A helping hand for local business

    With the potential turbulence facing businesses, serviced offices like Tunbridge Wells’ Pantiles Chambers are working round the clock to make sure that all companies have the support they need for continued growth. Hannah Patterson met up with Centre Manager Hannah Tillett to discover how they are supporting local start-ups and making office space affordable.

    It’s been almost a year since we last caught up. What’s been happening since then? Well, there have been big changes in the team since we last spoke. I took over in January this year, after running a successful business centre in Kings Hill. The Pantiles Chambers is also in the process of undergoing a significant refurbishment, including an update of our security. For example, at present the building is accessed by key, but soon it will be electronic. Making sure the building is secure for our clients is always top of the priority list for us. Aesthetically, the building is being painted and decorated from top to bottom, as well as refurbishing the washrooms. By the time this goes to print, we will be well underway with having new carpets fitted. It’s all part of our mission to make the experience of the clients here at the Chambers all the better. Apart from that, we’ve been fully booked for the past few months, with a noticeable increase in the number of virtual customers, too.

    Virtual customers? You can start and run a business from anywhere these days – home, a local café or serviced offices like ours. They are the clients who need additional support, but don’t need an office space yet.There are many different configurations of what you can have here, and the main thing we ensure we do is keep things as bespoke as we can. Every company is different, and every company has different needs and requirements. We don’t force packages on people who don’t need them. There are a lot of individual services that can be utilised if and when the clients need them. The virtual side of our business involves a number of elements. For example, customers set up their company’s mailing address with us, so that we function as their registered address. We have the same option for telephone numbers if clients are busy or on holiday. Our staff will answer any calls, and however you would like them to. There are systems in place that mean if you are out of the office for the day, the details will pop-up on our screen instantly to notify our staff if we receive a phone call for you. We can really behave like we work for the company, as we work so closely with them.

    I imagine that gives the impression of a start-up being bigger than it is… I’d say so, and that’s a huge benefit. First impressions count for everything with start-ups. Having a professional service when you’re too busy or away can make all the difference.

    As these services are aimed at small businesses, is it affordable? The mailing address service starts from £33 per month plus VAT, and telephone answering starts from as little as £25 pounds per month. This contributes a lot to the popularity of our services. The prices make us ideal for start-ups and small businesses. We see a lot of companies start with the telephone answering services before expanding into hot-desking and offices as they begin to experience growth. We often see clients doing business amongst themselves once they become residents of our offices. It’s so rewarding to see the Chambers being used for networking.

    How many offices do you have here? We currently have 20 offices. It’s a lot bigger than it looks! Our building extends over the newsagents and Oxfam, and is three floors in total. As well as all our offices, we’ve got our meeting room, which is really popular with both internal and external clients. Some of the local shops here have used it as a place to hold interviews as it’s only £16 an hour and has all the necessities, such as Wi-Fi and refreshments.

    Do you find you have a specific client base or a wide range? It’s definitely a mix. Our fully serviced unique offices offer character and a great location in central Tunbridge Wells for businesses. We work on a monthly contract basis, but there are some semi-permanent hot desk users, and there have been a couple of companies who had been here for almost ten years. The flexibility and inclusion of utilities really appeals to people. Hot desking is a monthly contract of £199 that includes your internet, lockable storage and 24/7 access to the building.

    How many staff do you employ to manage so many different aspects? There are five of us in total, and there are generally always three of us in reception to answer any calls that come through. It’s great to have us in reception as we offer a lot of secretarial services, as well as pop-in facilities. We can do typing for people who aren’t as good with computers, we have a photocopier and scanner available for the public’s use, and we also offer binding services. I’m not sure everyone realises that we offer those services, but we are putting a lot of emphasis on social media and raising awareness of these parts of our business at the minute.

    Since we last met, there have been big changes that could affect business on a national and international scale. Did you notice any changes after Brexit? As a business, we haven’t felt any real effect. I suppose the uncertainty Brexit caused for some businesses may actually have made us more appealing as a flexible place of work, with a shorter lease. It is a more comfortable choice during times of uncertainty.

    Business rates are a hot topic at the moment. Do you have any fears for the future? I’m assuming that small business rate relief will carry on for another 12 months, but obviously for us it will take a huge toll if it’s eliminated. We have a lot of small businesses and start-ups here, so we’d hate to see any of them not being able to afford to be here any more as a result. It could have a devastating impact on so many businesses, and it would be awful to see it become not viable for our smaller businesses to grow here. You have started to see the effect already in the town, with independent companies closing up shop. It should be made easier for small companies to see growth, not harder. I hope that we are helping with the growth of independent businesses in our own small way.

    PANTILES CHAMBERS
    85 High Street, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1XP
    01892 506960 www.pantileschambers.co.uk