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Understanding the Differences: Virtual Mailbox, Virtual Address, and Virtual Office



a tangled mess of ideas about virtual offices being sorted out
Clarifying some things about Virtual Addresses

In navigating the virtual office landscape, it's crucial to understand the differences between Virtual Mailbox (VM), Virtual Address (VA), and Virtual Office (VO) providers. There are many companies, influencers, youtubers and the like pitching the best options on the internet to house your business address. However, neither of them are actually in the business. Most are just providing information based on the option they only sell, their own experiences which worked for them, but maybe not your business, or whomever pays the most with their affiliate links. We end up spending tons of time helping our future clients decipher what best suits their business. LionShare Cowork is a Virtual Office provider, however we also can provide the Virtual Mailbox, and Virtual Address options.


Here are a few things to consider when choosing what actual service you need.


Educate and ask yourself on behalf of your business the following questions:


  • Do you feel comfortable registering your home address as your business address and allowing the world to see and know where you live? (Your address will become a public record)


  • How much and what kind of mail will I be receiving? For example: Inventory or returns of products, state or federal mail, checks, physical inventory, contracts, invoices, bills, advertisements (aka junk mail), etc.


  • Do you travel for long periods of time, constantly relocate, rent your residence, are in the military or solely operate an online business and most of your mail can be sent to you digitally?


  • Do I plan on opening a bank account or applying for a business loan through a financial institution?


  • Do I need a brick-and-mortar address to be compliant for my business registration, internet map location services, a specific business license or clients I serve?


If any of these above apply to you, you need a virtual mail service.


There are three real service-oriented types of virtual mail offerings. It all depends on which best suits your professional needs. Below is a description of how each type offered operates, what they will and will not provide and how each handles the above questions you answered.


1- Virtual Mailbox (VM):


A Virtual Mailbox provider is for those seeking a basic, no-frills digital P.O. Box with mail forwarding. Your address will not be unique to everyone using this service. There usually is no physical location for you to actually pick up or drop off your mail. This essentially is an address accepted by the US postal service and acts like an aggregation point such as a warehouse. They may also be reselling an address of another virtual mail service company. This service is mainly used by those who are not actually selling a product, who strictly need a U.S address for occasional mail or minimal business correspondence. If you intend on receiving a ton of forwarded mail, be prepared to pay inflated postage and handling fees on top of your monthly invoice.


All of the mail for this provider’s service arrives at a single location then it is shipped out to another location for it to be sorted and processed. It will then usually be digitized for you. If it was a package, they will forward it to you at your expense. So, if your Virtual Mailbox address is in Miami, and your Virtual Mailbox provider is in San Francisco, if you were planning on receiving an overnight package at your Miami address, it would then have to be shipped to San Francisco, then once received there, sent to you. This is not your best option for time sensitive mail. Most services like this recommend if you are planning on receiving something physical or time sensitive send it directly to yourself. This defeats the purpose of having a virtual business address. A Virtual Mailbox, cannot receive anything in-person for example a customer dropping off a check or messenger service and some not even Amazon deliveries.

In most states you can use this address to register your business, but you cannot use this address as your registered agent’s address. Also, since this address really functions as a digital postal address or mail forwarding service, financial institutions will not recognize this address when trying to open a bank account or applying for a loan. You can still use it as a mailing address, however as a business address it will be flagged as non-complaint.


How do you determine if the address is only a Virtual Mailbox? Use a location service like Google maps or bing places and search your business address. Go granular and get down to the street level, if the address has no signage or gives you a non-descript location, it is a Virtual Mailbox.


The perfect client for this service is, a business or person who needs a cheap stable address, because they are constantly on the move, has little mail/packages delivered, has no need for a physical address and does not plan to open a banking account or apply for a business loan for their business. Virtual Mailbox services do not support Google my business and other business map location services.


2- Virtual Business Address (VA):


A Virtual Business address offers a physical address for mail pick-up, sometimes even an individual box number. You can use this address for most of your business registration needs. Some may even provide registered agent and notary services for an extra fee. Some locations may even provide mail digitization and other business services like printing, faxing and shipping. Vendors offering a Virtual Address are usually associated with retail stores, office supply stores or shipping and packaging agents. They may even forward your mail upon request for a handling fee plus postage. However, some may receive private deliveries from companies like Amazon, others restrict the delivery to just the United States Postal Service or packages only delivered by their branded shipping company.


The upside of a Virtual Business address vendor could be a one stop shop for their business address registration needs, some printing, faxing or shipping, wants their mail digitized, and does not care if a customer, client or bank Googles their business location. The cost for a Virtual Address service is usually a little higher than a Virtual Mailbox because they offer some business services, have more overhead, and offer regular business hours at their physical location to pick up your mail.


A Virtual Business address vendor is perfect for your business if you are just trying to mask your home address from being on public record. In the current era of intense business competition, securing even the slightest edge is crucial for ensuring the success of your business. The distinction between acquiring a new client and losing a prospective one often hinges on minor details. Any perceived lapse in professionalism, credibility or legitimacy, no matter how small, may lead a potential client to explore alternative options. For example; if you are a marketing agency trying to land that white whale of a client, and you are being tasked to proposing how a client can build a brand that customers can trust, and then this client Googles your business address, and it shows up being a shipping store or office supply store, you may have just lost out on a pot of gold.


A Virtual Business address really functions as just an address, not a physical location where you actually conduct business, meet with clients or potentially have office hours, financial institutions will not recognize this address when trying to open a bank account or applying for a loan. You can still use it as a mailing address, however in most cases as a business address it will be flagged as non-complaint. Even though a lot of businesses these days reside in the cloud, a majority of local, state and federal agencies still require a brick-and-mortar office location other than your home. For example, if you are applying for a CAGE code, required for organizations to register in the System for Award Management (SAM). (SAM is a centralized database used by the U.S. government to collect, validate, store, and share data about entities that do business with the federal government.) or you are applying to become a mortgage lending service provider or a real estate brokerage, a Virtual Business address will not provide the compliancy required.


3- Virtual Office (VO):


A Virtual Office membership provides the utmost professionalism, credibility, fundability, privacy, security, and compliancy when trying to obtain a business address. A Virtual Office provider is not only a CMRA (Commercial Mail Receiving Agent approved by the US Federal Postal Service) it is 99% of the time a staffed physical location, that also provides a real street address for your business, office space, meeting rooms, daily workspace and business concierge services. A Virtual Office provider is a product that only Coworking or variable Business Centers can offer their clients. They provide additional contracts and/or membership plans that allow you to operate and conduct business operations on premises. Allowing you to establish office hours, the ability to rent office space, have client meetings, and plans to register your business address.


Virtual Office members have the ability to offer you a suite number, a PMB (Personal Mailbox Number) or a resident office location assigned to your business address. They provide all the services of Virtual Mailbox and Virtual Address vendors, such as mail forwarding, mail scanning, local pickup, but also package deliveries from all shipping carriers, including Amazon and even client delivery and pickup. Some Virtual Offices can provide a plan to even store your inventory, dropship to clients, and provide other product fulfillment services.


When a client or service Googles your Virtual Office address, they will be directed to an established professional office location that undoubtedly houses all types of business from mortgage and real estate brokers to financial services and logistic companies, to the solo entrepreneur to fortune 100 companies. With a proper Virtual Office plan, one can qualify for Google My Business, Bing Places listings and other internet location services. Educated officials at banks, local state and federal agencies and other licensing institutions recognize and identify coworking spaces and other business cents of the like as acceptable business registration locations. A Virtual Office, usually for an additional fee, can perform registered agent duties as they have a physical address with office hours, designated staff and most can also provide notary services too.


The 1583 Form


Form 1583 is a Federal Postal consent document that authorizes other parties to collect and handle mail on your behalf. In 2023, all Virtual Mail vendors who are authorized by the United States Postal Service to act as a Commercial Mail Receiving Agent are required to produce a Form 1583 for all their clients. This form must be completed by the customer requesting mailbox services. Along with providing two forms of identification, this form must be signed and notarized and furnished to any US Postal Service agent upon their request. Any vendor offering any Virtual Mail services that does not require a Form 1583, is operating illegally and maybe a scam. A registered CMRA has a fiduciary responsibility to provide a secure mail facility that has 24/7 monitoring with restricted access technology, provides onsite destruction and shredding of any mail items and can only open and scan mail items with a written permission from the mail owner.


Third Party Vendors


There are many “Third Party” vendors offering the whole gamut of Virtual Mail memberships. These companies leverage large online marketing budgets to drive web traffic to their sites. These sites act as an aggregation of locations that offer either Virtual Mailbox, Virtual Address and Virtual Office services. They may also offer call answering services, business phone numbers and registered business agent offerings. It is important to note that every location they offer, they are only reselling the mailbox services of another coworking space, business center or retail mailbox store. They do not physically own or operate these huge lists of locations. Since they have huge market budgets, and they wallpaper the likes of Google and Bing with ads for Virtual Mail services, it is almost impossible for the local business to get any market share. When you do your homework and research these third-party vendors, Google the address. This will ensure whatever level of service you are purchasing applies to your absolute business needs. If you are budget conscious, and you choose the $9.99 option, make sure you know what you are getting. Also, while investigating what address is best for your business, see if the vendors address has a Bing Places page, a Google My Business page or their own website. Since these third parties are reselling, you can more than likely go direct to the provider and probably get a cheaper rate and better customer support. Since most coworking and business centers sign up for them to market and resell their addresses, they surely offer other workspace, which you again would have to purchase directly from the third-party provider at a higher rate, as they own you as the customer. Be smart, do your homework, your business is at stake.


Understanding the distinctions between a Virtual Mailbox, Virtual Address, and Virtual Office is crucial when selecting a business solution that aligns with your specific needs. In summary, while a Virtual Mailbox is focused on basic mail forwarding, a Virtual Address offers a physical location for mail services with some additional business services. On the other hand, a Virtual Office provides a fully staffed physical location with diverse workspace, office and meeting rooms, making it the most comprehensive solution for businesses seeking professionalism, compliancy, and flexibility.


Conclusion


LionShare Cowork's Virtual Office solutions go beyond a mere business address. We provide a platform for businesses to thrive, offering privacy, security, liability protection, and even HIPAA compliancy. In a rapidly changing business landscape, choosing LionShare Cowork ensures your business maintains a competitive edge and projects an image of professionalism and success.


Your business needs a premium address. Visit www.LionShareCowork.com/virtual-office and explore the Virtual Office membership options today. Secure your business's future with LionShare Cowork – Where Professionalism Meets Flexibility!


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