03/07/2015

By James Poyser, co-founder of inniAccounts

Ambitious businesses have ambitious plans, and often find they need to abandon the kitchen table and put down roots sooner than expected.

This isn’t a decision to take lightly and it’s extremely important to assess location and property choices in line with your business plan. These should be your priorities:

What do you want to be known for? This may seem like a brand question, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s out of context, but it’s really important to have this question at the back of your mind. For example, if you want to be known for providing superior online service or having a great telephone support team then you need to have great infrastructure. For many businesses today, they can’t operate without broadband – it’s their glue. So the first thing I encourage you to do is consider what makes your brand the brand it is, and the physical ingredients that will underpin it. Office moves are expensive so you need to try and get it 99% right from the start.

Once you’ve identified the vital ingredients you can then move on to the specifics.

Infrastructure: Most businesses can’t run without some form of collaboration – relationships with vendors and partners are vital, and so being accessible will be an important influence on where you choose to locate. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be in a city centre but it may mean you need to think about having a central position in the country or a region, with good road and rail links. When you have a short-list then benchmark each location against the investment roadmap for the area. This will help you find a location that makes commercial sense – your business will grow as the area does.

Investment: As you create a shortlist you’ll establish that some places are better served than others when it comes to investment in small business, and those serious about scaling up their business. You’ll also see a pattern in the types of business that gravitate to certain areas – clusters of food producers in the West Country and artisan crafters and exporters in Wales. There’s good reason for this – it links to the investment plans mentioned above.

Take for example Derby, it’s the UK’s leading hi-tech city with 12% of the workforce employed in hi-tech functions – four times the national average and double that of other hi-tech cities Cambridge, Bristol and Reading. It’s serious about its position in the economy and so are its employers. Like so many areas of Britain it’s this approach to growing a ‘hub’ of expertise that engenders an entrepreneurial spirit of like-minded industry that you can’t manufacture, but will very definitely benefit from.

Employee engagement: With your employee profile in mind you need to consider where these people will come from and secondly what will help you retain them. Can you offer a working lifestyle that’s expected today? How easy will it be for them to get into the office, and will they be able to enjoy a run at lunchtime or a game of friendly netball in the evening? If you want to grow a loyal, engaged, happy and healthy team then striking the balance between commutable distances and instant access to facilities on the office doorstep has to be well thought through.

Education: This may seem a strange one as you can pretty much learn most things online, but if your core set of professionals need specialist training to develop their expertise then make sure you are near a great provider. Sometimes only face-to-face learning will do. Investment in people will help you attract and retain the right people. In addition, think about the quality of the schools and the universities near by. How will they help you find the next generation of employee for your business?

Networking: When you are starting out, there’s a strong case for ‘who’ you know not ‘what’ you know. Understand the private and public networking events in the area and identify how they will help you establish links that will build your business, from suppliers through to referrals.

Property: Once you’ve got a location in mind you need to think about what you want from a building. As you get into the search you’ll find conversations will revolve around how open plan you want to be, the kind of working atmosphere you want to create and the technology you could adopt to make flexible working a reality. It’s important to note that the more open minded you are the more likely you’ll achieve your wish list on budget.

Rates and rent: The list above will have helped you to narrow down your search, however the actual property lease terms can be the deal breaker, and as I mentioned before it’s expensive to move so you need to be close to perfect from the get-go. If you are really intent on growth then consider how much flexibility you have to expand within your contract and whether you’d incur penalties if you did it earlier than expected. You should also consider the business rates due on your property – as a small business you may be able to get full relief on your rates – check with your council.

The most exciting part about moving into an office is putting your stamp on it. Make sure you discuss with the landlord how much you can do to personalise the environment – are you limited to paint or can you move walls?

The ability to brand your eventual home will cement everything your property search is about – creating a space the team wants to come to and finds energising and inspiring, and one you’d be proud to welcome clients to. If it embodies your brand you’ll have made the right decisions.