By Rosie Niven, Guardian Professional, 4-11-2013
Where should you base your small business? Entrepreneurs explain what role location plays in the running of their SMEs
Whether a business starts life on the kitchen table or in the boardroom, it is likely that decisions will have to be made at some point about where it will be based.
For Vincent Dignan, founder of the social writing platform Planet Ivy, the decision was made within a few months of launching the business from his bedroom in 2012. After he linked up with an editor, they needed a better arrangement and started working in Google Campus, a co-working space in London set up by the search engine giant.
"There are lots of benefits of working in shared workspace rather than a private office," says Dignan. "It's a good place to network. It's there we found investment, our lawyer and got media coverage."
The downside of this free workspace was that each startup did not have its own specified area, meaning that the Planet Ivy team was not always able to work together. Currently, Planet Ivy's workforce is split between another rent free shared workspace in King's Cross and a small office in nearby Holborn, which gives its marketing and tech teams more security for their equipment and a secure internet server.
"You don't always have to pay a lot for office space," says Dignan, who is based with the editorial team at Tent in King's Cross. "Startups should be looking to strike deals with people."
Just a few years ago, the idea of businesses being run by a group of people working remotely from laptops or from a smartphone took a stretch of the imagination, but technological changes have made this possible. One beneficiary is Colins IT, an IT support company which uses technology to serve clients all over the UK from its Coventry base.
Colins IT uses cloud technology to help overcome some of the challenges posed by having a workforce that is rarely in the office.
"We mostly work remotely so we do not have to be on site," says managing director Colin Durrant. "Engineers are often travelling around at the same time so a lot of the stuff we do comes down to task management."
Colins IT uses the productivity software Asana to manage tasks and check their status. This allows team members to create and update tasks using mobile apps and emails.
At some point in their development, businesses often have to make decisions on expansion and sometimes relocation. Despite serving clients in the south of England, Durrant has no immediate plans to open a branch in that part of the country. But he does have a strategy for how to appeal to clients looking for a London-based service provider without investing in staff and premises.
"A lot of people set up a virtual office," he explains. "You can buy a phone line related to the area and a virtual address. We might have a London number but we wouldn't have anyone there physically. It would just give us presence if we need to be in the area."
But for some businesses, it is essential to be where their clients are. Kristina Spionjak set up the fashion PR agency Rouge Noir in 2011 to cater for emerging designers. She has found London attracts designers to it "like a magnet" and there is little to justify a physical presence elsewhere in the UK.
Rouge Noir's main office is in Camden, which Spionjak says is used for meetings and as showcase space for clients. "I sometimes use the private members 'Hospital Club' at Covent Garden for events, networking and meetings because of its convenient central London location, lovely food and cocktails," she says.
Location also influences recruitment. "Working in PR and fashion it has to be London, mother base central," says Spionjak, whose PA is based in nearby Hatfield with a press office and photographer in London itself. But she says some roles are not bound by location, so in those cases she recruits based on talent and reputation. "It's a practical arrangement," she adds.
At the moment some of Spionjak's seven colleagues are spread across Europe with a social media manager in Croatia, a graphic designer in Germany and a copywriter in Belgium. Spionjak says that modern technology makes managing a team divided by international borders very easy. "We all communicate on a regular basis via Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and even email. If there are network problems, we use the 'Dial-a-Code' app that minimises expenses for international mobile and landline numbers."
Rouge Noir uses the collaboration tool Flow to manage files, deadlines, tasks and discussions online in one place.
"The team can quickly, easily discuss projects, set deadlines, take notes when they're out on the go," says Spionjak. "Everyone is on the same page so I can easily keep tabs on everything. Thanks to this, we have no lost tasks, projects, or missed emails."
While technology can make remote and multi-location working possible, it is not for everyone. Epiphany, a search marketing agency that employs more than 130 in Leeds, London and Sydney, is one company that prefers its team to be strong and integrated. Tom Salmon, group marketing director at Epiphany, says the agency has found that it is important to have people working in the same space, despite the digital nature of its work.
"Our production teams are based in the same offices to make sure that face-to-face communication is easy," says Salmon. "It simply gets the best results."
Even for startups, the ideal set-up is often for the team to be based in one place. Project Ivy's Vincent Dignan hopes one day to base his startup's editorial, tech and marketing teams together. "Ultimately, we will have to get everyone under the same roof in a office with meeting rooms," he says.>>>