Dear Danielle: What Phone System Do You Recommend?

Dear Danielle:

I have a few clients who want me to answer their phones for them. Is there a phone service that will allow my clients to forward their phones to me and when my phone rings I would know which company I am answering the phone for? –NA

Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, I can’t be of much help with your specific question as I’ve never answered phones for clients in my 15+ years of practice. I refer them instead to Ruby Receptionists, which is a company that is specifically in the business of answering phones for clients.

Since you’ve asked me, what I would encourage you to do before you proceed further with this is just make sure that you even want to be in the phone answering/receptionist business.

The reason I bring this up is because so often new business owners in our industry don’t realize that they have a say in the matter, and then get led down paths that they may not really want or intend, and eventually wish they hadn’t.

They go into the relationship thinking that they’re just supposed to do whatever clients want them to do because they’re still thinking of themselves as a sort of admin assistant rather than a professional service provider.

It’s not until later as they get into things that they realize business is far different from when they were an employee working exclusively for one employer, and how and when they work with clients, as well as what they do (and don’t do) for them, needs to be very different in many ways.

You may eventually find that answering phones for clients is turning your business into a J.O.B. where you are chained to your desk/office/phone system. You may find that it deprives you of the freedom and flexibility that you originally planned for your business. Answering phones interrupts your concentration, which in turn may make it more difficult for you to take on and do a good, timely job for more profitable clients and projects.

Think about how you’d have to charge clients. I know that if a client expected me to be sitting at my desk waiting for the phone to ring for certain hours, I darn sure would be charging for those hours, not the calls, since that is business time they would be reserving and requiring me to be available.

Here are a few other blog posts I’ve written that may also be helpful to you on this topic:

Dear Danielle: I HATE Answering Phones. Do I Have to?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Answer Phones For Clients?

The decision is yours obviously, and I wish you all my best either way. I just want you to know that you do have a say in the matter. In fact, it’s actually very important to your business success that you decide consciously and intentionally what you want to be in the business of and what you don’t.

So always keep in mind that just because a client asks, doesn’t mean you have to provide something if that’s not what you want to be or do in your business. Remember, you are not a replacement for employees; you’re something very different and aren’t going to necessarily do all the same things an employee would do.

6 Responses

  1. While I will call people for my clients, I do not provide phone answering. When clients need that we contact FrontOffice which has live operators who can handle this very efficiently, much cheaper than I would charge to be chained to my desk. If interested their website is frontofficestaff.com

  2. Thanks for pointing out that distinction and the additional resource, Barbara ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Judy Reyes says:

    Another source for receptionist service, depending on where clients are located, may be Regus. They provide a “virtual office” reception service/mail service as one of their products. Regus primarily rents temporary or part-time office space.

  4. Thanks, Miss Judy ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Ann says:

    I am in the planning stages of my new admin consulting biz. I completely understand what Danielle is saying about not answering the phones. When I have tried to describe my new biz to a handful of associates, none of them are ‘getting it’. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. One said, when I told her that I had no intention of answering phones for my client businesses, ‘but you have to sell what people are willing to buy, and they want their phones answered’.

    This is so true, I know this. Think about small businesses that don’t have a ‘receptionist’.. the phone rings.. you get a recording that says, ‘we’re not in, leave a msg’.. the customer doesn’t leave a msg (I know I don’t, because when I am calling around for services, I want to speak to a live person right NOW). If a small biz might have a phone answering service, it is immediately recognizable as such, and it turns people off. I know that I myself do not leave msgs with such services. But if we look at larger corporations where they have a voicemail system set up, I have no problem, nor do others, in pressing the button to speak to ‘whoever’, and then leaving a detailed voicemail. This is what I have in mind to help *my* clients set up for their businesses, if they wish to have their phones answered in some other way than having to answer it themselves (if they are a solo). There are plans and programs out there to do this. Is that such a bad thing?

    Any feedback would be great. Thanks!

  6. Hi Ann ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for your input. Few thoughts for you…

    The message and how you have the education conversation with potential clients and site visitors about what you do is integral here. You don’t know what you’re doing wrong because you’re new in business.

    That’s normal. It’s not a skill that comes instantly or naturally or automatically for everyone. It’s something that has to be learned and cultivated and honed. Luckily, there are people like me who can teach and guide you in these matters. It’s what my guide on How to Build a Website that WORKS is specifically written to do. You may want to check it out.

    Here’s what I see happening with a lot of people in our business. They are STILL thinking of themselves as assistants, like they were in the workforce. That is not what this business is about.

    Just because there is the question of whether or how a business needs phones answered, doesn’t mean that is your problem in business to solve.

    While your associate might mean well, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    YOU have to decide what business you’re in. It’s about as ridiculous to let clients twist you into any pretzel they please as it is for them to expect their plumber to fix their car.

    Businesses need bookkeeping, too. That doesn’t you have to go into the bookkeeping business, too. Tell them to hire a bookkeeper.

    Businesses need financial advice. That’s not our role or the problem we’re in business to solve. You tell them they need to hire an accountant or financial advisor.

    Businesses need legal counseling. Again, that’s not our business. They need to hire a business attorney.

    We don’t have to solve every single problem a client has a need for in their business.

    Our value isnโ€™t based on doing everything for clients. Our value is in what is accomplished, what is gained, what is improved as result of what we do selectively for clients.

    So, I think you are on the right track in how you educating your clients about the phone issue. It’s not what you’re in business to do, but you can absolutely advise them and guide them on the other options and services out there who can solve that problem (if it even is one; all of my clients simply use voicemail when they don’t answer the phone themselves; it’s really not that big a deal.)

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