Free Virtual Address: What’s the Catch?

If you’re a small business or startup on a budget, you might have considered taking advantage of one of the many free virtual addresses that have been popping up all over the Internet.

Are they a good option?

The simple answer is no. “The best things in life are free” does not apply to the place you choose to designate as headquarters for your business.

Questionable virtual address

A good virtual service provider should offer the following:

  • Legitimate brick-and-mortar address located in an upscale business district.
  • Mail receiving and forwarding services.
  • Virtual phone number and virtual receptionist to take/forward your business calls.
  • Quick and easy access to virtual staff to help with any number of essential tasks. (Optional)

Let’s take a look at the “catch” when/if you decide to use these free virtual office providers:

Free rarely means it’s actually free

Ever download a free app only to discover you can’t actually do anything with it without upgrading to a paid plan? Heck, that’s pretty much how the entire app industry works, right? Same goes for a free virtual office.

They’ll draw you in with a free signup and offer an address you can legally attach your name to, but that’s about it. In order to get a phone number, mail forwarding (yes, you do actually need this), reception, and other necessary tools to run your business with, you’ll need to pay).

And, the fees you’ll pay are very likely to be higher than reputable non-free options. A respectable virtual office provider doesn’t need to make false promises, and will always offer the first month of service for free anyway, so you can test the service before buying.

Free virtual offices probably aren’t an office at all

You have to be really careful with any business trying to promote free virtual office rentals. Why? Because a smart person really has to ask themselves why they would want to attach your business name to their property.

There’s really no upside for the provider. It’s very likely that your “office” is nothing more than a mailbox located at a street address. This is similar to the paid mailbox rental service offered by UPS and others.

There are a couple of issues to consider here:

  1. The company giving you a free virtual address isn’t a reputable company like UPS — they likely don’t have an impeccable reputation and can yank your (limited) privileges whenever they please.
  2. Google has been cracking down on businesses using virtual addresses for Google My Business and SEO rankings — and what do you think happens if a customer or prospective customer decides to swing by your “mailbox”?

Are the risks to your brand worth it? Pat yourself on the back if you’ve reconsidered at this point!

How many businesses do you think are already doing this?

Human beings are attracted to the word “free” almost as much as we are the opposite sex (or same sex, if that’s your thing). Consider how many other fledgling businesses have already rented a free office to try to legitimize their business.

And, how many businesses are going to be registered at those same free addresses? Could be hundreds, or hundreds of thousands. There’s no way to tell, as entrepreneurs from all continents, rich and poor have already done the same thing you’re considering.

The point is, you’re not the first clever minx to think of using a free virtual address, and you won’t be the last. These free addresses will be filled with businesses from all walks of life — many being the kind you don’t want associated with your brand.

Free stuff

“Free” means you get what you pay for

The beauty of using such service is that you get all the virtual address benefits plus the benefits of a brick-and-mortar headquarters, without the expense of renting, paying overhead, and the need to hire people to put butts in chairs.

Legitimate virtual office providers help connect you to your virtual office by granting limited access to the facilities, in order to entertain clients, partners, and investors. They can sign for mail and forward it to your actual location. Virtual services can set you up with a toll free phone number for customer calls and a receptionist to handle those calls.

A free virtual address provider won’t offer any of these things, certainly not for free. There’s no sense having a business address if it doesn’t function as such. And, as mentioned, you’re not going to fool Google into giving you any love, so there’s zero benefit to the free address option.

Free services are inherently shady businesses

The big elephant in the room with people offering free property is, what’s their angle? There’s always a catch and it’s usually that they want to get you hooked, before pulling you into a paid plan anyway.

The reason is usually that they’re not yet established, don’t have a reputation to speak of, and need to offer free as a way to compete with services who don’t offer free addresses. You’ll likely experience much frustration as they try every trick in the book to get you to sign on for a paid upgrade.

Fact is, they might not have any legal right to the properties they’re offering. You just don’t know. And, beggars can’t be choosers, so who are you to ask them to verify their ownership?

Free virtual services just don’t make sense for any brand

You can rent a legitimate virtual office for next to nothing. It’s not likely to be spectacular, but the cheapest option is still going to be better than that which doesn’t cost a thing.

A free virtual office isn’t like found money…

You can do a lot of damage when you get too thrifty for your own good. This is your business, and the consequences of aligning yourself with the wrong kind of services can be disastrous and stay with your brand for years.