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Starting an Answering Service Business from Home
You've been brainstorming home business ideas and starting an answering service is something that you're really gravitating toward. You're unsure how to get started with your answering service — so you're here to get some advice and tips. Let's get started!
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. And sure, cellphones are an awesome tool, but if you're already talking to a client or pressed for time — having someone else take the calls can be essential.
Unless they can find a reliable and affordable answering service, they will probably have to do without (or ask people to call them only after 7 PM) or use an answering machine/voicemail (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. That's why starting an answering service that's friendly and professional can be a service in demand.
Starting an Answering Service Basics
An 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. Sounds easy enough, right?
The service can be expanded many ways: you can page the client on his beeper (if anyone still actually uses these!); by radio (for instance a dispatch type service), leave messages for him (on his/her personal cell number voicemail); 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! Starting an answering service is awesome, but can mean different things to different clients. Decide what you'll offer.
Continually Extend Your Service Options If You Can
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.
You Might Get Initial Traction in the Local Paper
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.
Starting an Answering Service: Your Sales Pitch
In your spare time work out a sales pitch and call prospective businesses to inform them of 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.
Be sure to mention that…
*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 can arise from getting or giving the wrong information, or forgetting to notify someone at the right 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.
Update on Starting an Answering Service Business:
I wrote this article several years ago. Before social media was really a “thing”. That being said, I would highly recommend using social media to promote you business. At the very least have a Facebook business page.
As well — remember there are great services and products to use out there for your business that are free or super affordable. Google Voice might be an option. Also, Ring Central is an awesome tool for anyone trying to run a professional business. Even someone small and just getting started can use them to give a more professional image. Ring Central is available in the USA and Canada too. They offer a lot of different services — including:
Toll free numbers, local numbers, virtual phone number, hosted pbx, virtual phone, call forwarding, call screening, voicemail, internet voicemail, small business phone, music on hold, click to call, push to talk, message alerts, click to call, pbx, virtual pbx, internet pbx, small business pbx, internet calls, voip, Voice over IP, pc to pc calling, internet calls, voip call, free voip.
They are worth checking out.
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