Wednesday, 2 October 2013

HOW TO START A TELEPHONE ANSWERING SERVICE




Organize yourself properly. decide how much money it's going to



take for you to feel comfortably wealthy, and the reach it with



your own Telephone Answering Service.





Our research has turned up hundreds of husband and wife



entrepreneurs who, beginning with just a couple of thousand



dollars in borrowed funds, and a lot of ambition are grossing



$250,000 or more after a couple of years in business.





The exciting part is that the door is wide open for you to do the



same! The demand for telephone answering services is growing!!!



The advent of electronic answering devices in not even beginning



to slow this demand! A great many people are completely "turned



off" by the frustration of expecting to talk with a "live



person," and having to listen to a recording that advises the



caller to leave a message at the sound of the tone. Exasperation



of this kind can sometimes cost a business person thousands of



dollars in lost profit. Realizing this, today's successful



business person wants the personal touch of a friendly,



professional "secretary" answering their phones for them.





The professional answering service operator can pass along the



proper messages to the different callers, take messages, get



clarifications and even set up meetings with special customers.



In many instances, businessmen come to thick of the operators at



their telephone answering service as vital to their success, and



often reward them them with special favors or bonuses when a



particularly lucrative deal is closed because of courteous and



efficient service by the people at the answering service.





To get started properly, you'll need an initial investment of



about $10,000 for equipment and facilities, plus working capital.



In the beginning, with a 2 person operation, you can have your



operator selling by phone while you make in-person sales calls.



You might also want to add a couple of "hungry" commission sales



people to help line up a good list of accounts as fast as



possible. These efforts will take planning and coordination



because you won't want two different sales people calling on the



same prospect.





You can begin operating out of a spare bedroom or your



garage--you'll need a leased switchboard from the telephone



company--with plans to move your operation into more formal



quarters at a later date. However, it's quite expensive and



time-consuming to have a switchboard moved once it's been



installed. Our suggestion would be to locate a "beginning" small



office, and plan on being there at least 5 years from the start.





Many operations begin in a small 200 to 300 square feet economy



office location, and as their growth warrants, open a second



location with space for eventual expansion to include 3 or more



switchboards. Our research has found that you'll need an average



of 85 regular customers per switchboard in order to realize a



minimum profit after expenses.





Just about anyone with a business card will be a good prospect



for your services. People working out of their homes are a very



good prospects, especially those holding down regular jobs while



moonlighting with a part-time businesses of their own. Every



salesmen is a prospect, people who work on a 24 hour "on-call"



basis, repair service business owners such as plumers,



electricians, locksmiths, and auto mechanics...There are other



kinds of services that will be interested too, such as ambulance



companies, towing services, volunteer fire departments, survey



organizations, and customer complaint departments of virtually



every business in your area..By all means don't forget the



doctors, dentists and other professionals!





A lot of beginners start by providing service only for these



intermittent users. These people "put out the word" that if they



can't be reached at their regular number after 4 or 5 rings, the



caller should dial the number of the answering service. The



answering service, which in this case is just a housewife



answering her home phone, takes the caller's message and either



relays it to the customer or holds it until he checks in with



her. Very simple, very easy and very profitable!





Usually after such a "shoestring" operation has 15 to 20



customers. it's necessary to install a phone with multiple



incoming lines. The cost and questions of the phone company can



be allayed by purchasing your own telephone and explaining that



your have several teenagers in the family. However, once you have



35 to 50 customers it's time to expand into a commercial



operation complete with switchboard and hired operators.





The average rates to charge for your service should be about $35



per month for a specified number of calls--usually 70 to 75--with



a surcharge of 25 cents for each call beyond that number. Other



calls such as "wake-up" and reminder calls for appointments, are



usually billed on a "per call" basis at about 50 cents per call.





Most telephone answering services provide a variety of other



services to keep their operators busy during the times when there



are no incoming calls. These services range form typing, envelope



addressing, computer input services, envelope stuffing,



subscription soliciting and order fulfillment for mail order



operators to reviewing books for publishing agents. In recent



years, some have even included private post office, mail drop and



forwarding services. The important thing is to keep your



operators busy doing some kind of work that makes money for you.





When you decide to lease an office get going, complete with



switchboard--it's important that you try to get as close to the



telephone company's switching or exchange station as possible.



This is due to the mileage charges it'll cost you for landlines.



Remember too that each exchange station handles prefixes limited



to customers within a certain radius of that station. What all of



this means is that if most of the businesses in your area have a



234 and 345 prefix, you'll want to locate your answering services



offices as close to the station serving these prefixes as



possible. Basic installation and set-up of one switchboard will



cost you close to $4,000...





Generally, a metro population of 35,000 people will support a



telephone answering service hoping for $50,000 per year; 75,000



to 80,000 people will be needed for $100,000 and $150,000 people



for $200,000 per year or more. For more help and further



information, it would be wise to contact the Associated Telephone



Answering Exchange, Inc. This organization the industry's



watchdog group can up-date you on current practices and trends.





Meanwhile, in setting up your own facilities keep your costs in



line with a realistic view of your anticipated first year income.



It should't be too difficult to find low-cost rental space in an



older building not far from the telephone company's exchange



building- the telephone company is usually just as reluctant to



pay high rent as you are..Locating in an older, less than



"beautiful" building should not detract from your business



because few of your customers will ever actually see your



offices. Most will sign up for your services either thru your



in-person sales calls on them, or your telephone soliciting



efforts, and send their payments in by mail.





You'll need 125 square feet of space for each a small reception



area which can also double as a rest area for your operators and



general office area for bookkeeping, billing and other



administrative functions. Be sure there are convenient restroom



facilities as well.





Before installation of your first switchboard, the phone company



will require an inspection of your office, mainly to determine if



the floor is strong enough to support the weight of the



switchboard. Save yourself a lot of frustration by explaining



this to the real estate agents or the building managers before



they start showing you what's available. The best thing is to ask



for certified copies of the original building blueprints or



previous inspection reports, and have these in hand when you



contact the phone company.





Once you're ready to go, consider the attitudes and feelings of



the people who'll be working long hours on the switchboards for



you--invest in some cherry paint for the walls, non-glare



lighting, carpeting for the floors and a few wall prints,



pictures or other decorations. Look around for good used office



furniture and buy or lease only what is absolutely essential. A



pocket calculator and a used manual typewriter will work fine



until you get the business running on a dependably profitable.





When you order your first switchboard, listen to the telephone



company's instruction, read the operating manual and attend their



training sessions. The more you know about the equipment, the



easier it's going to be to operate it, and the more you'll



understand your profit potentials.





The traditional telephone company switchboard is known as the



model 557 or TAS-100. This board handles 100 incoming secretarial



lines and 15 office trunk lines, with this board, you have the



capabilities of receiving incoming calls and making outgoing



calls at the same time. You also have a business answering line



which can be used as your number for customers wanting to use



your number as their business number and/or for special events



such as a special number for survey replies or telephone orders



such as advertised on television for one-time-only sales



promotions.





Even though you have the capabilities of 100 incoming lines, you



shouldn't activate more than 5 or 10 more than your actual



customer list. As you add to your customer list, it's then a



simple matter for the phone company to activate or "tie-in"



according to your needs. Your rental lease payments to the phone



company for equipment includes maintenance, so whenever you have



a problem or something isn't working properly to suit your needs,



call and ask the phone company to send a repairmen.





Some of the extras you can get with your board includes a



"secrecy" switch. This feature prevents an operator from



listening in if a customer has already picked up his phone and



answered the call, but it does not prevent the customer from



picking up his phone after the operator has answered. The



customer could by request the operator to hang up and conduct



whatever conversation he wants with the caller.





Another feature is the "position-splitting" key. This involves



plugging in a second headset and simply turning the key to enable



two operators to work the same board during an especially busy



period.





When your customers want to call to check with you for any



messages, you can have them call their own number if they're



calling from a different number, or pre-designated trunk line.



Most answering service owners equipment works both ways until



they decide upon the system that works best for them. Whichever



method is finally chosen should be decided upon with the



efficiency of the operators in mind.





In addition to your switchboard, you should install a time clock



and message racks. These are ideally located above or on top of



your switchboard. The operator the takes the call, jots down the



message, punches the time clock and quickly slips it into the



customer's message box. When the customer calls in for his



messages the operator retrieves the messages from his message



box, reads them to him, again punches the time clock with each



message slip, and drops them into a "dead message" box.





You should keep these message slips for totalling at billing



time, so it's a good idea to have each operator file them in your



customer folders as they finish their shifts on the board.



retention of these message slips for at least 30 days is not



required, but it is a good policy to practice. You may find a



customer will want to check on a message received or double-check



his billing against your records.





Basically your message rack can be either pigeon hole



compartments in a wooden box designed and built to fit your



space, or a lazy Susan clips similar to what restaurants use for



fast food orders. At any rate, you shouldn't have any problem in



finding what you need on the open market.





It isn't necessary that you have specially designed or printed



message slips, but you should have a plentiful supply available



and within easy access to your operators. Simple 4 x 5 inch pads



should be all you'll need, and if you'll check with your local



quick print shops, you'll find most of them willing to make a



thousand or so pads of 50 to 100 pages each, from scrap paper,



for almost next to nothing. Another essential to plan on--buy in



wholesale lots and keep handy for your operators--is pens. It may



be exasperating until the business is on a sound profitability



basis, but in a busy month, one operator can easily go thru 100



or more pens. Don't fight the how's and why's just charge it up



as a business expense and order more pens.





You'll need some form of maintaining basic customer information



such as address, name and number to contact during an emergency



and any special answering instructions. For this, simply go with



3 x 5 or 4 x 5 index cards and place them in each customer's



message slot for easy operator reference. Many services have



these cards laminated in plastic to prevent them from getting



dirty or deteriorating with constant use.





Efficiency is the name of the road leading to profits in any



small business, so when you begin one switchboard, make sure you



have that position-splitting key, and that you balance the board.



In other words, don't put all of your similar customers--such as



plumers, electricians and doctors on one side of the board.



Instead, divide them across your board--half on them on one side



and half on the other side. This will enable you to put two



operators on that board in times of emergency. Your customer



lines must be distributed according to usage across the board for



maximum efficiency of your operation.





Each time a customer "signs" for your services you should have



him sign a simple contract that specifies the name and address of



the firm to be billed for the service, and typed name as well as



signature of the person authorizing the service. There should



also be space on this contract for alternate phone numbers, names



and addresses as well as phone numbers of persons to contact in



case of emergency, and any special answering instructions the



client may want you to use. Don't forget to include a clause



requiring 30-day notification of service cancellation by either



party to the contract. It's also a good idea to state that a full



month's payment must be made for any partial month's usage, in



order to cover any disconnect charges. You'll probably want to



stipulate that the last month's base charges are to be paid at



the time of service approval, in order to enhance your working



capital situation.





Check with the phone company--find out if they or you are to bill



the customer for hook-up charges, and the line into your



switchboard. By all means, get everything written out and fully



explained in the contract. You'll be money ahead by paying a good



contract that not to put all that you want into a legal contract



that not only protects you, but also is binding upon your



customers.





One other item of paperwork you should have is an Errors &



Omissions Insurance Policy. This protects you and your operators



against any liability form mistakes or missed messages--very good



to have, and available at very low cost thru the Associated



Telephone Answering Exchange, inc. by special arrangements with



Lloyd's of London. Your other insurance needs are those basic to



any business. Always shop around for the best rates.





In the beginning, you and your spouse or partner can operate a



telephone answering service. However, we strongly suggest that



you add to your "operator staff" just as quickly as your customer



list warrants. The longer you try to operate with just 2 people,



the longer it's going to take you to achieve real profitability.





Remember, you want a 24 hour, seven-days-a-week, full service



operation. This will require at least three full time operators



for your board, plus at least one relief operator--and don't



forget about commission sales people.





Ideally, you should try to hire people with telephone switchboard



experience, but in order to get these people, you may have to



offer short-shift, moonlighting tom regular telephone company



operators. It will take some time to train inexperienced people,



so bear this in mind when you begin looking for people to hire.



It's always a good policy to hire your new, inexperienced people



for the evening shifts. Break them in by having them "sit in"



with an experienced operator during the daytime hours, and have



someone close at hand during their first week on the evening



shift before turning them loose to handle the board by



themselves.





The most important qualifications to look for in an operator are



voice and attitude. The voice must be pleasant and sound alert,



interested and ready to help the caller. Warn your operators



never allow their "personal feelings" to show thru when they're



answering the phone. They represent your business and your



customers. As such, they must project a professional manner at



all times.





Teach your operators to answer the phones with a "happy smile" in



their voices. Train them to take their time with the callers, and



get the message right by reading the message back to the caller,



and also be sure they ask the caller for the correct spelling of



his or her name. Unless specifically instructed otherwise by a



customer, insist that your operators never allow an incoming call



to ring more than twice before answering it. Hardly anything



frustrates anyone calling a business number more than a telephone



that seemingly rings forever before someone answers it.





You can start you inexperienced people at $4 an hour, and your



experienced operators at $6 an hour. Try to explain to them that



the success of your business depends on them, and as your



business prospers, so will give them their monetary rewards. Get



them involved and interested in helping you succeed.





It's going to take aggressive selling on your part to reach



success with a venture of this kind. You must spend at least 50



percent of your time making sales calls--if you can't or don't



wish to do any personal selling, then you'll have to hire at



least two full time people to take your place. In addition to



your own sales efforts or people who will fill your shoes in this



area, you should hire at least one other full time sales person.



You should plan to have someone making telephone solicitations



for at least 3 hours out of each working day.





Selling your services--building an ever larger customer list--is



the name of the game for real success. You've got the start-up



information, and form here on, the rest depends on your own



ambition...





Associated Telephone Answering Exchanges, Inc.



Bankers Square



100 Pitt Street



Alexandria, VA 22314



(703) 683-3770







TYPICAL EQUIPMENT COSTS:





TWO OPERATOR CHAIRS...........................$90



DESK & CHAIR..................................100



TWO SIDE CHAIRS................................50



BOOKCASE.......................................50



FILING/SUPPLY CABINET..........................50



CALCULATOR.....................................50



USED TYPEWRITER...............................150



BASE FOR SWITCHBOARD...........................60



MESSAGE RACK...................................75



TIME CLOCK....................................250



OFFICE FURNISHINGS/DECORATIONS................150



5-THOUSNAD MESSAGE PADS........................25



24-DOZEN PENS..................................12



SWITCHBOARD LEASE (ONE BOARD)...............4,000



CABLE INSTALLATION (ONE BOARD)..............1,500



RENT ON OFFICE................................600



UTILITY DEPOSITS...............................50



BUSINESS LICENSES..............................50



BUSINESS INSURANCE............................350



LEGAL FEE.....................................100



SUPPLIES..................................... 200







TOTAL $7,957

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