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Online businesses often find themselves in the position of not having a physical location but still needing a business mailbox or virtual office. You’ll need a business address for many things including your business cards, tax return, permits, a bank account, and mail delivery. You have a couple of options when you are choosing what to list as the physical street address for your small business and they each have different features and considerations.
One option for a business address is to use a PO box with the United States Postal Service. This has some limitations.
Using a PO box is an affordable way to receive mail in a private mailbox. However, a PO box is not as useful in all instances. Many accounts prohibit use of a PO mailbox address when signing up and will require a street address. Some companies won’t ship things to PO boxes. And customers may be suspicious of a PO box address. If you use a PO box you may want to add a feature called “Street Addressing” which allows you to use the street address of the post office where you receive mail. The USPS Street Addressing program also does not allow you to use this address as your place of business in any legal documents.
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A Virtual Mailbox service may be just what business owners need to receive mail and project an official professional image to customers
With a typical virtual mail service, there will be several locations (real street addresses) for you to choose from locally to receive business mail. They may be UPS stores, notary businesses, or other businesses with physical addresses that can provide mailboxes for rent. Your business will be provided with an address comprised of the street address and often a box number. You can usually list this address as your business’ address, though there may be restrictions on what you can use it for. You can almost always use this address to receive business mail. When the virtual mailbox service receives your mail, there are a few things they can do depending on the service and what you request. They may notify you that mail has arrived and hold it for you to pick up in person. Or they may scan it and upload it to a portal or email it to you. They may also do both. And they can also usually shred or delete items if you direct them to do so. Each company has their own pricing and policies but pricing is typically about $10 – $20 a month and the company may charge per page for scanning or offer a few free or included scans per month. They may also offer mail forwarding services to your home address. In order to use a virtual address, you’ll need to complete a form (USPS 1583) with the US Postal Service which gives the virtual mailbox company permission to receive mail for you as your agent.
Spencer Smith, CEO of IRC Sales Solutions, uses a virtual mailbox for his company. “My business has been using a virtual mailbox over the last two years. We operate remotely so I’ve been traveling around the country over that time and simply don’t have a physical address. We use a service called Traveling Mailbox.” He explained how it works: “We receive an email with an image of the outside of the mail once something new arrives, at which point we can assign a task of opening and scanning the mail, shredding it, forwarding it to another address, and more. The task is typically performed the same day it’s requested and the service works with packages, too.” He did mention that using a virtual address can complicate things like taxes and it may be challenging to use the address to do things like open bank accounts or credit cards.
Dennis Bell, CEO of Byblos Coffee, also uses a virtual mailbox service: VirtualPostMail. “It makes my business professional, credible, and legitimate. VirtualPostMail provides a commercial address to use in receiving mails and packages. I get to decide what to do with my received mail. I can have them opened and scanned or forwarded to another address. If it’s unimportant, I can ask them to shred it for me too. It’s very convenient for me to have access to it anytime.”
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You Can’t Always Use Your Registered Agent Service As a Virtual Business Address
When you first register a new business, you will be required to list a Registered Agent. This is similar to a business address but not quite the same. This is an important distinction because you don’t want to assume that your Registered Agent will suffice as a virtual business address. A Registered Agent is a person or company that is designated to receive official notices for your company, particularly those from the government. When you form a company in a state, the government wants to know how they can reach you by mail, so they require that you designate a Registered Agent. You can serve as your own Registered Agent or you can designate a person or company to do it for you. A Registered Agent must be able to receive mail during all business hours, so it might not be preferable to be your own agent, since you may need to step out sometimes! Registered Agent services sometimes are limited in what kind of mail they can receive and forward – usually they can only receive official documents such as tax forms, legal summons (when you are served for a lawsuit) or correspondence with the government. If you select a professional Registered Agent service, they may turn away other forms of correspondence, so you should check before you use them as your primary business or mailing address. It could result in returned mail and even closed accounts if you don’t respond to correspondence. Note that some virtual mailbox services can be your Registered Agent, sometimes for free or for an additional fee.
Use caution before using your home address for your business
The primary concern when using your home address for your business is your privacy. You will put your business address on many documents and your home address may be available to lots of people. For example, if you put your home address on government documents for your small business, it may become public record. If you use your home address to register your website, it may get published publicly. This can open you up to visitors and harassment. On additional consideration is that it is generally best to keep corporate activities separate from personal ones. Using your home address for your business may cause a court to say that you have failed to maintain separation between yourself and your business, which could subject your assets to seizure or make you responsible for the debts of your business.
Michael Miller, CEO of VPN Online, a cyber-security company, used to operate his business from his home. He used his home address for his business but quickly discovered the downsides. He explained some of the challenges, “Although my business was mostly done online, people would still drop by and want to make sure that there was someone behind all the transactions. People started coming in all sorts of time in the day. Needless to say, I lost a lot of business in the beginning simply because my home wasn’t professional looking enough. They thought it was a fly by night operation.” Michael ultimately rented an office space near his home which kept his family secure and made his business dealings easier.
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