At the start of 2016, there were 5.5 million private sector businesses in the UK. Of those, 4.2 million – 75% – did not employ anyone aside from the owner.
Does a one-person or two-person business stand any chance of competing against large multi national corporations with huge call centres, offices thoughout the country and a gigantic marketing budgets?
Going back perhaps 10 years, the answer would have been a resounding no. Even if a tiny company managed to make the right connections , they imply could not deliver the same level of customer service or support. To do so, they would need to employ more staff, hire bigger offices and invest in an expensive IT and communications infrastructure.
Nowadays, technology is changing everything, putting smaller companies on a level playing field with the bigger challengers.
Here, we look at the changes and services that have made it possible for you to win bigger clients.
When you only have one or two people to answer the phone and either might frequently be away from their desk, a phone system can really make a difference. Once, this was an investment that would set you back tens of thousands of pounds. Now, hosted systems are available at fraction of the price. These are immediately scalable and can serve multiple sites with hundreds of employees, without massive extra investment. You won’t need anyone technical on site to support the technical set up or operation and you also won’t need to keep replacing the system every few years as the upgrades are automatic.
So how exactly does a system like this help with customer service? A hosted service allows you to present the same professional image to your customer as any of the biggest service providers and the best thing is, you can take all the features of the service with you, wherever you are. Calls can be routed to your office phone, mobile phone, home phone or any other phone you choose. Smart technology allows you to define exactly how calls are routed – for example, initially to device 1, then to device 2, then to external customer service support (see below) or an answering service. The voicemail can be send via email to your chosen recipients. Add-on modules mean you only pay for the functionality you need which can be carefully tailored to your business needs. This flexibility can be a major advantage over larger businesses, as Kishen Hawkins Director of Marketing Agency Fastfwd.com explains:
“Larger businesses can struggle to adapt, while smaller businesses can move from technology to technology; from one SaaS [Software as a service – i.e. software that is cloud based and paid for on subscription] product to the another as their client needs change. Larger enterprises, tied down by legacy processes and systems, have that big weakness – the inability to re-invent an organisational structure or business process to new technologies.”
Every call answered
As a customer yourself, you’ll know the frustrating of reaching an answering machine when you want to speak to a real person. Over the years, various companies have tried to solve this by offering telephone answering services, but typically the quality of these services has been poor. Fortunately for tiny businesses, there are now some pretty good professional choices. Anserve, for example, will answer calls for you 24/7, with highly competitive fees. As suggested above, you could make this your second or third option for routing calls so if you’re on the phone or in a meeting, the customer still gets to talk to a professional person. If you’re a one or two-person operation, this can also free up some of your valuable time to work on growing the business. Anserve’s Director John Jewitt explains:
“An excellent Customer Service is an important part of any business. If it is the business owner taking calls or a full time employee, it can take an unexpected amount of time. Time, as all businesses know, costs. As an Answering Service it is our job to make that time available to our customers again yet still give a great impression to their customers. Traffic modelling and software designed to help our Operators are key parts of ensuing that even the smallest business can have a Customer Service that can match (and supersede) that of some of the largest names in any business sector. Not just because of the technology, it’s because we are a People business. I would love to name drop at this point, but I can’t. Confidentiality is a major part of our Customer Service!”
One of the biggest costs for small businesses is office premises – and this expense doesn’t just stop at rent. Rates, utilities, insurance, legal fees, office furniture, equipment and the overall infrastructure can put setting up an office – or expanding – out of reach for tiny businesses looking to grow. That’s where technology can lend a hand. The hosted solution mentioned above allows for homeworking, so staff can be employed to work remotely without needing a permanent office space. In fact, spray nozzle manufacturer Bete Limited (not, in fact, a small company) runs its entire business this way. Besides its warehouse team, every member of staff works from home connecting through a secure VPN to a cloud-hosted office. Through use of a smart telephone system it appears to the outside world as if all Bete’s employees are based in the same office, regardless of where they actually are.
Marketing Director of Bete Ivan Zytynski explains:
“With our contact management system, all customer facing activity can be monitored. The VOIP system lets us know how many calls are made and received by each person. Functions like credit control and sales are easy to measure on individual results. So we have a good idea of who is doing what, it’s all recorded and if necessary we could challenge under performing staff with activity stats but to be honest, this has never had to be done. We are careful in our selection process for staff so we only employ people we think we can trust to work off their own back, thus far that trust has not been abused”
A tiny business can use a virtual office (giving it a professional address) coupled with this technology to keep its costs to a minimum. Many virtual office facilities have meeting rooms that can be hired so if face to face meetings are needed, these are possible.
There are a wide range of communications solutions to support and monitor homeworkers – from call routing and monitoring, through to presence technology (allowing you to see exactly what a worker is doing at any one time) and video conferencing for training.
Another massive advantage of the homeworking model is that it allows you to hire regardless of geographic location. This opens you up quite literally to a world of talent. It can also help with costs (for example, a London-based company does not have to pay the inflated London wages).
Virtual financial expertise
A small business needs expert advice at every step of the way to grow – but expert advice typically means paying thousands for consultants or hiring more management-level employees, which isn’t cost effective in the early years. Chartered Accountant (ICAEW – FCA) Founder of Next Level Business and Virtual FD Paul Layte has created the solution. His service gives even the tiniest business access to the service of a Finance Director – something that would typically cost up to £90,000 a year if hiring in-house.
He is also driving the use of smart accounting technology which give even the smallest business the knowledge and expertise of an experienced accountant for a reasonable monthly fee (and no trips to the stuffy accountant’s office wasting hours of your day). Paul is a Business Mentor for Virgin StartUp and has a proven track record for driving phenomenal growth with big names such as Virgin, Carphone Warehouse, Regus PLC and Future PLC. Having access to this kind of expertise at the early stages of your business is so invaluable.
Any fan of Dragon’s Den will know a frequent complaint of the Dragons is that a business idea simply couldn’t get off the ground without spending millions on marketing. Whilst that may be true for certain products and sectors, technology has really changed the ability of even the tiniest business to market effectively.
Kishen Hawkins of Fastfwd.com speaks about his experience of growing as a Marketing Agency:
“Until quite recently, only large Agencies and businesses could afford commercial software solutions, while the rest had to rely on subpar systems to market businesses. As an Agency, that would keep you from growing as the ability to compete was based purely on how deep your pockets were.
Now with the growth of SaaS products in the marketing and telecom fields, small nimble organisations like us can compete with the heavy hitters. I’m thinking of simple email platforms such as MailChimp which start from £0, to free website analytics. There are many great low cost tools out there. We recall the days when analytics providers used to charge tens of thousands a month – the introduction of GA for example levelled the playing field completely for small online Marketing Agencies who could then start offering proper reporting for web traffic.”
The same SaaS products are available to even the smallest business who can build email lists and create beautiful emails (Mailchimp), monitor their web traffic (Google Analytics), carry out detailed competitor research (SEM Rush and Majestic SEO), research. design and track their first SEO campaign without a great deal of SEO knowledge (Moz.com), produce gorgeous graphics without any design experience (Canva) and grow their social media presence with minimal effort (Hootsuite), without having to fork out thousands each month. Businesses with a physical presence can use a free WiFi service such as So WiFi to grow their email list and market to their on-site customers. Many tools have free/lite versions or a low cost monthly fee which is tiered depending on the user’s needs.
A huge challenge for a tiny business is that their one or two person team can only be in one place at one time. Travelling between locations is a huge time drain and travel costs can be expensive. However, many customers still value face-to-face interaction. This prevents many small businesses from expanding outside of their local area.
Service businesses can however look further afield with conferencing technology. This allows meetings to be planned and conducted in high definition across a range of devices – mobile, tablet, laptop, computer – without the need to travel.
The concept sounds expensive and futuristic but in fact, you can skip the complex licensing fees or installation hurdles when you use a freely distributed client. It is not difficult to achieve a low total cost of ownership and a substantial return on investment with careful planning, opening up the doors for even the smallest business to expand nationally or globally without significant expenditure.
Speak to NT about how hosted telecommunications, video conferencing, homeworker solutions and So WiFi can help your business (small or large) grow. We can help even the smallest of businesses to deliver a professional customer experience using our affordable technology. Call us on 01623 687750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.