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Entrepreneurs Delight in Expanding Industry

TAS Marketing

By Steve Michaels

In today’s market, wealth is created by the ability to add value. Value is added by innovating and implementing new technological methods with creative ideas to enhance the way things are presently done. Discovery is the fuel of competitive advantage and those who are adding value through innovation are becoming rich.

If you are a new investor thinking of starting or buying your own business, look to see what kind of business has a current customer base and a system that has not yet been maximized. You want to look for an investment that generates future transactions over and over again, that are predictable into the future, and would easily adapt to purchasing other products or services relating to its particular industry.

Investments That Generate Future Transactions: Several industries come to mind, but one in particular is the Telephone Answering Service (TAS) industry. Here is a core group of individuals from all walks of life checking in with an answering service every day for their messages. This is a captive audience who receive a monthly statement and who have already bought something once; they are primed to buy a second, third, or fourth time, and soon.

By purchasing an existing business, you would be sitting in the driver’s seat, primed to take full advantage of the enormous potential currently in place through an existing customer base. You have already made your investment. With established good will and loyalty from the previous owner, personnel and equipment in place, it would be simple for you to sell or offer these customers other logical, extended products or services under the confines of this existing company.

The TAS industry began as small “Mom & Pop” businesses that primarily handled emergency calls for the medical profession. It has grown by leaps and bounds by incorporating paging, alarm monitoring, faxing, secretarial services, voice mail, call/fulfillment centers and its latest adjunct, IWR (Interactive Web Response). IWR, now in its infancy, integrates a website with a live operator for all sorts of applications from order taking to instructional guidance. The opportunities are endless in this ever-changing, multi-faceted business that in 1995, billed over $2.4 billion dollars.

What the Smart Entrepreneur Looks For: This industry is finding ways to associate their service with other products or services that complete a process. The smart entrepreneur in a Telemessaging center is looking for opportunities where they may cut costs for a manufacturer by handling their overflow phone traffic during sales promotions or when there is a seasonal boost in sales. They could even become their order taking department.

A simple example would be a small manufacturing company that does not have the time nor labor to take an order and ship their product. As a full Messaging/Fulfillment center, you could offer your client the ability to take the incoming call, process the order, take the credit card information and send out the product. If you are not geared up to do all of these functions, then subcontract the work so that you become their representative and an integral part of their operation.

Another example is a Call Center which is taking recruitment calls for a large corporation that is continually moving into different areas of the country. The company places an ad in the local newspaper, the Center takes the responses then sets up appointments for a manager who is there two days out of the month. This way the employees are in position when the company opens their doors.

Largest Business in Year 2000? – Adult Education: Technology is like a double-edged sword É on one side life becomes easier; but on the other, jobs are being lost to computers which have sped up technology by distributing information at faster-than-light speed. This is why, I believe, that the largest businesses in America by the year 2000 will be those involved with the education of adults. It will naturally carve itself out of the down-sizing of corporate America as people become more and more self-employed. The TAS or Telemessaging industry would be in an opportunistic position to take advantage of this growing change. Why?

It is estimated today that 50% of the people in America change careers, not jobs, every 6 years or more. In the past, you had one job and one career the rest of your life, the average employee changed jobs every 25 to 30 years. But what you learn in college today will be obsolete and antiquated tomorrow because the teachers are not out there practicing and applying this new technology.

In the corporate world, the largest amount of money is spent training people how to use this new technology as it comes out every 6 months to a year. There is a massive amount of adult education out there now, but you just don’t see it because it is wrapped up in something called “management.” More skilled labor is being farmed out due to technological computer advances and advanced telephony that is reducing the cost of transporting information over greater distances.

Corporate America is looking for this trained labor pool. Labor is capital. Trained labor will get them three times the return on the amount they are spending. But how do you find this labor? The biggest factor in unemployment today is not a question of jobs for people, it is locating people for the jobs.

Opportunities Through Affirmative / Employment Centers: Another way that the industry could address this opportunity for itself is to open up Affirmative/Employment centers. There they would solicit the jobs that are available from the employers. By using their existing technology and the Internet, they could post all of the jobs available with a full video description from not only all over the area but literally all over the country. The applicant could then shop for a job via their computer or TV in the near future, once fiber optics are installed.

The same scenario would be true for the individual who is looking for a job. They would simply download their resume and skills to the Affirmative/Employment center for the prospective employer to review.

The smart entrepreneur could lower unemployment and position themselves as a necessary commodity in the community by improving the information flow between people looking for jobs and employers wanting to hire. When you want to hire someone, you want them that day. Think of what the information highway and strategically positioning your TAS business as a Messaging/Job placement center could do for your bottom line.

If the Age of Aquarius began in the 60’s, and the 80’s were the decade of greed, the late 90’s have borrowed traits of both to spawn the Age of the Entrepreneur. Americans are launching start-ups at a frenzied pace, spurred by corporate down sizing, out sourcing, low-cost technology and a bustling economy. About 3.5 million new enterprises from basement workshops to manufacturing plants were formed in 1995, according to a survey by the Washington-based National Federation of Independent Businesses. New business incorporations have doubled over the last 20 years.

In a Word – Innovation: It all comes down to innovation, technology and marketing. Marketing is the vehicle that gives you distinction. In business, you are selling a benefit or result. Whether you like it or not, you area sales and marketing company. It is either done actively or passively.

The marketing and optimization potential of this ever-evolving, synergistic industry is phenomenal. It only takes imagination, today’s ever-changing technology and the will to see into the future to serve this marketplace’s ever-changing needs.

TAS Marketing

Steve Michaels and TAS Marketing have been serving the TAS industry in the mergers and acquisitions arena for over 23 years with over 220 businesses sold. His years of experience have widened his scope and experience in buying and selling businesses nationwide. He may be contacted at 800-369-6126, tas@tasmarketing.com, or visit www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection Magazine – January 1998]


Learn more about the Telephone Answering Service Industry.

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T-1 101 for the TAS: Answers to Common Questions

By Allen Kalik

The mere buzz word “T-1” brings tremors of the unknown to many TAS owners and managers. The following information will help to answer most of the commonly asked questions about this technology and its applications in your TAS.

What is T-1 service?: T-1 is a type of telephone service capable of transporting the equivalent of 24 conventional telephone lines, using only 2 pairs of wires.

Who uses T-1?: The telephone companies have used T-1 for decades to economize on runs between central offices. In the last ten years, T-1 has become commercially available for high volume telephone service users.

What is a T-1 circuit?: T-1 is a high speed 4-wire data circuit with 2 wires used for transmitting and 2 wires used for receiving. The T-1 is capable of transmitting and receiving data at the rate of about 1.5 million bits per second. For comparison, the rate of data transmission in a T-1 is over 100 times faster than a PC modem operating at 14,400 bits per second.

How can one data circuit turn into 24 telephone lines?: At one end of the T-1 (the central office, for example), each of the 24 phone lines is encoded to a digital format much like a CD recording. Then the packets of data from each line are transmitted in sequence order into a single data stream. A device called a channel bank is responsible for this process.

At the other end of the T-1 (for example, the TAS), another channel bank reverses the process by separating the data stream into the original 24 distinct data packets representing each phone line. The data is then decoded from digits back into the 24 telephone (voice) lines.

What are the main advantages of T-1 to the TAS?: Cost savings over the equivalent service on regular analog lines. Another advantage is that T-1 is a digital transmission and is less prone to loss and interference than regular phone lines.

What are the main disadvantages of T-1?: The main disadvantage is that it requires a channel bank, a multiplexer, or a digital switch to convert the signal to telephone lines. While T-1 is very reliable, another disadvantage is that an outage could take out all 24 lines at once.

What are the main applications of T-1 in TAS?: There are three main applications:

  1. Replacement of Local DID trunks: Your local DID trunks can easily be replaced by T-1 service from your local telephone company. In most areas a 24 line T-1 is about the same cost as 12 DID trunks. (Rates can vary greatly on both DID trunks and T-1 costs, so first check with your local telephone company or T-1 vendor).
    All of your existing DID numbers can be moved to the T-1, where they are called DNIS digits. (Pronounced “Dee-niss;” stands for Dialed Number Identification Service).
  2. Long Distance Carrier Dedicated Service: T-1 service can be purchased from AT&T, MCI, Sprint, or other long distance carriers as a dedicated connection for taking 800/888 calls and making outbound long distance calls. The main advantage of this service is that the long distance company provides highly discounted rates on T-1 dedicated service.
    The decision t o use this service should be based on your projected savings versus your monthly T-1 charges and added equipment cost. If your long distance usage is over 20,000 minutes per month, it is probably worth investigating a long distance T-1 connection. Unfortunately, long distance T-1 service cannot be used to carry local DID. Also, the long distance T-1 can only handle traffic from the specific carrier (i.e., MCI) that provides the T-1.
  3. Point-to-point connection between offices: T-1 can also be used to connect the lines between two locations. For example, a T-1 circuit can be used to provide 24 off premise extensions of lines ringing at a remote location. Because T-1 is only one circuit, the mileage fees are significantly less than the mileage fees on 24 individual lines.

T-1 solutions such as this allow an operation to close down are mote TAS office by transporting the lines to an alternate location. Depending on the location of the terminating locations, this type of T-1 service may be provided by the local telephone company, a long distance company, or an alternative carrier.

Can T-1 be used to link two office networks together?: T-1 is capable of transporting data about 100 times faster than most PC modems. As such, it can be used to create a wide area network between two offices. Keep in mind, however, that T-1 is only one-sixth as fast as most standard office computer networks.

Can T-1 be used for both telephone (voice) and data communication?: With a piece of equipment called a multiplexer (similar to a channel bank), the T-1 can be distributed into data circuits and voice channels. For example, a T-1 could be used to carry 12 telephone lines, plus 2 data circuits at 386K baud.

What equipment do I need to utilize T-1 telephone service?: If you have a digital switch or TAS equipment with digital capability, you only need to purchase a T-1 card for your system.

T- 1 cards usually have a 24-line capacity and can be directly connected to the T-1 circuit. If you do not have digital telephone equipment, you need to rent or purchase channel bank equipment.

What is a channel bank?: A channel bank is a small digital telephone system with an input for T-1 and 24 outputs, one for each telephone line. The trunk cards in a channel bank must be compatible with the type of lines being used.

For example, if all the lines were coming in as DID, the cards must be compatible with this type of service. As a rule, channel banks are incredibly sturdy pieces of equipment with virtually a zero failure rate. There are no moving parts to break, no keyboard controls to mistype on, and no disk drives to fail.

If the channel bank has a critical role in your operation, spares or even a spare channel bank would be advisable to be safe. Channel banks can be purchased new in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, and in the used market for about half that price.

What is a CSU?: Another piece of equipment, called a CSU or customer service unit, is sometimes required by the telephone company. The CSU is a protective device similar to a modem that is wired between the T-1 connection and the channel bank. The CSU typically has diagnostic and status lights to help identify any problems with the T-1 circuit. A CSU can be purchased new for about $500.

Are you T-1 equipment-phobic?: If purchasing and maintaining T-1 equipment is an intimidating thought, consider renting from the long distance carrier or the telephone company. They will provide, install and maintain both CSU and channel banks at your location, delivering to you the familiar 24 lines. The cost of renting equipment is usually a few hundred dollars per month as opposed to the thousands required to purchase the same equipment.

Conclusion: To T-1 or not to T-1?: T-1 is a reliable, manageable technology for most TAS bureaus offering the possibility of greater services at a cost savings while expanding their coverage territory. The final decision should depend on the economics of the situation.

Allen Kalik was president of Professional Teledata. For more information call 800-344-9944 or visit their website www.professionalteledata.com.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1997]

ISDN: An Update

By Jim Reyes

I enjoyed the article in the October issue by Joy Rossin, who uses ISDN for her Answering Service. I also decided to use ISDN in my company. I purchased ISDN stand alone phones with data ports, software from AT&T and am using my existing computer system.

All you need is one ISDN phone number for all of your customers to forward to. This is because with ISDN you get two talk paths which means you can use two phones to answer incoming calls. Also, with ISDN, you can have multiple call appearances, e.g., 2, 4, 6, 8, 10,12, 14, 16, so it can handle a lot of customers if needed.

Patching is very simple: you answer a call, press the transfer button, receive dial tone, and dial the phone number you are transferring your caller to. Then, when you hear the other phone number ringing, press the transfer button again. The parties are connected and your call appearances are free to receive more calls. By using the phone company switching, there is no loss of audio on your patches or conference calls. You can also conference up to six parties on one call. Using my existing computer system, along with Mastar Telemessaging Software, I was in full ISDN operation.

I, like many before me, used DID for my Answering Service and in the beginning, found it adequate. It did not take me long to find out the shortcomings of DID. The first thing was that one trunk line cost $100 per month for each line. If you did any patching, you would tie up two of your trunk lines and there by limit the number of calls you could answer. Also, you could not use your DID trunk line to make outgoing calls. If you had customers outside your local area, you would have to get an 800/888 number for each customer.

After only four months in business with my DID system, it was hit by lightning. I had to pull the equipment and ship it back to the manufacturer for repairs and had some rather unhappy customers. That’s when I decided to find another method for my Answering Service.

The best thing I can say about ISDN is that now all my switching is handled by my local telephone company. In the past two years, I have never had any problems with their switch and have never been out of service. The only thing I have to worry about are my telephones and computer system. If I get hit by lightning, I just plug in a spare phone and I am up and running a lot simpler to deal with than most Answering Services equipment.

For my long distance customers, I supply one 800 number that they all use to call into my system. With the ISDN, I still identify each customer with their name. I also get the phone number of the person who is calling. This has eliminated giving my customers wrong phone numbers. If a digital mobile call comes in, I can read their phone number, which helps since some of my people do not remember their own mobile number.

After almost a year of pestering Rod Minarick, the founder of Mastar Telemessaging Software, they can now support ISDN. What we have accomplished is a program which will identify the customers, provide the phone number of the person calling (if provided by the phone company), and display their answer phrase. We are also working on being able to have voice mail for our customers who do not want live operators.

With ISDN you can have multiple work stations if your customer base demands it, or you can have a single user station. Everything is expandable for growth and I would recommend any new start-up to weigh the benefits of ISDN versus going DID.

This information was provided by an ISDN user and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this magazine. Mr. Reyes can be reached at ABC Answering Service, 3222 Blair Dr., Palatka, FL 32177, 904-328-1205.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1997]

Evaluating Your Employees

By Jo-Ann Fussell

It’s hard to evaluate employees phone performance unless you get a response, either positive or negative, from a customer. That’s why Voice Link of Columbus, Inc. evaluates operators every week using a voice logging system.

The voice logger records the operators conversations with the caller. Sara, our personnel trainer, pulls 15 minutes of recordings on each operator and then they both listen to the calls that were handled. Sara evaluates their tone of voice, how they handled that account, if the phone number was repeated back to the caller, and if they asked the caller to spell their last name. Since we have been following this procedure, our clients have commented on how much our service has improved.

We also pull operator statistics out of our CadCom Answering Service equipment every day. We look at total logged-in time, in-rotation time, talk time, average hold time, number of messages taken compared to number of calls answered, and average ring time. We also look at whether operators showed up on time. Why am I looking at in-rotation time and logged-in time? I want to know how long my operators are in rotation and answering calls. If the employee is scheduled to work 8 hours, we require him/her to be in rotation at least 7 hours and 20 minutes. They are allowed a 30 minute lunch or dinner break and two 5 minute breaks.

When we first started looking at employee performance, we discovered that our operators were only averaging 5 to 6 hours in rotation; however, we paid them for 8 hours. Since we have been doing the evaluations every week, our employees are meeting our requirement.

I am a Certified Public Accountant and really enjoy cost accounting. When I started evaluating our employees, I found that some employees outperform others. It never fails that these employees are the ones who quit because you cannot afford to pay them as much as other companies. There are factories that actually pay their employees by production so why can’t we?

If an employee shows up to work on time and is in-rotation for most of their shift, answered a lot of calls and took messages, they should be paid more than the employee who was in rotation but let calls roll off their screen to another operator. It would be nice if each employee would start at a base rate. It would be up to them to determine how much they want to make per hour. For example:

  • Base rate $5.50
  • Show up to work on time .50 cents
  • Met in-rotation time requirement .25 cents
  • Met the per-message-to-call requirement .25 cents
  • Tone of voice on the phone .50 cents
  • Repeat phone number & spell the last name .25 cents
  • Total paid for the week: $7.25

I feel this will let our employees know what we expect of them; it is up to them to determine how much they can make per hour.

If you are paying your employees by production, please contact Jo-Ann at 706-323-6733 or joannmfl@aol.com.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1997]

Knowledge is Power in Buying and Selling a Business

As Calvin Coolidge once stated, “The business of America is business.” In that respect, it’s no wonder that America is buying and selling businesses at an astounding rate. In fact, one of the latest surveys released from a 1996 Gallop poll showed that an amazing 3.5 million new businesses were started in the U.S. last year. Obviously, becoming your own boss has never been more popular. Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal reported that saving to start a new business is second only to a remodeled kitchen on American’s wish-list for big ticket items.

Of course, starting a new business can be extremely frustrating if not handled properly and the risk is high. Reportedly, 80% of all new businesses fail in the first three years due to factors such as poor location, low product quality, under-capitalization, and lack of management skills, However, there are things you can do to increase your chances of success. For example, purchase an established business! A mature business offers the advantage of providing you with a proven location, existing customer base, and product. The key is to look for a business that is established but has potential for growth. That way the business will be affordable while providing the opportunity to significantly increase your profits. Also, keep in mind that most business owners will be willing to train you in the daily operations of the business, there by helping to further reduce the risk.

So, how do you begin to pursue the American dream? The answer is to make sure you have a solid understanding of the process involved in the purchase of a business and to follow it. To get a better understanding of this process, let’s run through a few of the more important aspects of a typical transaction.

First, you must be totally committed to purchasing a business at a price and terms consistent with the marketplace. Once this commitment has been made, it is then time to consider using the services of a good, knowledgeable business broker. Remember that purchasing a business is even more complicated than the purchase of a home, and most of us would not attempt to buy a home without the assistance of a qualified real estate professional. If you elect to use a broker, choose one with a proven track record and one with whom you feel comfortable. To protect the business owner who is selling, you will be required to sign a non disclosure agreement promising to maintain confidentiality for all the information provided to you on the businesses discussed.

The broker will begin showing you businesses in the categories in which you are interested and will also begin to familiarize you with the important factors associated with each business: its history, previous sales, terms of purchase, etc.. The business broker will then arrange a meeting between you and the sellers. Usually a number of meetings will take place with various businesses before you decide on the one that best meets your needs.

The next step will be to write a purchase offer and present the offer to the seller. At this point, the business broker will share information on your background and pertinent financial history with the seller. This information will include your experience and specifics of how you arrived at the offering price, terms, and conditions. Your broker will then explain the purchase terms and conditions to the seller, who will either accept the offer or submit a counter offer. When both parties have agreed to the terms and an escrow deposit has been received, you will then be allowed to do your due diligence of the business to determine if everything is in order. At this point, all of the information should be substantiated that was presented to you on the listing schedule. If there has been any misinformation, the deal may be cancelled and you would receive your escrow deposit back or you may elect to renegotiate your offer.

If all questions are resolved and the financial records are in order, all contingencies will be removed from the agreement which then becomes a binding contract. The broker, seller, and yourself will work with the landlord to arrange an assignment of the current lease or to create a new lease with new terms. Once this occurs, you will provide all necessary paperwork to the transferring agent who will run a lien search. If the lien search finds everything is in order, the broker will make arrangements to assign any notes or equipment leases to you. Finally, arrangements are made for you and the seller to set a closing date. When this is completed, documents are signed and the deal is closed.

Thus, with knowledge, a little luck, and a good business broker, the process of purchasing a business can be surprisingly simple. Utilizing a good business broker can help you drastically reduce the time it normally takes to complete a transaction.

If you as a potential buyer follow these steps in purchasing a business and utilize all the information available to you, you will stand a much better chance of fulfilling your dream of owning a business. More importantly, if you want to continue to succeed after purchasing a business, the day you sign escrow papers and become the owner, your mind set must change from buyer to seller. Whether you plan on selling the business in one year, ten years, or never, strategies to maximize the value of the business are good management practice and should begin well before you ever decide to sell.

First and foremost, begin to position the business for sale from the day it is purchased. To build long-term value, in addition to ensuring short-term profits, it is essential to keep track of financial records, permits, licenses, equipment, and inventory. This is important throughout the life of the business, but is especially critical when you are trying to sell. If the business you purchase a franchise, care should be taken to learn the franchiser’s requirements for resale. These requirements are usually listed in the franchise contract.

Second, when the decision has been made to sell the business, determine the fair market value of the business. Business owners have the option of going to their attorney, accounting firm, appraisal firm, real estate broker, or business broker to have a business valuation performed. A business broker typically has the most complete and current information on actual business sales and pricing formulas.

Furthermore, continue to manage your business for optimal performance. A common mistake made by sellers is to pay less attention to the daily operations of the business once they have decided to sell. To maintain maximum value, continue to run your business with complete dedication and keep up your inventory, maintenance, advertising, and customer service levels. And again, as with buying a business, you must maintain confidentiality. Your business’ value could suffer if employees, customers, or suppliers know your business is for sale and you risk them no longer treating you “as usual.”

Finally, negotiate effectively. Don’t let inflexibility prematurely end a deal with a qualified buyer. At this stage, you benefit tremendously from the professional help of a business broker who is trained to develop creative (and responsible) terms that both help close the deal and ensure all interests are met.

As is very evident, with access to good information and the help of a qualified professional, buying or selling a business can be a much less stressful experience and become one of the most fulfilling as well as profitable events in your life.

Article reprinted with permission from the July issue of Business Opportunity Journal.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]

ISDN: Its Successful Application for TAS Businesses

By Christine Michaels & Joy Rossin

Joy Rossin, President and General Manager of Tele-Sec Communications, Inc., is successfully utilizing ISDN in place of DID trunks for her answering service business in Florence, Alabama. Ms. Rossin was part of a panel presentation at the ATSI Convention last June in New Orleans and spoke about ISDN. Due to the subject matter and the response to Ms. Rossin’s presentation, we decided to interview her in more depth: (DID = Direct Inward Dialing. ISDN =Integrated Services Digital Network)

1) Why did you decide to use ISDN versus DID and what were the benefits of ISDN?

I decided to use ISDN because the manufacturer I was with developed an ISDN system. I felt that DID had reached its peak and that there were many more options with ISDN. I personally felt that we had done everything we could with DID so I chose to use ISDN. Some of the benefits of ISDN versus DID were features such as Caller ID,2-way calls on the same line, two operators per line, and having all your answering service clients call forward to the same phone number. Plus, ISDN was a faster and more efficient way to service my customers.

The ISDN technology had been available for 8 to 10 years and the more people get ISDN, the more applications will develop. New ideas will develop and things will probably develop that we had never dreamed of. I think ISDN will be an important part of our future as an answering service industry and I think that DID will eventually go the way of the switchboards.

2) How are you using ISDN in your answering service business?

ISDN is a different way of servicing your customers, thus you need a different way of thinking when you are first using it. My first re-education was in ordering phone lines. I no longer have to pay for hundreds of Call Forwarding Numbers and dozens of DID Trunks. I have approximately 300 accounts and I am only using 5 telephone lines. Thus, the price is less with the phone company. I have no switch in my office. I am utilizing the phone company’s switch! The equipment I am using is designed for ISDN. DID equipment will NOT work.

3) Can you describe how ISDN works?

There are two types of ISDN available – Basic Rate and Primary Rate. What makes the type of ISDN different are the number of “B” channels (voice channels ) available per line. The Primary Rate has 23″B” channels whereas the Basic Rate has 2 “B” channels. Our business is using the Basic Rate line. Each line costs approximately$85.00/month.

In each Basic Rate line, there are two “B” channels and one “D” channel or data channel. Thus I can have two operators answer calls on one line. I have 5 lines, thus I have 10 operator positions. An operator can only talk to one person at a time. The B channels do not limit the number of calls that can come in, the B channel only limits the number of conversations at one time. The D channel or data channel is telling you who is ringing, thus giving you information about the caller. When a call comes in, we call this “call appearance.” Our ISDN equipment provides for up to 64 call appearances; all my customers call forward to the same number.

When I set up a new customer, I program the customer’s information into my system. By the way, with my ISDN equipment, I can provide personalized Auto Answer for each customer. This is a terrific feature. So, when a call comes in for my client, the information I receive comes from the phone company’s Central Office (CO). Thus, over the D (data) channel of our ISDN line, we receive the client’s phone number and the number of the person who is calling for our client. We also receive the purpose of the call, i.e., the call was forwarded to our office because there was no answer at our customer’s location, or the customer’s line was busy or, the customer’s line is always forwarded to our service. With this information, we are better able to personalize our handling of the call. We are also able to pick and choose from the phone company, what information we want sent over the trunks, i.e., name of caller, etcetera.

Call appearances programming is a terrific feature of ISDN. Call appearances can be limited or extended depending on your call traffic. Thus, I can request 10 call appearances be sent through the line and give a busy signal to the 11th call appearance. If this doesn’t work, I can call the phone company and increase the call appearances to 15. It will be done OVERNIGHT (no more waiting 4 weeks for increased DID trunks from your phone company). Or, I can call and delete the number of call appearances in the same amount of time. Thus it is much easier to control the call volume traffic.

If I have high volume accounts, I can request a different set of call appearance numbers from the phone company. I can limit the call appearances to 4 or 6 or any number which would control the number of calls coming in on a busy night and not overwhelm the other callers while providing good service for my other customers. Thus, I am not limited by one DID number.

4) What equipment is needed from a manufacturer and the phone company to provide ISDN?

You must have ISDN equipment as DID equipment will not work. I am currently using Morgan Comtec, Inc. equipment and have been utilizing the ISDN since September of 1996. I paid less for my ISDN system in September then I did for my DID system 13 years ago because this system has less hardwire/ trunks and does not have a switch. The equipment is more software-based rather than hardware-based. I think manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do with ISDN.

What is important is knowing what equipment your phone company has. You are limited by the switch at your CO and its capabilities. Some well-known switches are AT&T, Siemens, and Northern Telecom. It’s important to find out what equipment your phone company has.

The ISDN application is limited only by our imaginations. Each business that uses ISDN will come up with new ideas on how to use it. The beauty of ISDN is that it’s mostly software, thus programmers can do what you want without the expensive costs of a hardware change. One can combine a lot of things with software, but with hardware you can’t.

5) What are some drawbacks with ISDN?

From my Central Office there is no Music On Hold. When my CO gets Music On Hold, I will get it. Prior to signing up a customer, you must find out if their CO has SS-7 signaling to be able to offer ISDN service. There are also some cell phone calls that cannot be accepted. If that is the case, I will assign them a remote call-forwarding number.

6) How reliable is ISDN?

ISDN is as reliable as your Central Office. If the CO is down, then everyone is down. They are extremely reliable lines. This is one of their main benefits.

7) In your opinion, how can ISDN benefit the answering service industry?

Answering services as an industry should find out what technology is currently available. It is not the phone company’s responsibility to educate the answering service industry. Phone companies do not want to reinvent DID, which is why they were slow in making 2-way DID lines. That function already exists with ISDN. Besides, the answering service industry is a small portion of the phone company’s revenue and it’s not worth it for them to change the DID line. Why bother when the technology already exists! The more businesses that utilize ISDN, the more applications will be developed. I am certainly not sorry that I made the move to ISDN.

I think that in the next few years, even more features will be offered on ISDN. Plus, the simple fact is that your customers want good service that is fast and efficient. The more technical everything is becoming, the more the demand will exist for personalized service. ISDN is that and more.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]

Business Solutions That No Other Companies Offer

By Roy Emmett

This magazine serves a special niche within the gigantic telecommunications industry. The information here in is relevant to businesses that provide business communication services in a personalized and custom tailored arrangement. What these companies are capable of doing, is not at all like what is being done by all the other communications companies in existence. And, over the last decade, the changes in communications have been so great, that it is impossible for businesses to grasp what all is in front of them. Together, those two points make for perhaps the greatest opportunity that we have ever had. That’s because the business world, by and large, is overwhelmed and we can provide a whole new range of solutions to bring some order to the chaos. As an opportunity, we can make ourselves available as true, personalized resources to provide special communications applications that are not available from other sources.

That means that our special niche within the industry could be far bigger than we ever thought. I say that because I have assembled a list of all the communications company categories in existence and identified what their prime orientations are toward the business communications marketplace. None of them seem to be able to do what we can do.

What types of companies are there, that you can think of, that provide local custom business service solutions? Who’s out there that can incorporate the scope of operator services together with automated services and unique hybrid service arrangements, to assist clients in our respective markets? In short, who is out there doing what we can do, except us?

No one. There are a lot of giant companies of national origin that are kind of hitting around the edges while the local telcos are saying that they are small business specialists. But are they really? Are they able to compete with our core capabilities? Not at all. Our main problem right now, in capturing greater local market share and developing a stronger customer base remains one of education in our own markets. But even closer to home is the need to clearly define for ourselves and actually become known for what we can provide. Then we must learn in detail what all we have at our fingertips, to apply our diverse, valuable offerings.

I’d like to stress two prime, paramount assets in our industry that many clients have taken for granted or have grossly under valued in the face of all the rampant technology. One is the service bureau operator and the other is automated service capabilities. Quite frankly, the business world hasn’t got a clue as to what all can be done with these two unbeatable potential assets. And nobody has this one-two punch but you who are in the business.

Traditional telephone answering service, in its strictest most, basic format, is an extraordinarily limited service concept in today’s high tech world. But what this resource has the potential to become, is way beyond what it is known to be. But the memory lingers on. As a basic service it is grossly unappreciated by all too many of those who use it. That’s why it’s time to get creative and take advantage of some new directions. This is where classic brainstorming could really come in handy. If we could sit down in small groups and free-associate for ideas and then come back together in larger groups, we could undoubtedly come up with an awesome list of creative services in which telephone secretaries would be the centerpiece of many new service ideas, enhanced by the latest in voice processing services.

We are awash in a sea of technology that is frustrating the typical small business person who doesn’t understand it. Think about it. Literally all of the technology that is introduced into the market place today is left to the user to grasp, to apply, to understand and to implement. It is mostly hardware and software that is purchased at retail or via mail order or over the phone as a basic service to be turned on by a commercial institution. The burden in any case is that once you order something, it’s your problem, baby!

The answer? Customers have to hire installers, trainers, and consultants to make stuff work for the purposes for which it was intended. That is, except for all the services that we can provide for our business customers, as specialized service providers. We are actually full service and implementation providers, not just peddlers of stuff. More importantly, we are “idea” resources. We can listen to a prospect explain his/her circumstances then analyze the possibilities and offer creative solutions and unique ideas to help. And we stay with the customer throughout the implementation process as we introduce special solutions that we have helped create. That’s pretty special, I’d say!

On the surface that may not seem like a really big deal for many prospects who simply want the basics. But it can be. It can put us in a very special position and allow us to fully develop accounts and bring about special solutions they didn’t know existed. That will only work though if we capitalize on our specialization and bring that flexibility into the open.

Every day, there are individual new solutions being initiated by call centers, telephone answering services and voice processing companies that are real service bureaus. But those ideas go unheralded and for the most part, are not maximized. Do you as a service provider take your best ideas, package them into marketable packages to introduce to entire vertical markets, to effectively capitalize on what we have created? I’m learning that some of us do. Not many, but some.

However, idea sharing is making that happen. I have a good idea and I tell you (a non-competitor) about the idea. You offer some input that makes the idea even better. I improve the concept and you take the whole program and put it into effect in your market. Later on we get together and compare notes. Together we make it even better still, as a result of actual implementation results. Then a third party adds another dimension and the concept goes through a continuing maturing process until it is a thorough, specialized solution to be sold and resold throughout a vertical market.

There is a lot of attention being spent by TAS/Call Centers on market expansion, to provide basic services well outside a primary market area. Services such as pure answering service and typical call canter services like order taking or inbound telemarketing are the gist of many a company’s growth plan. However there is very little attention being spent in our own local markets to seek out more in-depth clients with specialized, full service solutions. And that’s a real shame, considering the potential.

Here is an idea that is taking shape that some service bureaus are implementing, to grow new clients as well as to build existing clients into bigger ones.

Client Analysis – You have a client base of so many customers on your service. Breaking them down into various categories can be a major break through in how you could expand them. For example, create a category of companies that have a sales team of some kind, that are out more than they are in. Another category of home based businesses. Then one for companies that have only one or two people max. Another for those with multiple locations. Another that has a lot of requests for information. And so on.

What you are looking for are categories other than SIC codes. You are looking for solution categories. All companies with sales teams have similar needs, for example. What can you do for a company with a sales force? Go ahead and make a list of all the things that you can do that are special for sales people. For starters, you can provide audio text (information service on voice mail), you can provide fax-on-demand material to facilitate sales forms and detailed literature, you can provide a complete network to allow sales people to intercommunicate with themselves and with the office. You can offer 24 hour access to a personal contact if necessary. Strictly answering the phone after hours is becoming a commodity service in a sense. Empowering an organization to function in a streamlined fashion with some new advantages is a whole new dimension.

If you can identify clients that need true operator services and then show them how they can create new efficiencies with the latest in specialized automated services, and simultaneously point out cost savings and new service advantages, you will have done far more than just respond to a request for service. And you will have developed a more profitable client and one that will stay with you longer, based on the bundled service arrangement you have created just for that client.

Once you have exhausted your client list, to fully develop their potential, you need to seek out referrals from your clients for whom you have just scored major new points. Taking the time to work with existing customers, to determine with them, if there are any ways that you can help cut back overhead costs and introduce new service options, is healthy to say the least. All of our customers are vulnerable to being taken over by other alternatives or competitors. We can offset those possibilities by enhancing our customers’ service beyond the ability of others to be able to match our service.

So what are the services that are most likely not available from other kinds of communications services? Here are some that are most obvious and powerful.

Revert To Operator Service

This is the ultimate escape from “voice mail jail”. Specialized voice mail service that allows a caller the option of selecting a real live person, is the highest form of professional voice mail service. Sold as a form of live answering service, this becomes an in expensive alternative. Of course the price is based on the number of calls that connect to a live operator. But that is the basis for the service – a real person is always available.

Direct Connect Voice Mail Service

This is what is fast becoming the premiere voice service, where you have the ability to connect live to any phone or any other communications device, automatically, without any operator intervention. It also incorporates the “follow me” feature and the ability to change the phone number of the person or location where your calls are sent. This is 2-way DID technology.

Detailed Network Service Arrangements

This is a growing category of service that can only be provided by a service bureau that can work closely with customers on a local level, to provide a complete integrated program that takes into account all the communications needs of a prospect to create a special network unique to each customer. It can integrate every aspect from operator services for answering, overflow calls, order taking, customer service, voicemail, paging, alpha dispatch, and internal networks for office communication.

Super-Specialists For Vertical Markets

With a built up expertise in a particular area, you can dominate that market in your area. Once you have established yourself as a specialist, you can milk that potential unlike other service companies which simply market to the mass public to sell price sensitive products. As a super-specialist, you have the potential of being sought out for such expertise. That has typically only been done to any extent in the medical area, but many other niches exist such as real estate, insurance, even general categories like home-based businesses.

The greatest benefit that we have as specialized service bureaus is that we can, if we choose, elect to work in depth and at all levels to become a company’s actual out source resource for most all of their communications beyond the phone system itself. This is what will allow us to turn smaller accounts into much larger accounts. It will allow us to be more of a professional communications company than what the business world ever thought we could. Promoting these capabilities through our newsletters, news releases and through specialized sales efforts will make us out to be what the business community really needs. And we really are a very special service that is truly needed.

So why aren’t more service bureaus zeroing in on a more professional approach to this direction? It all boils down to learning more about it to take off in this direction. It isn’t something that is so obvious that it just happens. It demands someone within your company who will become the professional communications consultant to begin the process and stay with it, to continue developing the prospects and promoting the concept as well. Finding that person might become the greatest challenge of all.

In the meantime, it makes sense to practice on your existing customer base, to explore with them what their needs really are. Let them know that you are in the solutions business and you want to find more ways to help them and cut their overhead as well. Just inquiring in such a manner that shows you care, will help endear your customers to you. What you will learn could surprise you. However, what all businesses are looking for are ideas and answers, not just questions. So before you begin, develop a list of specialized ideas that you can present, that will be meaningful to many and profitable to you. Taking advantage of our unique capabilities is going to be our best marketing advantage ever. It isn’t something that others can steal from us.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]

Ten Key Reasons Why Websites Fail

By Greg Roberts and Albert Iannantuono

Reason #1 – They Don’t Do Anything. [AI]

Web surfers don’t take the time to search and surf for the privilege of reading about your company. They visit a site for a reason: product or service information; convenience; purchase information; to learn your hours of operation and/or how to find you; download software; purchase goods, etc. Surfers know in seconds whether there are any goodies to be had, and if there aren’t, they move on. When planning your site, consider what you want to accomplish and build around that goal. Use valuable information, make it consumer friendly, in-depth, and a valuable, convenient option for people to contact you. Promote it correctly via various search engines and traditional means of marketing.

Reason #2 – They Get Stale. [AI]

Not enough up-front attention is paid to the amount of support and on-going development needed to keep Web communications effective. A website is never finished. The amount of time to keep it fresh and stay up to date on where the Web is going is significant, and is something you must be dedicated to in order to achieve the desired end result.

Reason #3 – Uninspired Design. [GR]

Too many sites are boring. Use interesting backgrounds, menu bars and colors. Nevertheless, boring and fast to load are better than beautiful but glacially slow any time. (See Reason #4)

Reason #4 – Too Many/Large Images. [GR] Think of the users. Many are using 14.4 or 28.8 modems. A page with large or many graphic images can take forever to download. That’s okay for a non-line art gallery, but for an information site it’s the kiss of death. Keep images to a minimum, or provide a high-graphics and low-graphics version.

Reason #5 – Frames. [GR]

They often mess up the navigating with the forward and back buttons. A site with frames results in a small main window where you can barely see the information, and information is why they’re visiting the site. A well-designed site should have a menu bar on the top or sides, indicated by color or shading so it stands out.

Reason #6 – They Don’t Reflect the Company’s Core Business. [AI]

You need to ensure your site is developed with your business goals, marketing and communications needs in mind. The best sites are developed with customized attention. There is a phenomenon I like to call The Jurassic Park Syndrome that has snookered a lot of Web designers. This is letting the fascination of what you can do technically determine what you put into action. The driving force needs to be your business goals.

Reason #7 – Bad Structure. [GR]

I visit many sites where the only way to get from a particular section to another desired section is to back up to the main page and then select the desired section. This is bad structural design and is unfortunately very common. You should be able to navigate easily around a site. From any page on your site, make it possible to select any other section, or the main page, as well as the information in that specific section.

Reason #8 – Browser-Specific Sites. [GR]

A disturbing trend in sites recently is designing specifically for either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer, the two main Web browsers. Sites that are designed for one browser’s specific capabilities can look very strange when viewed with the other browser. A few very in hospitable sites don’t even allow you to visit them if you aren’t browsing with Explorer. Give your site a common design, or provide two versions of the site, one for Netscape Navigator and another for Microsoft Explorer.

Reason #9 – They Lack Professional Planning. [AI]

The same companies that insist on professionals to design their brochures have turned to their brothers-in-law and relatives or their neighbor’s kids with perhaps basic computer knowledge for their websites. Anyone can HTML a document. In fact, word processing and desktop software packages are being developed with an HTML “save as” feature. The software companies have some improvements to make to this feature, but it’s only a matter of time before your corporate newsletter can be saved to look like the printed version on the Web. But can anyone design a solid communications piece that not only gets your message out there, but motivates the decision to bite? That’s what your website is a communication opportunity.

Reason #10 – Nobody Knows About Them. [AI]

There was a point in 1996 when the experts estimated there were more Web pages than Web users. It’s not surprising that a site can get lost in the crowd. websites aren’t the only initiatives out there to get lost in a crowd. There are many wonderful inventions and projects that never get off the ground for lack of marketing. The strategies for driving traffic to your site are numerous, from search engine registration to public relations and cross-marketing. And they don’t have to be expensive. Simply choosing an easy-to-remember domain name makes a huge difference. The key is to do it.

Too many people rush full speed ahead into developing a Web presence without developing specific goals and without thought to generating productive traffic and measuring success. Often they make the mistake of hiring someone who understands technology, but knows little about their business. Good Web designers use the above criteria to define their approach, and as a result, Web mania will have a successful, active portfolio of valuable sites.

Albert Iannantuonno is President and Creative Director of Tri-Media Marketing & Publicity, Inc., based in Niagara since 1986. Greg Roberts is the Editor of Parliamentary Names & Numbers and Technical Coordinator for Sources Media Directory.

Reprinted with permission for Sources HotLink and Business Niagara.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1997]

Creating Success: The Role of the Owner

By Tony Murray

Each year I visit many companies in different industries. I concentrate on the development and growth of my clients and consequently, these companies tend to be small to mid-sized organizations where the owner is the key to the success or failure of micro manage the enterprise.

There is a definite correlation between the owner and whether the operation is struggling or succeeding. But, is not always the ability of the owner that determines the health of the business. Rather it is the way the owner spends their time. I am sure that if will be no surprise when I tell you the owners that micro manage control the less successful operations.

When I point out to people that they need to free up some time, the main objection I hear is that there is no one who can do the job they do. This, of course, is rubbish; none of us are indispensable. When I go into it further, the real reason that comes out in most cases is that they don’t think they can afford someone with all the abilities which are need. And, they can’t afford to add more staff.

My next question; what do your charge for your services? I have to say that almost without exception, this is the problem. In most cases, these owners have no idea of the true costs of providing service to their clients. Therefore, they don’t know what their profit margins are.

This is a vicious circle and once again, it relates directly to the price issue. If you do not know your true costs, then you cannot charge the right price. If you under charge for your services, then you cannot afford good staff. The owner then gets dragged into the operation and this cycle suffocates the growth of the business.

One of the businessman whom I admire is Lee Iacocca. He took a company that was on the edge of extinction and turned it around to one of the most profitable vehicle producers in the country. He did not do this by going to the shop floor and beating panels; rather, he surrounded himself with good people and he orchestrated the recovery.

The owner is the conductor. A good conductor cannot play all the instruments but must understand how they all work and how to blend them to achieve perfect sounds. The owner has the responsibility to blend the team to achieve a perfect business.

So, we come back to the beginning. The owner must allocate their time to looking at the big picture and avoid the nitty-gritty. They must find one or two reliable trustworthy managers who can look after the day-to-day problems and the owner must allow them to manage. These people actually exist in most operations; they are just not given the opportunity to prove themselves. The owner must, and this is the most difficult part, allow the manager the freedom to use their style and to manage their way.

Having delegated the day-to-day, the owner now has time to do some meaningful planning. The first step is to look at all the statistics that are available, both operational and financial, then make an assessment of how the service is perceived by the clients. There is now time to visit some of the more important clients to hear directly what their opinion of the service is and to look more closely at their needs.

The owner should also look very carefully at their financial information and get answers to the following questions:

  • What is the cost per minute to run my operation?
  • What is the ratio of operator expenses to income?
  • How much overtime is being paid per month?
  • What are my true fixed costs?
  • What is the income per minute?
  • What is profit/loss per minute?

The next step is to look at each account. Where possible, calculate the number of minutes used per month. Then calculate income per minute. This is where you will start to see where your problems are. It is my experience you will see that some of these “big accounts” are producing very little.

Now you have to start to make some decisions. There is no point in servicing clients who are not producing a profit, so you must increase their price or ask them to go elsewhere. You see why your visit to your large clients was important, as you should have gained an understanding of their opinion of the operation. With this first hand knowledge, you can plan how to increase their price without losing them.

This is all very time consuming and if you are involved in the day-to-day detail, it will never get done. However, by delegating the day-to-day, you have put yourself into the position where you can truly start creating more income for your company.

Next, have a clear plan as to where you want to be in the next five or so years. You need to know where you are going in order to plan how to get there. Do you want to retire? Double the size of your operation? Have an annual income of $? per year? Sell your business? These are all objectives that I have helped clients to plan for…and there are more.

Understanding where you want to go leads us to the next step creating a financial budget for the next 12 months. This is nothing to be afraid of; all you are doing is mapping your future.

Start by listing all your income by product, i.e., paging, wake-up, etc. Then list all your variable costs operators, telephones, etc. If you subtract income from costs, you now have your gross margin. List all fixed costs rent, leases, etc., and also costs that do not relate directly to the operations room, such as accounting fees and legal fees, stationary, etc. Subtract this total from the gross margin figure and you now have your pre-tax profit.

If you start with the last month’s actual figures, then you know that your base is correct. You now need to look at where to cut costs from last month, and plan what the increase in sales revenues is that you can achieve monthly for the next year. Remember, you are gong to increase some prices and you need to add these in.

Now you have a map. You must bring your managers into the loop and tell them what they have to achieve to ensure that the plan is successful. This is where you start setting objectives for your managers.

Objectives should relate to net growth, operator costs as a percentage of income, telephone costs as a percentage of income, etc. There are many more, which are dependent on your operation.

Having set the objective, you must have objective methods to measure the results. Having measured them, you must take immediate action when a manager fails to meet their objective. This is how you control your manager without having to be involved in the day-to-day problems.

Once you have competed your budget for this year, you need to develop outlined budgets for the next five years. This will show you what has to be achieved during that period to meet your plan. This may well highlight that your plan is over ambitious or that you are going to need extra capital to develop the plan.

The main point is that you can prepare for these problems in advance. You can modify your plan at any time, but by having a plan you will always know where you are going and how close you are to achieving your objectives.

You have a realistic plan. Now you have to orchestrate your success. This does not mean you go back to day-to-day hands-on, But, you start promoting your service by attending local business group meetings and making contacts wherever you can.

You are the most important sales person you have because you understand your operation totally. You should be able to see how potential clients can make use of your services in the ways your sales staff would likely overlook. You are the most important public relations person. You are the best research and development person that you have because by continually meeting with your clients and potential clients, you can find niche markets to fill in your area. You might be out of the day-to-day problems, but you will be kept very busy with the long term ones.

Gone are the days of stagnation. You are now the proud owner of a profitable and professional service. Your job now is to shout this from the rooftops. The amazing thing about this is that you will suddenly be successful and growing.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1997]

Creating Success: Delegating Authority

By Donna West

Before any company can grow, it must have a strong foundation to sustain growth. Every employee should understand the company’s goals and buy into your dream.

Let’s begin at the top and define the role of the owner. If you are the owner of an answering bureau, ask yourself if you are the one that signs all the checks, generates all the revenue, takes problem calls, disciplines the staff, answers sales calls as well as answering the calls for the clients? The problem is, the owner wears too many hats. Here is a way to delegate authority, improve morale and keep your sanity.

Public relations.It is best to give the job over to the second in command. It’s a great perk for them. This job involves more company participation. If the owner does everything, it gives the impression that it’s a one person organization – that it’s a “Ma and Pa” business with no depth.

Customer service/customer care is a difficult job to give up. However if you are with a new client and an angry client gets on the phone and needs to talk with you, that will NOT impress the new client. Likewise, if you have someone tell the angry caller that you are with a new customer, you will give the impression that the current customer is not important. Assign this position to an employee who is level-headed and has lots of patience, care and concern for your customers.

Operations Manager: This job should be given to someone who is responsible, has an overall knowledge of your company and has human resource skills.

Accounts/Bookkeeper: How much of your time is taken in financial planning? It isn’t – it’s bookkeeping. You are NOT learning how to run your company better, you are doing bookkeeping. Give the job to someone else and you, as owner, should then review it.

Sales: This job should never belong to the owner- it belongs to the person who is responsible for the growth of your company. I believe in a sales department, not a salesperson. Salespeople are not expenses. Sales people are self funding revenue generators. Each time we add a new salesperson, the closing ratio goes up from 25% to 50%. Time is the key here. Time gives you numbers. If you are an owner making sales calls, it’s not likely you will have time to make call-backs. A single salesperson will probably make three to five call-backs. A department with a sales manager will make a lot more call-backs. It’s a numbers game. He who has the personnel to make the calls, gets the customers! In our experience, it’s the customers who only need one or two contacts that are the easiest to lose and pay the least. They are NOT the ones you want. The customers with 12 locations, or who have large medical clinics, etc. do not close in one or two contacts. Diligent follow-up is necessary in this industry. In one bureau, it was discovered that the customer who calls for service stays on your bureau less time than the customer you solicit.

To start a sales department, look within your company first. You can teach technique but you can’t teach “nice”. Look for self-starters, your “extra-milers,” the helpful employees. Give them all the back-up and assistance they will need but do not interfere. Develop sales, marketing, and presentation materials. Join organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. Help them establish goals and a time line to accomplish the goals. Let them own their job. We feel that pay should be based on a low hourly wage plus the whole first month’s receivable of the account they sell.

Strong, Cohesive Leadership is a Must: Think about this – If you are so busy putting out fires in your company, then you don’t have time to do the really important things- like reading, and planning your company’s future. If this is the case, then you need to step back and re-group. You need to be the thinker for your organization. You need time, otherwise your company may run away with you. You can’t determine your company’s future if you are down in the trenches.

Consistent Meetings with Focus: As an example, we have what we call a” futures” meeting at our company. Once a month, our key people meet and talk about the future of the company. We ask, are we on track from where we thought we’d be last month? What are we going to do for the next month, the next year and in the next five years? How are we reaching our five year goals by accomplishing this month’s goals? If you don’t have a goal, how are you going to know when you reach it?

If you take only one thing from this article, take away a new mind set and the rest is going to come. Strong cohesive leadership is the first requirement for a strong foundation. This does not just happen. It needs nurturing, it needs constant reinforcement and it needs the wisdom to know when to delegate authority.

Donna West is President of Focus Telecommunications, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1997]