Virtual Mail: Tips to Get Started from a Coworking Veteran

 

According to Lori Spiess—a long-time member of the coworking industry and a former GWA president—virtual mail is “easy to add to your bag of tricks.” Virtual mail is an attractive offering to members, allowing them to have their mail delivered to your business address rather than their home and often giving them a formal business address to use on their website and official documents, but not requiring them to be in your space.

But looking at offering yet another service package—especially one that has the potential legal ramifications that come with handling mail—can seem daunting to say the least.

Spiess’ locations throughout the Minneapolis area offer a total of more than 800 virtual mail plans, however, and she promises it’s not only doable—it’s a smart business move for almost any coworking space.

Virtual mail offers a low-maintenance, low-cost revenue stream that often translates straight to your bottom line, Spiess explained. Not to mention it’s great recruiting.

“It’s a first look [at your coworking space] for many people who are coming in to use the plan,” she said. While her group of spaces has about a hundred clients that only use virtual mail, the vast majority have converted to either virtual office plans (which include some space access, phone answering, etc.) or a traditional plan.

Noticing the Red Flags

Although most coworking spaces partner with a virtual mail provider it is still up to each individual owner/operator to train staff on how to notice red flags, Spiess explained.

A major red flag is if a client—usually one you’ve never actually had in your space—suddenly receives a large number of packages and then immediately asks you to ship them all somewhere else (usually to another country).

“Once again, this is where having a virtual mail partner can be beneficial,” Spiess said, explaining that often, the virtual mail partner will handle checking the legitimacy of the shipments. Often, they will also provide training on these types of red flags that can be passed along to employees. Spiess said these types of concerning transactions are rare—especially if you’ve set a high enough price point (more on that later)—so it shouldn’t be a major burden on employees. They just need to be trained and prepared for if something does happen.

But Where Do I Put the Mail?

Many space operators shy away from offering virtual mail for fear it will add a high volume of work—and paper—to their space. However, Spiess said that while this may have been true in the 1980s, the volume of mail coming to businesses now isn’t nearly as high.

She also explained that operators don’t need to take a high volume of customers all at once. Partnering with a provider company can funnel leads into your space, while your own marketing of the service might target a different group. However, you can limit the amount of marketing you do all at once (e.g., market to your own members first, then focus on partner referrals, then start advertising more broadly). Since the most time-intensive part of offering virtual mail is the onboarding process for new clients, limiting the number you do at once can ensure that your space’s staff doesn’t get overwhelmed when the service is rolled out.

Price Wisely

Since virtual mail costs your space so little to offer, it may be tempting to price it low as well. Spiess warned against this, however.

“If you’re going to have problems, that’s generally when that happens,” she said. Pricing virtual mail offerings at too low a rate doesn’t indicate a high value for the service and thus is less likely to attract business professionals who perceive it as a value.

Instead, she said you’re likely to attract virtual mail-only clients who may be looking for a cheap option to misuse. Her space charges a minimum of $30/month for a virtual mailbox (in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area), with plans going up to $60 depending on other services offered (such as scanning or forwarding, which constitute additional charges for most virtual mail providers).

While every space and market is different, Spiess recommended erring on the high side of what you think the market can bear in terms of cost for your area. This, she said, will attract a more professional client who is in turn more likely to convert into a higher tier membership plan.

If you’re partnering with an outside vendor—especially one you have a previous, trusted relationship with through conference contacts or through referrals from colleagues—they can often use their data to help you appropriately price virtual mail services for your market. They can also usually help you navigate any governmental regulations, paperwork, etc., associated with getting started offering virtual mail.

Ensuring Payment

Spiess said that it’s rare for someone to start having their mail sent to your coworking space without paying—but it is not unheard of for a former client to continue having mail sent there.

In this case, Spiess suggests being solution-focused, but also setting clear expectations in terms of virtual mail usage. Usually, if she realizes a client has continued listing her space as their address on their website, has continued to send their mail there after their plan expires, etc., she will normally call them personally. This allows her the chance to sell them on a plan again, capitalizing on the fact that clearly having a physical address is important to them (why else would they be sending mail to your space?).

However, if they aren’t interested in continuing their plan (and probably making back payments, if applicable), Spiess said she explains that using her space’s address without her permission is inappropriate and can be reported to the state attorney general’s office. Normally, this conversation clears up any issues.

Mail Forwarding and Pickup

If you’re forwarding the client’s mail to them, you’ll need to figure out a process there. Some clients specify which mail carriers they want (UPS, USPS, etc.), but Spiess said most virtual mail providers are moving to a Stamps.com account.

“It’s a bit of a learning curve, but I think it’s the way that everyone is going,” she said.

Whatever you choose to do, however, Spiess said it needs to minimize hassle.  While virtual mail is a fairly easy revenue stream, it should not create a lot of stress or work.

For virtual mail clients who pick up their mail rather than having it forwarded, for example, Spiess said she doesn’t give 24-hour access (except for office members and for elite virtual office—not virtual mail only—plans).

At the end of the day, Spiess said, there’s no single right way to do virtual mail. While it’s a worthwhile revenue stream to invest in, finding a setup and process that works for you and your space will take a certain amount of trial and error, discussion with service providers, and collaboration with your team.

There are many virtual mailbox providers to choose from. If you’re interested in getting started with virtual mail, check out the GWA’s list of approved vendors.