up all your mails weekly just because you have to go “out of the way” to do so, if you choose a non-central location for your virtual office address in Singapore.  There might even be slight financial consequences like cheques waiting for you to clear, or a penalty to pay should you be late in making some payments as you have “yet to receive” the invoice, and so on.

On the contrary, when you choose a virtual office address in CBD, you turn this “chore” or negative event into a positive one which yields great results especially when you do this weekly as a routine.  This is because instead of making a trip just to pick up your mails, you would make it worthwhile by arranging for appointments to meet friends or even clients for lunch and/or coffee who work mostly in and around the CBD areas of Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar in Singapore. Think networking and opportunity to catch up with friends and business partners.  In fact, you will be looking forward to these meetups and picking up your mails is now becomes “by the way”,

2. Uptime 24×7

As you decide on virtual office setup in the beginning, this means you will not have a desk with a dedicated fixed line number or a DID.  Even though we are officially a millennial work force, we may be dealing with customers who are more old-school and who likes to see a DID number printed on your business card apart from your mobile. For this reason, it is recommended to sign up for a dedicated phone number (usually pre-fix 6) when you take up any virtual office plan.  Make sure the service provider has this option.  Incidentally, you should be using this dedicated number as a hotline number on your website.  How many times have you seen websites featuring a mobile number and you wonder to yourself “This looks like a one-man operation or some freelancer and I would rather deal with a company”.  Don’t give the wrong impression to prospective customers.

And if you have to sign up for a dedicated phone number, the running costs ie. the call charges become important as we know of operators who would charge very low on the main virtual office package but makes back from all the recurring services from dedicated phone number, usage costs, and other pheripheral business services.  Select an operator who can provide the best overall value in terms of a dedicated phone number with cheap calling rates or better yet free incoming calls so you know there is minimal add-on or hidden costs later.

Remember as a new business, every call is an opportunity knocking on your door.  And if you do not have a big budget to employ a whole sales team or customer enquries team, this dedicated phone number or your hotline is vital for business success and needs to be “always turned on” 24×7 (except when you sleep of course).

3. “Moments Of Truth” In Customer Acquisition

There will be times when it is necessary to impress a client who request to meet at your office for whatever reasons, perhaps to size you up before he or she would decide to give the business to you.  This is where it becomes a dilemma for the startup business owner.  As the saying goes, some costs you simply cannot do away with and you just have to invest for the future.  For this reason, we believe all successful businesses should not stay as a virtual office client for too long.  Whichever operator you choose to work with for your virtual office address at the start should be able to offer you more, if not the full suite, work space solutions later on from coworking desks, dedicated desks to private rooms.

Singapore can be a very small place for doing business, and do not be surprised more often than you think, clients may request such a meet up, sometimes at the eleventh hour.  Virtual office operators who can provide a professional meeting room at minimal costs to host your clients when such “moments of truth” occurs would help you to win over and acquire a new customer to your business. That certainly justifies paying more than market rate for the virtual office address service.

Speak to us today to find out more about our office solutions (dedicated desk and serviced office) and to arrange for an obligation-free viewing of premises.  We look forward to welcoming you to the StartWise family.

Thinking of starting a business to build passive income but are not quite sure what to do and how to go about it?  This article may help give you some framework or train of thoughts on this topic, which is becoming more important in an age of tecnnological disruptions where many middle-aged professionals and executives might be displaced from the workforce in the next 10 years, as we move into more and morea gig economy.

In Singapore, you have often heard of businesses complaining of rising costs of doing business here which can come in many forms – shortage of workers. difficulties in meeting quota to hire more foreign workers, rising levies, utilities hike, rents going up, etc.  This problem is especially acute in retail with the perfect storm of rising e-commerce trends and escalating rents thanks in no small way to REITs which has been blamed by many as a culprit why many mom-and-pop stores are fast disappearing both in Hong Kong and Singapore and indeed everywhere else.  The trend is global in nature.

The point here is this – unless you are big brand company with deep pockets, it is going to be very costly to have a brick-and-mortar presence in any major cities especially in an area with high footfall.  So much for the “I want to start a café business”, an almost universal theme people almost romanticizes.  In fact, more practical business ideas could come in the online world where the internet has opened up many more possibilities in the new millennium.

In our Top 10 list of the most cited business ideas in Singapore by middle-aged executives, many are web-related:

  1. Retail shop selling products/services or Café/F&B
  2. Professional services like accountants, clinics, etc.
  3. App creation or some technical product/solution like an IT/web design vendor
  4. Blogger
  5. Events management
  6. Consultancy (in business, marketing, analytics, etc)
  7. Network marketing (or MLM) as a business
  8. Training and coaching business
  9. Online shop selling products: e-commerce store, baking cakes/tarts, etc
  10. Online shop selling services: curtain, courses, training, google adsense, etc

(Note: A business is defined as what generates a cashflow through a set of activities and which the business owner need not trade his time for money, hence the following common jobs are not considered businesses: grab driver, stock/forex trading, property agent, fitness trainer, freelancer, etc)

We believe that anyone can start a business today with the power of internet.  Of course, as you can see from the list above, there are many popular traditional businesses which may not require much internet knowledge like retailing, consultancy, etc.  Still, almost every business needs a website.  And business owners who knows a thing or two about digital marketing tend to have greater success in getting clients.

With that, let us give you our basic framework for how to start a business which comprises of 6 steps:

1. Business Idea Generation

At StartWise, one key factor why we love internet-related businesses so much is that it allows anyone to monetize his or her area of interest and knowledge from cupcakes to big data.

If you have a specialised skill or knowledge like coding, data analytics, accounting or marketing success, your business idea may be quite obvious than most, or if you have a specific product or passion like art classes or a secret recipe.  But let’s face it.  Most people who like to start a business may not have a unique skill sets or product, neither do they have the capital or knowledge how to start.  Some will take real action and convince some friends to start something new, others may shop around for an existing business for sale.  But most would just talk about it without taking real action.

We think it is better to start a business in a niche that you are most passionate about, naturally.  Where you like to read up or stay abreast of the latest news and developments in that specific niche of knowledge.  Where you can call youself an expert!  There is no boundary here and everyone’s interest is different.  It can be as cliché as baking or gaming to idiosynchatic pursuits like figurines or bungee-jumping.

2. Demand Analysis

Most people would have more than one area of interest in life.  Next step is to do a demand analysis and the amazing thing about the internet is that it can give you instant answers how many people are there in Singapore (or for that matter any specified location in the world) searching for the solutions in that area of your interest.  You can do that via Google keyword planner.

Bettter yet go through some of the seach results page and see who are your likely competitors.  Are their anyone already offering what you intend to offer.  Fret not even if they do, it can be a good thing as it shows healthy demand.  How much will someone pay for your product or service, and how do you intend to differentiate yourself from competiton.  Many a times, it is better to enter a market where there is real demand (people already paying) than unchartered territory for a totally new product or offering.

3. Do you want to be a service provider or a service intermediary?

Now that you have ascertained there is real demand for your product or service.  The next important question to ask is – do you want to be service provider or a service intermediary?  Most people will just jump right into providing the service, for example starting baking cakes, coding for games, or organizing bungee-jumping trips around the world.

A service provider runs the actual business, which comes with the full works of hiring staff, running the operations, marketing for leads, and inventory management if you have goods. Not to mention paying for overheads from rent, utilities to transport and shipping costs.  If the business idea is spot on with red-hot demand, the business owner laughs all the way to the bank especially when there is huge profit margin to be made.  To be successful as a service provider, one often needs to decide if he wants to compete on margin (sell fewer items but with high gross margin) with differentiation or compete on volume (sell many items with low margin per sale) with cost competitiveness.

A service intermediary, on the other hand, does not run or provide the service.  In simple analogy, think of it as a broker or a referral platform. In the internet age, the website that best organizes the information buyers are searching for, and continuously provide new information in that product category, and positions itself successfully as the domain expert or “go to person” in that niche, will command the highest traffic.  What you do next is to establish a network of service providers who would want to pay you a small referral fee which can range from 10% to as much as 50% depending on your niche.  And which business owner would not want to pay you upon confirmation of an order?  If there is, just refer to his closest competitor.

Even though this referral fee could be just 10%, but because there is little inventory, manpower or overheads involved, it can be construed as a high product margin business! And guess what? It can also be a high-volume business.  Yes, you can have the cake and eat it.

4. What is the differentiator? How can you succeed when others fail?

If you choose to become a service intermediary, you will still face immense competition.  First you have competition at the primary level where the service providers themselves would be marketing aggressively both online and offline.  Bewarned, some can come with huge marketing war chest. Next you also have to compete at the secondary level with other service intermediaries in your niche.  And you can bet there will be many if this is a very profitable niche.

So as in all businesses be it a service provider or service intermediary, you will need to differentiate yourself which means you need to answer the question “Why should I choose you over the rest?”

5. Financial plan – how soon can you breakeven and start to generate a profit?

This step needs no elaboration as it is covered in almost all entrepreneurship readings on how to start a business.  You will need to know your investment budget, your breakeven period, break up annual target into meaningful and achievable milestones, track the sales funnel and conversion rate, etc.

When it comes to financial planning for starting a business, the old adage of “over-budget and under-spend” would still be useful.  If you think you will breakeven in 6 months, double that.  And if you think you can tide over 12 months without drawing a salary, double that too.

The good news here is – if you are starting out on becoming an intermediary first, there may be no need for you to quit your full-time work.  You just have to work extra hard after office hours.  It is always a more prudent path to start off first as an intermediary, and when business becomes so good and overwhelming, take that plunge then to assume the service provider role where you would have gone up the learning curve in the industry and be in a better position to compete.

6. How to increase your chances of success?

The is the last step in our framework for starting a business, nonetheless an important one.  There are of course many things you can do to increase your chances of success in startups, for example rope in a partner or hire someone who comes from the industry to give you an edge.  To this end, there will be many advice from people close to you.

We will just add what we know from our own experience starting two successful businesses in Singapore, and we believe these same qualities will benefit those looking to take some serious action:

(a) Learn to build your own website

If you need to pay someone $5,000 to build a website for you and pay another few thousands a year on retainer fee just to maintain and update the website, you may not go that far.  Chances are you will be too slow to respond to changing needs and demands of businesses today.

It also means most likely you have not heard of WordPress or CMS (content management system) which is what even mid-sized companies use to build their websites today, running on open source.  That would also most likely be what your web design firm will be using – pre-built WordPress themes and templates, to build that professionally-looking website with all the bells and whistles you asked for.  You can actually D-I-Y and pay yourself.

(b) Learn the vital skills of digital marketing and lead generation online

Cashflow is lifeblood of a business, hence traffic and conversion is everything in business!  Your ability to genenerate an endless flow of quality leads online, and your ability to convert them will be crucial.  The same goes for offline retail store where it is about creating awareness and getting people to take action to visit your stores and make those purchases!

If you want to succeed as a service intermediary online, you need to become a savvy digital marketer deploying a combination of both paid media and organic search (SEO) strategies for optimal results.

(c) Acquire copywriting skills or hire those who are good at it

Even if you can get a tonne of traffic to throng your online store, if your website copy (plus all elements of user experience) does not convert them, your customers will just go somewhere else. 

The same goes for a retail store or service organization.  If you have sales force is unable to persuade prospects to commit, there will be no business.

A business owner with strong copywriting skills will have an advantage, otherwise paying for good copywriting that converts is absolutely non-negotiable.  Of course, the pre-text in all this is that you must first have a good product, or some great content to share as an intermediary.

We hope you find our framework on “how to start a business” useful and beneficial.

At StartWise, besides offering office spaces that give businesses what they really need, we extend our mission of helping new businesses thrive and succeed by offering a basic 1-day Wordpress course on website creation.  The course is created specially for novice in the internet business who has neither any programming knowledge nor any slightest idea how does WordPress work.

For a very affordable price equivalent to attending a 1-day talk/workshop where you may learn something new for a day or two only to throw away everything after a while, participants of our Wordpress training will walk away with a fully-functional website at the end of the class, ready for them to be launched as a part-time service intermediary business online!

Speak to us today if you are keen to find out more details and we look forward to welcome you to the StartWise family.