The StartupNation Blog Trends, tips and real-life anecdotes from industry experts

Archive for “Run Your Business Better”

Interview with Cynthia Good of PINK-Part 2

Last week, we talked to Cynthia Good, CEO, founding editor and co-owner of the award-winning PINK Magazine, www.PINKmagazine.com. PINK reaches more than two million professional women every year and has raised more than $60,000 for nonprofits benefiting women and girls. Here’s more from my exclusive interview with the inspiring and successful business owner: What are [...]

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StartupNation Member Goes on QVC Tomorrow Morning!

Fellow StartupNation members and moral support boosters for the dreamers – big news for Jules, who I’ve profiled a number of times in podcasts and feature stories (and not just because she’s living the dream but also because, well, she’s my SISTER!!!). Yes, it runs in the Sloan family blood. In any event, tomorrow morning she and [...]

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How a Professional Answering Service Raises the Bar

I just cringe when I call a business and get some home recording message from a 1980′s answering machine. All home-based businesses need a professional answering service. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur looking for a professional “staff member” (i.e. virtual phone service) to field calls, or an at-home sales rep missing sales leads because you are on the phone in a client meeting, answering services are cheap and immediately handle your communications when needed. A professional answering service moves you up from the “trying to make a few bucks” category to the “sustainable and trusting business” category. Plus, once your business starts to boom with hundreds of inbound calls for your services and products, you’ll be able to manage, and respond to each one efficiently. And, when your power goes out or when you must run a quick errand, someone, or “something” will be there.

Professional answering services are easy to find and most telephone service companies offer as an added-value feature in addition to your phone service. But what potential problems might happen and what services are available to you?

There are four major types of answering services: automated, live, Internet and call centers. Automated is what we are used to where the caller will need to press a number to obtain further information. If you want to appear “larger” in employee size, you could create separate lines for departments, or even insert fake names. This type of system works well if you just want to provide general information.

A live service is a bit more expensive in where you would contract out an operator and the operator decides whether to talk a message or patch through to you directly. The advantage to this type of service is a real human operator rather than an automated message at any time of the day. If you operate an online site where customers make purchases, a live service can help customers trust your business and feel at ease when placing an order. On the other hand, if you go over the set number of calls in your contract, it could get very, very expensive.

Internet-based services like Google Voice, or RingCentral, work by consolidating phone lines and routing them to the best line or providing voice mail options that go to a Web-based account. Most of these VoIP services that use a Web interface to manage incoming calls have additional features like routing calls, accepting faxes, forwarding text messages to cell phones, and receiving an automated receptionist. And, all you need to set it up is an Internet connection and the phones. With an Internet-based service, you might have sound quality issues if you have a slow or bad Internet connection. Some phone system companies will guarantee a certain number of minutes a month your service will not be interrupted, but most of the time you can’t negotiate this number. The advantage of using VoIP answering service is that you will be able to manage your business from anywhere in the nation.

Call centers are more on the telemarketing services side and helpful if you need a promotional product or sales push, or need an inbound call center to answer multiple phones ringing. AnswerConnect.com for example, offers live message taking, online order taking, paging and live call transfers delivering messages instantly to the customer’s email box for permanent storage. If you plan to outsource your answering services needs to a call center, or use appointment setters to take online orders, etc., you should spend time training, providing copy and monitoring (or listening) to the calls to ensure the company is professional and speaks accurately to your business.

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I just cringe when I call a business and get some home recording message from a 1980′s answering machine. All home-based businesses need a professional answering service. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur looking for a professional “staff member” (i.e. virtual phone service) to field calls, or an at-home sales rep missing sales leads because [...]

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Outsourcing products to China…Q & A with an expert!

I have compiled the most frequently asked questions that I have recieved over the years from clients about outsourcing to Asia.  It is my goal to educate you in your quest for manufacturing/outsourcing your products abroad. Education and knowledge is your first defense aganist being “taken” and having a “bad experience!” Here goes! Q. Why do [...]

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Exclusive Interview with PINK’s Cynthia Good

Recently, I caught up with Cynthia Good, CEO, founding editor and co-owner of the award-winning PINK Magazine, www.PINKmagazine.com. PINK reaches more than two million professional women every year and has raised more than $60,000 for nonprofits benefiting women and girls. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Cynthia was a news anchor on television stations nationwide, created her [...]

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Managing a mommy business…with 5 simple steps!

We are women. Watch us Manage! I have people ask me, usually men, how do you do it all? How do you take care of the family, and your business, and be so management oriented?  Did you study business management in college, get an MBA? No sir, I did not even finish high school. I [...]

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Benefits of a POS System for your Hospitality-based Business

Chances are, you’ve seen a POS system in action. “POS” is an abbreviation for “point-of-sale-” the most basic POS systems calculate payment amounts and process customer payments, similar to a cash register. However, they aren’t just calculators. Most hospitality-based systems use POS systems in order to track inventory and labor costs, forecast business volumes and [...]

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How Someone Ripped off Our Twitter Name and We Fought Back

You’ve probably read our StartupNation advice about how to leverage the value of social media to benefit your business. (You can listen to a first and second podcast on this subject, too.) But a word of warning: What you may not know–and should be prepared to overcome–is that just like there are squatters on website [...]

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Mass Retailers gone….MEDICAL?

While you would expect to drive down the street and see a hospital or urgent care facility in your own neighborhood; would you expect to see a medi-clinic in your local Wal-Mart?  Mass retailers like Wal-Mart and CVS drug stores have been in the medi-clinic business? Move over Mc Donald’s! Why not? In this economy, [...]

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StartupNation on ABC News Now, helps an entrepreneur in need

Tory Johnson, frequent reporter on ABC’s Good Morning America show and anchor of the ABC NewsNow series focusing on careers asked for a little StartupNation love recently. One of her faithful fans, Natalie, of ChicSweets, asked for ideas about how to move her business forward on a variety of levels, especially in the transition from part-time [...]

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Easy Cost Savings for Small Business: Payroll Outsourcing

Effective July 24th, 2008, the federal minimum wage increases to $7.25. A few small businesses may have needed that reminder- those that process their own employee paychecks will need to make adjustments not just to wages, but to tax withholding amounts, employee savings plans, and other accounts. Businesses that already outsource payroll services don’t need [...]

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How Are You Promoting Your Lemonade Stand?

Over the 4th of July, I was walking around an affluent neighborhood and about every block or so, there were children selling lemonade. Lemonade Stand 1. At the first stand, the kids were yelling from a bench about their lemonade and how much it cost. They were so loud that people were running to get [...]

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NBC Nightly News update and video link

Thought you might enjoy a link to an extended interview I did with NBC Nightly News. What their site says: Small business owners are ‘American heroes’ July 13: Rich Sloan from Startupnation.com explains why a recession might actually be the best time to start your own business. Click “play video” on image below. The most exciting part [...]

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Free Webinar! Strategies to Save Time, Save Money, Win More Customers

We’ve partnered with DYMO to bring you a high-octane, FREE webinar (on July 22) to increase productivity for your business. Panelists include: Kendra Todd: The first woman, as well as the youngest competitor to win the popular NBC show, “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump. Rich Sloan: StartupNation’s own Chief Startupologist and co-founder Cynthia Shapiro: International Best Selling [...]

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Preview StartupNation’s New Community and Site

Hello from the engine room deep in the belly of StartupNation! We’ve been working on a major community upgrade and website re-release for the past year as some of your may know.  I’m happy to provide a preview of some of the new Community features for you. Before jumping into the fun stuff, I wanted [...]

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Opportunity for you to be featured on NBC Nightly News: Update

Update for information previously provided in my blog post below: This just in from the NBC Nightly News producer: “We finally have an airdate. July 13th. I’ve been scrambling with other projects in the meantime. Scott is out til next week so after the holiday we’ll get serious about shooting someone starting a business. I [...]

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Max’s greatest adventure begins

Yes, my incredible, ever true, best friend has met his end. Max has died of cancer at nine years old. This photo of him was snapped on Friday, tumor obvious, at a favorite spot of his – the creek behind my dear friends Brent and Teri’s ranch. I am also including links to blog entries I’ve written here at [...]

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Why the Time is NOW to Hire a Virtual Assistant

With over 70% of the economic experts expecting a last quarter uptick in the economy, now is the perfect time to start preparing for the extra business.  I am a big fan of using virtual assistants to help build out my team during peak seasons.  This is an especially useful business strategy in today’s market place.  One of the best lessons a recession can teach us is that in many circumstances variable costs beat fixed costs any day.  To survive the feast or famine rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, you need to make sure your expenses mimic those same ups and downs.

Benefits of Virtual Assistants

Adding virtual assistants to your workforce is a terrific way to turn a traditionally “fixed” expense, like payroll, into a more cash flow friendly variable expense.  Let me explain how it would work.  For example, most business advisers suggest that payroll expenses should average 20-30% of your sales.   This would mean that when sales are flush at $250,000/month that translates into payroll expenses of $50-75,000.  When sales hit a downturn at only $50,000/month, your payroll would then move back to a more manageable, $10-15,000.  As a business owner, how closely you adhere to this ratio means the difference between bleeding red and staying in the black.

Additional Benefits Include:

  • No payroll taxes or employee benefit expenses
  • No “on site” office space requirements
  • No costly training programs when hiring experienced VA’s
  • No long term commitment
  • No morale draining lay offs during slow seasons

Understanding the Relationship

When considering virtual assistants to help manage business tasks, there are a couple considerations to keep in mind.   For starters, they are not your employee but independent contactors.  This means they will most likely have other tasks and deadlines on their schedule while they are working for you.  READ: They are on their clock- not yours.  Make sure you are respectful of time constraints and provide as much advanced notice of tasks, deadlines, and special circumstances as possible.  As with many business relationships, communication is critical.  You can’t blame a virtual assistant for not living up to your expectations if you never made those expectations clear.  In other words, don’t just say you need something “right away”, make sure you define “right away” as within two hours.

Getting Started

I also think it is wise to start slowly when building a new relationship with a virtual assistant.  For example, instead of requesting that they create a new website for you, start by having them update your blog template first.  As each task is completed satisfactorily, and communication strengthens, you can then proceed to larger and more complex tasks.  Also, be sure to discuss with potential VA’s their strengths and weaknesses to ensure the best experience possible.  If you are in the real estate field, consider searching for VA’s with backgrounds in real estate.  If you an entrepreneur looking for marketing help, be sure to search for VA’s with a background in marketing or who are currently active in social media.

Tips from an Experienced VA

For more tips, I turned to Dawn Martinello of Monday Morning VA.  As an experienced virtual assistant herself, she had some great insight to share.  She can be found at MondayMorningVA.

  • Be sure to have an exit strategy.  Does your contract give you an out if you don’t mesh well?  This is especially important for first time clients.  For example, our services are non-refundable, but for first time clients we give a 7 day grace period in which they can bow out of the contract if they aren’t working well with their VA.
  • When you’re considering outsourcing keep the price in mind.  My rule of thumb is that an entrepreneur shouldn’t be doing anything in their business that doesn’t earn them at least 2/3 of their regular rate.  That means if you’re a bookkeeper who charges $30.00 per hour, you should consider outsourcing anything that doesn’t earn you $20.00 per hour.  The reasoning behind this is that business people need to spend their time and energy on what generates revenue for them.  Spending 4 hours trying to update your website doesn’t earn a bookkeeper anything!

If you have never considered hiring a virtual assistant to build out your team, I strongly suggest taking a second look.  As technology continues to advance and better networking platforms are built, virtual work relationships will only become even easier.  A couple great places to start your search for virtual help include Guru.com, Freelance.com, RentACoder.com, or a simple “virtual assistant” search on Google.

Business Owners, feel free to leave any questions or experiences you would like to share in the comments. Virtual Assistants, be sure to leave any additional tips and your contact information including your area of expertise.

I’d love to hear your comments below and please be sure to follow me on www.twitter.com/glamajama! Want more DIY PR tips? Sign up here

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With over 70% of the economic experts expecting a last quarter uptick in the economy, now is the perfect time to start preparing for the extra business.  I am a big fan of using virtual assistants to help build out my team during peak seasons.  This is an especially useful business strategy in today’s market [...]

Continue Reading
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