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October in England: whipping wind, steady week long drizzle, and temperatures dipping into the "where's my heavy coat?" category

Whether you're self-employed or work in an office, it can be tricky to stay productive on a miserable day. The call of the cozy duvet and Netflix is strong! Here are 5 tips to stay productive, maybe even have a little fun, at work on rainy days.

  1. De-clutter.

    If you're anything like me, my desk slowly turns pale yellow over the course of each week due to the creeping coverage of sticky notes. Combine that with random sheets to be filed and my pen-centric kleptomania, and my desk is the definition of organized chaos. Rainy days slow down most folks, so use the spare time to combine the Post-it knowledge into one manageable list. (I love ticking off to do's!) Then, file the papers and pass out pens to those less fortunate in your office. You're building morale and clearing your desk. Win-win.

  2. Brave the wind and wet for lunch with a colleague.

    Yes it's miserable out there, but your local pub is sure to have a nice pie or curry to warm you up. Use the time out of the office to share ideas. Or, if you're lucky, grab the boss and discuss your personal goals for the company and yourself in that plan. Promotions are not usually given due to excellent filing habits. Show that you see yourself having future in the company, and he/she will start to see that future too.

  3. Follow-up on old leads.

    Even the best sales person has a random 5-10 people that have fallen through the cracks. Go through your CRM (set one up TODAY if you don't have one already. I recommend RealTime CRM) and sort out the duds from the possibilities. I've called a lead that laid dormant for over a year and got the business. It's all about timing.

  4. Use the proper fuel.

    Skip that 5th, 6th, 7th... cup of coffee or tea and go for a tart apple or tangy orange. You'll stay alert longer, and your body will thank you for the reprieve. The strong, citrus smell while you're peeling an orange will awaken your senses, let alone the satisfying burst of sweet juice as you bite into it. Yum! It will also give your blood sugar levels a quick boost with no letdown, like there is with caffeine.

  5. Connect with your current clients.

    One of the best ways to build a business is to make your clients/customers love you. Obviously, provide excellent service and products, but customers also appreciate knowing that you care about their business. Sending thank you cards, reaching out on social media, having a monthly newsletter, and making sure your phones are answered (cough cough- try us with a free trial- cough cough) are just a few ways you can stay connected with your clients and build the love. If you stay at the top of their mind, they're less likely to stray to competitors and more likely to refer you to friends and colleagues.

Rainy days never looked so good!

virtual reception umbrella

We provide virtual reception for a whole slew of business types! Carpet cleaners, podiatrists, interior designers, builders, IT support, and even a snake exhibition. But let's dig a little deeper. Since the business product or service can be just about anything, a focus on the inner workings business is a better place to start. Here are some of our most often asked questions from potential clients.

Am I too small to use an external service? Do I lose touch with my clients if I hire a virtual receptionist? What advantage would a large office like mine gain by going virtual versus physical? Am I really missing that many phone calls?

Let's start from the top. How small is too small?

If we are talking about company size, about 25% of our clients are sole traders. Without services like ours, they would be stuck trying to multi-task roofing with answering the phone. #dangerous. So no company size is too small. However, what does happen from time to time on a free trial... a big fat ZERO calls. Zip, zilch, NADA. If this happens, we suggest they focus on marketing or a website revamp and recommend a few stars we know and love. (Like these: Magstar, Spirus, LDS) We want to earn some pounds and pence just as much as the next virtual receptionist, but we want our clients to succeed too. We're all about the long game.

Will I lose touch with my client base by going virtual?

Definitely not. If anything, a call handling service can boost your customer service levels. Yeah, you won't be speaking to ever single caller about every minute detail, but you have to look at the big picture. Where is your time best spent? Do you need to be on the roof / designing a new website? Or do you need to give somebody directions/ tell them your opening hours? Obviously, your time will be better spent working on the business, and giving yourself the head-space to focus on how to make your system slicker is more crucial to customer service. We can do the diary bookings, take credit card payments, and tell Ms. Jones you're open till 6pm today. It's a win-win. You will receive a message or call transfer to let you know what all your customers need while not actually having to stop in the middle of a project. They will feel like your company is always available to answer all their questions. You can't lose. Most callers never notice when our call handlers answer for you. Some even get to know the team by name!

What advantage would a large office like mine gain by going virtual reception versus physical?

Loads! Having a receptionist in the office is important for guiding clients/patients to fill out forms or which door they need to head through, but you can't speak to 2 people at once. A virtual receptionist supplements main reception during peak times, lunch breaks, and... loo breaks. Everyone's gotta go sometime. Also, having an extra 25 team members ready to handle the recent advertising push relieves stress on the whole office. This way, each person can focus on the task they are best suited to handle without the interruption of a ringing phone. Last, but certainly not least, unexpected absence happens. Having a virtual reception team to cover for sick days, family emergencies, or just a bad employee playing hooky for a festival they should have mentioned before the day, means your business will have continuity each day.

Am I really missing that many phone calls?

Excellent question. But more importantly, are you missing many important calls? Because time travel is not a reality...yet, there's no way to really know. That's why we offer a free 2-week trial. I really do mean free. No setup fee, no credit card info required, and we won't send you a bill unless you agree to continue the service.  During the trial we keep track of how many calls come though, and you will receive messages with detailed information as to the nature of the call. Then, you'll have the answer to both questions. Isn't that helpful.

If you have more questions or even ideas on how virtual reception could work for your business, send them my way! I'm always happy to help. [email protected]

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Though we pride ourselves on being an excellent virtual reception service, nothing beats some face time. That why we make an effort to meet as many of our clients as possible. We also have an everyday Open Door Policy. Our office is always open if a client wants to come around for  cup of tea or to meet the team handling their calls. We encourage it, actually! The better we know our clients, the more their customers will appreciate the service. Plus, who doesn't love a midday tea break?

For this reason, I am often out at networking events. We attend Exhibitions, Chamber Events, BNI, and today with I Roll Up My Sleeves. Though we garner good business from each type of event, the latter is my favourite. One word, Donkeys! Yes, yes... the community service aspect is wonderful, and the connections are great. But I am in love with their two rescue donkeys. Who knew that donkeys were so sweet and gentle? (Probably lots of folks, but that is beside the point). Brown donkey at Millennium Farm TrustAs I was taking the picture this morning, I said to myself, "I love my job." I never imagined getting a job in virtual reception would lead me to working with farm animals, ha. However, the real reason for this networking event was to help build some raised flower boxes. The Millennium Farm Trust was this month's charity to help. You can read more about them HERE, but the gist is we go and do the things they need a little more help with while the usual helpers focus on gardening and husbandry. While we're working, we get to know each other and about each other's businesses. In the past we have tilled rough ground, pull up weeds and scrub for a pool, and helped with fencing. It is networking with an emphasis on the 'working'. I would recommend it to anyone. Aaaaaand, while you're in the field or building a poly-tunnel, pending on the event, you can just switch your calls to Factotum ;-) No need to miss out on business while you're getting your hands dirty. (Subtle I am not.)

 

Here are a couple more pictures from the day...

 

<---Here is tWading pool garden- call handling does gardeninghe result of our weeding & scrub removal

 

 

 

 

Donkey at Millennium Farm Trust<---- My other donkey friend

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Things that make us happy: family, ice cream, Italy, steak, spa days, live music, chocolate, dancing, pets... the list goes on and on. These are just a few things people mentioned when I asked them "Quick! First thing in your mind. What makes you happy?" Interestingly enough, no one said anything about work. That's not to say a meaningful and well-liked job isn't important in the grand scheme of happiness, but it's not usually our first thought of happiness. The most popular answer was FAMILY.

Family is very important to me too, but that often also means travel. Thankfully, I have a passion for both. In order to reconnect with my small family of husband and wonder-pup that means we NEED to get away. It is a formidable challenge to truly let go of work thoughts, daily tasks, and general "adultness" when we are surrounded by those exact things (especially those of us that have married the job and made a mistress of our partners). Its awful when a labelled "family day" is interrupted by such baggage. Holidays gives us the opportunity to leave our familiar surroundings for a family- or fun-focused time. Unfortunately, this can be tricky for entrepreneurs and those with extending work responsibilities. You have to work to pay for the trip, but you need the trip in order to not lose your mind at work.

Here are my Top 6 Things you can easily outsource, so you can stop and smell the flowers:

1. Hotel/Flight Bookings- This may not seem to take much time when we do it, but if you're a business on the go these flight search times really add up! Often enough, travel agents really can find the best deals on flights and hotels. Save yourself the stress. Outsource it!

2.Lead Follow-Ups- Not everyone loves to do call backs to people we've met networking or through social media, and some people are just plain terrible at it. This also means it can be pushed off so long that those warm leads become cold. Don't lose the hard fought momentum gained! Either call them yourself or have someone else call. There are loads of qualified telesales and virtual assistants out there. No excuses.

3. Social Media Management- Let's face it. Facebook can be addictive and suck all the time out of a day. Coming up with hashtags for Twitter posts can get interesting. And Lord knows what Snapchat is up to. Outsourcing this crucial part of your marketing campaign can save loads of time!!

4. Receptionist Duties- This is rather obvious coming from a call handling company, but using a reliable company to take calls and book appointments on your behalf frees up your family time in significant ways. You no longer have to worry about missed opportunities due to poor reception or lack of pen, you won't have to answer the dreaded PPI calls, and your business always sounds professional. We are literally paid to be pleasant to your customers for you. Click here to start your trial! (Shameless plug)

5. Creating Basic Reports and Presentations- Some folks get a kick out of spreadsheets and Powerpoint, and some loathe the idea of going near a keyboard for more than a quick email. Stick to your strengths. These tasks do need to be done professionally, so be sure to do some research before you outsource a virtual assistant. Since we are frequently asked for this service, I have found some great recommendations on this. Just ask.

6. HR- If your business has more than just you, your partner, and your mum in it, you need an HR manager. The laws are always evolving, and you probably didn't study many of them before setting up shop. You were focused on your product or service, not HR. Bad things do happen and having a plan of action in place or having a negotiator to ease a situation can be an absolute godsend.

Here's the hard part. Actually action one of these 6 ideas! Your family and your sanity will thank you for it. Your happiness is what should get you out of bed in the morning. For me, it is hiking with my best guy and dog. Be sure you are making time for the the things that make you happy and leave some of the rest to great folks like Factotum. Outsourcing is your friend.

Photos taken by my fearless partner-in-crime, Matt McQueeney, on our trip to the Lake District. 

Since this is my top 7 list, I’m going to tell you that we are especially good at #7 and all of the team is trained on #’s 1-6. For most of our clients, we work as an overflow call answering service. If all their lines are busy, mobile reception is poor, or our clients are in the middle of a hands-on task, the calls go to us. But that also means a good portion of the calls go to our clients. So here is a list to make sure you provide as good a service as your call answering service.

  1. Smile

    I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it can never be said enough. Whenever you answer your phone, always answer with a smile on your face. Your customers can hear it! No matter if you are handing complaints, new enquiries, or your regulars, they want to hear a happy voice at the end of the line. It starts the conversation on a bright tone and could possibly turn the tide of what was going to be a difficult situation.

  2. Notes

    One of the more frustrating moments in a day happens when you immediately forget the name of the person that just called you 4 seconds ago. Not only is this frustrating to you, but it can be frustrating to your customers when a problem is only half-resolved or an order is only partially placed. Keep a small notepad and pen/pencil at your desk, or if you take work calls on the go keep them in your pocket/handbag. You’ll be able to write it down then forget about it till you need it so you can refocus on the task you were working before the call. This is a huge stress reliever for small business owners and corporate managers alike.

  3. Pay Attention

    This should go without saying, but it definitely earns a spot on the list. Just like a caller can hear a smile in your voice, they can hear if you are not 100% dedicated to their call. Turn down the radio. Turn off the mower. Stop typing the email. Whatever it is you’re doing, let it wait till you have finished your call. If it can't, ask the caller to hold or if a return call is possible till you finish your task. You may miss a small detail about your customer, and that could mean a missed opportunity to prove your unbeatable customer service or missed money.

  4. Speak Slowly

    When speaking face to face, we can rely on nonverbal cues as well as lip reading to understand what we are saying. None of that is available over the phone, plus there is a chance for bad reception and distractions. Speaking slowly gives the caller time to process what you say. Also, it gives them the opportunity to ask for a repeat if they missed it the first time.

  5. Prepare

    Preparation is the key to success, whether it be a solid warm up before the big game or gathering your notes before a call with potentially your biggest client yet. Make sure you know what you want to say, concisely. Often times, you only have 20 seconds to catch and keep their attention before they ask you for a call back next Thursday. Furthermore, study up on their business and business culture. It may give you some clues on how they prefer to be sold or serviced.

  6. Prepare Part II

    Preparation is so important I’m giving it two slots on my list. This time let’s prep for a cold call session. It is a gruelling task to most, but having a list with all the contact details and a space for notes can make the chore go much faster and be more productive. Make sure you have your cup of tea, you’ve visited the loo, and have a pen that works. This gives yourself no excuses to delay or prolong the cold call ‘torture’. Pick up the phone and dial.

  7. Answer the darn thing!

    In this day and age, people want products and service almost before they need them. And no one likes to leave you a message but your mum. I am as guilty of this as the next person. Like most, I will just call the next business on my list if the first doesn’t answer. Even if the reviews are better for Business A than Business B I’ll risk it to find my answer quicker. There is nearly no reason to have a missed call during business hours when there are options like call forwarding to mobile phones and virtual reception companies. (subtle... I know)

P.S. The picture is where I wrote this. Yeehaw! It was great being home.

8th February is known by many names; Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day… A less popular factoid is that it is the last day before the Lenten Season. For all you heathens out there, Lent represents the 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness battling temptation. Similarly, Christians are supposed to fast or, more modern, give something up till Maundy Thursday (the last supper). Ok, enough religious history, where is my ramble going? Well it ties in with the better known New Year’s Resolution scheme. Statistically, about 80% of NYR’s fail by the second week of February. What an interesting coincidence this year. Virtually the same week most everyone gives up on resolutions is the same week 17% of adults go back on a version of resolution for Lent. I fear that I fall into both groups. I'm the 80% that has given up and the 17% that will try again, but I kind of like the idea of getting a second chance. Call me crazy.

If you’re really not into all that Christian history, I have great news for you. Chinese New Year is Monday!!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/12140520/chinese-new-year-2016-year-of-the-monkey.html?platform=hootsuite

It will be the year of the monkey. You can’t get much more fun than a monkey year! While most of us westerners eat black-eyed peas or cabbage to start the New Year on a lucky and fortune-filled note, the Chinese have a whole other list of do’s and don’ts to make sure you start safe and healthy. Here’s a couple of fun ones, “Medicine: Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will get ill for a whole year. New Year's breakfast: Porridge should not be eaten, because it is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast, and people don't want to start the year ‘poor’ as this is a bad omen.” See link above for the complete list. I feel like I have already washed away some hair good luck, but no fear on sweeping it out the door. You’ll get this bad joke if you read the link, sorry.

All of that New Year, Lent, Monkey business is to say that now is the time to re-evaluate your life or business if you’re not where you want to be in February 2016. I could give you a new reason or occasion every day, but I have no desire to blog that much. It’s never too late to reassert those dreams and ambitions. Make this Monkey Year your year to hike Hadrian’s Wall, fast chocolates for 40 days (harder than that wall IMO), or to finally launch that business idea you have been sitting on and trying not to tell people because you thought they would steal it.

Though I can’t help you with those first two decisions, I can help with the last. Instead of starting with a team of 1, start with a team of 1 plus all of us. We can book your diary, log support calls, get rid of pesky telesales calls, or simply take the call so you can sound more professional. We also have loads of business experience and connections. Put them to work for your small business.

Factotum aims to be more than just a great virtual reception company, we want to be your partner and take pride in knowing your business inside and out.

Disclaimer: Bad pun coming.

Don’t go bananas. Master this Monkey!

Over the past couple of weeks life has taken me all over, emotionally and geographically. Bristol, London, the East Anglian coast, happy, frustrated, and darn right pissed off (on more than one occasion).

Let’s start with Bristol and work our way to pissed off…

Because we are a call answer service, Factotum has me travel the UK meeting new business people through exhibitions and other networking events. Phone lines have no bounds. This month I went off to the beautiful city of Bristol for the Sterling Business Show. I didn’t get a chance to do the grand tour, but we had a great view from the M Shed. It was our debut event for our new branding (see fabulous cookie photo) and banners. Cookies for Virtual Reception boothUnfortunately, or fortunately if you’re me, my phone was ringing off the hook with sales leads while I was shaking hands trying to find more. The team back home saved my sales neck that day! I don’t know about you, but there are few harder decisions to make than taking a sales call while speaking to potential client face to face. I always stick with the face to face because my momma taught me manners, but it’s hard letting that call slip through my fingers. Yay teamwork! Not a call was missed.

London was only a short trip to pick up a friend (the happy part), but the trip around the East Anglian coast was much, much… much longer. Or at least it appeared to be. This is where the anger and frustration come in. As mentioned in previous blogs, I lost my mind a while back and signed myself up for a 180 mile bike ride to raise money for the West Suffolk Hospital Rainbow Ward. It’s a great cause, right?  Right. I did a fair bit of training, not enough, but fair nonetheless. Also, I decided to do it all on my mountain bike. I’m pretty sure the rest of the team thought I would die before completing the ride on ‘the beast’. They were only half right, but I could not have been with a better crew! Everyone encouraged me, gave me tips, laughed, complained with me, and gave me that extra bit of umph I needed exactly when I needed it. I had to sit out here and there due to my shoulders simply not being prepared for that amount of pressure. (There is a visit with the masseuse in my very near future.) Then there was the ‘bone rattler’. Thanks to a teammate trying to air my tyre, the air went out. Ha. Thankfully, there was a spare bike to use till we could find a place to fix my valve. By the end of that particular leg of the ride, I was saying words that would make a seasoned pirate blush. The ‘bone rattler’ earned its name that day, and I earned some ibuprofen. Totally unrelated, trying to calm yourself down from a cursing fit while out of breath makes you look like a crazy person. That same leg ended in Cromer, a gorgeous coastal town. It was a welcome reprieve from leaning on, peddling, and cursing at my bike.  The next day was fairly smooth sailing. I had to hop off for about 5-7 miles again to give my shoulders a break, but I was able to finish strong with the rest of the crew riding into our hard-earned BBQ. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and the team I rode with was a major part of that. My rough estimate of total mileage is somewhere between 115-120 miles. Just to make myself look good, the whole team had to shave off about 20 miles to make it before night fall. I totally could have done that extra 20! :-O

As a team, we raised £10,333 for the charity, and I think that is darn fine.

Having a team to raise money, give you encouragement, and man the fort while away is an invaluable treasure to have as an individual and a business.  That is exactly what Factotum adds to your business. Having a professional call answering service is worth more than sifting through unwanted calls. We are here to organize your day, make your clients feel they are in good hands, and to help your day run smoother with the knowledge that you won’t be missing any important calls. We’re a team! 

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Green Road
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Suffolk
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In order to support our continued growth Factotum received a grant through the New Anglia Small Grant Scheme, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
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