It seems that if you look hard enough in every sector you can unearth some surprising ways to make money. Telephone answering is just one of those areas. It is estimated that in the UK alone the phone answering sector is worth over £20 million a year. It is of course part of the general business services sector that includes business support functions including administration, HR, IT and Accountancy to name but a few.
Surveys have revealed however that many potential customers are not aware that they can easily and cheaply avail themselves of this service. Phone lines can be permanently or temporarily transferred to a phone answering centre where dedicated staff answers the phone as though they are a member of your Company. The most common use of the system is to use external answering for when lines are busy or engaged. This removes the need for multiple additional lines and the concerns people have about their clients getting an answering machine.
Only 11% of us will leave a voice mail
These concerns are actually well founded. Research has shown that only 11% of us will leave a message on a voice machine. We simply don’t like doing it and there is no guarantee that the caller will phone back.
External phone answering is also effective when it comes to making a company look bigger than it actually is. Professionally managed client communication and transfer of information and messages can be seamless. You can adapt the call answering package to suit your needs exactly; messages can be texted or emailed to you immediately. I actually choose to have both, that way nothing is missed. The telephone answering provider can also schedule your diary, electronically booking, confirming and amending appointments. This is particularly useful for one man band organisations where the client may provide a ‘tools’ service such as a plumber or a carpenter.
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Prices will vary across the country but generally you will pay a fixed service charge per month plus a set amount for each call and message taken. Good providers will list messages for you daily and consolidate these on a monthly report together with your invoice. Fixed service charges vary between £20 to £50 per month with messages varying between £0.80 and £1.50 dependent on volume and level of service required. Clearly when it comes to breaking even here it is simply a numbers game.
Where to Start
My advice would be to select a geographic territory for targeting and decide which type and size of client you would ideally like to service. You can of course target multiple sectors but separating them out will allow you to quantify them and tailor your marketing techniques to the needs of the client group.
Start ups will always have a requirement but such customers are often budget and vision restricted. Small hands on (tool service) clients are plentiful and will allow you to extend your services into diary management; you can quickly become an invaluable member of their team.
Professional service sectors like solicitors and architects etc will have in house staff but lunch times, out of hours and holiday periods all present a considerable problem for them.
Once you are clear on the sectors look to your competitors – who, what, how and how much?
How exactly do they market themselves, decide that you like about them and what you don’t? Consider how you can differentiate yourself from them, what is your USP – unique selling proposition going to be and how are you going to get this message across?
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The great thing about a virtual answering service like this is the low cost to set-up. This type of service can initially be run from home but do ensure that a high level of professionalism is maintained at all times.
You will need to consider a basic website, business cards, literature, phone lines and phone systems. My advice would be to keep things simple and start small. Be proactive though and don’t be afraid to visit companies and ask the question. Local business exhibitions are also a great week of potential customers, be personable and follow up all prospective customers regularly. Don’t let them forget you.
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Additionally of course once you have a client onboard work hard to keep them. Visit them periodically; we may be firmly entrenched in a digital age but people still buy people. Also consider how you can up sell into the account that is sell other services to the same client. Virtual secretarial services for example or book keeping. Don’t worry about not having the skills in house, you could outsource the requirement, there is always a solution if you look hard enough. It is important however that you maintain control, this is your business and no one else will care about it as much as you do.
How to make money out of telephone answering was written by Karen James, Founder and Director of two businesses. Karen is passionate about customer service and uses the services of 1st Response phone answering service to ensure that her customers get the very best.