On business addresses, personal safety, and Moldovan gangsters

tl;dr
Freelancers and the self-employed shouldn’t have to choose between publicising their home address or sharing a work address with money launderers.

Minor musings on a story I’ve been following.

When I plied my trade as a web designer I used a managed office service as my business address. I started out using my home address as my business address, but having a wannabe local gangster I’d never seen in my life show up on a Saturday to threaten me as I held my baby in my arms put a stop to that.

I began paying a fee every month to a very professional managed office service in the city centre. When postal mail arrived – perhaps six letters a year, about five of which, of course, were client cheques (arrrrrrrgh) – the office service would email me, and I would pick up the letters in person.

I got rid of the service this year when I wrapped up my web design work. As a digital freelancer in a digital world, paying over £300 a year to receive the occasional unsolicited CV was no longer justifiable. And as I’m no longer trading under a business name (Webdevlaw is simply the name of this blog, because Heather Burns was never going to set the heather on fire), a displayed postal address is not necessary.

My timing on that decision, as often happens, was uncanny. Since I gave up the managed office service, news has emerged that – through no fault of their own – it is being abused by scammers, front operations, and money launderers. A service meant for the self-employed and freelancers has instead been exploited by people who have never set foot here.

In other words, the city centre address I used in the name of professionalism could have made me look rather unprofessional for reasons that have nothing to do with me.

Here, then, is yet another case where business law simply fails to keep up with the reality of today’s self-employed. You are supposed to have a physical address for correspondence purposes, meaning “an address at which the business can be contacted and have legal documents formally served on it”, despite the fact that any contacts and documents can and should be delivered electronically. But you don’t want to publicise your home address.

So your choices are:

  1. Pay several hundred pounds a year to get a handful of postal letters at an address which would associate you with Israeli fronts and the Eastern European mafia;
  2. Use your home address as your business address, with all the personal safety risks that implies;
  3. Find someone willing to let you use their address, and hope you don’t fall out with them;
  4. Shrug and do nothing.

Is it any wonder that so many choose the passive resistance of the fourth option?

Instead of forcing freelancers and the self-employed into such a stupid ethical dilemma, government should look at allowing an email address to suffice as the correspondence address. Stop trying to shoehorn flexible and mobile 21st century workers into 19th century rules while making us pay for the privilege.

About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.