Guide: Moving your small business
(This is a long post, provided as a guide. Should you want help organizing, planning or performing a move - give us a call. We can also help with selection of different locations based on the factors presented here.)
It’s one of the most exciting and fearful things you can do with your small business: move.
For startups - the question usually isn’t about moving but just moving in to a new space - one that you actually sign a lease for or outright buy.
Today - I want to focus on the situation where you are moving from one place to another.
I know - there are many who say, “Yeah, no big deal, just pick up and move your systems from one place to another!”.
On the surface that sounds so appealing and so easy. Only it isn’t always that easy.
It all depends: It depends on how much infrastructure you have.
If you’re a virtual business that relies only on cell phones or soft phones that run on your laptops, you have only laptops, and you rely on hot spots rather than wifi that your own - well - yeah, you will have a much easier time. This article probably isn’t for you.
If you have an old phone system, have desktop computers that need Internet access, have some integrations with databases or online services, have security concerns, or just have a number of employees - say you have 10 employees: your set of issues to think about are going to be more complex and diverse.
Underestimate the complexity of what lays before you at your own risk.
Every minute you think ahead, do some investigation, some thinking, and some planning will help you immensely down the road. Planning out and thinking about your move well ahead of time will help you avoid extra labor costs AND the costs of extended business disruptions.
This post is a summary of my own lessons learned from past experiences moving companies large and small.
BEFORE YOU SIGN THE LEASE
You need to get a handle on what your current infrastructure and IT needs are. These are the things to think about: and define. It’s especially important if you are looking at different sites that have varying costs. These issues will impact both your immediate and long term costs.
Do you have longer term contracts for bandwidth and Internet services? Do you have long term voice contracts? Are they expired? Can you convert them to month to month? Can they be move to the new address? If they can’t - can you cancel the contract without penalty? What are the penalties?
Before you begin shopping - know when these contracts expire? And PS - don’t let them auto-renew without thinking about it.
Be sure you have access to all and any online portals vendors provide. E.g. cell providers, data service providers, hosted PBX providers, etc. Start this early - if you don’t have access get it. Don’t forget some other providers - be sure that you have access to domain registries, that you know and have access to the people who manage your DNS for you, as well as other key services - just in case you are going to need them.
I recall one time in a meeting years ago, I said that no matter what your business, access to plentiful and affordable bandwidth is critical. It was more than 10 years ago - they laughed at me in that meeting. Now almost everyone recognizes this.
Do you know how much bandwidth you use during the business day? Do you know how that works out per employee? Per transaction? Per dollar of revenue per day?
Do you know what your current needs are for download and upload? If your company creates and provides video editing services and you have 3 people editing videos that are then posted or distributed online - your bandwidth needs. Understand those needs BEFORE you begin looking for a space to move into to.
Remember that any average bandwidth estimates you get from a provider should be adjusted for the number of hours per day you use the internet and for use/no use of the bandwidth over the weekend or days you don’t work. You need to size for your busy times - not an averaged amount.
Depending on your business and how you handle voice communications or if you have video requirements - LATENCY may also be an issue. Latency relates to the speed of data moving through the Internet - delays encountered create latency and can impact the quality of voice calls, video calls, monitoring, or remote control. Have some idea of average latency and error rate on your circuit.
An analogy might be a freeway system. Bandwidth is like the number of lanes on the road. Latency is like the number of vehicles on the road and the speed at which they travel. Error rates and latency increases are like pot-holes, accidents, road construction, and poor drivers causing delays and jams. If network performance is critical to your business then you need a wide road that is well maintained and regulated and that is capable of handling the high end of the expected number of vehicles traveling at the speed you want them to travel at. It’s a complicated formula - knowing what you need and what you can afford are the critical first steps.
Factor in Bandwidth Demand Growth
Business is moving more and more to the Internet. Depending on your business, assume that your overall bandwidth needs will increase 20-25% per year. Use the maximum growth over the term of your possible lease to gauge what type of bandwidth you’ll need at the end of your lease.
Before you sign a lease on the very cool, wonderful office with an overview of the River offered at a price you can’t believe - WAIT. Why? Does it have sufficient choices for you in terms of bandwidth vendors? What are the connectivity options?
If you had a internet intensive business but picked an office and signed a lease only to find out that the only way to get bandwidth to the building was to pay a carrier to run fiber to your building. Say that facility work would cost $15,000, just to get connected. And your monthly bill would be $1000 on a 3 year agreement. What if only one provider was willing to connect the building at that price? Wouldn’t you be surprised. Know before you buy.
Ask and get possible quotes for the location. Who services it? Can circuits and services be provided that meet your bandwidth needs? If the building isn’t connected, are you so in love with it that you’d pay to get it connected for high-speed Internet? How long would it take to get the building connected?
Be sure you understand these implications before you sign a lease. Or - you may be sorry later.
Also - if you are looking at different providers know if you need to use static IP Addresses or not.
Wireless / Cell Phones
If wireless phones or devices are a critical part of your business, you probably want to include cell phone coverage testing into your site selection process. Can you get coverage? Can you install amplifiers or extenders from your carrier to improve signal strength? If your employees use their own phones for business and use a number of different carriers -- you might want to check on coverage for these carriers. The cost for extenders and amplifiers is another to factor into pros/cons of different possible sites.
If wifi is critical to you business, you should check a few things at your new possible site. How many different wifi networks are broadcasting into your space? What kind of interference and channel/signal contention issues are you facing? Can you do even a walk around survey of the facility to gauge signal strength and construction materials used.
Depending on what you need to do and what your wiring or wifi needs are, building construction may have an impact on your move in costs or potentials. What kind of building is this - thick poured concrete walls? Wood-frame with dry wall? Are the ceilings drop ceilings or are they sealed plaster or other materials? How high are they?
All of these impact the potential cost to move in and the long term cost to remain.
Does the facility have premise wiring in place. If you are a completely wireless company - this many not be an issue. But even if you are fully wifi - depending on exactly what you have it may have an impact.
Does the new space have modern, professionally installed, structured wiring already in place? What is the rating? Will it stay in place? Is it in a useable condition? It’s worth checking out. If the existing wiring is a quality installation and is Cat 5, 5E or 6 - it could save you more than $100 per drop. Factor that in. If it doesn’t have suitable wiring - then don’t forget to include that in your site shopping considerations. Wiring costs vary considerably depending on a number of things, but if you use $200 per drop -- it’s a good place to start from a budgetary perspective.
Many modern small businesses don’t really have phone systems any more. Their telecommunication services are wireless or are based on hosted PBX extensions. In those cases, the key consideration will be bandwidth and premise wiring/wifi. For the rest - most businesses have phone systems and wired phones on desks. If you have a traditional telecomm setup the first thing to find out - especially if your customers contact you most often by phone:
Is the place you are thinking of moving to in the same “rate center” as your current address? This impacts if you can KEEP your existing numbers. (Remember you can port your numbers to a different carrier - but rate centers still matter!)
Do you have a complete list of all the phone numbers you have? You can likely get these from your phone bills or request a full listing from your provider.
Don’t forget to identify any fax numbers, special device phone numbers, security system phone lines, etc.
Do you use toll free numbers? Get a list of those numbers together. Learn if the 800 numbers point to an existing phone number. Sometimes 800 numbers are delivered directly to your phone system by the provider. It makes a different to know - especially on planning your move.
Do you use hunt groups for you phone lines? Identify those groups and the pilot numbers involved.
What phone number of yours is used for directory listing. If you change providers, you’ll want to be sure that it is clearly identified.
Regardless of where you move, think about how much phone disruption your business can stand. That’ll be a factor in your planning.
PLAN THE MOVE
Now that you’ve gone through the process of looking at different sites and you’ve selected one - now it’s time to get serious about getting the move done.
The first thing to do is figure out your timeline. From an infrastructure standpoint there are a number of things to think about before negotiating a lease start date or move in date.
The list of topics below are general - in the sense that each site and each situation will present different challenges and offer unique sets of constraints.
In general, the more time you give yourself to do pondering, shopping, and planning - the better. You can make the move smooth and save money doing so since fewer things will be “panic” decisions.
Long Lead Items
Send contract termination notices or non-renewal notices in accordance with the contracts. This could be for maintenance contracts, cleaning contracts, data circuit contracts, voice service contracts, etc. Most often these auto-renew unless canceled. Cancellation can only happen within certain windows or x days before end of the contract. Be sure you know those and have addressed them.
Does a provider need to connect the building with cable of some kind? Better plan on 6 months. Sure it might go faster, but until you now more, assume at least 6 months.
If you are going to get new bandwidth or telecom providers, give yourself 30-60 days to do some shopping around. There are many agents who sell or resell services from collections of providers. But the process to meet with them, get quotes, review quotes and contracts takes time. Start this process 4 or months out if you have the time.
Oh I know - you almost never get that kind of time - just remember the more you can plan and consider, the more money you’ll save in the long run.
If the building is connected by cables of some kind already, your selected carrier may need 90 days to get the circuit in. Sometimes it can go faster, but you should plan on 90 days. If you are going to use Coax cable for broadband than you should plan on a 2 week lead time if the building is already connected.
During this phase, be sure you involve your phone system vendor - ensure that the new circuit is good and that the move is scheduled properly with their staff.
Depending on the situation, you may need to extend data and circuit services from one place in your building to your suite or floor. You should be sure to check into this. You may need to engage a 3rd party to install this extension for you. Allow at least 45 days for this.
This varies quite a bit - depending on how big your site is and what your wiring needs are - you should plan on at least 60 days or more to get competing quotes for the wiring project, clarify your needs, and then schedule/implement the work.
Be sure that you include any wiring for wifi which you may need into your plans.
Office Furniture and Machinery
Identify what items are moving from your old office to the new one. This is even more true if you have business machinery and large tools that you use for your business. Identify the things that need to get moved and get quotes for moving the items. Sure - small businesses can do this on their own. Check into truck rentals if you need it, source boxes for packing, etc.
Near Term Items
Telephone Number Porting
Porting numbers can take 5 or more business days. It depends on the number of lines and the carriers involved. If you can plan this out 30 days before you move. You may need to give Letters of Agency to carriers or agents to permit them to order these changes. Be sure that you review lists of numbers to be ported a few times - remember the inventory of numbers, including toll frees that you created? Getting a number of people to review this - who know your numbers is always a good idea.
If you have a phone system it is a very good idea to have the phone system vendor available to help with phone porting.
IP Address Changes
When you change your providers or get a new internet circuit if you have one, your hosted PBX vendor may need to know your new IP address. You may also have key services on the Internet that you use that rely on specific IP addresses - special mail services, financial applications, etc. You may need to contact them to get your internet addresses updated. If possible, get your new circuit in and working before you move - then get the ip address added.
Circuits in and Tested
If you are in a position to do this, try and get new circuits in, tested and working before you move in. You may have to pay for the old and the new circuits for awhile - but it will make your actual move easier if your new service is in and working. This way the only thing you’ll really have to worry about converting on the move day will be phone number porting - if you have to do it. Remember, IP switch over may also have to happen on move day.
Premise Wiring and Switches
Depending on your situation, be sure that premise wiring is done before you move in. If you can - buy switches and wiring up your network before move day. This will improve the speed with which you can get your computer systems and Internet access working on move day.
If you have a network gateway that includes custom programmed firewall settings, be sure you have your team or reseller start working on it ahead of time. You probably want to give yourself 2 weeks before you move - but contact your reseller or IT people as much time as you can. They can’t do much UNTIL you get the new IP Addresses from your data circuit provider.
Get your security system in and working, including phone service access before you move in. This way you can be sure that you’ll have security in place once all of your system assets are protected when no one is there.
Wifi Access Points
Are you moving your old Wifi Access Points? Can you afford to buy new ones and pre-install into your new space?
What about the weather?
So - once you have the date, plan on weather issues. Here in Michigan the weather can change faster than ... well you know what I mean. Plan on rain, snow, and the hottest or coldest day of the year - depending when you move. Have some contingency plans in your mind for dealing with rain - especially if you’ll be rolling unprotected items off of a truck. Be sure you take staff into account in your plans.
Plan a list of all the things that have to get done. Be sure everyone knows how to reach everyone else. Have one person who knows the entire plan and can help coordinate all the various things that are going to happen. Be sure this person is up to date on all changes and difficulties encountered. They are your field coordinator and will help smooth the move process. Make that their main responsibility for move day.
Make sure everyone knows the plan, knows their part in it, and know what the sequence of events will be.
It’s move day. The big day.
The coordinator should have a printed list of phone numbers, tasks, and the plan. Don’t rely on technology at all. In fact, be sure that everyone who has a task responsibility knows and has the phone number of the coordinator. Everyone’s cell phones should be fully charged. If you have or can use hot spots or phone tethers make sure everything is charged and available.
Communication is Key
During the lead up to the move day and on the move day, communication amongst the team is vital - but so is communication with your vendor partners. Double and triple confirm dates and times with those involved.
Deal with Chaos - it’s normal
Unanticipated surprises happen all the time. Keep up with them. Be sure that the coordinator knows and that key players are updated with unfolding events or surprises so that they can adjust their schedules.