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Opening an Office in Phnom Penh

By: Kevin Britten Posted: January-01-2006 in
Kevin Britten

The Secretary

So you've been working off your laptop in bars and hotel rooms for long enough now, and you've decided to take the plunge and open an office in Phnom Penh to help your business grow. Your company registration is coming along and all your paperwork is in order so it's off to the estate agent.

You quickly discover that office space in Phnom Penh is very often not office space at all. There are only a handful of purpose-built office buildings in the city and their small units are usually taken. Depending on the quality of the building expect to pay between $8 and $18 a square metre, though if it's a hotel-type office this could include air conditioning.

In fact most businesses start out in converted homes - the local term is "flat". A flat is really a townhouse with a dual-purpose living room-cum-garage on the ground floor, a mezzanine which is usually little more than a low and inconveniently located store-cupboard, and then a couple of floors above where bedrooms can be used as offices. Depending on the location and age of the property expect to rent one of these buildings for $500 to $2,000 per month.

Any kind of house with a wall around it is immediately classified as a villa. Villas start from $600 but for that it will be old, with doubtful wiring and plumbing and not in such a great location. You can spend as much as you like on rent for a villa, getting bigger and newer and in better neighbourhoods the more you spend. A better neighbourhood of course means a neighbourhood with fewer power-cuts and less crime than another neighbourhood.

Once you've found your flat you only have to negotiate with the landlord over deposits (6 months is standard though 12 months is not unusual) and renovations, furnish it, get your phone and internet connections, (again expect to pay a lot of money in deposits) hire a receptionist to answer calls and hire a guard to watch the door and the receptionist's moped.

There's more to it than just money though. It takes time to go to each of the suppliers. Do you know the major differences between office furniture from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China? You will soon. How about furniture designed in Japan but manufactured in Thailand? You will also quickly learn about all the phone companies and their tariffs, as well as the huge range of ISP companies. Then you'll have to allow plenty of time for interviewing staff who are not a core part of your business but will probably be the first people your clients meet.

If you get involved in renovating and decorating an office then time really does disappear. Every subcontractor has to be closely supervised - does the quality of wiring used drop for the parts you can't see? Does that tin of paint contain what it says on the label? Is that a straight line or just a line?

Thankfully this process must come to an end at some point and you will be able to move into your new office and start work - but by then maybe you won't have a business any more as you will have given all your time and energy over to opening your new office.

The writer, Kevin Britten, is the Managing Director of The Secretary, Phnom Penh's first serviced office business centre. The Secretary offers fully serviced workstations and private offices as well as a range of business support services like virtual office and recruitment assistance.

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