By Glenn Harrison, Co-Founder and Director, Answer-4u.

The Government recently announced that many vacant government offices will in future be made available to be used by small businesses, but will that be enough to entice entrepreneurs back into our city centres?

There was a time when any business worth its salt aspired to have city centre offices. Having an address on a prestigious street in the middle of town was regarded as a sign of a successful business, a business to be taken seriously which was here to stay.

In addition, for many businesses, particularly in service sectors like finance, legal, architecture and marketing, being in the city meant that you were near to many of your clients, making it easy for them to visit you or for you to see them.

Now, I have to admit that in certain cases there are definitely benefits to being based in the city. In the call-centre sector that we are in for instance, there are advantages to being based near to the telephone exchanges in the city and having the security of multiple lines from different providers. Also, for the majority of our staff, it is convenient to get to and from the city centre on public transport, particularly as they are coming in at different times on shifts.

However, the world has changed rapidly over the last decade, and I feel that for most small businesses there are now very few advantages in having a city centre office. In some regional cities, like Derby for instance, the city centre office market is declining dramatically.

I think that one of the main issues is transport. Getting into the city centre by public transport is fine if you don’t need to use a car, but it is usually necessary to use a car to get to meetings to see clients in other parts of the region or country. Most cities have become very unfriendly places for the business person who needs to use a car.

The cost of parking in the city is very expensive and traffic wardens can be found on every corner, ready to fine the driver who dares to stay even a minute longer than their allotted time. To compound matters, there are now additional charges for drivers to contend with in many places, like London’s Congestion Charge, and the Workplace Parking Levy which is being introduced where we are based in Nottingham, and other cities across the country are following suit with their own forms of taxes for motorists.

I believe that this is one of the main reasons why many business people are choosing to base their companies out of town now, with ample parking spaces and far less traffic congestion issues. But there are also other reasons why businesses are choosing to steer clear of the city. Over the last 10 years we have experienced a technological revolution. Broadband and mobile phone technology is affordable to all businesses and their staff. This means that people don’t even have to be in the same office anymore, in fact in my business, staff have the facility to work from home if necessary, all they need is a telephone and a computer and off they go.

I have also noticed another trend in recent years. Many of our clients are now operating from virtual or serviced offices. This option gives businesses the prestige of a city centre address without actually having to be based there. If they then add on a professional call answering service like ours, then to all the world it appears to any potential customer that they are based in swanky city offices anyway.

However, I also think that the kudos of having a city centre address has diminished. Customers are far more interested in the standard of your work and your reputation than where you are based, plus they know that if you don’t have the big overheads associated with expensive offices, you are likely to offer them better value for money.

So, before you invest in an expensive city centre office with all of the associated costs, just think about whether you really need it, or whether you could save money and offer your clients a better service by choosing to work out of town, where the quality of life, not to mention the air, is likely to be much better anyway.

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