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Virtual Offices Address the Needs of Small Businesses, Professionals

Come February, Colorado-based virtual workspace provider Intelligent Office is looking to have several “roommates” on board when it opens for business in its new La Jolla home.

The 4,500-square-foot space, in an office building at 4275 Executive Square, will be the franchise company’s first Southern California location, with more San Diego area offices on the way, offering furnished workspaces with an a la carte array of support services geared to small businesses and mobile professionals.

The company competes locally and nationally in the growing virtual-office sector with established rivals including Premier Business Centers of Irvine, United Virtual Office of Tustin, Utah-based Davinci Virtual Office Space & Solutions and U.K.-based Regus PLC.

Leaders of Intelligent Office say their target customers include solo business operators — such as accountants, attorneys, management consultants and other freelancers — who need a place to occasionally meet clients and customers in a professional setting. That includes professionals who normally work from an office in their house, but don’t want their home and business lives clashing.

“Structural” Support

“These are the kinds of companies that might be starting out small and they just don’t need a large physical office on a full-time basis,” says Gustavo De La Fuente, the local president and San Diego County franchisee for Intelligent Office. “The way people work is changing — with the technology you can work anywhere.”

The La Jolla office will have two conference rooms and 14 individual offices that can be pre-scheduled for use, with lock-and-key mailboxes available to give mobile entrepreneurs a business address in a marquee location.

On-site services can be purchased in numerous combinations and include receptionist and phone answering services, professional appointment scheduling, data entry, client account management and mail forwarding.

After touring the facilities (contact numbers are on the firm’s website), customers are prescreened to verify business and credit information as part of the service purchase process. Once on board, monthly costs to businesses can range from approximately $100 to $1,800 per month, depending on the desired offerings.

“It lets the business owner choose what services they want to use, and how often they want to use them,” said De La Fuente, adding he plans to have five or six offices opened locally in the next five years.

The privately held Intelligent Office began operations 15 years ago and has 50 of the virtual offices up and running nationwide, with its only other California location in Walnut Creek.

According to the Global Workspace Association, an industry trade group with headquarters in Irvine, office business centers with packaged services saw global revenue nearly double between 2007 and 2010. Annual worldwide revenue is now over $10 billion, including $3 billion in the U.S., and is projected to grow 5 percent to 7 percent annually over the next five years.

Despite its long-term prospects, the virtual office sector has obstacles to overcome. Kevin Culbert, a senior analyst with business research firm IBISWorld Inc. in Santa Monica, said that since the economy soured in 2008, many businesses have cut back on outsourced phone-answering and other services.

In addition, traditional office space in most markets, including San Diego, has become plentiful as downsizing companies cut their square-footage requirements.

Still, Culbert said smaller companies are finding efficiencies in sharing receptionist and other support costs with adjacent tenants. The virtual offerings and on-site meeting spaces allow smaller firms to project a more professional image.

He said one well-known company Colorado-based shoemaker Crocs Inc. started out with virtual office services when it had 10 employees, and was still using those programs when it had reached 800 workers. More companies will be using virtual offerings as the economy improves, especially as awareness builds about online and “cloud” services increasingly being deployed by business.

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