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How-To Start a Business Answering Service from Home
An in-home telephone answering service business can be a real lifesaver to a small business. Many small businesses have neither the time nor the means to take incoming calls during business hours when they are out on jobs — yet those calls represent the very lifeblood of their business! They can’t afford an office, much less a secretary but they certainly need those phone calls.
Unless they can find a reliable and affordable business answering service, they will probably have to do without (or ask people to call them only after 7 PM) or use an answering machine (which has a whole set of disadvantages). First and foremost, people simply don’t like to talk to a machine. Then the answering machine cannot rely messages, sound interested in the caller’s problem, or estimate when the call can be returned or when the service might be performed.
Answering Business Service Call Basics
The basic business answering service takes incoming calls on behalf of business people who are temporarily or routinely not available during normal business hours. The client can either use a phone company service to have their number ring at your location, or they can advertise your number during certain hours. You keep track of who calls, when they called, and the messages. The client calls you periodically (between jobs) to receive his information, which you cross off as you relay it.
The service can be expanded many ways: you can page the client on his beeper; by radio, leave messages for him; advise callers according to the client’s instructions; add a wake-up service; remind clients of birthdays and anniversaries; incorporate a mail receipt and forwarding service; quote prices; make announcements or give out information to callers on behalf of the business client!
As your answering service business progresses, you will discover many other possible services that can be added with little or no extra investment can evolve into many shapes, depending on your talents and desires as well as the needs of your clients. This is a business that should be advertised in the yellow pages of every phone book in your area. Phone books cater to businesses concerned with telephones and new business people (the ones that need an answering service NOW) use the yellow pages. If you live in a populated area with a lot of competition, it would not be bad idea to use the initial A (AANSWERING?) at the beginning of your name — to appear first in the listing for your category.
An initial announcement of your answering service business in the paper is a necessity, and then a small contract ad (one you pay for by the month) under “Business Services” should do the trick. For this amount of business, the paper will probably run a little freebie feature about your new business. If they don’t have a reporter ready, furnish them with some newsy copy that just happens to make your company look as if it is the answer to everyone’s dreams, possibly even with a picture (make sure it advertise your business — not your ego). If you really want to do it right, have some single page advertisements (flyers) printed and send one to every small business in your area, especially one-person service businesses. Then, whenever business lags, or when you are ready for more, beef up your advertising for a while. Join the Chamber of Commerce, where many prospective customers are, and be visible in community affairs. Appear as a volunteer booth attendant with your company T-shirt or hat. Another inexpensive advertising gimmick is to donate a prize of, say a month’s free answering service for the community charity auction or drawing.
The telephone company will help you arrange to be listed in the yellow pages, and help if you wish to place an ad there (they are effective and EXPENSIVE) — don’t let them sell you more than you need and can afford. For example, if you are going to appear first in the listing (Answering Service) anyway, a large ad would not be as critical to receive notice. If there are other local phone listings, check on them, too. They are probably cheaper and less effective than the yellow pages but usually every bit as good an investment. In your spare time work out a sales pitch and call prospective businesses to inform them your services. Note that unless you are especially adept at this, it is very wise to keep an outline in front of you at these times — to make sure you cover all the important points and that you have the answers to their questions handy. Your pleasant voice and professionalism will demonstrate how your service can serve their needs and help improve their business image. Have a brochure or rate sheet and an initial agreement ready to mail to them if they seem interested (strike while “the iron is hot”). Potential problems in this business center around getting or giving the wrong information, or forgetting to notify someone at the tight time.
Use extra care in taking down messages get the names and addresses down correctly (make it a point to repeat everything back to help ensure accuracy); use phonetics (A as in Apple) when there is any doubt; keep a blackboard in front of you where you put ONLY important messages or instructions; write out and have the client’s initial information that you are to give to customers; set up your own suspense system to remind yourself of things that must be done on certain dates or a specific times. Most of these (and other) techniques will soon become part of your “routine” that will help make your service accurate and reliable.
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