If your business is based in your home, what should you use as a business address? You have five options, and we’ll examine the pros and cons of each here.
Option 1 – Your Home Address
While this is tempting because it is free and convenient, it is probably the worst option. Here’s why:
Privacy: The biggest and most definite concern is that your home address will be public. It is likely to be on the internet, on business cards and other correspondence, and will be listed with the Secretary of State’s office if you are registered. This means that anyone could turn up at your door, and anyone on the internet will be able to see your home and environs. You can choose to list no address on websites and business cards, but you can’t keep it completely secret and you will run into credibility problems as some clients will be wary of a company with no address.
Professional Image: Home businesses are certainly more common and accepted these days, but clients still take you more seriously when they see a business address. You run the risk that clients will perceive you to be a mickey mouse operation if you hand someone a business card that is clearly a residential address, especially if it has an apartment number.
Google My Business: Google requires you to have a physical business address to create a Google My Business account. You will not be able to complete the Google verification process with a home address or a PO Box.
Liability: LLCs and corporations are designed to limit personal exposure to the liabilities of the business, but that limitation could be compromised by a failure to demonstrate sufficient separation between your business and personal life. If you are operating as any type of limited liability entity and working from home, you should consult an attorney before using your home address as your business address.
Rules and Regulations: If you do plan to use your home address as your business address, make sure it doesn’t run afoul of any rules imposed by your lease, your homeowners’ association, or any zoning or other municipal regulations that might restrict commercial activities in your home.
Option 2 – The Post Office Box
Once a business owner has determined that the home address is not the way to go, his or her next stop is usually the PO Box. While this option solves many of the home address problems, it does not solve the professional image problem and it does not solve the Google verification problem.
PO Boxes come with some added problems of their own. They will not be accepted by banks and most government agencies as a business address, they will not appear on Google map searches, and many delivery services will not deliver packages to a PO Box.
Costs vary by individual post office location and by box size, but they range from about $20 to $75 for a six-month rental. It is definitely one of the least expensive options, but there are better alternatives that are perfectly affordable.
Option 3 – The Shipping Store
The most familiar version of a shipping store is the UPS Store. The UPS Store will rent you a mailbox with a physical street address and provide some assistance with mail handling, such as forwarding mail and notifying you when you have packages.
The shipping store is definitely an improvement over the PO Box, but may still come with professional image problems because sometimes the address is recognizable as a strip mall, and if anyone on the internet looks up your address they will be able to see that it is a shipping store.
Costs vary by store, box size, and added services but they start at around $30 a month.
Option 4 – The Digital Mailbox
Many people do not yet know that this option exists. The digital mailbox is a physical address that you can rent through a website. You select from a list of address options, open an account and pay a subscription fee. You download an app through which the digital mailbox operator sends you scanned images of your mail pieces and gives you options like forwarding, scanning, or shredding.
A disadvantage, at least at this time, is that location options are limited, so the nearest one to you may be in another town or city many miles away. This isn’t an issue for getting your mail since it’s all handled through the app and you never have to go to the physical location, but if your business is local and you want a local address there is a good chance one won’t be available if you are not in a major urban area. There is also no pickup option, which means you either need to be comfortable with the operator opening and scanning your mail, or wait for it to be forwarded.
The subscription fees start very low, some under $10 per month, but additional fees will likely apply for the forwarding or other handling of your mail.
Option 5 – The Virtual Office in a Coworking Center
The virtual office in a coworking center solves all problems of the other alternatives, and comes with added benefits. Coworking centers rent furnished office space on flexible terms, in addition to offering business services of which mail receiving is just one. You pay a membership fee which can include only the mailing address (or “virtual office”), or can include access to the coworking center and its other services.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the home-based business is lack of a professional setting in which to meet with clients. Meeting in garages and coffee shops is neither professional nor functional. Coworking centers offer professional meeting space that you can rent by the hour. You can also rent a desk or an office by the hour for those days when the home environment is too isolating, or too distracting. Many coworking centers even include some of these hourly rentals in their virtual office membership packages.
Coworking centers have business services and amenities, like internet, coffee, copy/print/scan/fax equipment, administrative services, and tech support. Many of them offer the same mail app services as the digital mailbox websites. Many can even provide a virtual phone, which is a business phone number that forwards to your mobile phone so you can keep your business and personal calls separate. And if anyone Googles your address they will see a professional office building.
Even with all these advantages, the biggest according to surveys, is the social aspect and the network that you tap into. Members of coworking centers are people just like you, solopreneurs, freelancers and other remote workers, with whom you can interact, make friends, and find opportunities for business collaboration.
Virtual office prices vary greatly depending on center, location, and the services bundled into your membership. But most offer a variety of membership packages to fit most budgets. Costs for a mailbox alone at a prestigious address in a major urban area can be over $100 per month. But in other areas they can be comparable with shipping store prices.
If you want more services bundled into your membership, it will of course cost more than alternative business address options, but none of the other options will solve every business address problem, provide a package of integrated business amenities, and connect you to a community of independent professionals. You are likely to find that the extra cost is worth it for all the added benefits.