Trend: Small Businesses Go Virtual

The future is likely to be the age of virtual businesses. The newly opened two-person office will be able to look big, established, and successful. Build a really good website, toss in some color printers, fast computers, and cell phones, and you're halfway there. After that, it's a question of leveraging your creativity and ability to partner with other entrepreneurs.

The virtual business is the epitome of the less is more dictum -- less expense leaving more profit.

Not every business in the future will be able to go virtual -- at least we don't think so today. But as the line between what's virtual and what's real blurs, going virtual will become more attractive.

Let's make one thing clear, virtual doesn't mean the business isn't for real. It just means all that heavy, expensive stuff won't be sitting there eating money when not in use.

Who cares whether the home office of Acme Thingamajig has 300,000 square feet as long as Acme is able to deliver those thingamjigs. Performance is what counts, not the number of employees or the size of the company cafeteria.

    For vendors and service providers, reaching virtual businesses will be an even bigger challenge than selling to traditional small businesses. Often virtual businesses pick vendors by word of mouth. Because they rely on other businesses for much of their output, they'll tend to network and look to their partners for purchasing advice.

    It will be hard to find the physical location of some virtual businesses, so the old fashioned sales call won't always work. With virtual businesses on the rise, companies will be developing new ways to communicate with decision makers. Think permission-based email marketing for one. Finding them online is another alternative.

    Virtual businesses will run lean. They won't have much time to be sold to, so expect relationship management to take on added importance. Savvy companies will make the investment to recognize the special needs of the virtual business.

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