The office hunt is a minefield. With more options on offer than ever before it's little surprise many firms end up frustrated and making the wrong decisions. Here Chris Meredith, from officebroker.com, the specialists at finding office space deals for businesses, explains some of the common mistakes made by small firms and start-ups when making their first office move.
One of the most daunting decisions facing small businesses is when they should make the step from working from home to moving to their first office. Here are six points to be aware of when making the leap to your first office.
Moving too soon
The first thing a young business needs to assess is whether or not moving to an office will actually help them grow. We've spoken to a lot of small firms who have decided to make an office move because 'That's just what you do', when really they were taking on extra costs, without realising other office services were available to them.
Small firms in their early days can really benefit from using a virtual office. This type of service means you gain a prestigious mailing address, can take advantage of telephone answering services (so someone always picks up your calls) and can also use meeting rooms as and when you need them. Then, once you are ready to upgrade to a physical office, the jump doesn't seem quite as big.
Being unclear of what you're looking for
Most small business owners will never have searched for office accommodation before and may find the market place daunting. There are so many different options to choose from that if you don't start the search with a clear idea of your dream office in mind, you're almost certain to waste a lot of time exploring options which will never fulfil your needs.
Lots of small business owners often think their only option is to sign up to long-term lease agreements, where they commit to an office space for several years. This can be extremely costly and inflexible. There are a wide variety of more flexible office space options in the market, and some office providers specialise in offering space to new start-ups and smaller firms.
With a long term lease, an office property will sit on your balance sheet as a liability, so tying yourself into a long-term deal while your business is still finding its feet can leave you under real pressure and is no longer necessary or the only option available.
Making rash decisions
When shopping for any product or service there's always the temptation to rush in and buy the first thing you find - and it's the same when looking for a first office. We've spoken to thousands of small firms so keen to move into an office they've signed up to the first contract put in front of them.
It's tempting to get things tied up and get moved in as soon as possible, but once the honeymoon period is over firms can be left stuck with an office which isn't suitable for them. You wouldn't just go out and buy a house and the same should apply when looking for your first office.
View at least three offices before making a decision, and make those three offices a bit different in terms of their offering. Sometimes, throw in a wild card office that you are a bit sceptical of - these can actually turn out to be ideal sometimes
Thinking cheap is best
Yes there are bargains to be had out there but the old adage of 'You get what you pay for', still rings true.
Small firms often work within limited budgets, which is why finding a cheap office is immediately appealing. However, it's important to realise the difference between cheap and offering value for money.
An office which is cheap but stops you from working productively isn't offering you value for money. Sometimes paying that little bit extra each month can leave you in a much improved working environment, thus improving the efficiencies of your business.
It's also worth bearing in mind that what's cheap at the start may not be cheap forever. We've heard from loads of firms who've been stung by seemingly cheap offices which, having not read the small print, they've found out rise steeply in price after a few months.
Often, this can happen with worn down properties that over time can cost companies a lot through maintenance and big fixes, whereas, their initially "expensive" counterparts will be better looked after and cost much less over time. Some more costly offices may even come with a regular maintenance deal from an Industrial cleaning company such as Ideal Cleaning who are the leading service in the UK that are able to keep things maintained. This may add a little onto the price tag, but will more that likely benefit you in the future.
Ignoring legal information
On the face of it office agreements might seem relatively simple, but look a little closer and you'll see they're subject to tight legal regulation. There may be a temptation to presume everything will be fine and sign away, but in reality you could be setting yourself up to fail before you've even started.
Conventional space agreements are the most complex and really shouldn't be agreed to without the involvement of a solicitor. These agreements take on average three months to get finalised, so it can be a costly and lengthy process
Serviced office agreements are less complex and do not usually require a solicitors involvement, but as with any documentation, it is important to read it carefully to ensure you know what you are signing up to. A number of office providers have gained the Crystal Mark seal of approval from the Plain English Campaign, which ensures that their license agreements are as clear and don't contain any confusing jargon.
Only thinking about the short-term
It's important to have a clear goal of where you want your business to be and this should include the type of office that will be suitable for your company in the mid-to-long-term.
It's easy to plan for an office to move in to right away, but how useful will it be a year down the line? What's perfect for your six-month-old business will not be so perfect when you've hired three staff and you've barely got room to move. It's important to think about how flexible your office space provider can be for your businesses growth should you need it.
We've also heard from clients who've moved into beautiful converted barns in the middle of nowhere, which have ended up being extremely difficult for new staff to commute to, as well as people working in inner city locations whose wages are slowly being drained by paying extortionate rates for parking every day.