1 Your Complete Guide to Serviced Offices How to ensure you get the perfect office for your business Barry Harvey General Manager Tel: Web: Colston Office Centre, Centre Gate, Colston Avenue, Bristol BS1 4TR
2 Contents Introduction: The only office you ll ever need What is a serviced office? A brief history How it works Your office in the virtual world The benefits of office space Who uses serviced offices? The products explained Getting the right space for your business Office space options Where do you start your search? General recommendations Prime factors affecting your decision Getting the best deal Setting up the office ICT Environment Working practices
3 The only office you ll ever need This sounds like a grand statement, but it just reflects the way serviced offices work: highly flexible, adaptable and with a sufficient range of products and services to provide a sound base for your business, through all it s various stages. Our serviced office guide provides a simple introduction to serviced offices: what they are, how they work, who uses them and why you should be considering them as an option. Additionally, we provide practical advice, including comparisons with other options, help with decision making, getting the best deal and how to think about the space once it s yours. First, however, a brief history
4 What is a serviced office? Before we explore exactly how the serviced office model works and its benefits, let s take a brief look at the history of serviced offices. Brief history Serviced offices, as they are known today, have been around since the seventies. In the US, they may have evolved from call centres for travelling salesmen. In the UK we have a precedent for sharing premises, staff and overheads in the shape of Barristers working together to form Chambers. The business centre, as we know it today, started appearing in the 70 and 80 s and has grown steadily since then, offering more and more services and flexibility to keep up with the demands of an ever changing business and technological environment. The provider usually rents space in a commercial office building, which is then converted into workready offices, meeting rooms and shared reception and switchboard. The provider then sub-lets directly to tenants on all-inclusive monthly rates and simple, short-term licenses. How it works The office suites are furnished with workstations usually comprising desk, pedestal and chair - and supplied with high speed broadband and telephones. You pay for the room and all the facilities as one monthly fee: cleaning, maintenance, refuse, utilities, rates, reception and switchboard, etc. are all included. You take the space you need and can move within the building as you grow and/or contract, according to the needs of your business. As well as dealing with phone calls and visitors at reception, staff can help with secretarial and admin requirements, as well as provide a concierge service so you don t need a secretary or PA. Meeting rooms, hot-desks and shared workspaces are available as and when you need them so you are not paying for extra space you don t always need. Business Centres work on flexible licences (a couple of pages, rather than a 50 page lease document) from monthly to annual, or even longer. Spaces are rented on all-inclusive monthly rates, which gives you control of cash-flow with easy in-easy out terms. Your centre can provide space from a single workstation, remaining competitive right up to workstations, depending on your needs and circumstances. Business centres are not usually branded, so there is little difference between renting a serviced office or a taking leased space in any other multi-tenanted building.
5 Your office in the virtual world Office space, however economic, is still a cost. If you need a particular location, but your business is not quite ready for that cost, can you still have an office? The answer is yes: you take a virtual office that gives you a mailing address, personalized telephone answering service, plus ancillary services like hot-desks, and meeting rooms, secretarial and admin services and business support. These days virtual isn t just about office space, there are all sorts of virtual services made possible by the cloud and there are many ways for business to work without large infrastructure and associated cost. Your requirements will depend on your business, of course. It makes sense for IFA s, coaches, accountants and IT professionals, perhaps, to work from home and clients and prospects would think nothing of it. A recruitment company, telecoms provider or solicitor, however, may feel physical space is appropriate. If you have more than one member of staff you may want to work together in one space. But it also depends on personality: can you cope with working at home or do you need the discipline and stimulus of an office environment? Nevertheless, if you are one of the many people for whom working at home is the perfect option - good lifestyle, no commute, low costs, see more of the family, etc. a virtual office can give you most of the benefits of physical space at a fraction of the cost.
6 The benefits of serviced office space So, back to the physical world. Essentially, what the serviced office model gives you is savings on time and money, reduced risk and support that can impact positively on business performance. Saving time Time is a somewhat illusive resource. We are reliably informed it costs money, but the cost can be intangible and we can t always afford to outsource services that would save us a significant amount. Telephone Management - Your calls are answered when you are not there or are busy. You get the information immediately so you can react quickly. Clients, prospects, suppliers, etc cannot talk to you directly, but they have spoken to a human and are confident the matter is being handled. You can also have your unwanted calls fielded, which minimises interruptions. We get dozens of sales call a day and know exactly which ones our clients want and which they don t. Facilities Management - There isn t any. A serviced office has everything set up for you so you don t have to worry about leases, maintenance, utilities, IT, furniture, etc it is already taken care of. And any additions you need can be provided on request. Ease of entry and exit - The simplicity of the licence speeds up the booking process and ensures you take up space as soon as you need it usually 2/3 pages and does not require a solicitor to interpret. Support services - Things like typing, scanning, copying, presentation documents can be prepared for you by the centre, which will usually have a concierge service and be able to recommend trusted suppliers to save you the hassle and risk of trialling new service providers. Saving money There are savings in the way the serviced office model works and in the benefits it offers your business. Shared Costs - In a business centre, the operator is buying services for the whole centre. You pay a percentage of these costs for the space you are occupying. However, the cost for your individual space would be considerably more - pro-rata - if you were paying for just that space alone. This includes utilities like electricity, gas and water as well as cleaning, maintenance, telecoms, broadband, furniture, stationery, IT consultancy and arranged discounts for third party services. Flexibility - The easy in/easy out terms of serviced office space means reacting to your business needs. If you need to grow, you can take a bigger office, but it also works the other way round if you need to contract you can move to a smaller office, giving you considerable financial control. Associated Expenses - A conventional lease involves major capital expenditure in the deposit, solicitors fees, fit-out, IT infrastructure, etc. These assets are then depreciating all the
7 time. At the end of the lease, dilapidations will need to be paid to make good the space you occupied. This level of outlay is not required for serviced offices: it s a simple licence, not requiring a solicitor or exposing you to dilapidations unless you invited the Rolling Stones in for a party! Overheads - Because your business centre provides so many on-site and outsourced services (such as secretarial, presentation preparation documents, copier and scanner, fax to , etc.), you don t need staff to help with these tasks, you can simply buy services as and when you need them, thus reducing overheads. And, if you need less staff, it follows that you will need less space - and one of the beauties of serviced office space is that you only ever take and pay for the space you need. Increasing business While you are scrabbling around trying to do everything in your business, how much business are you missing out on? Business Address - A professional, prestigious address for your business will help get you noticed, giving you credibility in the eyes of your clients, prospects and peers. You can get an address where you need to be near those clients and prospects, near your competition or out of town near transport networks if this suits you better. Add your name to local business directories; network and find partnerships with other businesses in the Centre and in the area you have chosen. If your calls are being answered also, this will add to the image you are trying to create. Business Support - Most Centres arrange at least some of the following: networking events; referral opportunities; recommended suppliers; free business consultations on a variety of subjects; business mentor service; seminars and training; library of books, white papers, e- books, blog, etc. Many of these Centres are also doing their best to get you noticed, improving your profile through their marketing activity, networking and contacts within the business community. Reduce your business risk It is very important for businesses to be agile and easily able to adapt to the constant changes in their trading environment. Tenure options - While you can sign up for a year or more, if it suits you, with serviced office space you can also usually take space for as little as a month at a time. You can even hire a desk just for a day, if you need to. You may even find reduced or no-deposit deals and free trials. As well as never needing to commit to longer than you feel comfortable with, these options mean minimal outlay and the flexibility to adapt, at all times, to the needs of your business: business is not always about growth sometimes you need to contract in order to survive and succeed.
8 Who uses serviced offices? Everyone form solo entrepreneurs to multinationals and large corporate companies can, and do. use serviced offices in one form or another, and here s how. Agile Worker Agile worker is a catch-all term for people who don t work 9-5, Monday to Friday in the same office. More familiar terms under this umbrella include home-worker, mobile worker, road warrior and flexible worker. It might be a freelancer working from home or consultant who spends a lot of time at client premises, a micro business with, as yet, no fixed abode, a salesman or someone working for a large business who doesn t spend all their time at the office. Some examples of how some of our clients use us: three national companies have a virtual office for a regional presence; several single-site businesses also use virtual for a second site to extend their market; we also have several agile workers using hot-desks one or two days a week. I have written a lot about agile working, so click on the link if you would like to find out more. It is worth giving home-workers a special mention. Many are happy at home, working in a familiar environment, around family needs and avoiding the daily commute and a lot of research has proved that productivity and happiness can be improved. However, it is not for everyone and many struggle with the isolation, the distractions and the discipline required. This is where co-working arrangements can help, providing a drop-in environment to work, meet people and build relationships many of our clients find this balance perfect for their needs. Start-ups Business Centres are a great place for new enterprises to start. Many of our clients have come to us as a new business and used virtual services, hot-desks and dedicated office space to help them grow. Some choose virtual because they have a main office elsewhere and just need a local presence or because they work from home. One or two wanted office space from the beginning and chose serviced because of the flexibility and low entry cost it gave them. Even before you start a business centre can be useful. We have had people come in during their planning stages: using our co-working space and meeting rooms to brainstorm, develop pitches, meet prospects, advisors, etc. Micro and small to medium businesses The BIS defines micro as 1-9 and SME s as employees. Quite a range, but believe it or not most centres have clients that fit the whole gamut. And even businesses larger than this use serviced offices to reduce real estate costs and gain flexibility.
9 For example, we have large national companies (up to 200 staff) taking office space with us or using our virtual services to give them a regional presence, a business headquartered in India with an office here, and several hot-desk users who s main office is elsewhere but who work, at least some of the time, in Bristol. Large businesses Many large businesses are concerned with real estate and associated costs and using serviced offices to supplement their core portfolio. They are also creating more fluid workspace in core offices that reduces the total number of desks (it is estimated that with illness, absenteeism, off-site work and meetings, offices can be up to 50% under-utilised at any one time) and allows for different ways of working that stimulates employees and saves on space. Temporary Work There are many situations where you will only need office space temporarily. If you have project work, or a short-term contract, a monthly license could be ideal. It can work equally well as part of your disaster recovery plan. We recently housed a group of students that needed quiet study time while their accommodation was being refurbished and we have looked after various businesses who needed swing space during an office move. The products explained Dedicated office: your own completely private office, fully furnished with telephone, including your own DDI, and broadband, reception and switchboard services with access to all the business support facilities like copier, fax, secretarial, meeting rooms, etc Shared/co-working space your own workstation, including telephone, broadband and lockable storage in an open plan office, with screens to give some privacy and access to on-site support as for dedicated office space Hot desk/touch-down facility using a desk for a day, even an hour, with telephone and WiFi and access to the usual on-site support. Meeting rooms a range of rooms from interview to seminar, with audio visual equipment, beverages and food available, can hire by hour or day. Secretarial from simple typing to preparing presentation documents, laminating and binding, charged by hour or by task. Business support this could include any or all of the following: recommended suppliers; discounted services; networking; training; free consultations and advice; resource library; marketing support and promotion of your business.
10 Getting the right office space for your business Assuming you have decided you need physical space, what are the options and how do you secure the best space for your business? We are going to compare other arrangements (like leasehold) with serviced, look at some of the factors that will influence your decision, how to find what space is available and how to get the best deal. Office space options Sharing Renting spare space from another business or joining with another business to share a larger office space is a viable option and currently very popular. It suits small businesses and can be very cheap, as many businesses have spare capacity and a bit of extra rent can make the difference between them staying in the space or not. Downsides are insecurity circumstances of head lessee can change and leave you without space at short notice and lack of flexibility you may not be able to grow or change the space to suit you. Also, as the name suggests, you may not have your own private space, which may be a problem. Lease A lease is a long term, fixed contract that offers security of tenure. It is a credible option, with long term stability if you do not expect your circumstances to change. In the recent economic climate, lease lengths have reduced considerably as have incentives like rent-free periods, making them a much more attractive proposition. Nevertheless, whatever the period, you are committed: there may be a break clause, but it will incur financial penalties if exercised. The deposit and rent is payable up front as with serviced but is paid quarterly, so the figures are higher. Additionally, you will pay for rates, utilities, fit-out, legal fees, surveyor fees, insurance, service charge, IT infrastructure, upward only rent reviews along with dilapidations (repair and restoration) on exit. Things to think about are what restrictions are on the space (can you make changes to suit you (especially difficult in a listed building), what are the break clause penalties and can you re-assign the lease. Purchase This is the most expensive option short-term, but cheaper long-term, and you own the asset once the mortgage is paid. You have complete control, a long-term investment (in theory at least), and the option to become a landlord if you do not need some or any of the space. Bear in mind though that this is a long term commitment. It ties up cash and market fluctuations can add to costs or decrease value, affecting your ability to sell on. Additionally, all costs, including maintenance, repairs and any problems, are yours. Serviced Well, the service model is what we are talking about here, so suffice to say that serviced offices offer a very flexible, adaptable and controllable option with no unwieldy up-front or exit costs. You also benefit from a lot of onsite, centralised services which, with lease or purchase, would be your sole responsibility.
11 It would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge a few downsides to serviced space. Although business centres are not branded, the spaces are still homogenous in many respects and in some circles do not have the same status as leased or purchased space and many business owners will undoubtedly see serviced as a stepping stone. And it has to be said that serviced offices may not be economical beyond 20+ workstations and at this point, any business still growing would need to review their situation carefully. This is not strictly a negative, simply a part of the business journey, but does need thought.
12 So, assuming you have chosen a serviced office, where do you start your search? Type serviced offices or office space into your browser and you are likely to see the larger providers, like Regus and MWB, and a whole host of broker sites, like Search Office Space, Office Broker, Instant Offices, etc. not to mention a host of other directories. In amongst all this, you will see a few Business Centres own websites, especially if you have added a local geographic to your search, e.g. serviced office Bristol. So what do you do? Option 1 sift through the Centre s you find websites for and contact directly. Pro s: get straight to the info you need; talk directly to ensure your needs can be met; may be able to negotiate better if Centre not paying commission to brokers Cons: time consuming; can take some effort to get like-for-like pricing NB we have a schedule that helps you compare prices accurately: Business Centre Cost Comparison Recommendations: talk to the Centres about your requirements and get a feel for the ones that can help you; use any info they provide (like advice and viewing aids) to streamline your search and get like for like comparisons Option 2 go to the brokers and get them to do the sifting Pro s: saves time; if you give them a good, specific brief you will get good search results; you only deal with one point of contact Cons: if you don t give them a good brief, be prepared for lots of unwanted info and calls from unsuitable centre s; sometimes this happens even if you do give them a good brief; not always knowledgeable about the geographical area in which you are looking Recommendations: give as tight a brief as possible; talk to broker as well as filling in online form; ask for information only, so you can view Centre quotes and websites at your convenience and not be inundated with phone calls Option 3 use a commercial property agent Pro s: they know the sector and have sound local knowledge Cons: serviced offices are not their speciality so you will not get as much info as the brokers or direct; not likely to be interested in very small numbers of workstations Recommendations: use for specialist knowledge about where your business should be; look at lease options to compare
13 General recommendations Always view the Centres. Of course, this takes time. It will help to shortlist by checking websites and any pictures and details and talking to the Centre manager to check location and facilities against your requirements, but ultimately this is an important decision and, apart from the essentials, it is also an emotional one: you have to be comfortable in the environment if you are going to spend nearly a third of your life there. So there is no shortcut to a personal viewing. When viewing, you need to know what you want to ask, what information is important to help you. I have known people come in with spreadsheets that enable them to compare services, costs and facilities. It may sound nerdy, but it is very efficient, especially if you are viewing a lot of sites after a while they all merge and you forget the details. Are you looking for ruthless efficiency or friendliness, ultra-modern or traditional? Do you want to be supported or left alone? Do you want a loose, flexible arrangement or do you need tight, highly defined parameters? Most of us naturally find happiness somewhere in between these extremes.
14 Prime factors affecting your decision Location, size, cost, ICT, environment, security, suitability (emotional response) and tenure are all important factors that contribute to your decision. The clearer you are about what you need, the easier you will find the task and the more likely you will be to get the right space for your business success. Location Do you need to be near customers, suppliers, competition or staff? If your business is technology based, specific location may not be so important. For a retail business, the exact location will be crucial. If you are selling a physical product, you may need control over your supply chain, which means being near suppliers, a warehouse or distribution centre, or an industrial estate where related products and services are available. It may also mean the ability to take deliveries yourself, with ease. What about staff? Do you need to be close to a residential area or public transport routes or on easy commuter routes to attract the right quality and levels of staff? Do you need to have parking available for staff and/or customers? Town centres offer good visibility and a prestigious address and you are near shops, banks, leisure facilities, etc and a concentration of potential staff and customers. Unfortunately, this comes at a premium higher rents, possibly more noise and pollution and less parking. Out-of-town sites can be cheaper, perhaps more modern and with more open space, cleaner air and parking. But there could be noise from major local roads, it may be more industrial and therefore less attractive and there may not be good facilities such as shops, banks, cafes etc within walking distance. Also, if not an easy commute, staff may be harder to find. Local knowledge If you don t have local knowledge, find it. Ask locally, talk to other tenants and any friends/family/contacts in the area, use the web and talk to local commercial property agents. Find out where the footfall is, where popular areas are, where rates are high, areas that may have difficulty with deliveries or heavy traffic, noise pollution or increased footfall at weekends (e.g. near/en-route to sports/music venues). Are there any outstanding planning applications?
15 Size Think about who you need space for: staff; visitors; meeting/interview; storage; equipment: welfare facilities; parking. Questions relating to size requirements could be: How many workstations do you need and is there flexibility for growth? Do you have a permanent or itinerant workforce: do you need permanent workstations or can they double up as hot desks? What layout do you want an intensive, work environment, like a call centre: minimum workstation space, little privacy, bright light, open plan, task focussed? Or do you need cellular space, like cubicles, bullpen or even separate offices, which take out some interaction but give privacy and saves on distraction? Or perhaps you need a larger, more creative and more relaxed space with plenty of interaction and a project-based focus. What space per workstation? Intense users, like a call centre, may only need c60 sq ft per person. Professional services/consultancy may need c120 sq ft per person. Do you need parking? Space required for receiving/holding/meeting with guests? What storage space do you need for paperwork, products, archives, etc? What space is needed for equipment and workflow/traffic around equipment, esp. machinery? Do you need your own integral space for reception or meeting rooms (this is not usually necessary as the business centre has a reception and meeting rooms)? Is there more space available if you grow (or less, if you have to contract)? Tenure The serviced office license is a simple and straightforward document and does not need a solicitor or a degree in Latin to interpret. You can take space for a month, a quarter or a year or two. You may get a better rate if you can commit to a longer term, but remember you are committed to pay for whatever term you sign up for: if this is not right for your business, then don t be tempted. Just get the best deal you can for what you need. If you only commit to monthly at least to begin with you will be able to terminate very quickly and easily, should you require. This is very beneficial to a new or young business, when you are not yet sure of the shape, size and potential of your business.
16 Cost No business can afford to waste money. The obvious answer to the matter of cost might be to work from home. But, what if you need more staff, more space, greater credibility? And home-working is not for everyone self discipline, distraction and isolation can be issues for many trying to work at home. If being at home works for you, it can be a great way to start, especially if you are testing an idea or market. You could even claim expenses although take sound advice on this, it is a minefield. Apart from the tax issues, you may need to think about local authority planning for certain aspects, like business use on domestic premises, neighbours, extra buildings, etc. The average serviced office in Bristol for 2012 was around per month, per workstation (Instant Global Serviced Office Review 2012). Now, prices will vary around this and there are also promotional offers available and, with the recession keeping downward pressure on commercial space generally, you will be able to negotiate a little. This is affordable for most businesses, especially when you consider that it is an all-inclusive cost that is rent, rates, utilities, service charge, broadband and telephones, furniture, etc. However, what if you have already taken office space on a conventional lease? Why think about changing; are there any cost savings? Well, if your situation is secure and comfortable, there is no need to look around yet, you can wait until your lease is naturally due for renewal (bearing in mind long notice periods). If your business has changed, though contracted perhaps or you are facing increased costs generally - then the serviced office option could compare favourably to a lease in terms of cost without any loss of credibility. This could mean that any penalties for taking up a break clause could be outweighed by savings in serviced offices over leasing costs.
17 Cost comparison These figures are meant as a guide and include a lot of assumptions and over-simplifications, but they do give you an idea. They illustrate the considerable savings where lower numbers of workstations are involved and how this diminishes as the number grows. You would need to go through your own estimating process to get accurate comparisons for your specific needs. Firstly, a two/three workstation office of around 200 sq ft (we will ignore the fact that you would be unlikely to get this small a space on a lease). Example rent psf = 2, pa (A reasonable rate for space in Bristol currently - headline rent is around 27psf). Rates and service charge psf = 2, pa (This is ball-park and will vary) Utilities, maintenance, refuse 2, pa IT and telecoms 1, (leased SDSL line would be more) Furniture 1, pa (one-off cost) Legal fees pa (one-off cost) Building insurance pa Dilapidations pa (one-off cost) Total 11,200 per annum, first year At the above rate of per workstation, per month, serviced space would cost 6, (2 w/s) - 9, p.a. (3 w/s) On a larger space, say workstations in 1,000 sq ft. the costs would look like this Example rent psf = 10, pa Rates and service charge psf = 10, pa Utilities, maintenance, refuse 5, pa IT and telecoms 3, (leased SDSL line would be more) Furniture 7, (one-off cost) Legal fees 1, (one-off cost) Building insurance 1, pa Dilapidations pa (one-off cost) Total 40, per annum, first year Rate for this amount of space in serviced offices , pa (A wide range, could be more but I doubt it would be less)
18 ICT infrastructure This will obviously depend on the nature of your business, but common considerations would include quality of cabling (most buildings should have cat5 or above) and whether perimeter trunking or under-floor/ceiling cabling is provided. What internet provision is available (at least SDSL) and is there room for the hardware you need? How well is the building s infrastructure able to handle current and future levels e.g. ducting, electricity circuits and the level of access points for telecoms, ethernet, etc. to meet your requirements? Is the electricity circuit sound, regularly inspected and sufficient for your needs and with provision for surge protection and power back-up? Do you have specialist IT or telecoms requirements? Do you need extra broadband space? Do you need extra space for your own server, router firewall, software or other equipment? Is there on-site or remote support? Is this easy to tap into and what are the costs and response times? Support What services are available? Meeting rooms, 24 hr access, cleaning, IT services, reception services and hours, secretarial and admin, fax-to- , furniture and phone systems, broadband, air conditioning, meeting space, kitchen and supplies, showers, bike storage, out-of-hours voic , networking opportunities. What other resources are offered: general business info; business mentors, free consultations, business advice, third party offers, etc. The building This covers all manner of issues: heating, lighting, sound, layout, design, etc., and will depend on your practical requirements, systems, values, and personal preferences. Will people be cycling/running to work? Do you need lockable storage space and showers? Energy efficiency ratings will be important in understanding the likely utilities costs of any building and values of the landlord. Look also at lighting levels, ample supply of power and data points, perimeter or under-floor cabling and air conditioning. Staff conditions are important in terms of heat - warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer; light - electric versus natural; welfare issues such as provision and condition of toilets and compliance with health and safety issues like disability access, enough space to work, ergonomic conditions and furniture. Also, will people be cycling, running or walking to work? Do you need lockable storage space and showers? Do you want a modern or more traditional look? Colours, styles, lighting and layout all have an effect on employees. Does the site use furniture, rather than structural framework, to create privacy even within an open area, like screens to create meeting space?
19 Plants and the ability to personalise can also have an effect making for a less informal and comfortable environment. How does the building achieve this? Sound is also an issue both within your office space and any separate, integral areas you may have and outside, e.g. party walls, noise from traffic, etc. Security of the building is also important for staff and contents. Obviously all should be insured, but avoidance is still best practice. Is the office in a safe area? Do you have manned reception and/or video intercom? Are there adequate fire protection, alarm and evacuation procedures, power back-up and surge protection systems in place and monitored? What are your responsibilities within your own demise? Are furniture items and storage areas, server rooms, etc all lockable and fire-protected? Emotional consideration Well, we are human, after all. Despite the technology around us, we are not machines. When making decisions, we can and should make lists, comparisons, weigh up pro s and con s, etc. (we even have some templates to help you do this). However, there is also an emotional element to our choices. Sometimes it just feels right. You get that feeling when looking for a new house it may not even match all your criteria, but it gives you a good feeling and you can easily imagine living there. Why should your workspace be any different? You spend ay least eight hours a day there and you want to be productive and enjoy your work. The environment you work in is an important part of that and your happiness and comfort there will go a long way toward your success. Does the building have a good atmosphere, do you like the people around you and does it feel comfortable, does it reflect who you are and what you want your business to be? Does it reflect how your clients see themselves and the type of organisation with which they want to do business?
20 Getting the best deal You ve done all the research, know what you want and picked your office: now you have to secure the space at the right price and on the best terms. Getting down to the nitty-gritty Make sure you understand all the costs involved. It is important to compare like-for-like. Serviced office price structures vary. Some quote an all-inclusive price, many offer a basic rent with items such as broadband and telephone kept as additional charges. You should know exactly what you need and get the costs for everything. If it sounds too cheap, it probably is. As well as our own resources the Business Centre Association also offers help and advice. An obvious and important factor is budget. You may need to fact-find to get an idea of costs, but work that into your finances and decide what you can afford, what is included and what isn t. And if a service is currently excluded, but is something you need, can you negotiate it in? What are the terms for notice periods, etc I don t need to remind you to read the small print. Check telephone numbers. Do you need to take one with you? Do you want to take the new number when you leave? It is all possible to achieve, just make sure you ask the questions. Finally, try negotiating on price: deals are currently still possible, although serviced office is space is performing better than leased space and prices are going up. Nevertheless, there is enough competition in the market place to keep each operator on their toes. Signing on the dotted line I know I ve already said it, but read the small print. Negotiate terms if they are not quite to your liking. They are normally very flexible, but try to adapt further if you need to. For example, licenses usually roll over automatically if you miss a notice date and you need to be aware of this. Check the implications if you contract or grow (the latter will not usually be a problem). You will normally pay a deposit, zero rated, and then monthly in advance for rental and monthly in arrears for services. Moving in is quick and easy: and takes very little time to set up. Make sure the provider understands you requirements for phone answering, message taking, etc. Remember, they are representing your business: they will be professional but the more they know the better they can perform. Keep monitoring the situation The point of serviced is flexibility, which means you are not tied in. If things don t work out you can move. Admittedly it might be a pain stationery, letters to clients, etc. - but it wouldn t make sense to let inertia harm your business. However, it doesn t have to be so extreme. It is unusual to be so close to a supplier as you are when you rent space in a business centre. In conventional, leased space you will rarely see the landlord and only in larger buildings might you see an on-site facilities manager. So, use this opportunity to give your centre feedback, suggest improvements or ideas. None of us are so arrogant as to believe we have everything right. And if we see a way to make our service better, and assuming it is practical (no calls for offices to be turned into cocktail lounges, please), we are only too happy to make it happen.