06 Aug

What it Means to be a Virtual Business

Definition of virtual small businessYou might have heard the term, “virtual small business.”  But do you really understand what it means if your small business customers operate “virtually”?

One definition of a virtual business is a business that operates leanly, outsourcing to third parties whenever possible.  It may not have any full-time employees except the owner and possibly a few others. 

The headquarters will not be very large.  It doesn’t need to be large.  The people in the organization are scattered in multiple locations, sometimes across the globe.  They work from their own homes or offices. Many will be part-time.

I stumbled across a superb example of a virtual small business, from the website of Mr.Excel.com:

MrExcel.com is more than just a technical support website. *** Give a tip of the hat to the folks who make MrExcel what it is … EXCEL-LENT!

– Bill Jelen in Akron Ohio
– Lora White manages the office in Uniontown, Ohio.
– Linda Delonais is technical editor of our books.
– Ivana Taylor is our virtual VP of marketing.
– Wei Jiang is a full time programmer and project manager in Shiyan City. He is proficient in Visual Basic, Excel and Access.
– Tracy Syrstad project manages all of the consulting projects at MrExcel. She is editor of all of the Holy Macro! Books and co-author of our newest book on Excel VBA.
– Suat Ozgur is a full time Excel, Access, VB and php developer in Istanbul.
– Anne Troy is author of a book on Microsoft Word that we are publishing this fall.
– Barb Jelen works in Tucson and processes all of the orders placed through the MrExcel store.
– Scott Pierson does all of our flash design from Philadelphia.
– Mala Singh runs the MrExcel Graphics & Engineering Division in India.
– Richard Kranesis in Chicago runs the MrExcel-branded training around the country, offering on-site Advanced Excel to companies.
– We have a number of part time programmers who moonlight while still working at their day job. Lest their bosses find out, let’s thank Al, Angelita, Anhtuan, Audrey, Brian, Colo, Cory, Cort, David, Dawn, Duane, Harry, Ian, Ivan, James, Jake, Jay, Juan Pablo, Marcel, Marie, Mark, Mark, Nate, Nick, Richie, Robert, Russell, Scott, Skip, Suat, Tom, Tom, Tracy, Wendy, and Zack for their expertise in various Office products.
– There are 3 dozen incredible volunteer MVP’s and 100’s of Excel Gurus who answer questions tirelessly at the message board. Thanks to all of them for making what I believe is the best Excel resource available anywhere.

As you can see from this example, virtual small businesses do not look like smaller versions of large corporations. Instead, they’re more like ad hoc composites of people coming together temporarily for a common purpose.  There’s a fluidity to the business structure.

It’s hard to put your finger on where the business is located. In fact, location ceases to be important except to identify where to reach someone on the team.

What I also like about the above example is that it portrays the food chain existing off of what might be a one-or-two employee business.   Never judge the economic impact of a small business on the number of employees it has.   It could have a much larger impact in terms of contracting with other small businesses. 

Maybe Ivana, the virtual VP of marketing, will shed some light on this phenomenon for us.

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  1. Ivana Taylor said on August 8th, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Hey everyone! Thanks so much for the nod Anita! And thanks for really pointing out a critical success factor for small businesses; be clear about what YOUR strengths are, be even clearer about who your ideal customer is and how THEY want to be treated, then develop a system of experts that will make YOUR business the obvious choice for them. When you think about it that way, your ideal customer can’t help but choose you because you’ve surrounded yourself with experts and tools that these customers appreciate.

    Hope you all continue to visit http://www.strategystew.com and give me your two cents on that.

  2. Mary Ellen Merrigan said on August 8th, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Great summary. This points to the “small is the new big” theory. I know several professionals that are running million dollar companies from their back room. It’s a different business model the one that existed in the 80s or 90s.

  3. EJMalyn said on August 9th, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    A “Tip of the Hat” to all at MrExcel. I am very impressed.

  4. Bill Jelen said on August 10th, 2007 at 5:16 am

    One interesting aspect of being virtual is that many of us have never met face-to-face. I’ve been working with many of those people for six years. While we communicate regularly by e-mail, telephone, or instant messaging, it seems fairly normal that we’ve never met in person.

  5. Chris said on August 16th, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    It is a different business model the one that existed previously and it is definitely changing the way we do – and view – business. Bill points this out in his comment regarding how it’s become the norm to conduct business with those we’ve never met face-to-face. And it’s obvious the impact that this is having.

    “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

  6. Amanda said on August 17th, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Virtual business is changing the way we do everything. Face to face business is steadily declining. How can you expect it not to when you can apply for bank accounts, loans, buy stamps, etc online.

  7. Dobes Vandermeer said on November 10th, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    We’re certainly building a virtual business over here – I like being a bunch of contractors and entrepreneurs working from home. My only concern is that when we grow, how can we manage the quality of work? As we add people it can be hard to judge the quality of a hire you may never have met.

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