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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How to Add a Greeting to Your Virtual Phone

Set up a greeting for your virtual phone

If you’re using a virtual office phone from Alliance Virtual Offices, you’re probably already aware that there are tons of useful features on offer. To help you navigate your way around the system, we’ve produced a series of ‘How-To’ guides to help you.

Here, we’re focusing on how to add greetings to your phoneline. This isn’t a voicemail message, it’s an introduction for your callers. For instance, you might want to use the recording to add options, such as ‘Click 1 for Customer Support’. Or you might want to briefly introduce callers to your company, or offer instructions for specific services.

We’ll walk you through the process and of course, if you get stuck or if you need any further help along the way, please contact us or send us a message via our Facebook page.

Let’s get started…

  • Log into your Alliance Virtual Offices account (need help doing this?)
  • On the main ‘Account Information’ page, under ‘Select an Option’, click ‘My Virtual Phone’
  • On the next page, click the ‘Greetings’ button:
  • On the ‘Manage Greetings’ page, click the orange ‘Add a Greeting’ button

On the ‘Add a Greeting’ page, you can set up all the required features of your greeting.

  • Firstly, give your greeting a nickname – this could be ‘Company Intro’ or ‘Caller Options’
  • Under the ‘Restricted To’ dropdown, state which extension to which this greeting should be assigned. If you want it used across all phonelines, leave the option as ‘All’
  • If you want to play your new greeting while callers are on-hold, select ‘Yes’. Otherwise leave it as ‘No’.

Next, you need to record a message. There are 3 ways to do this:

1. Use an Automated System
Click ‘Text to Greeting’ and type your message into the field provided. Next, choose a “voice” from the ‘Select a voice’ dropdown list. To see how it sounds, click ‘Preview’ once you have chosen your voice (often with hilarious results!). You can even add sounds and special effects. Or if you prefer a standard response, click the ‘Use a template’ dropdown and choose one of the options.

2. Record From Your Phone
Click the “Click to Record a Greeting” button. A pop-up box will appear – enter your phone number, click “Call”, and begin recording your message after the prompt.

3. Upload an Existing Audio File
If you have pre-recorded a greeting, you can upload it by choosing the ‘Upload New File’ option. Ensure the file is saved on your computer, then click the ‘Browse’ button to search for the file (supported file formats include wav, mp3 and gsm). Once you have identified the file, select ‘Open’. Then click the ‘Upload’ button.

Be sure you have you have permission from the rightful owner before uploading copyrighted audio. See our Terms of Service for more info.

If you’re not confident recording your own voice files, you could purchase a premium greeting by clicking here.

How to Edit Your Virtual Office Phoneline Extension

Phoneline extensions

In this series of ‘How To’ guides we’re explaining how to navigate your way around the Alliance Virtual Offices system. We hope it will give you plenty of straightforward tips and tricks and help you to get the most out of your virtual office services.

If you’re using a virtual office phone, with or without a receptionist answering your calls, did you know that you can make changes to your extension number and user details anytime you wish? This is particularly useful if you have a team of people with their own private extensions, as it means you can quickly and easily edit settings or add/remove numbers as necessary.

It’s quick and easy to do. Here’s how:

  • Log into your Alliance Virtual Offices account (need help doing this?)
  • On the main ‘Account Information’ page, under ‘Select an Option’, click ‘My Virtual Phone’
  • On the next page, click the ‘Users & Extensions’ button:

Here on the ‘Manage Users and Extensions’ page, you can add, edit and remove extension numbers.

To edit user settings: In the Users table, select the user you wish to configure by clicking the “Edit” icon to its right. This will take you to the settings page for that user. From there you can set a nickname for the extension, specify the extension number, state who it is assigned to, assign a greeting and choose a time zone.

You can also specify voicemail settings here.

To delete an extension: In the Users table, select the user you wish to delete by clicking the “Delete” icon to its right. This will delete the user from your account.

To add a new user: Click the orange “Add an Extension” button. The options are:

  • Virtual Extension: This allows you to route calls into your account to multiple destinations, such as a cell phone, home phone or work phone.
  • Communicator: This places telephone calls over the Internet using your computer, rather than a traditional phone.
  • Mobile Extension: This allows you to use your account with your personal mobile device (iPhone, iPad or Android) and the Bria app from CounterPath Corporation. Active device with cellular service is required.
  • An IP phone or analog telephone adapter (ATA): This enables you send and receive calls from your account wherever you have internet access.

Please note that some of these services may require an additional fee.

You can also view and listen to each user’s greetings, view messages and access the address book.

To view greetings for a user: In the Users table, select the “Greetings” icon to the right of the relevant user’s name. This will take you to the Manage Greetings section where you can view and edit their greetings.

To view messages for a user: In the Users table, select the user you wish to configure by clicking the “Inbox” icon to its right. This will take you to the inbox for that user. From there you can listen to messages and access other options like Call Blocking, from the list on the left-hand side.

To view the address book: In the Users table, select the user you wish to view and click the “Address Book” icon to its right. This will take you to the address book for that user. From there you can view contacts, add new ones, create ‘groups’ of contacts, and import or export contact details in bulk.

We hope you found this advice useful. If you have any specific queries about using your virtual office phone, please contact us for help or send us a message via our Facebook page.

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Setting Up a Business? Read This First

Alliance Virtual's Smart Guide - Business Setup Checklist

Congratulations!

You’ve taken a momentous and exciting decision: to start your own business. Your emotions are probably swinging from one extreme to the other right now. Uncontainable excitement. Total exhaustion. Mild panic. Happiness.

We get it, because we’ve been there, and we’ve got all sorts of stories and experiences to help you. Of course you’ll want to navigate your own path, and so you should. But it doesn’t hurt to listen to some sane, solid advice from time to time.

How do you find such a thing? Glad you asked.

We’ve produced a Smart Guide that gives you the ins-and-outs of setting up a business. It’s called ‘Business Setup Checklist‘ and it’s got everything you need to help turn your raw ideas into (profitable) reality.

It’s smart because it’s not like any other guide out there. It’s not a blog, it’s not a white paper, it’s not a PDF, it’s not a brochure. It’s a collection of some of the most important, tried-and-tested pieces of advice from people who’ve been there and lived it, and it’s presented to you in an online format that’s easily accessible and fully interactive.

The guide is available on any device, anytime, and it’s always up-to-date. YOU can help shape it too. Got a question? Simply post a comment and let our experts answer it for you.

Oh, and it’s completely free.

You see, we’re a small business too, and we know what it’s like to be in those early, buzzy, can’t sleep, head-might-explode days. You need free advice, but more to the point, you need valuable advice. So, give it a go.

And while you’re at it, check out our small business services. Alliance Virtual Offices helps startups like you save time and money with budget-friendly secretarial services. For a business address, local phone number, a call answering service or meeting room hire – we’ve got it. Check out www.alliancevirtualoffices.com to find out more.

Get the Guide >>

And good luck! These are exciting times, and you’re standing on the brink of a life-changing experience. Your ideas might just change the world someday. Go for it and enjoy the ride.

Hate Listening to Voicemails? Get a Transcription Instead

Advice and Support,Support — Tags: , , , , — joanna @ 5:56 am on May 21, 2014

Hate listening to voicemails? Try Alliance Virtual's transcription service instead

Voicemails are irritating.

First you’re distracted by the call at the worst possible time. Then when you ring your voicemail number, you have to listen to an automated voice slowly, oh so slowly, spelling out the caller’s number and informing you that you have a new message. YES, I KNOW!

And to top it off, most of the time, that voicemail message is simply the sound of someone putting the phone down. Or asking you to return their call. A quick and unobtrusive email would suffice, right?

Happily, Alliance Virtual Offices has something snazzy up its sleeve so you never have to listen to a voicemail again.

Voicemail transcription

When you sign up to one of our virtual office call handling services, whether it’s a basic virtual office phone or a live receptionist call answering package with all the trimmings, you’ll get access to a Voicemail Transcription service.

That means you can read your voicemail rather than having to listen to the actual message. You can choose to have the message transcribed automatically, or have a real person do it for you. There’s a small fee for each, which is just $0.25 per human transcription (first 4 are free) or $1.50 per month for unlimited automated transcriptions.*

What’s more, you can switch this feature on or off for each phoneline extension. Here’s how…

How to Activate Voicemail Transcription

Transcription settings can be found in each extension’s “General Settings”.

  • Log into your Alliance Virtual Offices account (need help doing this?)
  • On the main ‘Account Information’ page, under ‘Select an Option’, click ‘My Virtual Phone’
  • On the next page, click the ‘Users & Extensions’ button:

  • In the list of extensions that are presented to you, look to the right and click the little ‘Edit’ button:

  • Here you can edit all the settings for that extension, including the actual extension number and the name of the person to whom it is assigned.
  • To set up voicemail transcription, scroll down the page until you see the ‘Voicemail’ header.
  • Alongside ‘Voicemail Transcription’, click the tick-box to ‘Transcribe voicemail messages to text’.
  • Choose from Human Assisted Transcriptions or Automated Transcriptions.
  • Further down the page under ‘Voicemail Notification Settings’ you can also decide how you want your voicemails to be sent to you, and in which format.
  • Once you’ve made your choices, click the ‘Save Changes’ button at the bottom.

Et voila! Pain-free voicemails that won’t ruin your day.

We hope you found this advice useful. If you have any specific queries about using your virtual office phone, please contact us for help or send us a message via our Facebook page.

*Please note prices may be subject to change. Correct as of 21st May 2014.

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Is Your Small Business Weighed Down by Admin? Try This.

Alliance Virtual Offices Smart Guide - Optimizing and Automating Administration

Admin.

Aside from taxes, it’s the least favorite activity of any business owner (unless you’re a virtual receptionist).

Admin is like a black hole. A productivity drain. It takes time and drags you away from the things that really matter – like connecting with clients, drumming up leads and growing your business.

Some studies, such as this Harvard Business Review, suggest that we spend up to 40% of our time on “discretionary activities”.

Wow. Imagine what you could do with an extra 40% at your disposal.

It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s within reach. How? Allow us to enlighten you.

Get Smart

Alliance Virtual Offices has recently published a series of Smart Guides. They’re packed with valuable startup information, real entrepreneurial advice and solid business support. No fluff, just plain good information. Even better, they’re completely free.

We’ve written a Smart Guide called ‘Optimizing and Automating Administration‘. Okay, it might not be your first choice of bedtime reading. But it’s got everything you need to know about how to take back your valuable time.

‘Optimizing and Automating Administration’ focuses on all the simple, repetitive processes that consume your time and energy. All those nagging little jobs that stack up and steal your productivity. This Smart Guide helps you to identify those tasks and automate them. It helps you refocus your energy, get more done with less, and get back to the good stuff.

Ready to kick some admin? Access the guide here

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the other guides in our series: Alliance Virtual Offices Smart Guides.

Your business will thank you for it!

How To Record Phone Calls for Customer Service Training

Call recording

Sometimes it’s necessary for companies to record incoming or outgoing phone calls. Whether it’s for legal purposes or for customer service training, here’s how we can help.

First, you’ll need to be an existing Alliance Virtual Offices customer and have a phone number or call answering package. Visit our website to get started. If you don’t want a receptionist to answer your calls, just choose the ‘VIRTUAL OFFICE PHONE 600′ option which gives you a phone number and recording options, along with a range of other useful call features.

How to Set Up Call Recording with Alliance Virtual Offices

Once you’ve selected the service you want, here’s how to set up a call recording function:

  • Log into your Alliance Virtual Offices account (need help doing this?)
  • On the main ‘Account Information’ page, under ‘Select an Option’, click ‘My Virtual Phone’
  • On the ‘Telephony Information’ screen, click the ‘Add+’ button next to ‘Call Recording’

  • On the next page, under the ‘Call Recording’ header alongside ‘Call Recording Status’, check the ‘On’ button
  • Select the number of recording minutes you need, per month
  • Alongside ‘Call Recording Mode’ choose which calls you want to monitor:
    - Incoming
    - Outgoing
    - All (records both incoming and outgoing calls)
    - Custom (you can select individual phone numbers to record incoming and outgoing calls)

Recorded calls are stored in your Call Logs for review and to save as .mp3 files.

You can have an audible ‘beep’ every 15 seconds that indicates call recording is in progress. To enable or disable this feature, click the ‘On’ or ‘Off’ button alongside the header: ‘Call Recording Beep (Every 15 sec)’

You can also record calls mid-conversation:

  • At anytime during a conversation, press * + 7
  • You will hear the prompt indicating Call Recording has begun.
  • There will be a brief pause on the line as your party hears the prompt indicating Call Recording has begun
  • To end Call Recording, press * + 7 again at anytime during the conversation
  • Visit the Call Logs page to access recorded conversations.

Please note: There are different laws that apply to call recording, please check your current state and the other party’s state and Federal laws before using this feature.

If at any time you wish to return to the main menu, return to the top of the screen and click the blue button, ‘Return to Main Admin Area’.

We hope you found this advice useful! Have we missed anything? If you have any specific queries about using your virtual office phone, please contact us to let us know or send us a message via our Facebook page.

Image source: StockImages

Launch Your Business with Confidence

Launching your own business? Wow, that’s (take your pick): Exciting. Energizing. Creative. Cool. Satisfying. New.

Intimidating. Unnerving. Frantic. Confusing. Uncertain. Scary.

For most of us, the entrepreneurial path can be all that, and it can change by the hour.

It’s one thing to have a great idea. The other thing is, you’ve still got to set up a real business, with real customers, real accounting, real contracts, a real business address, real receptionist, real business phone.

That’s when it starts to get a little more complicated. You feel a little panicky, and wonder, “What do I know about running a virtual company?”

Glad you asked.

Too Much Information

If being an entrepreneur is your calling, you’ve probably already read some books and blogs, browsed a few magazines and joined a group or two. Good for you. Those are smart things to do.

Clearly, there’s no shortage of information for entrepreneurs, and that’s part of the problem. You have to do a lot of legwork to find all the basic information you need to get started.  What if everything you needed to know to start a virtual business was all collected for you, all in one place, all online so you could get at it any time you wanted?

That’s what we thought, too.

Go to the Guide

The advantage is this series captures the most essential advice in one place. And it comes to you from people who are experts at supporting — and surprising — self-employed, entrepreneurs, consultants and others who are trying to launch virtual businesses.

Start with “How to Run a Virtual Office” for advice and tools that will help lay a strong foundation for your virtual operation. From simple tips about to-do lists, to tackling the more complex tasks like legal business structures, the guides have you covered with topics like these:

  • Virtual Office Administration
  • Virtual Sales and Marketing
  • Virtual Finance and Accounting
  • Virtual Staffing and Outsourcing
  • Virtual Operations and Organization

“How to Run a Virtual Company” does so much of the legwork for you, you’ll feel like you’ve hired your own professional start-up guru.

That’s not too far from the truth. At Alliance Virtual Offices, we know a thing or two about starting a business. We’ve been through it ourselves, and our clients are people like you, just starting out or taking a fledgling business to the next level.

Who better than Alliance Virtual Offices to have your back?

We’ve done the research and found the resources. The “How to Run a Virtual Office” guide is packed with links to useful online resources for things you’ll need, like:

  • Calendars
  • Digital contracts
  • Team collaboration
  • Bookkeeping
  • Invoicing
  • Legal advice
  • Setting up a virtual office space
  • Using a receptionist

In the sections on marketing, you’ll learn about the virtue and value of email (yes, it still works,) the latest practices in online advertising, and social media tools. It’s all there, all in one place. You don’t have to spend hours or days chasing down this critical up-front information. Instead, you can use that time for something fun, like selling your stuff.

You’re welcome.

Hold the Phone and Shake Your Groove Thing…

Advice and Support,Start-up Guides,Support — Tags: , , — McDuffie @ 2:50 am on April 16, 2014

Check out Alliance Virtual's hold music

Hold the Phone!

Since when has being placed on hold actually been a GOOD thing? Since now, that’s when.

Thanks to the fabulous selection of premium hold music you get to choose from when you sign up for a virtual phone plan through Alliance Virtual, your callers will delight in being put on hold, rather than the typical reaction (yawwwwwwwn).

Sometimes its all about the little things in life, and while the hold music that you select for your business calls may rank low on your scale of important things, it can inject a little bit of fun into the days of anyone who calls you.

Rather than boring, hum-drum music that plays on a mind-numbing loop, your callers will be treated to something a bit more fun and fresh. A little Miles Davis perhaps? Or maybe you want The Beatles to serenade your callers. Whichever musical act you choose, you can rest assured that your clients and callers will be significantly more amused by them than by the typical, clichéd hold music that should only be reserved for torture chambers and maybe elevators.

How to Change Your Hold Music

To select or change your hold music, simply follow these instructions:

  • Login to your Alliance Virtual account (need help doing this?)
  • Click on the “My Virtual Phone” link from the Main Admin area.
  • You will see an option for selecting New Premium Hold Music (Click the button that says, “Add It Today”).
  • From this page, you can control your telephony features and set up which type of music you’d like for your held calls.
How to change your Alliance Virtual hold music

Simple and affordable at only $0.99 a month, this is one small choice that will make a big impact on your callers’ experiences.

Now, all you have to do is ask yourself the million-dollar question: are you a Springsteen kind of person, or is Daft Punk more your speed?

Image source: ImageryMajestic, freedigitalphotos.net

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