Extending your reach
Extending your reach
Welcome e used to think of the working day as nine to five, Monday to Friday. Nowadays, whilst those times remain the centre of the business week, both life and business go on outside the core office hours. If you’re a small-business owner, you don’t stop thinking about your business just because it’s turned 5pm and neither do your customers. With many businesses now project-based, you need flexibility in terms of your time, the way you work and the location you work from. That’s why we all work from our mobiles or via the web these days: this technology allows us to be connected 24/7. But, when someone wants to get in touch with you for the first time, is email too impersonal? What happens if they ring when you’re busy? Will they call if you only list a mobile number on your website? Do you really want to put your personal phone number out there? This is where cloud-based telephone systems and virtual phone numbers make a real difference to the way we work today. By using virtual local numbers, you can give yourself a local presence wherever you want and yet have all calls connect to your existing landlines or mobiles. Call routing allows you to choose when or where the calls flow, so you can have the flexibility you need to run your business the way you want – and have a life at the same time. Through the use of cloud telephony and clever call routing, businesses of any size and scale – from micro through to enterprise
level – have gained real advantage and reduced wastage. The fact that your call is answered and doesn’t go to a voicemail makes a huge difference to all businesses. Imagine how much money you spent in getting them to call in the first place – the last thing you want is for that investment to be wasted because no one is available to answer that line. Cloud-based telephony and virtual phone numbers allow you to make the most of your opportunity and throughout this guide you’ll see how.
The world is your office An increasingly agile and flexible approach to work practices and places is enabling small business to attract talent, expand easily and keep their overheads low NTREPRENEURS, by their very nature, are usually in the vanguard of change. And this applies as much to shifting working practices as it does anything else. A mix of new technologies, rising infrastructure costs and the need for adaptability and scalability are undoubtedly fuelling a move away from traditional officebased working towards dispersed virtual teams, remote working and outsourced essential services. According to the World Economic Forum, the trend towards flexible working has become “one of the biggest drivers of transformation of business models”. Its 2016 Future of Jobs report further noted that “telecommuting, co-working spaces, virtual teams, freelancing and online talent platforms are all on the rise, transcending the physical boundaries
of the office or factory floor and redefining the boundary between one’s job and private life”. For many entrepreneurs, startups and freelancers, the world really can be their office as technology enables them to work remotely from geographically diverse locations. Whether they are working in their homes, a nearby coffee shop, a co-working hub or on a beach in Thailand, advances in mobile, cloudbased and other digital technologies mean they can always stay connected no matter where they are. At its most extreme, this kind of remote working means a business may not need a fixed physical location at all – or, even if it does, it may just require a small HQ – and a highly distributed workforce. Several of the best-known tech startups are famous for their remote workforces, including
Basecamp, Buffer and Automattic – the latter, which is the company behind WordPress.com, claims to have 644 “Automatticians” spread across 59 countries and speaking 79 different languages. One of the key attractions of this type of working for small and growing businesses is that they can avoid investing in costly office infrastructure. This lowers their overheads, promotes agility and scalability and reduces the long-term financial commitments they need to make. It makes sense to focus energy and resources on developing their new product or service, rather than covering the rent or paying out on office administration. When Buffer closed its US head office a few years ago, it noted that the space was “a not-insignificant element of our overall expenditures each month – more than we paid for health insurance or advertising and marketing”. But this isn’t the only factor at play. Talent is another driver of shifting working practices: millennials are increasingly looking for more flexibility and freedom in the way they work, as well as a better work-life balance. To create the right team, entrepreneurs need to offer something different to the conventional commute and nine-tofive working. Freed from the confines of the traditional office, businesses can assemble virtual teams that draw on the best talent, regardless of location. Eschewing bricks and mortar in favour of fluid, virtual workspaces can also be greener and more sustainable, reducing a business’s energy use and associated carbon footprint. SMEs and startups are perhaps uniquely placed to reap the most benefit from these workplace trends as they are already leaner, more agile and more adaptable. Less likely to encumbered by legacy infrastructure or staff, they can start to define their own organisational cultures, based on teams for whom working remotely is often second nature.
Extending your reach
Smarter ways of working Adopting an agile approach is vital if small businesses want to be able to outmanoeuvre the competition. Fortunately, technology is facilitating this like never before
Imagine a world where innovation rules and small entrepreneurial companies have outsmarted big corporations. It’s a world where digital platforms “can match worker with employer, skills with demand, capital with innovator and consumer with supplier”, giving entrepreneurs the ability to reach “far beyond their size in terms of influence and scale”. This is one of the hypothetical scenarios of the way the labour market will look in 2030 mapped out by PwC in its recent report Workforce of the future. In this so-called “Red World”, organisations with just a few key people rely on technology, the supply chain and intellectual property rather than physical assets, while business leaders put their faith in a range of outsourced and automated services. It might seem like a futuristic fantasy but many of these trends are already underway. Today’s entrepreneurs recognise that in scaling up and keeping a step ahead of their big business rivals, they can turn their backs on traditional office set-ups and build lean, adaptable and geographically diffuse teams that stay connected in a variety of ways. Most of these new ways of working are possible because of the technology making them so. Remote and collaborative working patterns are not new; what is new is that virtual or dispersed teams increasingly have the necessary technologies – mobile apps, social media, cloudbased tools – to communicate, collaborate and be productive wherever they choose to work. Keeping in touch A range of collaborative communication, file sharing and project-management tools now allow dispersed teams to work together and keep in touch regardless of their location. One of the key advantages of these tools is they enable businesses to work seamlessly across time zones and geographical boundaries. Staff can even communicate asynchronously, catching up from their smart phones, wherever they are and whenever it suits them. Most of the popular team messaging and communication tools combine everything from instant voice, text and video to screen sharing and other facilities to streamline workflows. Team messaging tools will also integrate with and support more specialist projectmanagement and cloud-storage tools, making
it easy for managers to delegate and track the progress of projects on the fly. When these complementary tools are used together, teams can stay connected, support each other and contribute to project aims and workflows wherever they are based. Many tools also offer additional facilities and apps that growing businesses can add to their suite to match their evolving needs. A key driver in the move away from traditional office set-ups and towards dispersed workforces and virtual offices has been the ability for teams to use mobile technologies to talk as though they were face-to-face. From one-on-one conversations to fullteam chats, people are increasingly arranging and joining meetings from a range of mobile devices, threatening to make conventional office-based conferencing obsolete. Interactive whiteboards can also help make meetings and conference calls more productive. These
From one-on-one conversations to full-team chats, people are increasingly arranging and joining meetings from a range of mobile devices
allow multiple workers, whether they are physically present or joining remotely, to participate in whiteboard sessions and make changes in real time. As well as virtual whiteboard apps for laptops and tablets, there are advanced hardware versions, which enable teams to develop, share and record their ideas visually, as they join a meeting from diverse locations. Often several people can contribute at once, which encourages fastmoving brainstorming sessions and stimulates creativity. In building a bespoke virtual office, a variety of routine tasks can now be outsourced or automated. Virtual assistants and receptionists can handle incoming calls, call forwarding and rerouting, booking appointments and message delivery from remote locations. These services usually offer local or international numbers and outbound dialling from these numbers via mobiles or tablets, enabling businesses to establish a global presence while still running a lean, low-overhead operation. Using these kinds of virtual services, business leaders and their teams can stay focused on the core tasks that produce the most return. A new reality? Today’s virtual office – with a highly collaborative, dispersed
workforce connected via cloudbased tools and access to specialist outsourced services to facilitate inbound communications – is already becoming the norm for many fastpaced, developing businesses. Looking further into the future, new augmented- and virtual-reality technologies may take this to the next level. With virtual-reality headsets, workers could eventually be able to enter and leave virtual meeting spaces at any time of the day or night where they can see their colleagues or their “avatars” and interact with them as if they were sharing a real-office space. This new reality might seem a long way off but Mark Zuckerberg only recently announced ambitious targets to get one billion people using the technology, noting its ability to create a “sense of presence, like you’re right there with another person or in another place”. Bearing this in mind, there is no doubt that the right tools, technologies and service providers, combined with good management, can reduce costs, increase flexibility and help entrepreneurs and startups grow and extend their international reach far beyond their size. Using these workplace enablers in the right way can also facilitate teamwork, release creativity and show that the business really cares about colleagues, employees and customers wherever they may be.
Extending your reach
Best foot forward
While many small businesses may be sold on the idea that technology can better support flexible working, it’s not always clear what they should be looking for in a bespoke virtual office manager. Perhaps the most significant thing any business leader should be looking for in a new package is that it is truly mobile-first. Whether your staff are catching up with their clients from a coffee shop or speaking to suppliers from their sitting rooms, every call should come from a single professional number they recognise and trust. Because of this, any package you invest When selecting a virtual-officein should allow staff to seamlessly take their line with them wherever they go and make and receive calls as though they manager solution, it’s important were still sat at their desks. Enabling employees to forward calls to look for one that gives you the is a good start but, ultimately, if you’re looking to present your best face to your customers, it’s worth looking for a package that agility of a small business but offers staff the flexibility to make and receive calls through a the professional face of a large dedicated app. corporate With staff increasingly adopting more flexible working patterns, being able to schedule their day has become more important than ever. Fortunately, an effective virtual office manager can make this a breeze. Not only can the best packages easily allow employees to segment their professional and personal calls but, by creating calendar rules that dictate how calls should be routed, staff can easily set their line to divert to their mobile when they’re travelling overseas or be picked up by a colleague when they’re heading to their child’s clarinet concert. But what if your sales manager gets called into an impromptu meeting and suddenly a prospective client calls? No problem. A virtual-office-manager package worth its salt will allow team members to forward specific calls on an individual basis, meaning no customer should ever have to wait before getting the help they need. However, while ambitious small businesses should certainly be looking for flexibility when it comes to their virtual-officemanager package, scalability is just as important. Growth-hungry businesses need to extend their reach as rapidly as possible but opening a new office abroad – with all of the property, staffing and equipment overheads that entails – may be beyond One of the real many companies’ reach. Fortunately, virtual-officebenefits of virtual manager technology can help here too: by allowing office manager SMEs to set up virtual offices with local, national or international landline numbers, it can help them establish tools is that they can give SMEs the a convincing local presence for a fraction of the cost. As you can see, one of the real benefits of virtual-officereach of a large manager tools is that they can give UK small businesses business but with the reach of a large company but with significantly lower significantly lower overheads. But it’s also worth ensuring your company overheads has the voice of a large corporate: look out for packages that offer a 24/7 virtual receptionist that greets customers with a bespoke, studio-recorded welcome and then routes their call to the right person or department no matter the time of day. This helps your clients feel like you’re always available, no matter if they’re in Hoxton or Hong Kong.
The Whisky Vault “With The Whisky Vault being a global business, it was important for our customers to be able to contact us and leave us a message at any time. For example, when it is midday in East Asia or Australia then it would be around 3am or 4am in the UK – meaning we would be unable to take calls. eReceptionist gives our customers the flexibility to contact us whenever and leave a
message while offering a professional voicemail greeting. “The app is great and offers the functionality of being able to listen to voicemails or even make calls on the go. We always use the phone system to set up periods when we may be out of the office, such as Christmas week or bank holidays. “But the greatest feature for us is if we are on the move visiting clients or
suppliers, we are able to reroute calls to our mobile phones, which is vital in keeping us in constant touch with our customers and business. Missing calls whilst away from the office could be the fine line between completing a sale or the customer going elsewhere to purchase a whisky. With eReceptionist the number of missed calls has been reduced dramatically, which ultimately has helped with a number of sales.”
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“eReceptionist offered the very best packages and the team I have been in contact with have always been so friendly and helpful in getting us set up and working. Not being tied into a contract is great too, although – with the product and service being so great – there is no reason to leave. “Having the professional frontage with the caller options and professional recordings really helps with first impressions and
consumer confidence. Calls are managed really easily and with voice calls being emailed as audio files, it is really simple to track and manage. “Call-package prices, customer service and the simplicity of managing and setting up the system are what set eReceptionist apart. I recommend it because of the great product, service and costs. It is a must for all small businesses and not only saves money on staff but provides a bigger shop front image of your business.”
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Published on Dec 21, 2017