The Challenges of Virtual Business

By Alyssa Gregory
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virtualOne great part of working for yourself is that many of us get to do it all from home. In my business, very rarely do I have an opportunity to meet clients face-to-face or do any kind of on-site work. This works well for me and the type of work that I do. I finish work quicker; I’m able to do more; and I benefit from more solid productive work time.

If you work virtually, you probably face a completely different set of challenges than those who don’t. Working virtually is not as easy as it seems, but there are ways to overcome to challenges brought about by a virtual arrangement.

Challenge: Building Trust

Before doing business with someone, there needs to be some level of trust between the two parties. As humans, we trust (and hire) other people, and their faces, voices and personalities all play a part in our decision-making. It’s very hard for most people to get that same level of trust when you are working in a completely virtual environment. Selling your services can be more difficult and you may have to work twice as hard. Here are some ways you can add a personal element to your business to facilitate trust building:

  • Set up telephone conferences with potential clients
  • Write a blog with a personal voice
  • Participate in social networking
  • Add videos to your website or blog
  • Provide references
  • Include a photo of yourself on your website

Challenge: Communication

A common worry for clients hiring a virtual professional is that they may disappear and the client will not have a way to find them. Without an in-person connection it can be difficult for clients to feel confident that the person they are hiring will be available during the project. The best way to deal with this challenge is by providing consistent communication by:

  • Being responsive to all e-mails and phone calls
  • Setting up regular check-ins via phone, Skype or instant message
  • Making sure there is clarity around the roles and responsibilities of the project
  • Addressing any issues that arise quickly

Challenge: Information Sharing

In my business, I’ve had to develop a process for sharing information back and forth with clients and subcontractors to ensure everyone has the necessary data to complete their tasks. With clients, this is usually done via e-mail or snail mail, in some cases. With subcontractors, I use a project management system that allows each of us to have access to the information we need.

With any kind of virtual collaboration, it’s vital that you:

  • Identify the information you need
  • Have a system for filing the information in an accessible way
  • Log and archive the data during and after the project
  • Provide a secure and reliable system for data storage and sharing

The bottom line with any kind of virtual work is that you want your clients and prospective clients to get to know you and the way you work. Just because you are not working face-to-face does not mean the relationship dynamic should be any less structured; it’s just a different dynamic. Trust may be a little harder to achieve, but it is even more important when creating sustainable virtual relationships.

Do you work virtually? What do you do to assure clients who may be used to in-person relationships?

Image credit: Sanja Gjenero

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  • Another Challenge: Business listings & online directories

    Often you would like your virtual business to have some presence in physical and online directories and business listings. The problem is that they often require an address to be entered. You probably won’t want your home address listed on these as you don’t want people turning up at your doorstep.

  • Another Challenge: Having a place to meet.
    A lot of my clients often want to meet somewhere and discuss their project. This can be a problem when working from home as you don’t really want people coming in and out of you home all the time.
    I used to mainly try and meet them in somewhere like a Pub or bar etc. and this is fine for some clients however some expect something more. I overcome this by borrowing some time in a board room from another company who I do work for. They don’t charge me much and in return I manage their website which is very simple.

  • Skyview

    I work from my home office and travel to client sites once or twice a month max. These are long term consulting engagements however, and not website development projects. We find that after the initial in person meetings at the clients site, we are able to conduct the majority of our business over a combination of email, telecons. and GoToMeeting. For website work, unless its a major long term effort, I would think initial F2F contact would be sufficient for establishing a trust with the client. There are also companies that cater to virtual businesses by providing meeting and occasional office facilities at a fairly reasonable cost for those times when you need the use of a professional conference facility for example.

  • Payment is also an issue, but I assume you left that out of this article because it is in another recent article.