If you’re starting a small business, you might want to consider making your startup virtual. With the advancement of video conferencing technologies like Zoom and project management software like Asana, team members are telecommuting from across the globe.
A virtual business can save your business money, give you access to a wider base of talent, and keep it productive during unexpected situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even before the coronavirus, virtual businesses were on the rise. In fact, a special analysis showed that in the past five years, the number of American workers telecommuting grew by 44%. And another report noted 63% of employees are more productive working from home.
This guide will show you how to start a virtual business and why it may be the best option for you.
What is a virtual company? 5 Examples
A virtual company is any business that uses technology like video conferencing, telecommunications, and email marketing to work remotely. Remote teams don’t physically have to be in the same place. However, different companies use this concept to varying degrees. Some businesses operate completely virtual, while others work remotely some of the time. If you choose a remote structure, you may have workers come in on certain days of the week or only on certain occasions.
An example of a great job that would work as a completely virtual company is a freelance writer. It’s easy to do things like send pitch emails and get feedback from editors online. If you’re not sold, we’ll discuss a few businesses that are 100% virtual in the next few sections.
Collage.com is a company that will take a user’s photographs and print them on things like mugs, pillows, purses, and other objects. The company creates design software that lets users create and order photo products online. When an order is made, the design is sent to independent printing companies to manufacture and ship the product.
The company started remotely and has employees all over the country. Co-founder and co-CEO Joe Golden says that being able to hire workers from anywhere gives them access to the best talent available. Their employees stay in contact using tools like Google Hangouts, and they meet in person every few months to maintain good relationships.
If you’ve ever used products like WordPress or Tumblr, you’ve used Automattic’s software. The company’s goal is to make it easy for all people to create and publish content through their applications. Automattic has been a mostly remote company since its birth in 2005 and fully remote since 2017. The management structure has also evolved with the company’s growth. Whereas everyone used to report to the same CEO, the company is now split into teams, each with their own leaders.
The company operates all over the world and in over 90 languages. Employees work together using P2-themed blogs. The team communicates using tools like Slack and everyone meets once a year for a week at a physical location, like San Francisco or Budapest.
Employers use Toptal to find highly skilled freelancers from all over the globe who do things like software development, project management, and financial analytics. Their recruiters work with businesses to find the best talent in as little as a few days. Toptal has been a remote workplace since its inception in 2010.
Toptal actually has its own playbook on how they maintain their virtual work environment. They use tools like Zoom and Skype to communicate and collaborate with each other. Toptal uses the survey tool Polly to periodically assess employees’ levels of happiness. For security, the company uses cloud services for development and practices two-factor authentication.
Close is a customer relationship management (CRM) company for salespeople. The software lets a small business’s sales force call, text, use instant messaging, or email clients on one platform, like a laptop. Close was released in 2013 as a semi-remote work environment but became fully remote shortly after.
According to Steli Efti, the company’s CEO, hiring remote workers not only lets the business hire the best workers but also improves employee retention. Communication is at the core of the company’s success. Every Monday, a Google Doc with all the company’s current goals is released to the staff. On Tuesday, the entire workforce has a half-hour virtual meeting to discuss the document.
TrustHCS is a company that educates medical coders and provides staffing and consulting to health care facilities. They aim to help hospitals save money by keeping better and more accurate data for their patients. The company has been a remote work environment since its founding in 2010.
As a virtual work environment, TrustHCS is able to operate all over the United States. They have employees from all 50 states. On average, their coders have over 10 years of experience, while the average experience of their consultants is close to 20 years. TrustHCS believes in looking after their workers’ well-being so they can be as productive as possible. In addition to general benefits like insurance, 401(k)s, and flexibility, TrustHCS offers perks like special vacation packages.
How does a virtual company operate?
There are a few things that most remote businesses have in common. Most will need some sort of cloud-based collaboration software (e.g., Monday.com) and a way to communicate (e.g., Zoom or GoToMeeting) to hold video conferences when email and phone calls are insufficient. Even small remote businesses need these elements.
For example, if you’re the leader of a remote software development team, you’ll need video conferencing software to hold daily meetings to evaluate a client’s needs, check the team’s progress, and go over problems. You’ll also need a cloud-based development space to collaborate and implement code in real time.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Businesses
While there are a lot of positives to having a virtual business, there are also drawbacks. It isn’t for everyone. We’ll help you weigh the benefits against the downsides.
Virtual Business Pros
Going remote can help a dedicated team do more, cost less, and be happier. You keep the cash you would spend on an office space. In fact, workers can roll out of bed and immediately start working. Some great things about having a virtual business include:
- It saves your business money on an office and liability insurance.
- It gives you access to the most skilled workers worldwide.
- It’s been found to increase productivity.
- Workers don’t have to commute. They can even work from a coffee shop.
Virtual Business Cons
Some businesses thrive on face-to-face interaction. There are ways to combat the isolation some remote working employees might feel, like checking in often, scheduling in-person events, and using social media. Some possible negatives of having a virtual business include:
- It can be difficult for workers to feel connected.
- There’s no in-person information technology (IT) staff to manage technology.
- It’s hard to keep a global network secure.
- Home offices can be vulnerable to distractions.
- Digital marketing can be difficult for remote teams.
How to Set Up a Virtual Company
Now that you’ve seen a few examples, how do you start your own virtual business? The process is similar to starting an in-person business, but you’ll have to consider a few other factors.
Register your business
Depending on the state, the process for registering your virtual business will be a little different. Most states let you register by mail or online using the Secretary of State’s website. You can also get a federal trademark if you plan on growing your business.
Decide on your business structure and whether you’d like to be incorporated. This could include forming a limited liability company (LLC), corporation, or another business entity type. You may also need to obtain a tax ID and put together some other information.
Create a virtual business plan
A business plan will help you make the best of your resources and find investors. Be sure to plan things like how your business will operate, what roles the leaders will play, and how and when your business will make money.
Your business plan will change as your business operates. Still, it’s important to have a direction for where you’d like your business to go. The more in-depth your business plan is, the more likely it will succeed.
Determine communication expectations
For virtual business owners, communication is key. Distributed teams can lack the camaraderie of in-person work environments. Decide how and when your employees will meet. Some companies prefer daily meetings, while others prefer to only catch up weekly or even monthly.
What tools will you use to communicate and collaborate? Tools like Asana and Google Docs can be used for collaboration, and platforms like Slack and Zoom can help you keep in touch. You can also have in-person get-togethers periodically.
Create a website or store platform
E-commerce is especially important if you don’t have a storefront. You’ll need a quality website or tool like Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) that lets customers buy items online and shows who your business is.
You can use platforms like Wix or Squarespace to put together a business website. However, you’ll need to check that you can register your desired domain name. ZenBusiness can help you secure a business domain name.
Hire remote employees
Hiring employees for remote work can be great because there’s such a broad talent pool to search from. The only problem you’ll have is whittling down your search to the very best. Talent networks like Upwork and Flexjobs can help. Decide things like:
- Will you hire contract, full-, or part-time workers?
- What positions do you need?
- What benefits and perks will you offer?
Let your virtual company stand out
You may not need a traditional office. Creating a virtual company is a solid way to cut your business costs and use the best talent the world has to offer. Several companies have adopted a virtual business model with positive results. You can, too. Even if you don’t want your business to be fully remote, situations like the coronavirus pandemic show us the benefits of being able to go remote in a pinch.
Are you feeling stuck? ZenBusiness has resources that make it easy to push through the process of starting or growing your business. Let us help with tedious stuff like paperwork so you can worry about your business.