Ask most people what they like about working with any small business and you’ll hear answers such as their “personal approach” or “I’m not just a client number to them” or “I get to work with the principals of a firm instead of some trainee just out of school.”
Yes, those are the things that your clients will say when things are going well. But should the perceived service level drop, those same enthusiastic supporters–your best advocates in good times–begin to question their decision about working with a small advisory firm. In particular, the characteristics of your firm that they used to find charming, such as a live person taking messages instead of a system putting a call through to voice mail, suddenly become indications that maybe they need to look into finding a somewhat larger, “more professional” firm.
The good news is these small-business quirks don’t have to be fatal. In fact, many can be fixed with the application of simple technology that provides big business tools while allowing organizations like independent advisory firms to stay true to their core values. As you complete your year-end review and your plans for 2010, consider taking the following eight steps, or any that apply to you, to help ensure your advisory firm doesn’t fall into the “too small” trap:
Success Step Number One:
Don’t have one phone line for all your business communications
Nothing says “too small” like a phone number that returns a busy signal, or a phone that rings and rings until the caller finally gives up. In today’s business world, when someone actually places a telephone call (instead of sending an e-mail) they expect it to be answered. If it’s not answered, at the very least they expect to be routed to an auto-attendant or voice mailbox. While a standard public branch exchange (PBX) phone system might be too costly to install and require too much specialized knowledge to maintain, virtual PBX services can provide the same professional “face” without the equipment investment or the maintenance. These services automatically route calls to extensions you set up, and provide voice mail services so callers can leave a message. Callers will never get a busy signal or be stuck in a ringing loop, giving them the confidence that you have the staff to service their business.
Success Step Number two:
Don’t use a portal e-mail account for your business
An e-mail address that reads @gmail.com, @aol.com, @yahoo.com etc. makes you look like a small-timer with a serious lack of working capital, and perhaps one that doesn’t expect to be in business for very long. Since your business has a Web site, most Web hosts allow you to create one or more e-mail accounts with an address of @yourdomain.com. If you don’t have your own domain yet, buy one! You can create one for less than $10 per year (sometimes substantially less) if you look around a little. Then put up that Web site so clients can get to know how good you are, and new clients can find you.
Success Step Number Three:
Don’t make your clients wait while you switch your phone over to accept a fax
The corollary to this misstep: give your clients an earful of fax screeches when they try to make a call. Either way, your clients start to wonder whether you’re big enough to handle their business. An Internet fax service solves both issues by allowing you to send and receive faxes via your e-mail account or a secure online server. Your clients never know the difference–to them they’re sending to and receiving from a fax machine–but it’s much more efficient for both of you. As a bonus, you’ll also be able to send and receive faxes from anywhere you can get an Internet connection, making you far more reachable than you would be if you were relying on a fax machine in your office.
Success Step Number Four:
Don’t give clients a series of phone numbers to call