Lessons learned: Ruby’s 15 years.

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Ruby Receptionists Birthday

June 2, 2018, marks 15 years in business for Ruby® Receptionists and I can hardly believe it. I’m incredibly grateful for the amazing customers and employees who brought us to this milestone! To celebrate our anniversary, I’m sharing some pivotal lessons I have learned during each of these wonderful years. Whether you’re running a business, prepping to launch a startup, or dreaming of an entrepreneurial future, I hope these reflections help you on your journey!

2003: Great service really does win business.

When I started Ruby, I really did think we were here to help small businesses by taking an essential task (answering and handling phone calls) off their plates. Having been a receptionist myself in a former career, I thought being nice, listening, and doing whatever we possibly could to provide a helpful experience was simply table stakes to answering phone calls. But our customers spoke early and often—they let us know the Ruby caller experience was making a difference in their business’ success. They stuck around and referred new business to us. Today, customer referrals remain the top source of customers for us, and it brings me great personal joy to know we are helping other businesses grow by keeping alive that personal caller experience.

Bonus lesson: Don’t put your coffee machine, your microwave, and your telecommunications server on the same circuit.

2004: Cash and financial management is a matter of survival.

As much as we were off to the races with our WOW-worthy service, those first couple of years trying to get to scale were rough, and there were a few payroll runs that left mere pennies in our checking account. Had we waited for an outside bookkeeper to finish doing the books to know where we stood each month, we might not be here today.

When it was a matter of business life and death, I practiced daily cash management. Managing the timing of our cash outlays, projecting our inflows, knowing our break-even points, and understanding the difference between income on the books and positive cash flow were all part of this rigorous, business-saving process. Ruby #2, Paddy McCaffrey-Allen, still teases me today about my passionate plea to not buy “even one pencil!” I know many of you are in that cash-critical ramp-up stage and rely on us to deliver value that exceeds our price. Our recent phone number feature additions were designed to help you eliminate a phone bill, and we are working to add more customized packages this year to more closely match your needs.

2005: Ask your employees for feedback.

You might know Ruby as an award-winning employer of choice, having been recognized nationally for years as a great place to work. I confess that wasn’t always the case. It took us until year three to conduct our first ever employee survey. I was so nervous! As a small business owner, the thought of someone not feeling valued at my company felt personal. But at the urging of an employee, I did it. And, while it was hard to read some of the comments, it served as the beginning of the journey to becoming the employer we are today.

The big takeaway from the survey was to regularly make sure each employee knew how they were making a difference—in the lives of our callers and customers, and in the success of Ruby. And the impact of employees who feel valued in the work they do? Strong employee retention and an aligned workforce fired up to deliver on the mission.

2006: Surprise! Other business owners are going through the same challenges that we are.

Being a business owner can be a lonely experience. We bear the weight of the success of our organization and the livelihood of our employees. When faced with challenges, it’s not always appropriate to confide in our staff, and our friends with stable, paying jobs don’t seem to relate. Don’t you sometimes feel that someone, somewhere, has already figured out the solution to the problem you’re facing? That was me. But in 2006, I found my peer group by joining the Entrepreneurs Organization, and it was a game-changer. They serve as an informal business advisory board, and getting an up-close look at some of the challenges other business owners face means I get to learn from their experiences.

Bonus lesson: Put your domain name on auto-renew!

2007: KPIs and company dashboards help ensure your customers, employees, and financial stakeholders are all being considered.

If you are ever in Portland and come by for the Ruby tour, ask someone to show you our performance dashboards. It surprises many that a company so focused on people and service is out front with data measurement and performance benchmarking. But here’s the thing: our dashboards are a critical tool to ensure we are delivering what we intend to our customers and our employees. In 2007, KPIs and dashboards were foreign to us. It was only after a desperate plea by our overworked receptionists that I dug into the data. There, I discovered we had grown our customer count far faster than our employees to support it, and our service and employee happiness were suffering.

Today, our dashboards are built with a “balanced scorecard” approach, measuring performance, service quality, customer happiness, and employee happiness all on the same page. When red, our KPIs aren’t meant to be punitive, but just like the warning lights on your car’s dashboard, a red KPI signals that a key function might be out of whack, and this alert can save us from a breakdown.

Bonus lesson: Mistakes are the fertile ground of innovation!

2008: Another reminder that customers and businesses alike truly value personal connection and will support businesses that make them feel heard.

Ahhhhh, 2008. I’m guessing many of you have your own make-or-break stories of the great economic downturn of our lifetime. And since this is a 15-year celebration piece, you can guess how it turned out for us.

But back then, I truly didn’t know if Ruby was going to survive. The Dow was on its crazy decline towards a loss in value of 65%, and our economic outlook was downright scary. The question I ended up asking was not, “how are we going to survive,” but, “If we’re going down, how do we want to be remembered?” Turns out, the answer to both questions was the same: that in this intensely stressful time for business owners and employees alike, in an era where cost-cutting measures all but eliminated good customer service in other companies, we lived to make a difference in the lives of others through kind, caring, personal interactions. Our employees rallied, and we stepped up our service to find ways to show our customers that we were on their team, that their success was our success, and that there would always be a friendly voice on the other end of the line to help them get through the day.

2009: Know what you stand for and surround yourself with people who are aligned with that mission.

The strategy of 2008 serves as the pivotal lesson of our 15-year life. We grew our customer count 30% in 2009. We took those lessons, and from them, built our formal mission, vision, and values. You can read them here. Today, those guiding principles help us attract and retain employees. They help us make business decisions. And they help us stay focused on delivering our customers the service they expect and deserve.

2010: Every touchpoint matters.

One day, as I was deeply engaged with whatever was on my computer screen, I was interrupted by a knock on my open office door. I looked up to find not a fellow Ruby, but an acquaintance and potential customer standing in the doorway. “Funny,” he said. “The receptionist company has no receptionist. I wandered around your office to eventually find you without so much as a ‘hello!’”

Ouch! That day, I realized your brand and your vision don’t just show up in the service you provide. It shows up everywhere: how you greet people in your office, how your website looks, how your physical office looks, and even how you and your employees show up in the community. Longtime Ruby and customer experience evangelist Christina Burns, our VP of Customer Success, wrote an awesome e-book on how to ensure every communication across many of your touchpoints are delivering a great experience. You can find that here.

2011: Investing in technology is critical to delivering service at scale.

In 2011, we launched ROS, the software that allows our Ruby receptionists to deliver our uniquely personal caller experience. Back in the day, we had to rely on our fading memories and charming personalities to deliver great service. But we all know that has limits. ROS enables us greet callers with the right time of day no matter the time zone of our customers, and whispers in our receptionists’ ears to ensure we are pronouncing your company names properly. Today, it’s integrated with your calendars and contact lists through our mobile app, so we know just how to treat your callers, when and where to transfer callers, and what information to gather when you’re not taking calls.

Bonus lesson: Switching your entire tech platform and physically moving your business all in three weeks’ time can wreak havoc on employee morale.

2012: Incent, Inspire, and Empower your employees to deliver your mission at scale.

This blog post sums up our employee engagement philosophy perfectly!

2013: The achievement of a long-term goal can be accomplished with clear metrics, a path, and a team who is aligned and focused.

Back in 2008, our team did a vision exercise: What would Ruby look like at 10x our current size? What would our culture look like? Our offering? How many employees would we have? Customers? What would our jobs look like? Our benefits? The vision exercise was followed by another exercise to explore what it might take to achieve that vision. Those two exercises created an excitement towards achieving the vision of growing 10x, and the strategy and execution path to get there. Then, we worked the plan and achieved a goal that five years earlier felt like a fantasy. For those of you who like the sounds of this, Verne Harnish’s Mastering the Rockefeller Habits remains my favorite small business strategic planning resource book.

2014: Choose your investors wisely.

In 2014, I decided to explore selling part of the company to an outside fund. While we had many suitors, I was uber-paranoid about what might happen to our culture, our customers, and our people. So, I resisted my natural full-speed-ahead entrepreneurial tendencies and took the time to really get to know the interested parties and how they operated. In the end, the decision was much more than financial. It hinged on the belief that the future of Ruby—its customers, its services, and its employees—was in better hands with the right financial partner (Updata) than if we had continued to go it alone.

2015: The right investor can provide WAAAAY more than capital.

Wow. A whole new world opens up when you have the backing of a reputable investment firm. Connections with other CEOs. Access to data benchmarking. Generous access to expertise. The ability to attract senior talent. Even an ear to listen to your biggest challenges. I took a bet that Ruby would be in better hands with UpData than if we had continued to go it alone, but I really didn’t know the extent of it. Taken with the lesson of 2014, the right investor can bring far more than just growth capital.

2016 Just when you thought you had it all figured all out, you find yourself at the beginning of a learning curve.

Some lessons are more humbling than others. 2016’s lesson was one of those. I had to learn how to lead all over again. Ruby had grown and changed, and I was still leading like the scrappy entrepreneur that got us through the early years—namely by being in everyone’s business. But as you grow, and you are lucky enough to hire people that are smarter than you in their respective disciplines, that’s a recipe for watching talent walk out the door. One of the great thought leaders on culture-powered businesses, Paul Spiegelman, nudged me to tell this story on a pretty big platform. You can read the story here.

Bonus Lesson: That’s OK.

2017: The business phone call is more important than ever.

I’ve been asked more than once if I ever imagined running a business with hundreds of employees back when I started Ruby. And truthfully, back in 2003, I wasn’t even sure the phone call would be a means of communication 15 years later. But here we sit, with business phone calls not on the decline, but on a rapid ascent—driven by the rise in mobile search and an “instant answer” culture. And phone calls aren’t just on the rise; they’re more important than ever. One study reported that 80% of callers are likely to become repeat customers after a positive phone experience. With phone calls having the best success rate for converting leads into customers, I can say with confidence that the phone call is the most important touchpoint of the buyer customer journey.

2018: We’re just getting started.

Through the ups and downs, the millions of phone calls, and the thousands of businesses served, my passion for helping small business succeed through meaningful human interaction is as strong as ever. You are the driver of job growth and the backbone of the American economy. You’re where we go when we want to do business with someone who cares. Thank you for your business. Here’s to the next 15!

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Technology Providers: Innovation New Applications Finalist

From more than 600 nominations, WealthManagement.com recognized 156 organizations for their outstanding support of financial advisor success. Award categories span everything from asset managers to technology providers.

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“NAPFA is excited to partner with Ruby Receptionists to offer valuable services to its members,” said Nikki Palluzzi, Senior Manager of Members Services, NAPFA. “Ruby helps elevate our members’ ability to serve consumers through fee-only financial planning.”

Financial advisor success depends on providing personalized, reliable service to their customers and Ruby’s dedication to creating real, meaningful customer experiences is the perfect match for such a high-touch industry!

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Every day when I sit down at my desk to start the day I ask the same question:

What is the single biggest problem plaguing most contractors’ websites and how can I best solve that problem today?

The reality is that the list of problems for most websites is fairly lengthy.

For example:

  • Website is not optimized for mobile
  • Website does not feature an easily accessible phone number
  • Website has poor SEO
  • Website lacks a constantly updated blog with unique content
  • Website displays generic, boring, feature-heavy content
  • And on…
  • And on…

However, every morning I go back to one problem that stands above all others.

…and that problem is:

The website is not focused on producing a desired action from the visitor.

Stay with me here.

Most of our websites allow more than 95% of visitors to leave without “converting” or producing a desired action. Desired actions include a phone call to the office or the visitor clicking the “Schedule an Appointment” button.

Of course, this is a tremendous inefficiency in our businesses and represents a significant opportunity for growth. Imagine if we could lower the 95% to 93%…

That’s 40% more website visitors taking action!   When more people take action on your site, you have more revenue opportunities and sales increase!

So, now that we know the problem, what is the solution?

***Engage your visitors to live, in real time with online chat!

When you provide an option for your visitors to chat with your business, you are decreasing the barriers for that visitor to start a relationship with your company. In turn, your company will interact with more visitors, have more sales conversations, and create more opportunities for new customers.

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Ruby Corps: philanthropy at Ruby.

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Philanthropy at Ruby Receptionists

Here at Ruby®, our mission is to preserve and perpetuate real, meaningful connections in an increasingly technology-focused, virtual world. Creating Community lies at the heart of the matter, and we strive to connect Rubys to one another, and Ruby to the world.

Philanthropy is a natural extension of what it means to be connected. With a true desire to see our community flourish, we launched Ruby Corps.

A program designed to provide Rubys with an opportunity to volunteer their time, Ruby Corps is a people-powered initiative currently partnering with three local nonprofits. Our partners were selected based on an employee survey, and the question posed was simple, “What nonprofit or cause resonates with you?”. The responses illuminated hunger, education, and homelessness as our collective focus. With this, we set to work finding nonprofits that align with our purpose.

Our Partner Charities

  • Oregon Food Bank collects food from farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, individuals and government sources. They distribute food through a statewide network of 21 Regional Food Banks and approximately 970 partner agencies serving all of Oregon and Clark County, Washington.
  • REAP Since 2001, REAP has emerged as one of the stellar youth development program models in the State of Oregon. Commonly known for its ability to engage students and develop their leadership potential, REAP has become an essential resource to many business leaders, educators, elected officials, community advocates, and parents in preparing students for college and the workforce.
  • Portland Homeless Family Solutions empowers homeless families with children to secure housing and stay there long-term. They envision a community where no family experiences homelessness and receives the support and compassion necessary to thrive. Each year, they help 150 families with children find permanent housing.

How It Works

While Ruby is no stranger to philanthropic endeavors, the creation of Ruby Corps called for some serious goal-setting.

This year, our sights are set completing 500 volunteer hours. How will we do this? Through our people-powered culture, of course! Along with Ruby Corps, we have introduced a new employee benefit including eight hours of paid volunteer-time each year. With over 400 employees, we know we’ll knock this goal right out of the park!

Coupled with our willingness to dive in and get our hands dirty, Ruby offers financial support to our nonprofit partners. And in addition to our corporate donations, Ruby empowers employee giving with our matching program; we match all 501c3 employee donations up to $100 per year!

While we work with our partnered nonprofits, Ruby continues to support other causes close to our hearts. Each year we participate in the Adopt-A-Family program and host the Beaverton Education Foundation Phone Drive. In the event of natural or community disasters, we mobilize our efforts for donations and support.

Ruby takes pride in making personal connections and working a little magic to inspire and wow. Whether with our voices, hands, or time—working together to strengthen our community is central to Ruby’s mission.

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Ep. 109 – Keeping Human Connections Alive with Live Remote Receptionists – with Diana Stepleton

 

Ruby VP of Partner Engagement, Diana Stepleton, joined long-time Ruby customer, Neil Tyra, on the The Law Entrepreneur podcast to discuss Ruby, customer service, and your law firm! No matter your work space—virtual, shared, or traditional—there are a number of advantages to outsourcing your receptionist service. Tune in to the conversation to learn more!

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Born to run… design sprints.

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Design sprints

April 18 was a special day here at Ruby® Receptionists HQ as we hosted our second annual Design Week Portland event! I’m Terri Haswell, Director of UX at Ruby. My team and I hosted an interactive session where we traded in stuffy presentations for a bit of hands-on learning. The audience got to experience how we use design sprints to keep the collaboration radical and customers at the center of all we do.

Our goal was to have audience members leave with enough insight and inspiration to feel like they could give design sprints a spin with their own products and customers.

What’s a Design Sprint you ask? Great question!

  • It’s a framework
  • By design, it promotes collaboration across teams & customers
  • It helps answer critical business and user questions
  • It’s fast
  • It results in an actual prototype to test

The Design Sprint was invented by the folks at Google Ventures (GV). It’s a three to five-day collaborative design process for exploring and testing ideas with a human-centered approach. Each day of the sprint is intended to help you bring together a diverse group of people to examine the problem, brainstorm solutions, prototype, and test your ideas to see if they resonate with your customers.

Clearly Ruby didn’t invent design sprints. The value of Ruby holding this community event was to share how a real organization used and modified the design sprint process to help us focus on continuous collaboration, making things instead of just talking about them, and moving fast.

The five phases of a design sprint are:

  • Understand
  • Sketch
  • Decide
  • Prototype
  • Test

Each phase gets a single day, which means by the end of five, fast days, a sprint team will have agreed on a problem, and built, tested, and gained invaluable insights from a working prototype. That’s a lot to communicate in just a one-hour session! We set out to take our guests through the “cooking show” version of a design sprint, with some pre-prepped artifacts, and lots of audience participation, we got the sprint week done in 1 hour… ish.

The event was a hit, and the audience even stayed late for a robust Q&A. Curious if a design sprint could help you better understand a business/customer problem you may have? Wonder if you could run a design sprint of your own? Let’s take a look at what a GV sprint entails (and what Ruby does a little differently):

Day 1: Understand and agree on the problem

The first day of the design sprint is when everyone slows down, digs deep, and picks a problem to solve. The sprint team starts by aligning on their long-term and short-term goals. After that, they move on to mapping the flow or journey for the person using the product. Experts and stakeholders come in to discuss known pain points, and the team takes notes using the “How Might We” method, looking for ways to reframe issues as potential opportunities.

Ruby Tip: Though a design sprint is intended to garner your team’s full attention for five consecutive days, we weren’t able to stick to that 100%. We found that days one and two truly required our undivided attention. For these days, we went outside of our usual office to keep us focused, and when our co-workers outside of the sprint needed our help, we had designated one person to negotiate if/when to pull individuals away.

Day 2: Come up with ideas

Day two is all about getting inspired and brainstorming broadly to solve problems. The day starts by looking for inspirational designs on the web or in the world. After that, they move onto the most fun part of the day: sketching! The two key sketching techniques are:

  1. Crazy 8s – This is when you fold a piece of paper into eight sections, and you make eight sketches as fast you can (spending no more than one minute per sketch!).
  2. Solution sketching – After everyone has shared their crazy 8s, the team votes to start to narrow the field of ideas. The most popular ideas then become the basis for a solution sketch, which is meant to be more in-depth and show more steps of a flow or journey.

Ruby Tip: When it comes time to solution sketching, we found that some folks work better when they have a little more time and can sketch in their own private space. We recommend going back to your desks to really noodle on ideas quietly and independently.

Day 3: Decide on an idea, and make a storyboard

This is when it starts to get real. After exploring lots of different solutions, the team decides which idea is the best to test. To do that, the team does a round of speed critique and takes a vote! Once there’s a clear winner, the team gets to work creating the storyboard, and writing the testing scenarios. This ensures that everyone is fully prepped and ready to start building the prototype.

Ruby Tip: We found that it was difficult to vote on concepts or sketches as a whole. Instead, we voted for individual parts and pieces. If we ended up voting for competing ideas, we might use our designated “decider” to choose which one to pursue, or we might choose to do a “rumble,” which means we show both in the same testing session to see which one resonates better.

Day 4: Make a realistic prototype to test the idea

The fourth day is action-packed! This is when your team starts building and pilot testing your prototype. To get it all done, you’ll need to break up with the work and swarm.

GV recommends dividing into at least four roles:

  • Asset Collector – the person who gathers images and icons for the prototype
  • Maker – the person who makes the visual screens or parts
  • Stitcher – the person who makes the prototype clickable and makes sure there are no “dead end” flows
  • Writer – the person who writes the content for the prototype and the testing questions that you’ll be asking

Once the prototype is done, the rest of the day is spent pilot testing and revising to ensure that testing day will be as smooth as silk.

Ruby Tip: The way you break up prototyping tasks can change depending on the tools you use. We recommend deciding on and working with your tools before the sprint starts. That way you have a good understanding of how it makes sense to break up the work.

Day 5: Test the idea and analyze the data

This is where the rubber meets the road, and the sprint team gets to find out what customers really think about their idea. On this day, the team tests the prototype with real users. Five testing sessions are conducted with one participant and one facilitator at a time. The rest of the sprint team observes the sessions from a separate room, where they watch reactions, capture insights and note down critical user feedback. After testing with just five people, patterns will start to emerge, and the team will see what parts went well, and what parts were confusing or uninteresting.

Ruby Tip: For most organizations, it can be tricky to conduct research with users face-to-face. For testing (remote or in-person!) we use a tool called Lookback.io. This tool allows participants to interact with your prototype remotely while you talk to each other. It shows their face, their screen, and their mouse movements. There’s even a mode for live observation, and all sessions are recorded for future reference.

And that’s it!

Once the sprint is done, you’ll know what was successful and what needs more thought, or as GV frames it, efficient failures and flawed successes! Your testing sessions with customers may even convince you to pivot and go in a completely different direction. But either way, you will have learned a lot about your product idea, and about the people using it in just a few days, instead of waiting to build it, only to find it’s not the right solution and may not even be the right problem.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Tim Brown, a legend in design thinking.

“The faster we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and zero in on the best solution.” —Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

Resources

Ready to make design sprints part of your process? Try not to feel like you have to do everything and do everything just right the first time. Do what you can and have some fun with the chaotic challenge of making your idea come to life in one week. Check out these Google Ventures resources. They’re loaded with tons of great information!

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Marketing tips for small businesses.

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Small business marketing tips

It can be difficult to stay on top of the latest marketing trends when you are running a small business. Heck, it can be hard to do marketing at all.

The good news is that marketing isn’t just affordable for big corporations. Any small business can create a marketing plan on little to no budget. If you are trying to stay ahead of the game, there are a few things you can build into your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule that are relatively easy lifts.

Know Your Audience

If you’re a small business owner, you probably don’t need to be told to find out who your audience is, but this is your reminder, find out who your audience is. Your product and message can’t be delivered unless you know who you’re sending them to.

There are free tools like Google Analytics that can give you valuable insights into your audience. Mining those analytics can tell you where your website visitors are coming from, what’s bringing them to your website, and what they are doing once they get there. Knowing who your audience is and their behavior can be an eye-opening experience—and the results might surprise you.

Ready, Set, Goals

Now that you’ve narrowed down your audience, it’s time to set your goals. As a small business owner or a member of a small team, it can be easy to stick with only small goals that you know you can accomplish, rather than dreaming big and going for gold.

Close your eyes. Think about what you want to accomplish. Then, write down all the steps you need to do to reach your goal.

  • What tools do you need?
  • What’s stopping you from getting there?
  • What are your hurdles?

Now take those long-term goals and break them down to yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly objectives. Set up to-do lists, deadlines, and don’t forget to leave time if stakeholders need to be consulted. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, and keep your eye on that larger dream. Start big, but work small.

Don’t Ignore Social Media

Just because you ignore it, doesn’t mean it’s going away. A social media presence is crucial for small businesses, and your potential customers might not trust a company that isn’t on any social media. You may not have the time or headcount to tackle every platform, but you should still find at least one or two that work for your business.

Start by creating your profiles and front-load them with photos and content that represent your business. Then you can move on with a Facebook or Instagram ad campaign, to see which platform connects with your audience and delivers the best results. Depending on your audience, these campaigns can be fairly low-cost. Facebook ads let you get specific with demographics and psychographics—so you can get as targeted as possible.

Social media isn’t just for selling your product or service to your audience―or telling them about the awesomeness that is your company culture. Arguably the most important social media aspect is the ability to listen to your audience. Be sure to check in on social media messages and comments and respond when necessary.

Yelp has some helpful tips for responding to messages, “…contacting reviewers should be approached with care; internet messaging is a blunt tool and sometimes good intentions come across badly.” In that regard, take on only what you can handle. As you grow, you can eventually invest in a social media management tool such as Hootsuite or Meet Edgar.

When in doubt, be sure to share your business content on LinkedIn. Social media is an opportunity to brag about your products, partnerships, and values. It’s a way to keep in touch with your audience and keep them informed.

To Mail or Not to Mail

If you’ve scoped out your audience, have a clean mailing list, and a budget, direct mail may be the answer for you. Despite what the guy next to you says at happy hour, direct mail is not dead. In fact, it’s incredibly effective if managed properly.

Mailing pieces like special promotions can be very effective. Decide what packaging is right for you and your budget. You have options. Maybe a letter in a #10 envelope is best for you. Or maybe a self-mailer, postcard, or something else entirely.

But, if you’re low on budget, don’t forget about the power of electronic mail. With a fairly low-cost email campaign management system, you can deliver solid content in a nice e-package that will be sure to delight your customers. When you use MailChimp, Emma, or some other email system, you can deliver appealing content and produce beautiful reports. With open and click rate data, you’ll be able to pinpoint the content your audience really cares about.

Remember to be patient―marketing is a trial and error game. The good news is, your audience is out there and the opportunities are waiting for you. More good news, if your audience isn’t responding to your marketing efforts or analytics aren’t increasing, then you can stop, adjust, read some more marketing tip blogs, and get your marketing back on the right track to connect with your audience and grow your business.

Happy marketing!

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Small business sales tips

Ruby® Receptionists has roots in small business. We started as a small business driven by the desire to help other small businesses meet their goals. We value the vital contribution they make to our local economies, and work to help them flourish. In honor of Small Business Week, we’d like to share some of our favorite tips to help your business grow!

Invest in Thought Leadership & Build Your Brand

Buyers want to get to know products, and as a small business owner, you are a part of your product-package. People buy from people as a direct result of connecting with a message and a story—your story!

Potential customers need to have access to you, your brand, and your product before they can swoon over it. Focus your energy on where they spend their time. Position yourself as a thought leader by publishing articles, blogposts, or relevant photography on the Big 4 (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram) to reinforce your expertise in your field. Enhance your brand through prowess and accessibility.

While social media is a handy tool to showcase your product, don’t forget to share who you are and what your brand represents. In a high tech-world, creating space for personal connections helps your business stand out against competitors.

Speaking of Technology…

Invest in it—early! With today’s technology platforms and software-as-a-service options on the rise, leveraging technology in the growth of your business has never been easier, or more cost-effective. Content management systems, such as WordPress, make building and customizing your own website a breeze. If your business is service-based, consider integrating a scheduling program to simplify the process for your customers.

Is business ramping up? Implement a cloud-based CRM system to keep track of your marketing lists, potential customers, and new opportunities for growth. Pay close attention to where your best leads are coming from.

And on that note…

Ask for Referrals

Research shows that 91% of B2B buyers trust word-of-mouth marketing when making their buying decisions. Don’t wait for leads to fall into your lap—be proactive! Ask happy customers if they know others who could benefit from the product/service you offer. If you have fulfilled a customer’s needs, odds are they would be more than willing to share promising contacts with you!

In addition to seeking out referrals, keep a watchful eye on customer feedback sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List. If reviews are less than stellar, post a public response and take the appropriate measures to do right by your customer. Sincerity and follow through can work wonders in saving an impaired relationship—and impressing prospective customers.

Misses Calls are Missed Opportunities

After all your curating, marketing, and sales work, don’t strike out on making a connection with potential customers. Studies show that 72% of callers who reach an automated answer will hang up without leaving a message, often calling a competitor. While answering calls is critical to building trust with customers, having the bandwidth to pick up every time the phone rings may be problematic, especially for the small business owner. Trust your calls with Ruby® Receptionists, the live, remote receptionist service that turns rings into relationships! Ruby will delight your callers while you focus on doing the work you need to do to keep your business moving.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Set Goals

Big or small, set goals and hold yourself accountable in meeting each milestone on the way to achieving them. A killer business plan means nothing if you don’t have follow through. In the planning process, consider where you want your business to be one, three, and five years ahead. As a small business owner, it can be easy to lose sight of your vision for the future when you’re just trying to get through the daily grind. Revisit your goals during the hustle and remember that thoughtful execution of well-laid plans is paramount to your success.

At Ruby Receptionists, we pride ourselves on being an extension of your team, helping your business to grow and thrive.

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Small business training tips

A lot is going on in your small business. You have to deal with tight budgets, a small staff, and fast growth, but there’s one thing that people often forget: training.

Though you may only have a handful of employees, and even less time and budget to train, developing your employees has a wealth of benefits for you and your business, including:

  • Greater effectiveness on the job
  • More motivated and engaged staff
  • Increased retention

You don’t need to pay thousands for tuition or hire a full-time trainer to take advantage of these benefits. Get the most bang for your buck with these five cost-effective ways to help employees develop new skills:

Leverage outside resources.

No need to build your own training soup to nuts! There are plenty of free articles, webinars, YouTube videos, and low-cost community events that can help employees build new skills.

To make it stick, be sure to supplement the training with company or role-specific reinforcement. This can be as simple as a few reflection questions, a worksheet, or short handout.

For example, say a team member is interested in a leadership path. You might link them to a TED Talk on body language. In your email or IM, include 2-3 questions that will help them reflect on what they learned and tie it back to their role, such as:

  • Take a moment to audit your current body language. What would someone infer about you from this posture?
  • Describe three upcoming situations in your role where power posing beforehand may be helpful.

Delegate—with support.

Stretch assignments are a great way to give employees hands-on practice. If the team member is brand-new to the skill, pick a low-stakes project and schedule plenty of check-ins to coach and offer encouragement. They’ll likely struggle and make mistakes—that’s where the learning happens! When roadblocks crop up, try using the GROW coaching model to help them discover their own solutions.

70% of learning & development happens on the job, not in the classroom.

Host a book club.

When Ruby was teeny tiny, our Director of Customer Happiness led a monthly book club. We discussed books like Contagious Leadership, First Break All the Rules, Lean In, and The Happiness Advantage. A quick Google search will often point you to pre-made discussion guides.

Pro tip: Delegate facilitating the discussion to someone who’s building their facilitation skills!

Hold lunch & learns.

The more team members you have, the more faculty members you have! Have an employee who is exceptional at customer service? A whiz at Excel? Has an eye for design? Ask them to give a short presentation or lead an activity over lunch. Not only will it expose other team members to new skills, the presenter solidifies their expertise and gets an added ego boost to boot.

Get your money’s worth.

Remember, your employees are building new habits as they learn. To keep them from sliding back into old habits, be sure to set clear expectations before the event and follow up afterward. According to research, the follow up after a training contributes 50% to the entire training’s effectiveness.

Even a simple, informal question like, “What are you still implementing today?” will show you’re serious about the time and energy they’ve devoted to the learning process and help cement their new skills.

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*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the canceled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner. Some restrictions may apply.