How To Set Up a Live Receptionist Service with Alliance Virtual Offices

Advice and Support,Support — Tags: , , , , , , — joanna @ 6:44 am on October 8, 2014

Get started with your Live Receptionist

So you’ve just signed up for a Live Receptionist service from Alliance Virtual Offices. Great news! Now you can say goodbye to pesky spam calls and interruptions, and hello to silky smooth customer service for your clients.

Now that you’ve added a star team of virtual receptionists to your company, it’s essential to make sure they’re prepped and ready to take your calls.

Before they can start, we need a few more details from you to complete the set-up. This information will help our receptionists to understand more about your business so they can answer your calls professionally and knowledgeably. You will be contacted by one of our Customer Service Representatives to request this information, so you can simply reply to their correspondence or contact us with your answers, here.

Here’s what we need:

  1. A short description of your company. This helps our receptionists answer basic customer questions, such as “What do you do?”
  2. How would you like your calls to be answered? We suggest, “Thank you for calling ‘Your Company Name’, how may I direct your call?”
  3. Once the call has been answered, should the receptionist:
    • Take a message and email it to you,
    • Screen the call for you,
    • Or transfer it to your voicemail?
  4. If you have your calls screened but you’re not available to take the call:
    • Do you want the receptionist to take a message and email it to you,
    • Or would you prefer to have the call transferred to your voicemail?
  5. Should our Live Receptionists offer your address or other business information to callers if asked? Please note, we will only give out information that you have approved.
  6. Are there any specific pointers our receptionists should know about your company, in case a client asks? Such as:
    • List of products or services,
    • Online booking functionality,
    • Opening hours?
  7. For after-hours calls, do you prefer to:
    • Have the calls forwarded to your cell phone,
    • Or sent to your voicemail?
  8. What message would you like to include in your after-hours voicemail greeting? We will be happy to record this for you, but you can also upload your own recording via the Alliance Virtual Offices client log-in area.

For further help getting started, we have plenty of guides to assist you. Here are a few that may help:

And of course if you have questions, suggestions or additional requirements from your live receptionist services, or with relation to virtual offices in general, please contact us and we’ll be more than happy to help!

Don’t Settle for Starbucks: Book a Meeting Room Online

Advice and Support,Support — Tags: , , , , — joanna @ 7:54 am on September 25, 2014

Conference room in New York

For virtual office users, startups, freelancers and travelling professionals, most of the time a home office works just fine.

But what happens when you need to meet a client? Or impress a potential investor?

You don’t want them in your home – unless of course you’re an interior designer living in a beautifully-kept showhome. A coffee shop might be the next best thing. It’s free, and the coffee is good. But the downsides – wobbly tables, cramped corners, noisy chit-chat – don’t exactly give the right impression.

So why not hire a meeting room for an hour or two?

It’s professional, it’s a real business environment, and it definitely sets the scene. No doubt your client will appreciate the effort you’ve gone to, and will recognise that you’re serious about your business.

On the subject of cost, take a look at these examples (prices correct as of September 2014):

  • High-rise New York business center on 3rd Ave, meeting rooms starting from $65 per hour with Wi-Fi, phone access and AV equipment. A day office starts from just $11 per hour. More >
  • Smart business center in Boca Raton, with a shared lounge from $25 per hour or a private meeting room from $35 per hour. Day offices just $15 per hour. More >
  • Corporate offices in central Austin, TX with a large conference room from $43 per hour with phone usage, Wi-Fi, AV equipment, projector and parking. More >

That’s just a flavour. Not likely to break the bank, right?

There are hundreds more meeting rooms for hire through the website, all of which can be booked online too. Here’s a quick step-by-step of how to book your conference room online:

  1. Choose your location and browse the meeting rooms available. Select your preferred meeting venue.
  2. Enter your date and time frame.
  3. Choose your style of meeting room and capacity. Add any additional services.
  4. Click ‘Submit’.
  5. Fill in your contact details and billing information.
  6. Once you have accepted the Terms of Service, click ‘Continue’.
  7. Your booking will be verified and payment processed. You’ll receive a room reservation and payment confirmation.
  8. You’re all set! All that’s left to do is attend the meeting and pay the remaining balance, if applicable.

If any problems are encountered with your booking, you will be notified within 24 hours from the point of booking.

Simple. And what’s more, virtually all conference room venues offer a great cup of coffee too – so there really is no excuse to hold your next meeting in a coffee shop.

Goodbye wobbly tables, hello new business partnerships!

Got a Virtual Office Question? Try Our Live Chat

Advice and Support,Support — Tags: , , , — joanna @ 9:45 am on September 12, 2014

Live chat

If you’ve paid a visit to the Alliance Virtual Offices website recently, you have probably been invited to chat with our customer service team.

During business hours, you’ll notice a little pop-up box in the bottom right of your screen. Here you can type a question and engage in an online chat with one of our virtual office experts.

You can ask anything you want – within reason of course! We have a team of representatives who know the Alliance Virtual Offices services inside out, so you can challenge them to answer your virtual office questions.

Perhaps you’re new to the concept of virtual offices and you want to understand how it all works. Maybe you’ve got a specific question about a building you’ve seen on our website, or you want help booking a meeting room.

Whatever your query – whether it’s how to set up your VOIP phone system, how to pay with Bitcoin or how to send call answering instructions to your live receptionist – simply type in your question and we’ll do the rest.

Why not give it a try?

And of course if you prefer to speak to the team direct, simply contact us toll free on +1 888.869.9494 or email services@alliancevirtualoffices.com. You can even drop us a message on Facebook.

We look forward to chatting with you!

Starting Up a Business From Home: 5 Perils to Avoid

Advice and Support,Start-up Guides,Virtual Office — Tags: , , — joanna @ 11:38 am on September 5, 2014

Perils of working from home

It’s estimated that over 60% of people who start a business do so from home. Businesses can be run from a spare bedroom, the attic, or even the garden shed.

Commonly, virtual office users spend much of their time working from home – particularly startups, independent professionals and small businesses with remote employees.

Why? It’s low-cost and therefore less risky than diving into an office contract. There’s no commute, which saves enormous amounts of time. It’s handy for working parents. And it’s informal, which is often a welcome change from corporate environments.

However, working from home is not a perfect solution. So here are five perils to avoid when setting up your business from home:

The Kitchen Office:
Take it from us, it doesn’t work. Working from the dining room table or the kitchen breakfast bar for prolonged periods of time is a recipe for expensive physiotherapy. Expect all manners of neck, back and shoulder aches and pains. You will also miss your desk and storage cupboards immensely. Set yourself up properly in a spare room or behind some partitioning, and install comfortable furniture with appropriate storage and filing systems.

Distractions:
As quiet as it may initially seem, working from home brings all sorts of distractions. The postman, the neighbours who decided to pop round when they saw your car in the drive, the family visits: there isn’t much you can do about it, other than ignore the doorbell. What you can do is tell family and friends that you work standard office hours, because those are the hours your clients work. Refuse daytime invitations and reschedule for evenings or weekends – they’ll soon get the message.

Work Boundaries:
When you work from home it’s surprisingly easy to let the boundaries between work and home life blur. You’ll soon get caught checking emails whilst cooking dinner, or working while the TV is on, or taking calls during the school run. This flexibility can have its advantages, as it means you can finish deadlines or tasks from the comfort of your home. But don’t let it invade your private life – set boundaries and keep the two apart. Family life is too precious to be shared.

Patchy Phone Signal:
Most home-based business owners use a cell phone, rather than giving out their home landline number. However if you’re in an area of patchy signal, there’s nothing more annoying than trying to communicate with clients and getting constantly cut off. Other than changing your network provider, try a virtual phone system. You can have a live receptionist answer calls in your company name and re-direct them or take a message. You can also hire a local area phone number, which gives you an established ‘local look’ and protects your home number.

Corporate Snobbery:
Business owners are often guilty of associating established, trustworthy firms with those based in corporate offices. However, we know that’s not always the case. So rather than giving out your home address to all and sundry, and inciting a little snobbery, use a virtual office mailing address. It’s low-cost and you can use it as your company HQ – even if you only go there to pick up mail. Plus, you can get discounted use of meeting rooms, which is ideal should you need to meet clients face-to-face.

How do you deal with the perils of working from home?

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How to Pay for Virtual Offices with Bitcoin

Advice and Support,Start-up Guides,Support — Tags: , , , — joanna @ 6:37 am on August 21, 2014

How to pay for a virtual office with Bitcoin

Got Bitcoin?

Did you know you can use it to rent a business mailing address, book meeting rooms, and even have your very own receptionist answer calls for you? Alliance Virtual Offices has a global network of virtual offices and business services, with fantastic support packages on offer to help your business get off the ground – and stay there.

Allow us to explain.

Most fledgling and startup firms don’t need a physical office – but they do need an office address with a local area code. That’s where a virtual office comes in. Rather than paying extortionate fees for bricks and mortar, you can simply hire the address instead. When mail turns up at your chosen building address, it will be redirected to the destination of your choice. You can also add a local phone number, and have a receptionist answer calls in your company name. It’s all part of the service.

That’s what we do. Now back to Bitcoin.

As a virtual company, it’s only right that we accept a virtual currency. We’ve been accepting Bitcoin since 2013, and we offer it as an online payment option alongside the regular credit card method.

Here’s how to pay Alliance Virtual Offices with Bitcoin:

  • Checkout: Once you’re ready to checkout, you’ll see the option to pay with Bitcoin under the ‘Payment Information’ header. Click ‘Pay With Bitcoin’ and tick ‘I Agree to the Terms of Service’.

Paying for virtual offices with Bitcoin

  • Click ‘Continue’.
  • Review your information and booking on the following page. If you are satisfied with the information, click the Bitcoin payment button to complete your order.
  • When you click the Bitcoin payment button, you will be presented with an invoice which you can pay with your Bitcoin wallet. Note, you may need to send further documentation to Alliance Virtual Offices so that your Virtual Office services can be confirmed.

Bitcoin

As ever, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help out.

Happy (virtual) shopping!

Setting Up a Business? 5 Ways to Build a Support Network

Advice and Support,Start-up Guides — joanna @ 5:56 am on August 12, 2014

Why it's important to build a network

Since our early days as a humble startup, we’ve garnered all sorts of useful tips and tricks on how to setup and run a business.

One important rule we’ve learned is this: When you decide to go it alone, make sure you’re not completely alone.

It doesn’t matter who you are, how great your product is or whatever size of startup budget you’ve got. To be successful in business, you need people around you. We’re not just talking clients – we’re talking mentors, investors, partners, idea-generators, supporters, critics, and celebrators.

We’ve already put plenty of our homegrown knowledge into our Smart Guide, Business Setup Checklist (it’s yours for free, here).

Check out some of our top tips below. What would you add?

Meet like-minded people

Call it collaboration, business meetups, after-hours drinks, whatever you like. Try to hook up with a local business group for an informal gathering once in a while. You might find it in a coworking space (pay-as-you-go shared workspaces) or in your nearest coffee shop. Try meetup.com, look for get-togethers on EventBrite, or search for social media groups.

Do the networking thing

Check out your local business networking groups and get mingling. Networking always seems a bit awkward at first but trust us – the more you do, the easier it becomes.

Learn something new

Head to your nearest college or business school, or take seminars, and learn something new. While you’re at it, you’ll meet new people with shared interests.

Attend industry events

Sign up for events that are relevant to your industry. You’ll pick up valuable information and get to know people in your field, which could include competitors and key influencers.

Seek a mentor

You’ll often find mentor programmes from alumni groups, business-owner support groups, local government initiatives and trade associations. You could even search LinkedIn for role models, then contact that person to see if she or he will mentor you.

Why is it so important to create networks? Because there is safety and security in numbers, and the more people you have around you, the more support you will generate for your small business. Your network will give you advice, offer recommendations and share their experiences. That sort of person-to-person contact can’t be bought.

Check out other useful ideas and recommendations in our series of free Smart Guides.

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7 Ways to Be the Biggest and Best Startup Business (on a bootstrap)

Advice and Support,Start-up Guides — Tags: , , , , , — joanna @ 5:09 am on August 7, 2014

7 ways to improve your business on a budget

When you’re setting up a business, you’ve got 101 million things on your mind. Marketing, product development, sales, tax, revenue, client retention, cash flow… does it ever end?

Above all, you want to project the right image to clients and potential investors. Regardless of how fiercely your feet are paddling under the surface, to the outside world you want to appear cool, calm and professional.

Happily, there are scores of subtle ways to help complement your shiny professional exterior – and they don’t need to bust your startup-sized budget. Here are 7 ways to boost your business on a bootstrap:

1. Marketing with Freemiums:

There are tons of free platforms out there to help market your business. For instance rather than hiring a web designer, use a template-based website tool or look for website hosting and set-up packages. Wix is one example. For email marketing, try Mailchimp – they offer a good basic mailshot system with premium features. And tools like WooRank help you to understand how your website is ranking on search engines and how you can improve your SEO.

2. Branding:

Your branding sets you apart from other businesses. Once you’ve settled on a brand, including a logo, business name and colour scheme, be sure to use this across all company documentation. From your website theme to letterheads, business cards to email signatures, even the way you answer the phone – keep it uniform. It makes you look much more professional and established.

3. Customer Service:

If there’s one thing that demands investment, it’s customer service. Whether it’s just you, or a partnership, or a remote team, it’s essential that customer service is at the top of the agenda. After all, your customers keep you in business. Invest in training and establish a set of rules and regulations, including your own high expectations. Monitor performance and re-enforce your standards regularly.

4. Go Digital:

We live in a digital age. So why not consider using digital currency? Bitcoin users are very much in the minority, but as a currency it offers plenty of advantages for small businesses, including low costs. Find out more about the pros and cons of Bitcoin here.

5. Test Everything:

Not every marketing or sales strategy is right for your business, but you won’t know whether it’s working if you don’t test it. You could be throwing money away on worthless PPC campaigns, or an SEO agency, or cold-calling firms, for nothing. If you’re using a third party, request weekly reports demonstrating how their services are adding value. If it’s not achieving the right results in a realistic time-frame, it’s time to stop.

6. Don’t Discount, Add Value:

Don’t be too quick to cut prices. Discounts come straight out of your profits. Instead, focus on how you add value and hold your price wherever possible. Also analyze the way you communicate your strengths and value to ensure the ‘message’ is getting across. Adjust accordingly, or consider contracting a short-term sales marketer to help tweak your messages. Use freelancing ‘gig’ websites to post your requirements and hire help by-the-hour.

7. Go Virtual:

You probably don’t need a permanent office, but you will more than likely need a commercial address. You can rent a building address and use it as your official business address, without paying to use the facilities. Mail can be received there and forwarded to your home address. This is known as a virtual office, and means you get the advantage of a recognizable business address without the office overheads. You can also have receptionists answer calls in your company name, too. Find out more here.

Don’t forget to try our free Smart Guides for more savvy, sensible business advice.

What other boot-strapping business tips and tricks do you recommend?

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Should Your Business Accept Bitcoin?

Advice and Support,Support — Tags: , , , , — joanna @ 6:22 am on July 31, 2014

Is Bitcoin good or bad for business?

Bitcoin is never far from the headlines. You’ve probably seen it cropping up in the business and financial pages from time to time. You may even have wondered, should my business start accepting Bitcoin?

First let’s take a look at how it works.

Bitcoin is a digital currency based on an open source, peer-to-peer payment network. Think of it as cash for the Internet. It’s a synthetic currency kept in your own ‘digital wallet’, with payment taking place by transfers. Bitcoins can be bought and sold for real money at a Bitcoin exchange, although there is no central repository – it’s powered by its users.

To the uninitiated, Bitcoin seems quite complex. But there’s no denying that the concept of digital currency is quite a breakthrough.

Now let’s take a look at the reasons for, and against, using Bitcoin for business:

3 Reasons Bitcoin is Good For Business

  1. Low fees: Bitcoin’s complex cryptographic security infrastructure means it’s generally faster and cheaper to process transactions than standard methods. Payments can be made and received with virtually no fees – although they are recommended for faster confirmation of transactions. The cost and speed is considered an advantage, especially for small businesses with limited funding reserves.
  2. Anti-fraud security: Bitcoin payments are irreversible, which negates the problem of ‘chargeback fraud’. In addition to Bitcoin’s cryptographic security algorithm, users must also secure their own wallet and payment requests. Security is a concern for any business and while no system is infallible, Bitcoin is considered a relatively secure network.
  3. Fast payments: According to Bitcoin.org, bitcoins can be transferred from Africa to Canada in 10 minutes. As bitcoins have no physical location and no intermediate financial institutions to process transactions, there are virtually no delays. This is an advantage for smaller businesses, particularly if you are selling goods, as it means you should receive payments faster.

3 Reasons Against Using Bitcoin for Business

  1. Volatile investment: Bitcoin is perhaps best-known for its wildly changeable value, which can shift from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars in just a matter of days. Like any investment, you should bide your time and trade when conditions are most favorable.
  2. More legwork: As a new currency, it’s not necessarily easy to get to grips with Bitcoin. Plus you’ll need to monitor the value closely. You may need to adjust your pricing on a daily basis or use a pricing system that exchanges rates in real time. And what do you do with your stash of bitcoins? Do you spend, invest, or keep them in the hope that their value goes up? You’ll need to invest time and effort in understanding the process to ensure you don’t lose out financially.
  3. It’s an emerging concept: As yet, Bitcoin isn’t widely accepted so the amount of people who buy or sell goods using the digital currency is limited, so it shouldn’t be offered as a standalone payment method. Many people are buying bitcoins as an investment too, and are holding onto them rather than spending online or in shops, which further reduces the number of people using or trading them.

All things considered, Bitcoin is a young and emerging currency which, as we have seen, is by no means perfect. However, no financial system is flawless, and the concept of online currency is particularly fitting in today’s digital world.

As with any business investment, do your homework, weigh up the pros and cons, and enter the world of digital currency with as much information and foresight as possible.

The good news is, more and more reputable online vendors are beginning to accept Bitcoin, including WordPress, Reddit and yours truly – Alliance Virtual Offices. We started accepted Bitcoin in 2013 which made Alliance Virtual Offices the first virtual office provider to accept Bitcoin as a payment method (so if you’re wondering where to spend yours, now you know!)

Does your business accept Bitcoin? Or are you keeping clear of digital currency? Let us know – we’d love to hear your reasons.

Running a Virtual Company: The Importance of Being Contactable

Make sure new business contacts can find you

What’s one of the most obvious requirements when setting up a business?

Being contactable.

Putting your contact details out there, and making yourself readily available for incoming communication, is such an obvious requirement that it’s almost an afterthought. But imperative it is, and that’s where we can help.

Check out our free smart guide – How to Run a Virtual Company – and you’ll find a whole chapter dedicated to the business of setting up contact details. From hiring a business mailing address to having a real receptionist answer your calls, there are plenty of ways to improve the way you handle incoming communication, whilst ramping up your business image at the same time.

Here’s how it works, in a nutshell:

Business Address

You might find yourself working from anywhere, but you’ll still need a permanent, physical address for your company records.

Why? For one, it’s ‘expected’. New clients often like to see where you are, and a permanent address often instills confidence. You’ll also need one for postal correspondence, such as receiving checks or signed contracts. Plus, some lenders require an actual business address to process loan applications.

Of course you could use your home address. But do you really want to receive important mail at home? Or advertise your home address to the world? Or risk potential clients showing up on your doorstep?

Using a virtual office address is one way to get round it. Alliance Virtual Offices lists over 600 physical location addresses that include prestigious spots from San Diego to New York City, along with international locations in dozens of countries. It’s affordable too – some locations start from as little as $50 per month. Check out the full list here.

Business Phone Number

If you don’t want to use your personal cell or home phone for business, you can acquire a dedicated business or toll-free number for a low monthly fee.

You can also add slick business solutions such as a call handling service, with the help of trained receptionists, or set up specific rules such as forwarding unanswered calls to your cell phone. Check out Alliance Virtual’s call and receptionist options here.

Business Meeting Venue

There will come a time when you’ll need to meet people relevant to your business – which might be clients, suppliers, investors or new staff. You could meet at their offices, or for informal meetings a coffee shop sometimes works. For important or private meetings however, you’ll need to set the tone and make the right first impressions.

That’s where meeting room hire comes in. It allows you to rent a professional, private space with all the amenities of an established company. Check out Alliance Virtual’s list of online meeting rooms, which are located in hundreds of locations all over the world.

That’s just a handful of ways to improve your chances of new business success through the power of effective communication.

To dig deeper into some of the most important requirements when setting up a new business, be sure to check out Alliance Virtual’s free smart guide, here: How to Run a Virtual Company

Over and out…

3 Ways to Automate Your Admin And Breathe Easier

Automate your admin and take back your valuable time

As a startup, small business owner or freelancer, you know just how valuable your time is.

Yet the frustrating thing is, we seem to spend most of it on time-sapping things that don’t earn money. Yes, admin, we’re looking at YOU.

Admin is a productivity drain, but unfortunately, it’s a necessity. What small business owners need to realise is that there are smarter ways to deal with it. And those ways can help you take back your most valuable commodity: TIME.

With the help of our free Smart Guide, Optimizing & Automating Administration, we show you how to make the most of that prized strategy – Business Process Automation (BPA) – and save your business buckets of time and money.

Here’s a sneaky peek at some of the key procedures outlined in our guide:

Tip 1: Batch & Bundle
Firstly, list all the most common tasks involved in running your business. Then it’s time to batch and bundle.

What does that mean? Basically, stop dealing with things as they come in. Calls, emails, invoices, the lot. Instead, look at your list of tasks and strategize how to best batch and bundle each one. You might assign a specific task to a Friday, or the third Wednesday of every month, or every morning between 10.00 – 11.00am. The more batching and bundling you do, the better.

Tip 2: Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect process. Sometimes things skitter off track so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go to plan.

Still, it helps to have an outline of what you expect to get done on any given day. Smarter scheduling can help you to deal with the unexpected – it can help you to prioritize, understand what needs to happen when, and how much time each task will take. Book blocks of time into your calendar or whatever software tool you’re using, and be sure to allow for the unexpected.

Tip 3: Delegate
We’re not machines. There comes a time when you have to realise that you can’t do everything yourself. So delegate.

If you’ve already got a team onboard, think about what skills each person brings to the party. Ask each member of your team which tasks they would most like to do – but be sure to share out the grunt work fairly too (someone’s got to do it).

For everything else, outsource. Outsourcing is much better than it used to be, and thanks to the wonders of technology you now have a world of talent at your fingertips. Advertise tasks on freelancing sites to connect with the right talent, at the right price.

Tools to help you

Check out the guide for some top recommendations of online tools and apps to help you. The guide is free and there’s no lengthy sign-up process. Or try extending your virtual team by contacting Alliance Virtual Office. Our range of outsourcing services is quite extensive and specifically geared to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Automate. Breathe. Aaaaand relax.

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