How to relocate a small business

Office moves can be a costly hassle - but they don't have to be.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 11 Mar 2016

An E.ON survey last year found that moving premises is one of the most stressful tasks small business owners face, second only to hiring staff. Understandably so – all manner of setbacks can occur, from forgetting about redirection costs for your new address to the internet not working on your first day. To make the move as seamless as possible, keep the following in mind before you relocate.

Location, location, location

PR agency CubanEight, has moved office four times in six years and each time the first big decision was choosing the location itself. MD Sian Gaskell says it’s important to think about how it’ll affect your staff. ‘Our new office is only five minutes from our old place and hasn’t affected anyone’s journey too dramatically,’ she points out. ‘And we’re now even closer to the temptation that is Bicester Village!’

James Barnett, co-founder of managed workspace provider WorkPad, agrees. ‘Being in a vibrant, buzzing area with shops and restaurants is far better for staff culture than being based in a business park,’ he says.

Get organised

If you can, have a staff member dedicated to the move and all its intricacies. Gaskell’s office manager helped to keep disruption to a minimum for the team. ‘She was in charge of everything – from getting removal firm quotes, to mail redirection, new insurance, business rates and going to Ikea... there was a lot to deal with!’

If you can’t allocate a staff member to the task, make sure you draw up a list of what’s connected to your current address such as subscriptions, bills and customer billing, so you can work through all of them. And keep important contacts in the loop, whether it’s updating online information or sending them emails ahead of the move.

Communication is crucial

There’ll be such a long to-do list for the move that it’s easy to forget some of the most important people involved: your staff. Create a communications plan for them to provide notice of where the new office will be and how that could affect their daily commute. 

Providing a timeline of how the move will unfold will be a big help, as will allocating roles to employees to assist with the relocation. And a new office is the ideal time to find out what employees didn’t like about the last place, so offer anonymous feedback forms to see what they’d like changed or improved on.

Don’t over-commit

Businesses don’t always need to sign a lengthy lease that ties them down. QualitySolicitors’ partner Matthew Inman says, ‘With an increasing number of commercial properties lying vacant and landlords having to pay business rates on such properties sooner than before, we’re finding that lease terms for new tenants are generally becoming more flexible.’

‘Don’t feel that you have to sign up for ten years,’ Gaskell advises. ‘You don’t want to over-commit yourself so speak to the landlord or agent about flexibility on the lease or a break clause in the negotiation stage.’

Keep your energy up

Make sure you remember to let your energy provider know you’re leaving (and provide as much notice as possible). For new premises you’ll need the address and postcode as well as tenancy or landlord information, the opening meter readings and the date they were taken, the new phone number and the date your lease or ownership starts.

Bargain hunt

Peter Ames, strategy director at office search engine Office Genie, says there’s no harm in trying to feel out a bargain – moving offices can be a pricey process after all. ‘Ask for rent-free periods instead of or as well as a reduction in rental rates,’ he advises. ‘Costs tend to be upfront so a rent-free period of a few months at the start can make things that little bit easier.’

Branch out

And consider alternatives. Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures, an online marketplace for active holidays, has moved the business every six months. He’s used a few co-working spaces and the firm is now based at a business centre. ‘There are a few ski-related companies already in the community so that appealed immediately,’ he says. ‘The opportunity to learn from other founders appealed a lot.’ The bonus ping-pong table ‘and a putting green’ didn’t hurt either.  

Keep frustrations at bay

E.ON’s survey of 600 small firms found the five biggest frustrations for businesses moving were internet or phone lines not working, trouble finding things, not being able to get the electricity working, accidentally breaking equipment and trouble getting supplier contracts changed.

Victoria Hatfield, economy and tourism manager at Exeter City Council, says, ‘the most important factor for business location has become broadband speed,’ but many firms don’t think to check this before they move. ‘A business uploading large files like designs can easily sign up to a five year lease in a location with slow broadband.’

Be proactive and get a site visit in with a few team members for the move to suss out the new place and double check your contents insurance will cover any breakages during the move. And tell old and new suppliers in ample time so you don’t get charged twice.

Moving office can be like moving house, both draining and time-consuming, but finding the right place can be a morale-boost of its own. ‘It feels like a momentous step in your start-up’s journey,’ Bruce agrees.

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