Blog Archives

Chasing Overdue Invoices

Did you know that small firms spend up to 130 hours each year chasing overdue invoices? That’s two working weeks.

Over and over again in the last few years, I’ve been hearing how frustrated my clients are with customers who are very slow to pay or who don’t pay at all.

Overdue invoices have a huge impact on the wellbeing of a small business and it can really sour our relationships with our clients. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m going to give you some top tips to help you persuade your clients to pay – the stress free way.

1.        Don’t be Afraid to Ask

It’s your money. If you’ve done the job right, you’re entitled to be paid!  There’s no stigma attached to chasing small monies, and getting tough is no longer seen as petty or weak. If anything, it shows your clients that you’re efficient and worth paying for.

2.       Put a Process in Place

Even if you’re a one-person company, you must create clearly defined processes for dealing with late payments. Chasing money is time-consuming, but these processes will keep you sane – and profitable.

3.       Contact the Client Immediately

Contact the client directly on the day payment becomes overdue. Try not to use email — a telephone call or face-to-face meeting is far more effective. During your conversation, check that they’re satisfied with your work. Establish whether they have a problem paying and agree a payment schedule. Often, the client may simply have been away or has forgotten and will pay you immediately.

4.       Nudge the Client Harder

If you’re still not being paid, contact the person directly responsible for paying invoices. If payment is considerably delayed, write a formal letter stating a date when late fees and interest will start to accrue. Most countries have statutory interest rates for overdue payments. In Ireland it’s 7% per annum, 8% in the UK and US states vary between 6% and 10% per annum.

5.       Accept the Inevitable

If negotiations break down, write a letter stating that the client is in breach of contract (verbal agreements are still legally-binding in most countries) and you have no choice but to withdraw your services. Don’t make empty threats; be prepared to start legal proceedings.

6.        Never complain

Don’t discuss a non-paying client to others — especially on social networks. It’s not professional and is unlikely to result in a positive outcome. Never use aggressive language or start making threats. You may laugh, but last year, I spoke to someone who threatened to break a client’s legs!

If you can’t chase clients yourself, there’s always an alternative – outsourcing.

Please feel free to contact me at: info@virtualoffices.ie, to see how we can help you with your credit management. We’ll let your clients know that you mean business.

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The Perfect Answer

One of the main compliments that I always get from my customers and business colleagues is that both my staff and I have a very professional telephone answering voice and always sound very professional and also friendly when answering our calls.  I have always found it to be very important when dealing with our client, or clients of clients as it’s a crucial element to winning customers and building business relationships.

Even with all of the new ways to communicate these days, the telephone is still a primary means of communication in business and the way that you answer a call will form your customer’s first impression of both you and your business.

Here are a few of my top telephone answering tips to ensure that you’re presenting yourself—and your business–in a professional manner, all the time!

  1. Always answer a call promptly
  2. Answer the phone in a professional and pleasant manner, and with a smile. Be enthusiastic. People can feel it or hear it on the other end.
  3. When answering an office phone, welcome callers by introducing yourself and your organization. For instance, ““Good Morning/Afternoon, The Virtual Office, Samantha speaking.” If you’re answering a personal mobile phone, a simple, “Good morning, xxx speaking,” is appropriate.
  4. Speak slowly and clearly when answering the phone so that the caller can understand you. Keep your voice at a moderate level. No one likes to be yelled at.
  5. If you’re answering a phone with multiple lines, be sure to ask the caller if it’s all right for you to place him/her on hold BEFORE you do so. Provide callers who are on hold with an update every 30 to 45 seconds and offer them choices if possible. “That line is busy, would you like to continue to hold or would you like to leave a message for Mr. Smith?”
  6. If you are taking the call from your office never use speakerphone to answer an incoming call. This will give the caller the immediate impression that you’re not fully engaged with them.
  7. If you use an answering machine to catch those calls you can’t get to, make certain that you record a professional message that includes an introduction (just as if you were answering the phone). This will ensure that the caller knows he has reached the right person and avoid any confusion.

Good telephone manners go a long way. Following these few tips will ensure that you leave a positive impression with business contacts (so that they call back!).

If you feel that you would like to have your very own professional telephone answering service to represent your business then why not contact us today on 051 351286 or email us: info@virtualoffices.ie

Why not speak to us about our new 1 week free trial on our telephone answering service!

Why choose a Virtual Office?

Today business people need a smart efficient solution that will not only give their business a professional image and the tools to focus on increasing their bottom line rather than having to worry about the day to day running of an office. So the concept of virtual offices is fast becoming a worldwide phenomenon and that Holy Grail solution that businesspeople have been searching for.

For businesses and entrepreneurs setting up an office can take months, plus there’s the costs of hiring staff, finding furniture and that complicated task of trying to work out the hassle of setting up the internet, telephone and other technology.  Not to mention the task and cost of training the new staff. By signing up for a Virtual Office clients can skip all this and are literally ready within minutes to focus on making their business a success.

The opportunities with the Virtual Office are what can set your business apart from the rest. Whether it’s a local business you’re running or are looking to expand your business nationally or even gain access to an international market, business people can have a local address, local phone number, local support team and a professional presence in any market!

For help to focus on making your business a success why not contact us at the Virtual Office to see how we can give you your very own professional presence that will set you apart from your competition, e-mail Samantha: info@virtualoffices.ie or contact us on 051 351286

Advantages of Outsourcing

Welcome to the latest outsourcing blog. In this week’s blog we are looking at the advantages of outsourcing. Overall we can see the advantages are, saving time and money. We will break them down using the following headings.

Advantages of Outsourcing

Focus on Core activities: In periods of growth and decline the company will have the resources available to continue to exceed your customer’s expectations of excellent service.
Cost and Efficiency savings: By outsourcing you have greater control over your spending; you will not have any costs for the service when you are not using the service.
Reduced overheads:  The business is not liable for the cost of providing an office environment or the costs of training and development of the personnel to run the office.
Operational Control: A company’s marketing department may not have the staff to complete the operational targets and therefore require some projects to be outsourced.
Staffing flexibility: Outsourcing will allow businesses a lot more flexibility in that they will only pay for the times when the service is used, therefore they have the advantage of having extra staff without the need to go through the hassle of an interview process.
Continuity:  If any members of staff become ill for a period of time or leave the business for any reason, outsourcing is a way of plugging the gap.
Internal development: By having your own staff working beside an outsourcing company, the company’s employee’s can develop a new skill set for future use, or can be seconded to another department to help through any particular project the company is involved with.

As we can see from the above there are many advantages to outsourcing, We at The Virtual Office are only too happy to help with your outsourcing needs.

 

Outsourcing for Growth

Outsourcing for Growth
As we wrote recently, outsourcing is defined as any task, operation or process that could be performed by you or your employee’s within your business, but is contracted to a third party.

Many business owners find their business is growing or they are trying to spend more time on marketing but find the length of time to complete each task is taking up even more valuable hours on a never ending to do list!  This can be very stressful, especially when everyone is looking for more of your time whether its suppliers or customers, and as a result certain aspects of your business begin to suffer, and, of course these harsh economic conditions are placing further financial constraints on businesses which mean it’s not feasible for a business owner to take on staff.

Outsourcing your administration takes off some of the pressure, giving you the freedom to spend more time working on your business rather than just in it
What tasks to outsource? Taking the decision to outsource some of your administrative tasks won’t be something you do lightly. It’s quite daunting when you find yourself having to let go of some tasks and relinquish them from your hands-on control.  A manageable way to embark upon an outsourcing relationship is to start by delegating individual tasks or projects.

At the beginning each party needs to learn how to work together, how to communicate efficiently and effectively in order to get the best from each other.  As you each start to see the results, you’ll get a feel for competencies and/or weaknesses and adapt accordingly.  As trust grows it’s very likely you’ll feel much more comfortable handing tasks over.

The tasks to outsource are the tasks that are not profitable but take up a great deal of time such as credit control, telephone answering and other administrative tasks.

Outsourcing for Survival

Outsourcing was once seen as a strategic tool to gain a competitive advantage over your competitors.  It is now being used as a way of increasing a business’ survival during what is now seen as one of the worst period of our economic history.

Outsourcing is defined as any task, operation, job or process that could be performed by employees within your company, but contracted to an external third party.
The continuing downturn in the economy has seen the number of customers looking for goods and services dwindle, thus creating an ever increasing competitiveness amongst businesses.

As business conditions decline the same numbers of employees are no longer required, and business owners are faced with the situation that they now need to cut costs and cannot afford to keep the same staffing levels, however, there are still responsibilities that need to be carried out to keep the business moving forward.

In the above situation there is only one conclusion and that is to take the hard decision, and reduce staffing levels to ensure the business survival through this downturn but in doing so it ensures the ongoing business is now in a much better situation for when the economy turns around, and staffing levels can return to normal.

For your outsourcing requirements to ensure your business survival through this difficult time why not contact The Virtual Office, to see how we can help you to cut costs.

Next week we will be looking at outsourcing for growth.

6 Ways to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

Some people say “fake it ‘til you make it,” but I think that cliché has an unnecessary air of falseness about it. Still, if you are starting up or running a small business, making your company look bigger and more established to the outside world can have dramatic results.

Whilst we’re not suggesting you misrepresent yourself or your company, or you behave like a big, impersonal corporation. What we are saying is that image does matter, and you should cast your business in the best possible light.

Dressing up your small business sends a message of seriousness and credibility to customers, suppliers, and anyone else who interacts with your business. It also affects your own attitude; much like wearing nice clothes makes you stand a little taller. With so many cheap and easy tools available for the purpose, there’s no excuse for not making your business look like a business, even if the company is just you and a laptop. Start here:

1.  If you work from home, lose the bunny slippers. If you’ve chosen to work out of your house, then create an impenetrable “work bubble.” That means a dedicated, quiet, professional, well-equipped and wired space that you, and anyone else in the house, treat no differently than an office across town. No exceptions. Get dressed up for work in the morning, even though you don’t have to. It affects your behaviour, not to mention it avoids embarrassing surprise Skype Calls!

2. Your phone sets a tone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me, representing a business, and I’ve heard kids or pets or TV in the background. Or I’ve called a “business” number and listened to an answering message saying “you’ve reached the Smith family and Smith Industries, Incorporated…” Get a good phone on a dedicated line, and clear, professional voice mail, and record a professional-sounding message. If it starts with “hi there!” it’s wrong.

3. Look good on paper. There is no excuse for inkjet-printed business cards or Microsoft WordArt logos. Proper cards and other printed materials are cheap and easy to get in small quantities from Printers.  Hire a proper designer and printer to do your stationery for you.

4. Be the master of your domain. A good starter website is inexpensive and easy to build. It may not be the sophisticated enterprise-level site you will inevitably want or need, but a beautifully-designed company info or “brochure” site is better than cheap, shoddy looking anything else. It is probably the first point of entry for people doing business with you, and the best way to convey the image you want.

5. Don’t be a Yahoo. Few things stand out as credibility question marks more than a generic/free email account. Business people are always sceptical when they get a business email ending in yahoo.com, gmail.com, or hotmail.com. As part of your website project, set up proper mailboxes with the same domain name and don’t just use your first name, if your business is not well known. Use first name/last initial or first initial/last name. It immediately sounds more substantial.

6. Outsource to a company that can provide a professional image.   Some businesses are ideally suited to be run from home, and lets face it, in this economic climate it certainly helps with cutting costs, however, there does come a time when your business will need to have an extra pair of hands to help get the work done, but what happens when your home office isn’t designed to accommodate more then you?

If you can’t move into an office or if you can’t justify the cost just yet, consider using a virtual office.  These remote offices can help companies to look quite substantial to the outside world and building the most impressive image you can from the start is a key step in getting business visibility, being taken seriously, and getting people to want to do business with you.

Unlocking the Secret to Great Customer Service

Do we really guarantee Customer Satisfaction?

Two years ago, I went to a trade show at the NEC in Birmingham. A friend kindly gave me her apartment to stay in, along with the use of her car.  She was gone on holidays so it suited her to do so.   Whilst at the trade show we were given some very good presentations on various aspects of business and proper customer service etiquette which was all very compelling and  inspiring stuff.

But as good as these presentations were, they didn’t show me anything different about  customer services, that I really didn’t know already.

I learned about excellent customer service from a set of car keys. And a lady called Sarah.

Minutes before I was due to fly home, I realised that I had my friend’s car keys in my handbag. I had to get on the plane – it was the last one flying to Ireland that day, I panicked I couldn’t leave my friend without the use of her car!  I raced frantically through my options and spotted an airport information booth. I ran up to it and through gasps of breath  explained to the woman behind the glass that I needed to find somewhere safe to leave my friend’s keys and still make my plane.

“Here,” she said, immediately extending her hand. “Give them to me. Here’s my name, and mobile phone number.  Call your friend and explain where the keys are.”

I was floored.

It’s the easiest and the quickest way” she replied, “all it needs is someone to take responsibility for the problem.”

That was it! All it needed was someone to take responsibility for the problem!  That’s all you need for great customer service. Not a huge presentation or a huge viral video. Just the willingness of a lady, who was Employee of the Century as far as I was concerned.  It’s a lesson that all business owners and their staff can benefit from.  When my plane arrived in Dublin, I immediately rang Inter Flora to arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to my lifeline.

Believe it or not, 80% of companies think they have good service, but only 8% of their customers agree (this is according to a survey prepared by Business Management Ltd.).

When a customer comes to you, they have a problem they need you to solve. You can decide to take ownership of the next problem that lands in your lap, whether it’s from a client, a colleague, or just a frazzled,  crazy lady.

It may not revolutionize your business. But at the very least, it might inspire a grateful stranger to send you flowers.

To see if we can help you to increase your customer service level to your clients why not contact The Virtual Office on 051 351286 or email us at info@virtualoffices.ie

Effective Time Management Strategies

Do you wish that you had more hours in your day? Does your to-do list keep getting bigger instead of smaller? Is your desk covered in clutter? Are you working longer hours, yet still not getting enough done?

It’s easy to feel that time is running away on us. When that happens, we can feel stressed. We talk about our heads being fried, or about to explode. And in the end, our work and family life suffers.

Why do we find it so difficult to manage our time? A lot of the time, we take too much on. We find it hard to say no when people ask us to do something and we don’t delegate jobs to our staff and colleagues. We allow ourselves to be distracted by things happening around us. And when we have a difficult job to do, it’s easy to put it off, which makes it even harder to start.

When it comes to managing your time, attitude is everything. Better time management starts with a decision to make a change. It’s a kind of mind makeover. And it starts with a bit of tough talking, admitting to yourself that your habits are causing you to waste time and need to be changed. And that it’s time for the excuses to stop.

Next, you need to think about what changes you can make to take your business to the next level. It’ll mean leaving your comfort zone, but if you can embrace those changes, you’ll really feel the benefits. Here are some examples of a few simple changes that have worked for us.

Write it down. Write a list of all the jobs you will need to do, in the short, medium and long term. Once you have a handle on what’s ahead of you, your mind will feel clearer.

Prioritise. Go through your list and decide which tasks are most urgent and important. Set yourself a date for when it will be achieved, whether it’s today, this week, this month or even this year. And keep your eye on those goals. If anyone distracts you from them, learn to say a polite no.

Be realistic. Arrange your schedule in a way that fits your business and lifestyle. Recognise that it won’t be possible to get everything done and resist the temptation to cram your timetable. That way, if unexpected challenges crop up, you’ll have the flexibility to deal with them.

Limit Distractions. Keep concentrating on what you need to do and learn to shut out excess noise. Resist the urge to keep checking emails and Facebook and answer the phone. Handle email, social media and phone calls in batches.

Delegate. It’s tempting to think you can do things faster yourself. But a few extra minutes spent explaining a job to a member of staff will save you hours in the long run. You can give them the routine jobs, while you get on with the major tasks.

The Virtual Office can save you time. Find out how by calling 051 351286.

8 Tips for Remaining Motivated in your Business

Even the most motivated of business people find it difficult to stay motivated all the time. We can sometimes get so low that even the thought of trying to be positive makes us even more unmotivated, which can lead us into a spiral of negativity. When you feel like this, there are small changes you can make to get you back on that road of success.

1. Focus on one thing at a time Doing too much can eat up your energy and consequently your motivation. It is difficult to concentrate only on one thing at a time, we often take on too much or there are constant distractions. Remember energy and focus are the two essential ingredients for achieving any goal.

2. Create excitement about your goals Think about what you would feel like when you have accomplished a goal (a reasonably big goal) this will create more momentum into your actions and of course increase your motivation. Visualization of your achievement can also help to increase feelings of motivation and excitement.

3. Write down your goal. Don’t only write it down, put the written goal in a place that you will see many times a day – it is a bit like an affirmation. A good place would be up on your wall in the office. You should try to create constant reminders about your goal, in order to stay focused and to sustain that excitement.

4. Make a public statement. We tend to want avoid looking bad in front of other people. We are more likely to keep to what we say when we have told several people. A good place to announce your goals is on Facebook – Your associates are sure to ask you about it and take interest in your progress. It is difficult to back down when everyone is talking about it. This way you can keep everyone up to date with updates about how you are doing.

5. Do Something Everyday Even if you don’t feel motivated, sometimes doing something actually puts you in the mood, even by outsourcing some of the work it can feel like you’ve made a step in the right direction. I am sure you have had times when you have not been hungry, but started to eat anyway only to find you got the appetite through eating. It is often the way with work, get into the routine of doing something for your goal everyday and you will get the motivation by seeing the goal gradually develop.

6. Get support. Find others who have the same goal as you, join an online forum.

7. Accept the ups and the downs. Motivation is the same as every other feeling, it comes and it goes. You can do a lot to keep the motivation up, and accepting the times when you are unmotivated will prevent the pressure and the unrealistic expectations. Accepting that you will have times when you feel unmotivated, will help to keep up the motivation. Just do some of the techniques mentioned and the motivation will come back.

8. Persistence is the key Keep on working on your goal and stay with it. I am not saying that you should stay with the goal if you find that it is better to take a different road but don’t give up. Be flexible but continue, challenges are there to test you. Even if you are feeling unmotivated, focus on the next step and don’t give up.

If necessary don’t be afraid to ask for help, that’s where our services come in, you can contact The Virtual Office and see how we can help you to reach your business goals.