00:00 Announcer: So you wanna know the ins and outs of managing your money? Well, lucky for you, you are just in time for another episode of Master Your Finances with certified financial planner professional, Kurt Baker. Kurt and his panel of experts are here for you and will cover topics from a legal and personal standpoint. They’ll discuss tax efficiency, liability, owning, managing and saving your money and more. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment. Let’s learn how we can better change our habits with Kurt Baker.
00:33 Kurt Baker: Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Master Your Finances, presented by Certified Wealth Management and Investment. I am Kurt Baker, a certified financial planner professional located in Princeton, New Jersey. I can be reached through our website, which is www.cwmi.us or you can call me directly at 609-716-4700. This week, very pleased to have with us, Tom Smith, who’s the owner of Intelligent Office located in Princeton, New Jersey, which offers virtual assistant services and office and meeting space. Throughout his career, he has been involved in commercializing new products and services and starting new businesses. Previously, he was in the polymer, chemical and floor covering manufacturing industries. He is a graduate of Lehigh University with a BS in Business and Economics and an MBA from Penn State University. Tom, I know you were on here a while ago, you were telling me just before we started, it’s been over about five and a half years, but I think a lot has… I know a lot has happened in the business world so I’m sure some things have happened in your space as well.
01:40 Kurt Baker: And I know as I told you back then, that space had been around, it had been pretty well established at that point, but I think now, given all the things we’ve seen over the last roughly six months, my guess is that people are probably leaning on your expertise and your services even more ’cause I know that large company owners that I know and many medium-sized companies, they are definitely transitioning part of their time to online. They’re finding it’s more efficient. You have things like… I asked my wife the first time she had a telemedicine, they found out a doctor can actually do certain things over the video that maybe they didn’t even realize they could do. I think just as a community, a business community, we’re finding we could do a lot more virtually, which really kinda leads right into your expertise. Just to kinda start off, maybe give us a little idea of what you do and then maybe what you’ve been seeing develop over the past six months as the pandemic hit and things that you started to see develop over time.
02:42 Tom Smith: Thank you, Kurt. Thank you for having me on this morning. We actually have four services. We have some office space. We have meeting space, but what’s different about our company is we also offer virtual assisted services, such as handling phone calls for customers, customer service work, helping people with administrative projects. And also, we have mailbox services, which can be everything from just registering your company with the state, to handling special needs, such as scanning and emailing certain items or helping with packaging or things of that sort. It’s a number of different things. And actually, the mail and the assisted services has really helped us because when COVID-19 really began in mid-March, the governor of New Jersey deemed us as an essential business so we’ve been operating continuously throughout this whole pandemic. And we’ve seen no… Actually, if anything, we’ve seen the increase in that volume of business.
03:54 Tom Smith: Now, the space side of the business, of course, like most people, that’s been affected ’cause as people have been working more from home, the demand has been down for office space and also more importantly, meeting space. Although, we are starting to see a little bit of an upturn now with people having an interest in meeting space or office space. And I think part of that is one, people need to get out of their house. They’re starting to get, I think probably, Zoom fatigue or things of that sort. But also, people were just created to be social and work with people and without some face-to-face interaction, I really believe people are starting to feel the effects of not having that. They’re missing it.
04:52 Kurt Baker: Yeah. I’ll have to agree. I certainly… I’m like you where my business can pretty much… A lot of what I do could be done remotely. And so people weren’t really comfortable coming in and they prefer just to do things video. I really had never done a lot of that, personally, prior to the pandemic. And part of it’s a learning curve on both ends, right? I need to learn how to set it up and they need to learn how to use it so both sides are comfortable. It’s kind of like the early days of the fax machine, right? It was like, “Okay. If I have a fax machine, that’s great, but if you don’t know how to use the fax machine on your end, or don’t have one, it doesn’t work.” This is kind of video conferencing. You’ve gotta be… Both sides have to be ready to go with it. And I think one of the things that I’ve seen happen is that most people at least know how to log on and attend a meeting, so that’s a big plus. If you know how to set it up, they’re gonna know how to attend it. I think I’ve seen that and I’m just wondering if you’ve seen any of the things that I’ve… Some of the businesses that I’ve talked to where they’ve decided to… As their leases are expiring, they’re talking about taking on less space.
05:57 Kurt Baker: As you point out, you can’t really go to zero because we do need to meet. We do need to get together. There are definitely absolutely benefits to socializing in person. I know that one of the things that I’ve missed is like our Chamber thing or some of the big events I have is in an industry where you physically go to a conference or you physically go to an event. A lot of times people talk about how when you go to these big conferences or these big events that the material is great that you see there, but where you really kinda learn is when you go off to the side and talk to your peers and other people in similar businesses. That’s kinda how you learn. That one-on-one and having the drink after the event or having dinner after it and socially having conversations about what’s going on. I’m wondering if you’re seeing any of those people saying, “Hey, maybe I’m gonna use your meeting space instead of having another big space that I already have and when that expires, maybe this is something we might be interested at looking into.” Have you seen any of that happening?
06:57 Tom Smith: We are. It’s been interesting, particularly on the space side. As leases come up, just as you said, a lot of companies are leaving the large facilities they have for obvious reasons, because of the cost, and they’re just not being utilized as they were. But for example, a couple of companies and organizations have said, “We would like to have an office available for people in our firm to use from time to time.” For example, maybe somebody’s coming in out of town for a meeting which could be just driving up from a local area, and they need a place to work and communicate with people even if it is on Zoom, in some cases. But we’re also seeing other needs too that hadn’t been there before. For example, college students is one where… With a number of colleges now being online, and where you have the parents working from home, the student working from home, there can be a little friction or problems that arise with that dynamic. And as a result, one of the things we’re doing is offering our meeting space for the student to use where they could take their courses online in a private setting and basically get out of the house for a few hours and also provide a little bit of a break for the parents too. So that’s something that is starting to take off a little bit, and, it’s also a way for us obviously to use the meeting space too. So it’s one of those wins for everybody.
08:36 Kurt Baker: Yeah, that’s great. You are very kind, a little bit of friction between your teenager, college student and you were trying to do your work from home. Yeah, I can definitely see where that would be a big advantage, because you’re probably doing different types of things and you’re both trying to get something done, and that’s gonna be hard. I’ve heard that too where even adults, where you’ve got multiple businesses now running out of the home and then you’ve got other activities, just the normal household activities going on. It can be very, very difficult. I know if my children were younger, I would have a very hard time doing this. Even though I have a totally separate part of a house that’s set aside, that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna get interrupted occasionally. Now, I don’t have that issue personally, but I can definitely see that being a problem if you have other activities going on, trying to run… You really didn’t buy your house with the idea of running two or three businesses out of it and a family growing up.
09:31 Tom Smith: The other thing we’ve seen too is where the younger kids are at home taking courses, and the parents aren’t getting the work done that they’d like to. And sometimes they’ll come here for an hour or two just to try to get caught up and have some peace and quiet and be able to focus on what they’re trying to do. So that’s something else that has started to pick up a little bit also. So it’s certainly… What a change in six months but, as in most businesses, you have to learn how to pivot and go into some different directions to try to keep business moving forward.
10:11 Kurt Baker: Yeah. No, no, I agree 100%. So yeah, I’m trying to envision this ’cause if I have a space like that where I can leave the house and go have my own little spot which is nice, and there’s definitely… I work better when it’s quiet. I think… I don’t know. I don’t know how other people work when there’s other activity going around. I just personally have a very hard time with that. So I can definitely see the benefit, especially if you’re… When you’re really trying to think and problem solve, you need that seclusion. At least I do. Otherwise, I just freeze up. I just… I need to really focus on what I’m doing and then I can just get it done and then that’s the end of it. But yes, so you’re seeing… So are there any types of businesses that you’re seeing? I know you’ve got your families. I think the college was great. I’d never heard of that, but that’s… ‘Cause some of the colleges are virtual and some are not, and then some are shifting back and forth. They might think they’re gonna be in person, and then also they have an incident like, “Okay. Well, everybody’s gotta… ” They’re changing on the fly too, a little bit.
11:14 Tom Smith: Absolutely, and of course, the number of colleges giving room and board back because of the changes in their schedule, that’s allowing parents to say, “Okay, we can use part of that for the student to maybe go and do their studying, or possibly be online on a TV monitor with some of their peers.” Maybe they’re taking the same course, and they’re living in the same area. So they know there are different options that are coming forward.
11:46 Kurt Baker: Wow, that’s excellent. Alright, Tom. We’ve gotta take a quick break here. You’re listening to Master Your Finances. We’ll be right back.
12:00 Announcer: This is Master Your Finances with Kurt Baker, certified financial planner professional. Learn about tax efficiency, liability, owning, managing and saving your money and more, from Kurt and his experienced panel of guests. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment.
12:20 Kurt Baker: Welcome back. You’re listening to Master Your Finances. I am Kurt Baker here with Tom Smith of Intelligent Office. And Tom, I can see… You’ve had a lot of… You fit a great niche right now because businesses are in flux a little bit, employees are now working from home, and as you pointed out, working from home is not always ideal whether you’re an employee, or whether you’re a college student. I know, me personally, I need quiet space when I really need to get some analytical stuff done. I just have a hard time… I have a hard time filtering out other stuff when I’m really trying to do deep thought. And so you help fill that niche by offering some space on an hourly basis, things like that. And you have companies who need maybe a place to bring their employees in when they need to actually do some communications and more sophisticated things, then they have at least a place to go. So that’s great from that perspective as well.
13:10 Kurt Baker: One of the things you touched on a little bit in the last segment was… And something that I’m very interested in because our industry is starting to use these more and more is the virtual assistant. So, I think I’m kind of… My vision of that was some fairly rudimentary things that they would do, but as I’m learning more about it and investigating it myself, some of these virtual assistants are highly trained and very knowledgeable in a lot of areas. So, I think what kind of matured a long time ago is being something kind of handles little things that kind of almost anybody could do, you just didn’t have time to do it. They’ve actually advanced, I think, into far more sophisticated areas.
13:53 Kurt Baker: They can do your writing for you. They can do your books for you. They can do all kinds of different things for you, that you would usually think of as, “Oh, I have to hire somebody to do that.” So, can you kind of explain maybe a little bit. So, that’s me from my perspective as a lay person. So, since you run one of these services, what different avenues, what different things do you see coming as far as people making requests? And then, on the other end, what kind of virtual assistants do you see coming in and saying, “Hey, I have some services that I’d like to match up with people that might need my assistance.”?
14:24 Tom Smith: Probably the biggest thing to start off with is the virtual assistant services are really adaptable by any number of different types of industry. So, it could be from professionals such as attorneys, accountants, engineers, financial planners, to people that have their own trades-type business, such as maybe siding, or electrical, or plumbing, or things of that sort. To solo-entrepreneurs who are working from home, or just small businesses. And basically, one of the most popular parts of it are phone services, where we actually answer the phones with the greeting that you want, and can answer frequently asked questions, help the customer, but more importantly is taking information for the business owner.
15:14 Tom Smith: So for example, one of our customers does siding and roofing. And the customer or the prospect will actually call in to us, and give us their contact information, tell us about the problem that they’re having and how they heard about us. And then, we in turn are putting that into their own CRM or Customer Relationship Management system, and as a result, their technicians can then contact the prospect and determine, “Okay, we’d like to set up an appointment, come out, take a look at what the problem is, and provide an estimate, and get the whole process started.” So, that’s one that, for example, right now, during the summer has been very popular.
16:04 Tom Smith: Obviously that’ll slow down in the winter time, but then there are other businesses that speed up and take that place. For example, we work with several accounting firms. And obviously when tax season rolls around, they’re busy with calls coming in, trying to set up appointments, things of that sort. And we can help them with all of those needs. So, it can be things like appointment setting, just giving them information on some of the services that the, for example, the accountant offers. Things of that type. And then, be able to get the calls out to any number of their staff members. So, it’s just a whole host of services.
16:46 Kurt Baker: Yeah, I think one thing you mentioned that often business owners kinda have a little bit of struggle with is, “I wanna be great on customer service. I wanna talk to them as much as I can. But on the other hand, there’s other things that I could be doing that’s the highest, the best use of my time.” That’s what we always are taught is, “Hey, look, if the things that you can have somebody else do and still do it effectively, and your customer feels they’re being taken care of, you should really reserve as much of your time as possible to doing those things that really are your area of expertise.” And as you’re talking about the siding and roofing is… I’m thinking out loud now, right? So, I guess somebody calls in, and I’ve got a small leak or I’ve got this. Do they kinda go through and say, “Hey, have you checked this? Have you looked at that?” Kind of getting it so when they call, when they’re going back, they… Maybe some of it’s already then resolved, or they’ve identified a little bit about what might be actually going on when they get ready to call. “Oh, I see somebody’s got whatever.” And here is a little more of the details of what might be going on and already have a little bit of an analysis started.
17:53 Tom Smith: Correct, because it really… The information helps the firm determine, “Okay, who should we assign to this particular problem?” It might be they’re having problems with water leakage throughout a window, or there’s water coming through the siding. Maybe it’s some sort of stucco, or plaster, or something like that, that’s involved. But as a result, they have an idea even before they talk to the customer. “Okay, here’s the person that should call them and try to find out more information so they can come out and know ahead of time.” The other thing too, is like in this particular case, many times the customers will have called an inspection company. So, we get a lot of customers calling maybe about… That are realtors. And they’ll say, “I have a client that wants to sell their house, but they’re having a problem with some, maybe siding or roofing.” And they can even send the inspection report in, which obviously helps the technicians or specialists a lot more before they even head out to see the job and have a pretty good idea of maybe even what the estimate might be. So, there’s a number of different things that can be done.
19:04 Tom Smith: Likewise, if you go a different direction, like with professionals, for example, we have a number of attorneys that we work with. And they’ll do consultations, but with the consultations, they wanna know upfront what the background is, who’s involved. Like for example, let’s say if it’s somebody in family law. They wanna make sure that they know who the opposing attorney is, so there’s no conflict of interest, what the situation is with their family, kids, whatever the case may be. But they know ahead of time so that they can find out, “Yes, we can work with this person,” and then develop their strategy and go from there.
19:50 Kurt Baker: Yeah, you mentioned attorneys. I know my brother is an attorney, and I know one of the… And I’ve talked to the other attorneys about the same thing is that, they spend an enormous amount of time screening their clients out because there’s a lot of people who, either may think they need legal services or maybe calling literally the wrong attorney about what it might be that they need. And they get… They tend to get a lot of calls, and they have to filter a lot of that out and get to the ones that really fit their practice and fit things they can solve. ‘Cause we all get excited, “Oh. I’m gonna go call my attorney. I’m gonna sue you,” or whatever, or I need it for this reason or that. Well, you need to get through all of that, and I know they can get kind of bogged down with that.
20:34 Kurt Baker: Also, I… So they’re doing the initial screening, but are there any of these virtual assistants… ‘Cause some things that we need… I know in my industry, the licenses that I have… I don’t know, let’s talk about insurance. So if somebody… You can’t… There’s only certain things that a person can do. They can’t answer an insurance question ’cause they have to be licensed. They can’t answer an asset management question or securities question ’cause you need to be licensed. So I assume those are well-defined, and that’s part of setting up these… I’m assuming there’s a template or a question tree of some kind that you’re going through, and they’re saying, “Okay, based on these, then here we stop.” We need to have you talk to whether it’s an accountant or an attorney or whatever, an insurance agent, whatever the case may be. So you can draw that line carefully, correct?
21:29 Tom Smith: That’s absolutely correct. One of the key things is that with every client we work with, we’re really almost being trained by that client. In the sense that they’ll tell us, “Okay, here are the certain lines within that area. You can talk about this.” But there are other areas… That’s because of just what you said, the laws that are involved. We don’t cross the line on that. And the nice part is that our virtual assistants are really almost like an extension of your business because after a while, we understand the things that we can ask, things that we can’t. But more importantly, you get to know what is important for your particular client, what they wanna hear, what they need to know. And that’s something a lot of times that really just comes from experience and working in that area for a little bit where you can understand the language, understand what people are discussing. So that’s very important.
22:37 Kurt Baker: Oh no, I agree 100%. And that’s great because that’s where I think the virtual assistants have matured over time, and I’m assuming that different technologies that we now have available, they help with that. So you mentioned they connect into the CRM system. Can you help them if… What if I don’t have a CRM system? I know most people should have some kind of CRM system. So you help them and give them recommendations about, “Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do.” Obviously, you need to have the data that’s executable at some point. So you can feed it over to them in some way, shape or form.
23:10 Tom Smith: Exactly. I mean and what’s nice with… We’re very flexible, very adaptable to any number of different systems. So if a client has a particular system, we can work with that system specifically for that client, and that could be just a regular CRM system or it could be something more specialized, depending on their industry.
23:33 Kurt Baker: Excellent. Alright Tom, we’re gonna take a quick break. You’re listening to Master Your Finances, and we’ll be right back.
23:45 Announcer: This is Master Your Finances with Kurt Baker, certified financial planner professional. Learn about tax efficiency, liability, owning, managing and saving your money, and more from Kurt and his experienced panel of guests. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment.
24:06 Kurt Baker: Welcome back. You’re listening to Master Your Finances. I’m Kurt Baker here with Tom Smith of Intelligent Office, and we’ve been talking about using virtual assistants. It’s very intriguing, I know a lot of people in my business like that because it creates a variable expense situation. So I’m sure… I know a number of business owners who really have sat and thought a lot about their business structure, regardless of whether or not it affected them financially. It certainly affected them from a business implementation standpoint, and people really stepped back a little bit and said, “Am I really running my business the most efficient way,” ’cause we’ve been forced into some changes that we may or may not have really wanted to do. But now we’ve done them, and we’re getting used to it. And part of that, I think, as we know when it first rolled out, I remember this. The two weeks we’re gonna be back and no problem. So we’re all ready for basically taking a two-week vacation. That was gonna be it. We’re all gonna come back and nothing changed. Well, here we are six months later. They were like, “Okay, we’re having a two-week estimate.”
25:12 Kurt Baker: So now we’re like, a lot of things have happened where I know that first few months was really… Got a really… We all got a wake-up call, so to speak, and then people started cracking the door open. Some people lost their jobs, unfortunately, and are rethinking even their business careers, and what maybe they wanna do. So I mean, what have you seen? I know that this type of space is fantastic for entrepreneurs starting out. Very low initial start-up expenses. Using a virtual assistant adds a variable expense component, so in theory, your expenses are going up relative to your income, hopefully. So if you’re getting more calls, hopefully that means you’re getting more business and things like that. So what have you seen as far as some of these new entrepreneurs that maybe are kinda stepping out and maybe taking a shot?
26:06 Tom Smith: One of the things that we always seem to find is that if there’s a period of the economy where there are a lot of layoffs in different industries, one of the things that many people look at is starting their own business. And as a result, we’ve had a big increase in people looking for mailbox services. And basically what they need is to register their business with the state, and it has to be with a street address and so forth, which we offer. And now, when we’re working with somebody like that, one of the things that we always stress is in the beginning, keep your costs down. So just start with something basic, like just a mailbox. As your business grows, then you can start looking at other things such as phone services or things of that sort. But we realize that cash is king as far as a new business starting up, and we wanna make sure that the business owner is around for a longer period of time, as opposed to just being around for three or four months. We like to see it more like being at least three or four years. So that’s one of the things that we do.
27:20 Tom Smith: Even for phone calls, we have some people who just need limited services. Like for example, they may say… Maybe a company that had a reduction, they may say something like, “We need some services for overflow calls, things of that sort,” because they’re obviously under cost constraints and with competition and so forth, and those are all areas that we can help them with because our services are really on-demand. You’re only paying for what you use. And also the fact that there’s no hiring or maintaining employees involved with the services that we’re doing. So it helps lower the business owner’s overhead, but still allows them the opportunity to have us do the routine things so they can work and grow in their business, and obviously that’s the name of the game.
28:14 Kurt Baker: So is your phone call service… Just to clarify for me, I know that years ago, I used to have at night, I would turn it on to the answering service, so to speak, so that was like a fixed monthly expense. Is this something like where it’s based on how many calls I’m getting? I’m just like mechanically, how do we set that up? ‘Cause I really have two questions here. One is, are we billed basically, if I get a lot of calls, I’m gonna be paying a little bit more than if I get one call every few days or something like that? And then the other is, the other question I have is, of course, I have a phone number, so do we set up an alternate number? Or how does that all match up? If I’ve established my phone number, how do you mechanically line all that up? ‘Cause I’m answering my phone, you’re answering my phone, how does all that kind of work? Do you mind explaining that a little bit?
28:58 Tom Smith: Sure. With the question regarding the phone number, if you’re a new business starting out, we will assign you a local phone number. However, if your business is already established, you can forward that number to us so you don’t lose that phone number. And if we supply services for you, let’s say from like 8:30 to 5:00, that number can be sent over to us during those times and then can be returned back to you for the other periods of time. Or another option, which is something that we’ve just recently added, is we also offer 24-7 coverage, which in some businesses is very important because they’re getting people calling at weekends, maybe like they need help with a certain project or things of that sort. And say, professionals it’s more during the regular business hours, but for services, it can be pretty much any time. And that’s something that we can also offer too.
30:00 Tom Smith: As far as getting back to the original question though, is if you’re gonna take, for example, in the services, it could be just by the number of calls, or it could be by the number of minutes. It really depends on what’s involved. Or we can even just set up a fixed cost, like let’s say if it’s for a consultation with an attorney that we talked about earlier, that maybe it’s just a set amount and depends on the number of consultations that come through for that month. So we’ll customize it to whatever the customer’s needs are, and if they’re getting a number of short calls, then we could do it by volume, but if they’re getting not that many calls, but they’re longer, then in a case like that, probably something per minute makes more sense.
30:50 Kurt Baker: No, no, that’s great. I’m glad you have flexibility ’cause that’s a little bit different than what I was used to, whatever… I guess it’s been 20-something years ago, the last time I use one of these things. But we really relied on it ’cause you needed… You always wanted somebody answering the phone. When you have a larger entity, they don’t necessarily know you. It’s better to have a real person answer the call. Yeah, there’s no question that that’s a better result is if you’re calling at any time of the day or night, to make sure that happens. I know with the mailbox, I just had a question though, ’cause I know that with mine, when I set up my physical address, I happened to be my registered agent for my entities that I have, so that makes it really easy. Is that something that… Do they act as their own registered agent… Do you do any of that? Or do you have services that do that? Because a physical address, I know when you’re setting up, you have to have somebody to receive any of the documents coming in for the state purposes, right?
31:46 Tom Smith: Correct. They’ll use our address for receiving the documents, and while we are not a registered agent at this time, although it’s something that’s being looked at, certainly we will notify the client. Because they’ll tell us, “Okay, if something comes in from the state,” for example, maybe it’s an annual report or maybe it’s from Department of Labor and Workforce Development, or Division of Taxation or something like that, we will alert them immediately that they received a letter of that sort, so that they can take care of it as quickly as possible. Or if it’s somebody that’s a distant, in a distant area, we’ll forward it to them ’cause they normally have a few weeks to be able to answer that inquiry.
32:35 Kurt Baker: Along those lines, and again, I don’t know if you really do this or not, but I think one of my personal, believe it or not, things I don’t like, I don’t like actually receiving mail anymore. I receive it, but when people say, “I need to mail you stuff,” ’cause I scan and shred everything. So if you mail me something, either I’m gonna throw it away, ’cause I don’t need it, or, I’m gonna… If I need it, I’m gonna scan it and shred it. So there’s no paper that stays around my office, for very long. That’s just the way I operate. No file… I don’t really need any filing cabinets. I mean, minimal, but not like I used to, where I used to have banks of them, running down the walls, at the back of the office, now that’s virtually gone. So can you help with people in those situations, like, “Yeah, that’s great. I’m getting all this mail,” but maybe I’m traveling and I might wanna read it, can I… Is there any way to solve for that, somehow?
33:27 Tom Smith: Well, to your point, a couple of those issues. For example, some of our customers request, that any, what I’ll call junk mail, the pre-standard, assorted mail, that nobody wants, it might be catalogues or some sort of solicitation, we can take care of those and discard them. For when you’re traveling, we can scan and email the information to you. So if you’re on the road or maybe you need something for a meeting and we’ll look for that item, and make sure that you get it. In the case like, for example, we were talking about attorneys, if a case comes in, we’ll immediately scan and email the cover letter to that person, so they know that maybe a court case filing has come through, or a court date or something to that effect.
34:23 Tom Smith: One that I found really interesting, and this kinda goes back to where we were talking about colleges, for a second. Is I remember a few years back, we had a person come in that was almost in tears, and their husband was actually being transferred overseas for a sabbatical with the college that they were a professor at, and she said, “We have everything done. Our house is rented, the schools are all set, everything’s done,” but she said, “I forgot about the mail.” And in that case, what we did is, we said, “Look, this is easy, just put a note in with the post office, so that only first class mail is sent here.” Obviously, any so-called junk mail would still be going to their house, but all the first class mail that came in, we just scanned and emailed, sent it to a Dropbox, they were over in Europe, they could access it any time. And any checks that came in, we actually, at the end of the week, would deposit those checks at their bank and then send them a copy of the check, and the receipt deposit slip, and as a result, they were able to keep going, keep their check-book balanced, but more importantly, keep up on mail and bills and anything else that they needed, to maybe do online.
35:52 Kurt Baker: Wow, that’s really handy. Yeah, we’re coming up on another quick break. You’ve been listening to Master Your Finances, we’re gonna be right back.
36:05 Announcer: This is Master Your Finances, with Kurt Baker, certified financial planner professional. Learn about tax efficiency, liability, owning, managing and saving your money, and more from Kurt and his experienced panel of guests. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment.
36:25 Kurt Baker: Welcome back, you’re listening to Master Your Finances. I’m Kurt Baker, a certified financial planner professional, here with Tom Smith, of Intelligent Office. And Tom, I really appreciate you coming back again on the show, and I wanna say that all the service that you’re offering through the pandemic, I know a lot of us have really been tested in our business strategies and we’ve been making tweaks, and… As any time you have a change in the economy, people start to go out on their own, and I know that’s always been a thing I’ve done. When I first started going into business years ago, down in Florida, I rented some shared space down in Melbourne, Florida, and it was fantastic, ’cause you got out of the house, you got yourself set up, it gave you a professional look, relatively inexpensive, which is always something you wanna be careful of, your cash.
37:13 Kurt Baker: And I know when we first had our conversation, about five and a half years ago, you had just kind of started into this, and I know that Intelligent Office, is a little bit different than some of the typical shared office spaces, and I know you’re a very analytical guy, and I remember you discussing this. Do you wanna kinda recap why you came down on this, as opposed to some of the other models that are out there? ‘Cause it is a little bit different. And then the second part of that being, how do you feel about making that selection, now that we’ve really been tested by an economic change, over the last six months?
37:44 Tom Smith: Intelligent Office, their business model is a little bit different, in the sense that they’re very service-oriented and less about space. So for example, the fact that we do the virtual assisted services I talked about, with phones, customer service work, helping clients with administrative projects, things of that sort, that’s something that not a lot of companies do. There are some others out there, but many of the competitors we have, are actually very big in space, and do a fine job in that. We have 11 offices that we actually rent, on a longer term basis, and as a result most of those, since it’s a small amount, we might get one or two offices rented by the same company, but most of them tend to be solopreneurs, or maybe an employee of a company that just needs an office in a particular area, or a sales office or what have you.
38:48 Tom Smith: So if somebody comes in and said to us, “I need five or six offices,” that’s something we’re not gonna be able to help them with, and that’s where the other firms, who have maybe a 100 offices, can certainly handle that and address that type of request. But with the service part of it, and going back to when I opened the office, six years ago, it’s something that I really have always been in business… The B2B, business-to-business, sector my whole life and helping businesses with services and with their customers and helping to try to develop new business, that’s something I’ve always felt very comfortable in, and something that our company addresses. So in looking at that model now, where we have COVID-19 pandemic, I’m glad we’re in the service industry, because that industry, although it slowed down significantly in the second half of March and then to April, has since really recovered. And one of the measurements we use is number of calls we receive, and we track that daily and obviously, monthly. And the number of calls is really back up to where it was back in early March before everything started.
40:12 Tom Smith: Likewise, volume of mail which is another barometer, we’re seeing a lot more of that come back to where we were receiving very little mail for several weeks in the beginning of the pandemic, and that’s recovered quite significantly too. The space side of it is challenged right now. And based on the trends we’re seeing, the space needs will come back to some degree, but it’s gonna be as leases expire, people realize, “Okay, I don’t need as much space as I had,” and maybe just having a single office or two might make more sense for what they’re trying to do. So it’s quite a change in six months, but I think some of those trends are people who are renting a lot of space are probably gonna be less so in the future.
41:10 Kurt Baker: Yeah, I would definitely have to agree with that. As I’ve said a couple of times already, is that I do know people are gonna downsize. Some of them will literally probably downsize to basically virtual with meetings and flex space to use for meetings and maybe as you said, maybe a salesperson who needs to come in and have a place to greet clients and things like that on an ongoing basis. So obviously, there’ll still be a need for that space. So yeah, so the service side, that’s one thing that was very intriguing about it when we first talked years ago. So now that you been through this and we’ve been through the pandemic which truly was a stressor on all businesses, ’cause everybody had to make some kind of an adjustment, what do you see happening going forward as we go into the fourth quarter and beyond, as I think hopefully businesses will start to… I think they really are taking hold again, and I think we are… May not be as fast as we all want, but I definitely see people coming back, all types of business, even the ones that have been under a lot of stress, like your retailers, especially restaurants and things like that, they’ve had a really tough time. So how do see Intelligent Office fitting into that as we kinda move out of maybe the larger spaces that companies have had to maybe smaller, more mobile situations?
42:27 Tom Smith: I think that’s gonna be something that will fit well with our plan because for example, where maybe a company had several offices, now they might only need to pop up office where they just need an office for half a day or maybe schedule certain days of the week, and somebody else may need the other days of the week. So it is a shared office in that respect, but the fact that they’re private offices also is helpful because they can close the door, take their mask off, work and be a little bit more comfortable. It’s not an open air type situation. So I think long-term that certainly as long as the pandemic goes, that’ll be in our favor too. As far as the services go though, I think that’s something that as we get to work with customers and they become familiar with us and comfortable, it’s really something that benefits both parties. We are almost like a natural extension of the staff of that client, and their employees and ours really become almost like a team in that respect, and as a result they get the benefits, the fact that although we’re not employees of that company, we can help them and understand what their situation is, and certainly like any other service provider have loyalty to what their needs are.
43:57 Kurt Baker: Yeah, I can also see their being an advantage where you have somebody that works across multiple businesses, and I know this is part of the networking aspect that we just deal with as business owners is that you learn from other businesses. So if you have a virtual assistant or somebody who’s sitting there assisting one client, process calls or their data set up and things like that, and then they need to relay that off to the owner or the technician, whatever the case may be, I’m suspecting there’s gonna be some cross-learning going on. “Hey, look, we did something over here that seemed to work. Have you thought about trying this or asking this question, or maybe delivering the data in a different way that we’re just finding works a little bit better? So maybe that’s something you could try.” So they can actually really add to your bottom line, literally, by helping you learn from other experiences that are happening with other entities that might be out there.
44:47 Tom Smith: Yeah, certainly, and that really works on both sides of business, both the service side and also the space side. For example, on the service side, they may be grasping at, “What’s the best way for us to handle calls that need information?” And maybe there’s some programs that are available that we can say, “Well, here’s something we’ve used with some other clients that’s worked great,” and try it out, do an evaluation, things of that sort. And on the space side, the fact that we have just a few offices, 11 offices, what’s a little bit unique is that the people in those offices really get to know each other a little bit more than you might have, let’s say, in a 100 office setting, and as a result, they’ll be able to provide a resource for that person. Somebody may say, “I have a problem with this.” “Oh, I know somebody in that area.” So some respects the networking actually comes into it where they can refer people to others and really develop some good relationships, and where maybe they use the other company’s services and things of that sort. So we’ve seen some of that also.
46:07 Kurt Baker: So, we’ve got a little bit of time left, but I want you to hit on where you see things heading. I know we’ve got a couple of phases we’re… Hopefully we’re gonna come out of the pandemic sooner rather than later, but we don’t really know, of course, so we’re… What do you see happening as far as your space? ‘Cause you really are great in the fact that you’re kind of assisting clients in a variable expense manner, which I think a lot of people are paying a lot of attention to right now. Variable expenses are really nice when you’re not… When you’re not absolutely sure about the future. You can’t really see the trend line for sure, so you might default to a variable expense model, until you really know. But what are you seeing in the space, your service space, and the shared space, the virtual assistant type of services, where do you see that heading in the future?
46:50 Tom Smith: Well, certainly on the service side, I can see us going into… Maybe a little more deeply into certain areas. For example, where perhaps, maybe with an attorney, maybe we can use some of the programs they have to put information into like a Cleo or somebody like that, let’s say. Or it may be something that they need a specific item to help them be more efficient. For example, one of the things that we’re just bringing out to market is phone service. In the sense that we can actually supply the VoIP service, Voice over Internet Protocol service and the phone systems themselves. And that’s helped several of our customers who have had some problems with their carriers and things of that sort. Importing numbers and all those types of items that go with it. For the space side, the fact that we are a little bit more nimble, maybe because we have a smaller number of offices, we can really help customers with that flexibility. Where as I mentioned earlier about pop-up offices, where maybe they just need it for a few days and they need a private office or whatever the case may be, but we… Or, for example, even a meeting space, like with college students, things of that sort. So I think our size makes us more flexible.
48:19 Kurt Baker: Well, Tom, that’s excellent. Again, I really appreciate you coming on and helping us out. I know a lot of people, a lot of business owners, and entrepreneurs out there are really looking at their business strategy, and I know, I’ve always been a fan of variable expenses myself, where you can do it. Especially when you’re in a start-up situation. So, you’ve been listening to Master Your Finances, you can find us by going and subscribing up to the podcast at masteryourfinances.us. Remember, together we can master your finances so you can enjoy financial peace of mind.
48:49 Announcer: That was this week’s episode of Master Your Finances, with Kurt Baker, certified financial planner professional. Tune in every Sunday at 9:00 AM to expand your knowledge in building and managing your wealth. Missed an episode? No worries. You can subscribe to a free weekly episode of Master Your Finances to listen to on your favorite podcasting platform, Apple, Spotify, Google podcasts, whatever. Master Your Finances is underwritten by Certified Wealth Management and Investment. Only on 107.7 The Bronc.