We’ve all been there. You spent all night working on your website, debating feature requirements with your partners, and finally it’s all up and running. The one thing you forgot: What to do when a customer actually calls.
Like most entrepreneurs with day jobs, you find yourself sneaking away to a stairwell … or an empty office … or to your car … to take the call. Instead of sounding confident & excited on the phone with your potential new customer, you speak in a hurried whisper as you run to the nearest empty room with a door.
This is one of the parts of bringing a new business to life that is hard to balance. With any new idea, you need to test it first to see if it’s worth putting any time into. There’s a reason you have the day job in the first place: It’s paying the bills. But how do you get your idea big enough to leave the day job, while also showing up for work? Often, the timezone of your job & your new business are the same.
Instead of answering the phone yourself, you might consider using a service like http://www.AllUptime.com. It is an outsourced phone service geared toward helping start-ups start & grow their business. For about as much as you spend on designing your first website, you can add on a scalable phone service that will help with both inbound & outbound calls. They offer Pay-per-call solutions if you’re really just trying to test an idea. And from there you can scale into monthly service agreements with a limited number of calls, all the way up to full-service call center operations as you grow toward your IPO.
No more sneaky calls in cars or scheduling every customer call for lunchtime.
Try http://www.AllUpTime.com as an alternative. Speak with confidence to your customers.
Your idea is working… Customers have embraced it… Investors are taking interest & you’re sustaining your differentiation.
But before you set your sights on your IPO, you’ll want to consider something that impacts both your valuation & the margins you can collect while you work toward it: Your BPO.
What’s BPO mean?
Business Process Outsourcing.
I know what you’re thinking. Common responses to BPO are “We will lose control of our brand” or “Our people is what makes us different.” These are both valid concerns, but with any business that wants to scale & succeed, the important question to ask is: What does my business do? If something you are building is not part of your core competency, then you’re likely investing in overhead that is impacting your margins. Or worse, you are building organizational structures that will not scale when you try to apply your first injection of investment dollars.
Most start-ups recognize the value of best practices related to administrative or operational functions. They know what they should be doing to help them scale, but they don’t have the resources to invest in enterprise systems, or the people the manage them successfully if they were to implement them.
BPO companies help you by applying their scaled resources to your growing business. You capitalize on their investment in enterprise systems & specialization, so your money can go to R&D & brand development.
There are a lot of services that provide this, and one of the main factors you should consider is: how can I try these services out without incurring a lot of switching costs? Many BPO providers (Accenture, IBM, offshore call centers, etc) require significant upfront costs. Some new entrants, such as http://www.AllUptime.com provide these services in scalable monthly costs similar to what you would pay for a home-built website. With monthly subscription services & scaled customized plans as you grow, you can experiment with a BPO that operate alongside your existing capabilities.
So, before you IPO, consider investing in your BPO.
When developing a start-up business, you should always be pushing yourself to sell your service before you’re ready. If you feel like you’re ready… then it means you probably spent too much or waited too long. When selling a start-up idea, you need your customers to believe in the outcome of your service before they have to believe in your ability to deliver on it. If the outcome has value, then how you deliver it can change & iterate while you seek the best ROI.
Thankfully, there are several low risk tools for entrepreneurs to use as they test various concepts. Generally, these all allow people to build a test of the concept before investing further. The three legs of the MVP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_viable_product) start-up business are: Website, Payment, and Customer Service. If you have these three, you can bring a customer through to a sale.
Website design sites & payments sites are commonplace. Using SquareSpace.com or UnBounce.com you can easily build a platform to test ideas. And setting up a PayPal account is very simple for any transactions you may encounter.
But what about Customer Service? How do you MVP a customer service experience?
Many entrepreneurs can’t take time away from their day jobs to answer customer requests, and cold calling takes a tremendous amount of endurance. One option is to use inbound or outbound call services that provide a resource to answer or place calls for you (www.AllUptime.com). This solution helps you scale an idea without committing to the effort of hiring someone from craigslist or convincing family members to answer the phone in a certain way.
Think about what you could do with a website, a payment service, and someone to be ready to answer a customer call. With that, you can be ready to sell a complete idea for less than $50.
Not every start-up idea is a simple technology solution. In fact, most are improvements on an existing service. One of the ways service companies grow fast is by hiring sales & account managers to get the word out. A common mistake most start-ups don’t consider is the difficulty of scaling these types of organizations. Whether you are building a phone-interview service (like, sayhired.com) or launching a scaled server offering (like, OneHub.com)… the problems are the same: You need people to sell the service & review content. Robot armies may help in the future, but for now, you need people.
But people aren’t cheap. Good talent requires training, and you can get away with hiring telemarketing talent off Craigslist to get your business off the ground. But what if you’re successful? Managing those people is much different than building your technology or service.
Most Start-up CTOs have a background in Software Development or Website Design. However, to effectively scale a inside sales organization (“inside sales” are essentially activities conducted remotely from the customer … compared to “outside sales” which are face-to-face), an entirely different skill-set is needed. It means understanding how to set up call center infrastructure, workforce planning for peak demand, and a myriad of other challenges. The bigger it gets, the problems become more complex.
As with any marketing or sales organization you manage, the most important criteria becomes ROI per opportunity, and the associated metrics to drive down costs & improve productivity. This means the investment in enterprise management tools to handle large or irregular call volumes, and more supervisory personnel to quality control every customer experience.
This mistake in how you organize your business can remain hidden until you find success. More time & money will be spent managing your quickly growing call center operation, which would more appropriately be spent on your core competency.
Some new services (like, http://www.AllUptime.com) help bridge the gap between start-up idea & scaled inside sales processes. It’s worth considering before you start building your business. Think of it as a scaled elastic server farm, but for sales. Using these kinds of services helps you test ideas without starting down the road of building a back office you don’t need.