North West Business Services NI, based in the outskirts Claudy, Co.Derry/Londonderry, is a virtual office project that was launched in December 2012 by the Rural Area Partnership In Derry (RAPID). The project, which is a social enterprise, has been funded by the Rural Development Programme for two years and will be sustained after the funding period by any profit generated by the business.
As a result of the economic downturn, SME’s in the rural area are trying to reduce office overheads in order to keep their businesses afloat, however administrative tasks still need to be carried out and some SME’s struggle to keep on top of their paperwork. Market research carried out by RAPID established a need for a facility for small businesses to outsource their administration, and ultimately reduce the overheads associated with a traditional office base. A business plan was then drawn up and North West Business Services NI was established bearing a social objective to cater for the business needs of the rural SME sector.
North West Business Services NI aims to provide an affordable alternative to a traditional office base, providing services such as; general administration, telephone answering and call forwarding, a business mailing address for people working from home but wanting a professional address, small accounts support, telemarketing, market research/surveys, meeting room facilities and office space. The services can be utilised on a casual basis with no long term commitment, offering businesses flexible packages so they only pay for the hours of work they require.
In order to market our business we have largely used social media. We use Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and online directories such as Yell.com and Yellowtom Derry (a local online directory). We also have our own website, with a recently launched weekly blog offering business tips and experiences to SME’s. The traditional methods of flyers, mail shots and newspaper articles have also been used as part of the marketing plan. Networking events throughout the North West have also proved successful in marketing the business, events such as speed networking and business enterprise weeks have been very effective in spreading the word about the services available and to network with potential clients.
It took a while to get off the ground
Being the first of its kind in the area, the virtual office took a while to get off the ground as a lot of businesses were reluctant to spend money on something that wasn’t common in the area. A strong marketing plan was therefore essential at the beginning of the project. A year and four months into the project and we have built a great client base, with a wide range of businesses utilising the services. We have provided services to businesses such as retail security consultant, marketing consultant, digital marketing company, health and safety consultancy and a software developer. Hence, the virtual office is something that can be suited to many different types of SME’s. We hope in the future to develop our offices to create more office space and training facilities so that more businesses can avail of the services available, which in turn will help to create further employment within the virtual office.
Written by Roisin Farren. For more information visit www.northwestbs.com