Katie Hurst:
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our small business series Business Unusual. My name is Katie Hurst, and I’m the director of communications at Ruby. And today I’m joined by Damien Filiatrault, the CEO of Scalable Path.

Katie Hurst:
Okay. I’m a small business, I’ve determined that outsourcing is a good option for me. I decided I want to work with a platform as opposed to having to go and find the talent myself, and save some of that time. How do I evaluate? There are so many different platforms out there now.

Business Unusual: Networking & Communication

In the last of a three-part series with Damien Filiatrault of Scalable Path, Ruby’s Director of Strategic Communications, Katie Hurst, asks about networking, communication, and how to find the right freelancers for the work.

Damien Filiatrault:
Yeah, there are. And so I think you got to look at what kind of work you want to get done. Are there specialized agencies or marketplaces that focus on this? Ruby does receptionists. Scalable Path is in software development. In the software development world, where I’m living every day, there’s a spectrum, right? And I alluded to this earlier. On one end, you have the super high-end digital agencies. A really great one that comes to mind is Idio. Expensive, right? On the other end, you have Upwork, where you can find any kind of freelancer. And so there’s a wide spectrum in between. I put Scalable Path somewhere in the middle.

Damien Filiatrault:
But if you go with an Upwork, you’re going to have to put in the work. You’re going to have to know what you’re doing. You’re going to have to define the role you’re looking to fill. And you’re going to get lots of applications and have to sift through them and evaluate who is the right fit or who isn’t. And you may not have the time or the expertise to do that.

Damien Filiatrault:
What Scalable Path does is, for a premium, reasonable premium, way less than these digital agencies, we know how to evaluate those people. And so you can come to a specialized marketplace like Scalable Path, and we do all of that sourcing and vetting for you, and then we just propose the people who have made it through our process.

Katie Hurst:
Well, I think it’s kind of interesting because it goes back to that concept you said of, there are things that we automatically outsource. Janitorial, et cetera. So we see value in outsourcing, but it goes from, “I don’t want to pay a full-time employee, so I was considering this salary, but now all of a sudden I want to go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and pay as cheaply as I can for outsourcing,” without really thinking about that in between of what you’re losing if it’s a race to the bottom with price.

Katie Hurst:
There is a support component that you’re not paying for that is there, so you have a customer support team that’s available to you to help you. Similarly, for you guys, you probably answer questions, you spend that time vetting the customers or the contractors to make sure that they’re a value. So there’s things that aren’t considered necessarily and have to really be thought about when you’re outsourcing about, what are those things that are not just transactional that I’m really getting out of this relationship with the company I’m outsourcing through, but also the contractor themselves who I’m working with? Because if you just look at price, you’re only getting a very slim picture.

Damien Filiatrault:
Like you said, like people think, “Oh, I’m not going to hire in-house. I want to outsource. And then I’m going to really go to the other end of the spectrum.” And what I find myself thinking about recently is that these relationships between, even when they’re an outsourced person, it’s still a relationship between a company and a person, and it has to work for both sides. It has to bring value to both, and the rate, or however you structure it, needs to work for the client.

Damien Filiatrault:
But also if you’re driving too hard of a bargain down to these people that are working on your team, even if they’re outsourced, they’re not going to stick with you, right? They’re not going to feel respected. They’re going to look for something better, and you’ll lose them. So if you go too far on the other end of the spectrum, you’re being short-sighted. You’re going to get people who are desperate, or you’re going to get people who aren’t the best at what they do because they’re not going to work in that mode.

Katie Hurst:
Because there’s certainly outsourcers who just look at this as like another project, another job versus outsourcers who are passionate about what they do and want to make sure that your business is getting the best version of that. The best website, the best receptionist service, the best HR service, whatever it is. So that makes a big difference.

Katie Hurst:
And I think we kind of addressed some of the questions that if you’re looking at it, at an outsourcing tool or individuals, that you should be asking, which are kind of what your area of specialty is, how much experience you have in the area. But I’m sure you have some other good questions that should be asked when you’re looking for an outsourcing tool or person.

Damien Filiatrault:
Yeah. We did get into that. Again, my experience is around talent, software talent, marketplaces. I want to know what’s their business model. How are they making money? Is it a fee? Is it a subscription? Are they taking a percentage of the rates? I just want to understand what their model is, so I can see the value. So not all of them are totally transparent. That’s one thing Upwork is. I’ll give them kudos for being rather transparent on.

Damien Filiatrault:
We talked about this a bit before, but what is your vetting process? Are they people that can just sign up and then they’re in your platform, or do you verify? What do you verify with these people? Do you train them? Like you said. And then how long will it take for me to get up and running with someone from your platform? That’s an important question to ask.

Katie Hurst:
Yeah. And I think that that’s true of lots of different platforms. I’ve worked with multiple different outsourcing platforms beyond just software development, beyond Ruby, is the reason you have that need is it’s got to be done. You got to get moving. So that’s a really important one.

Katie Hurst:
And I think asking how the business makes their money is a completely legitimate interest because that will help illustrate some of that, are we dealing with someone who’s just trying to get to the lowest bid to get the dollar, or are we looking at someone who’s really looking at this as a solution for the business? So I think that’s a really good question.

Katie Hurst:
Any final advice for small business owners out there thinking about outsourcing?

Damien Filiatrault:
You’ve tapped my brain. That is it.

Katie Hurst:
Well, it was a lot of really great information. Those five points about really how you evaluate outsourcing were so golden. Thank you so much, Damien. This has been a pleasure. For everybody that tuned in, thank you so much. Be sure to check out more from our small business series Business Unusual.

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The 2020 business market is an earmark in history, and it’s not even over.
Marketers across the globe are going above and beyond in leadership and delivering creative, impassioned campaigns that make a difference.

Ruby’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rebecca Grimes, is one such leader. Rebecca leads with passion, transparency, and focus. She leans on her team to be the experts, is not afraid to speak directly, and has fostered a symbiotic relationship between the Sales and Marketing teams by regularly seeking feedback from people across teams to understand where they can improve.

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Katie Hurst:
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our small business series, Business Unusual. My name is Katie Hurst and I’m the Director of Communications at Ruby. Today I’m joined by Damien Filiatrault, the CEO of Scalable Path.

Business Unusual: Hiring & Team Cohesion

Diving deeper into staff augmentation, outsourcing, and working with freelancers, Ruby’s Director of Strategic Communications, Katie Hurst, continues her interview with Damien Filiatrault, Founder and CEO of Scalable Path. 

Katie Hurst:
Okay, so we talked about some benefits. Let’s talk about some of the challenges that can come along and how businesses can mitigate those risks.

Damien Filiatrault:
Okay. I think one of the biggest challenges, even for the companies like mine or like yours, is finding and hiring the right people. The good news is that companies like yours and mine, we specialize in doing that, and we have internal teams who have a pipeline of people who are always being vetted and ready to deploy on client projects. We’re specialists at finding good people for these roles. So you can just piggyback on that and not have to have that whole workload on your HR department, if you even have an HR department. So if you work with platforms like Scalable Path or Ruby, you can just use their vetting process and make sure you get good people.

Damien Filiatrault:
Another thing that can be a challenge, and this is really coming from a remote perspective, is communication and collaboration. I think this is something that people are facing regardless of whether they’re outsourcing, but it’s particularly relevant because you will likely be remote if you’re outsourcing, especially in software development. You need to set up tools and processes to make sure that you’re going to succeed. For software development, you’ve got to have a task-tracking software like Trello or Jira or maybe Basecamp. You’ve got to have good online meetings and collaborations. So you might use Zoom or Hangouts or GoToMeeting, and have a regular check-in scheduled to make sure that you’re communicating about what needs to be done and what has been done. Tools like Slack for group chat are really great. So you’ve got to have the right tool set in place to succeed.

Damien Filiatrault:
Those are my two primary ones. For some, I think a lot of people, when they think about outsourcing, it’s more short-term or they’re not really considering that person part of their core team. But some companies do, like a lot of our clients, they consider their developers who are from Scalable Path part of their team. One thing that we’ve found as an entirely virtual company is you really have to make an effort to build a team culture when everyone’s remote. It just doesn’t happen naturally around the water cooler or going out to lunch like it normally would.

Damien Filiatrault:
So if you care about that, you have to make an effort and to get to know people and get people together on meetings. Maybe things we do is we will have just a random channel in Slack for sharing random, funny things that people can laugh about together. Or we actually, one of our team members started a book club where people can vote on what book they’re going to read and then discuss it. It’s not easy to do. Maybe you get people together annually for an on-site meeting or off-site, but you do have to make an effort at that if that’s part of your outsourcing plan.

Katie Hurst:
Do you think that that’s important when you’re outsourcing roles? It was someone who maybe isn’t permanent or they have an understanding that it’s temporary?

Damien Filiatrault:
Well, it depends how long, right? If you’re looking to keep that person around for a while, I think it is important, because people are humans and they want to enjoy their work. They want to get along with people that they’re working with. They want to feel they belong. They want to feel like they’re a part of something. They will be more productive if they feel comfortable around their colleagues. They won’t feel hesitant to reach out if they have a question. So, yeah, I think if they’re a part of the team, you want to do team building. Yeah.

Katie Hurst:
There’s probably a trust factor there too, that with someone that you’re regularly interacting with, you can trust that they’re going to come to you with problems or challenges, versus if someone doesn’t have a connection or relationship with you, they might not flag those issues to you right away. They might wait. So there is some important piece of culture that allows everyone to do their jobs better, even if someone isn’t necessarily going to be there long-term.

Damien Filiatrault:
Yeah. Yeah, I’d say that’s true.

Katie Hurst:
So what kind of roles should companies consider potentially outsourcing versus what maybe they shouldn’t? Are there other types of tasks that maybe a business should definitely be outsourcing or really shouldn’t?

Damien Filiatrault:
Yeah. First thing that comes to mind is, is it your core business? The more it is your core business, that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource it, it just means it’s less of a slam dunk. If you’re a, let’s say, I don’t know, a dentist. You probably not good … You don’t like answering the phone. You want to clean people’s teeth or do fillings. If you’re a, we have clients who sell insurance. They want to sell insurance. They don’t want to deal with maintaining their website and their web application. So the more that it’s not your core business, the more it makes sense to outsource. And some things are so commonly outsourced that we don’t even consider bringing in-house, like legal, janitorial, accounting. Sometimes that’s on the fence, but those are things that are slam dunks for outsourcing. The more it gets into your core business, the more of a question it is.

Damien Filiatrault:
Another question is, how easy is it to do remotely? If it’s easy to do remotely, that’s a check mark in the column of, yeah, let’s consider outsourcing this, because it’s a lot easier to do. When something can be done remotely, you can take advantage of a lot of a wider talent pool. If you’re in a metro area in the United States where it costs a lot of money to live, if it can be done remotely and you can outsource to another country, or even just a less expensive part of the United States, you can save money that way.

Katie Hurst:
So it sounds like based on what you said: Is it a part of your core business? Can it be done remotely? Is it a senior role versus something that it could be more easily outsourced? Short-term versus long-term? And then the ease of the communication. That’s at least three more things than I would have thought of. So I love your thoroughness there.

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People who give business advice love talking about leads. 

You’ve got to generate more leads, they say. What’s your lead conversion rate? Have you optimized your lead qualification process? You need good leads. Convert your leads. Close those leads. Leads, leads, leads!

…And on and on until the word loses all leading—I mean, meaning. 

Truth be told, a lot of this advice misses the point. Leads are indeed crucial for business success (especially small business success), but the concept is often abstract and poorly understood. Thinking in terms of “leads, leads, leads” removes the human element and turns sales and marketing into numbers games rather than actual drivers of value.

It’s also one reason selling can be so daunting for people who aren’t naturally gifted at it. Telling someone they need to generate 20 leads by the end of the week is a great way to cause anxiety and burnout—and a not so great way to grow your business. 

So let’s rethink this topic, shall we? We’re going to explore leads the Ruby way—by bringing human connection front and center.

What is a lead?

A lead is a person or organization who might one day purchase a product or service from your business. They’re interested in what you have to offer, but haven’t yet become a paying customer or client. 

Maybe it’s someone who’s been referred to your business by a friend, relative, or colleague.  Maybe they’re subscribed to your mailing list, or maybe they follow you on social media. Or maybe they’re someone you haven’t interacted with, but who you know is out there in the market. 

That person asking “How much is that doggie in the window?” Classic lead.

Whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whatever they’re potentially interested in buying, all leads need to be convinced before they purchase something from you. The act of persuading them is what’s known as conversion—you’re converting someone into a customer or client.

Understanding the terminology.

Leads are a tricky topic to nail down. Every business and sales team, it seems, thinks about them a little differently. Ready to learn some lingo?

Some businesses separate leads from prospects, with prospects being the middle step between a lead and a customer—someone who’s shown definite interest rather than someone who could be interested in purchasing.

For example, that person asking about the doggie in the window could be considered a prospect, whereas a passerby who just paused and looked in the window (or browsed the pet store’s website) would be a lead.

In some cases, businesses qualify their leads. A qualified lead is basically the same as a prospect. It’s someone you know is interested in what you have to offer, because you’ve had a conversation or interaction with them that indicates as much. 

Qualified leads are often distinguished by where they are in the customer or client journey. In general, qualified leads fall into two categories: sales-qualified leads (SQLs) and marketing-qualified leads (MQLs).

  • SQLs are practically ready to make a purchase, although they’re not always a sure thing (more on this later).
  • MQLs are typically a few steps behind SQLs—they’re interested, but they need more information to evaluate their decisions.

Back to the pet store: If the aspiring doggie owner actually talked to a sales representative, she could be considered an SQL. If she only clicked on one of the pet store’s Instagram ads, however, she’d be an MQL.

Other businesses simplify all of this and categorize leads in terms of temperature.

  • Hot leads are ready or almost ready to buy.
  • Warm leads are interested but need to be convinced.
  • Cold leads are people who might have a need for your product or service, but haven’t yet shown any interest. (This is where the term “cold call” comes from, by the way.)

If you were to contact someone you’d never met and ask them if they’d like to buy a doggie, you’d be talking to a cold lead.

(Puppies make the example worth it.)

Enter: the funnel.

One easy way to think about this is as a funnel

  1. At the top of the funnel are people who have a need that your business fulfills, but who don’t know much (or anything) about your business or the products or services you offer.
  2. Through marketing efforts such as ads, flyers, and email campaigns, you get some people’s attention and capture their interest. At the same time, you collect basic contact information from those people and begin to get a sense of what they’re thinking about buying.
  3. Next, some of those people start interacting with your business. Interest turns into consideration. Conversations happen. At this point, it’s a matter of convincing them your business, product, or service is the right choice for them.
  4. Finally, you convert some people into customers or clients.

Top layer: cold leads | unqualified leads | website traffic | social media followers

Middle: warm leads | MQLs | list subscribers

Lower middle: hot leads | SQLs | prospects

Bottom: customers | clients

At every stage in the funnel, the number of people you’re dealing with shrinks, but the chance that they’ll convert into buyers increases. For instance, a marketing campaign that reaches 10,000 people may generate 1,000 leads, 100 of which ultimately become customers. 

Keep in mind that all of this can vary significantly from business to business. Sales and marketing teams think about and classify their leads differently. An organization may consider website visitors MQLs, or even SQLs, if it receives relatively little traffic but visitors frequently become subscribers. 

Timelines differ as well. In many service-oriented industries, such as the legal and healthcare industries, people can turn up out of nowhere and convert into clients within hours or minutes. In other cases, a business may need to take weeks or months generating, nurturing, and converting leads.

It all depends on the individual’s needs and expectations, as well as numerous other variables such as price, pricing model, competition in the market, region, seasonality, and even the time of day. Seriously—it isn’t easy calling someone first thing in the morning or convincing them to buy something if they’re hangry because they skipped lunch.

Meet the leads in our lead story.

Now that you know what leads are, the real question is who they are. 

Let me introduce you to three leads:

Amy seems ready to buy. She has a defined need and a well-established interest in your business. In fact, she knows someone at the company and has already spoken to a sales representative. We have a lot of information about her—her contact details, her preferences, what she’s looking to buy, her dog’s name (Bruce), her favorite movie (Jaws), and so on. All that’s left to do is close the deal. 

Bryan has shown some interest, but needs more information before he starts evaluating a decision. He’s filled out a couple of forms on the website and sent an email inquiring about an offering. We have some basic contact info—his name, email address, and phone number—and a general sense of what he’s interested in. We need to engage him and get him thinking about making a purchase.

Casey is something of a mystery at this point. We know they’ve clicked around the website, read a few pages, and started following us on Twitter. But we don’t really know anything about them, what they’re interested in, or even if they’re interested in buying anything from us at all. At this point, our goal is to find out more about Casey and try a few different approaches to earn their attention and interest.

First up: Amy.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll start with that lead who seems ready to buy—Amy. It should be easy to convert her into a customer… right? 

Getting prospects and leads to convert is only the beginning of a budding relationship with your customers. How you care for them after purchase will determine whether you can win over their loyalty for the long hall. Download our Customer Service Audit Checklist to take your customer service to the next level.

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Inc. magazine today revealed that Ruby has made its annual Inc. 5000 list—the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies—for the ninth consecutive year. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent small businesses. 

Not only have the companies on the 2020 Inc. 5000 been very competitive within their markets, but the list as a whole shows staggering growth compared with prior lists as well. The 2020 Inc. 5000 achieved an incredible three-year average growth of over 500 percent and a median rate of 165 percent. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue was $209 billion in 2019, accounting for over 1 million jobs over the past three years.  

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What is a virtual office?

Reading time:

A virtual office is a team of people working together remotely. Think of it as a shared work environment that isn’t tied to a single location. Basically, it’s an office without the office building. There’s no commute, no on-site staff, no cubicles or workstations, no front desk, no communal fridge or parking lot, or storage closet. Work can happen from home, or anywhere there’s an internet-connected device.

In fact, a virtual office isn’t really a place at all. It can be a bunch of different places, or nowhere. It’s an office in the functional sense, but not necessarily the physical sense. In other words, people who work in a virtual office still meet, communicate, and collaborate with each other—just not from within the same building.

A virtual office is “virtual” in two senses of the word: It fulfills virtually the same role as a traditional, physical, brick-and-mortar office.

It exists in the virtual space—it lives on computers, phones, software, and the internet.

Virtual, flexible, remote, work-from-home—what’s the difference?

The term “virtual office” is often used interchangeably with terms such as remote work, work-from-home (or WFH for short), telecommuting, flex work or flex jobs, and other combinations of the words “virtual,” “flexible,” “home,” and “remote.” 

These terms are similar but can mean slightly different things depending on the context and the specific organization or job in question. For instance, some jobs are totally remote—team members work entirely from home. Others are flexible—people can choose to work from home or come into a shared space as they wish. In some situations, team members are allowed to work from home but may be required to convene in a physical office a certain number of days per week or month.

It’s not just about where, but when.

In many virtual offices, people on the same team may work asynchronously—at different times. That is, a virtual office can change not only where work happens but also when it happens. Concepts such as “full-time” and “part-time” often take on new meanings in a virtual space, as people can log in and out instantaneously, rather than traveling to and from work. Team members can also be located in different cities, states, and time zones. 

This enables workers to start and end their days earlier or later than one another, as well as to take breaks when they need to—or to divide their daily/weekly schedules into unconventional chunks. For example, let’s imagine a virtual team of four people who all work roughly 40 hours per week:

Alan works Monday through Friday. He usually starts working at 7am, takes a 4-hour break at 11am, and then comes back to work at 3pm, finishing at 7 or 8pm.

Bethany also works Monday through Friday, but likes to begin each day at noon or 1pm, and then works nonstop into the evening or night.

Cai works a 10-hour shift every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Dylan works about 5–6 hours every day of the week, including weekends.

Keep in mind that not all virtual teams can operate like this. Depending on the organization, a person may need to be available during certain days and hours to answer calls, coordinate product or service delivery, or handle other time-sensitive business processes. But when workers do have options, that flexibility—as well as the ability to staff up and down to meet changing circumstances—is one of the core benefits of using a virtual office.

At a glance:
virtual offices vs. brick-and-mortar offices.

VirtualBrick-and-mortar
people work remotely
people work at a single location
the business may or may not have a real-life public address
the business has an address

people use tools and software to work together
people work together in-person
people might have their own schedules
people usually share a general schedule
can be entirely virtual or semi-virtual
is not virtual at all

Virtual office pros and cons.

Whatever form it takes, a virtual office has certain advantages and disadvantages when compared to a conventional office setup.

Pros:

Cons:

  • productivity is harder to manage and track
  • few opportunities for impromptu conversations and check-ins with team members
  • unclear boundaries between work and personal life
  • lack of a “professional space” for welcoming customers or clients
  • may require the use of one or more paid software applications
  • possible steep learning curve for workers unfamiliar with virtual tools

Transitioning to a virtual office: a few questions to consider.

Thinking about transitioning to a virtual office? Great! Going virtual can maximize your organization’s flexibility while saving you serious cash. Indeed, making the switch could be one of the best decisions you ever make for your business, your workforce, and the customers or clients you serve.

But you can’t simply send everyone home and hope for the best. Before you transition to virtual work, you’ll need to plan ahead and figure a few things out in advance.

How will you ensure business continuity during the transition?

Going virtual is an ideal way to maximize business continuity, as a distributed network is less vulnerable than a single location to natural disasters, power outages, cybersecurity attacks, and other disruptive events. However, the initial transition to remote work can cause downtime of its own if not managed properly. 

Consider how you’ll ensure continuity of service in the first days and weeks of your virtual office. You might want to send your workforce home in separate segments, one group at a time. Make sure your clients or customers can access any essential or ongoing products or services during the transition. Think about whether it would be useful and appropriate to communicate the change to the people you serve, and be sure to provide them with any important information or updates related to the transition. 

This is a good time to think about your small business continuity plan and what that will look like once your virtual office is up and running.

Are your people equipped for virtual work?

Consider where, when, and how your team members will be doing their work. Do they have the right hardware and equipment? Can they work comfortably at home for extended periods of time? Make sure every member of the team has the following home office essentials:

  • a computer (here’s a great laptop buying guide)
  • a phone
  • a desk or other work surface
  • a comfortable chair
  • decent lighting
  • high-speed internet
  • a writing implement and notebook/pad for jotting down thoughts and notes
  • a wastebasket
  • a printer and a supply of paper
  • a paper shredder
  • paperclips
  • stamps and envelopes
  • a filing cabinet or drawer
  • sticky notes
  • coasters for drinks and hot food in mugs/bowls
  • a footrest

How about virtual office software? You’ll likely need one or more applications for…

  • video conferencing (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet)
  • collaboration (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams)
  • document creation and storage (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox)
  • project management (e.g. Teamwork, Asana, Trello, Basecamp)
  • time-tracking, accounting, and invoicing (e.g. QuickBooks, Harvest, TimeCamp)
  • privacy and security (e.g. a password manager, a virtual private network app)

Are you setting the right expectations?

Virtual office success starts with the right expectations and tone. Team members need to know when and how long they’re supposed to be working each day and week, how their productivity will be measured, and what to do when they run into trouble or need help. 

Consider how structured (or unstructured) the workday should be: Are there certain times at which people need to be online? Will you hold daily huddles, weekly conference calls, and/or another kind of regular meeting or check-in? Different departments may do better with different arrangements and schedules.

Keep in mind that there are other—and sometimes better!—ways to measure productivity beyond logging hours. Many virtual offices focus less on how long people work, and more on deliverables—the products of the work. The better-defined your key performance indicators, the more capably you can keep track of your team.

Think about your company’s policies and how they apply to a remote work environment. What rules still stand, what can be tossed out, and what needs to be added in? Are your people trained and up-to-date on computer use, social media posting, and data security? Are your compensation, benefits, and leave policies still applicable, or do they need to be revised?

Get the full scoop

on transitioning to the virtual office.

Watch the Webinar

How to set up your virtual office communication hub.

Communication is at the foundation of every healthy relationship, and especially any relationship that takes place at a distance. That includes long-distance relationships with your team members.

By far, the most important consideration for transitioning to a virtual office is communication. 

To compensate for the lack of in-person interactions, it’s a good idea to err on the side of overcommunication. In successful virtual offices, people are continually emailing, calling, and chatting with each other, as well as with customers or clients. These teams engage not only in substantive discussions, but also plenty of small talk—the kinds of “water cooler” conversations that build morale and human connection. Fun exchanges are often just as important as communication about transactions, projects, and strategy.

To facilitate communication in your virtual office, make sure to use the right tools and approach:

  1. Begin with your physical setup.
    Consider what functions you need from your phone system. Where will calls be sent—that is, what phone will ring when someone contacts your business? Many virtual businesses use cloud-based, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, which allow company representatives to take and place calls through apps such as Skype. You may need to forward your phone number—learn more about what this means and how to do it easily. (Psst—when you use Ruby’s virtual receptionist service, you don’t have to change your number.)
  2. Optimize your internal communications.
    Determine which software tools, such as Slack and Zoom, you’ll be using to host conversations and meetings between staff. Make sure everyone’s set up with a company email address, and that your contact database is complete and up-to-date.
  3. Optimize your inbound customer service.
    Think about how customers will reach you without a physical office address. Will you be retaining, reducing, or expanding your current business hours? This is a perfect opportunity to improve your call handling procedures, add chat to your website, and beef up your social media presence.
  4. Train your team.
    If you’re implementing new communication systems, make sure the people using those systems feel comfortable with them. Consider creating a virtual communication handbook or set of instructions for your business. Some team members may need live demonstrations or walkthroughs.
  5. Consider using a virtual receptionist.
    A call answering service such as Ruby makes sure that every person who contacts your business is greeted by a live, friendly professional—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It serves as a seamless extension of your business, complementing your virtual office and providing continuous, high-quality customer service experiences. See if a virtual receptionist is right for you.

Outsourcing roles in a virtual office.

Going virtual is more than a change of scenery and schedules. It can fuel other, deeper changes for your business—particularly in terms of workforce management and composition. Why simply replicate your old working model in a virtual environment when you can give your team greater independence, save money, and access skilled professionals through outsourcing?

For many organizations, outsourcing is a natural consequence of going remote. It’s easier to bring on contractors and vendors when everyone is operating within the same dispersed environment. And it soon becomes evident that some functions don’t need to be assigned to a member of the team. They’re either simple enough to handle without much oversight, or they’re siphoning away time and resources better spent elsewhere. These functions become more reliable and cost-effective when people outside of the company are taking care of them.

We don’t recommend outsourcing everything. Your people are the lifeblood of your business—they’re what make your company special. But if a certain task isn’t happening consistently, is dragging your team down, or just doesn’t make sense for an in-house employee to handle, it’s time to consider outsourcing it.

Should you outsource it or keep it in-house?

To determine if a job or function is a good candidate for outsourcing, consider these questions:

  • Is it part of your core business? If so, keep it in-house.
  • How easily can it be done remotely? If it can be accomplished with minimal manager involvement—if it’s clear that it should have been done remotely from the beginning—outsource it.
  • How senior is the role? Junior roles are better candidates for outsourcing. Leadership decision-making is typically better left in-house.
  • Is the need short-term or long-term? Both kinds of work can be outsourced, but short-term projects are more commonly assigned to non-employees. A short-term need is also a good opportunity to test outsourcing, if you’re new to it.
  • How easy is it to communicate what you need for the role? If it’s relatively easy to transfer the role from person to person without extensive training, consider outsourcing it.

Tips to get the most out of your outsourced workforce:

  • Empower them. Give them any tools, training, resources, and information they need to serve your business to the best of their ability.
  • Trust them to do their job. Remember: you hired them for a reason. Give them the benefit of the doubt and the autonomy to their work the way they prefer to do it.
  • Pay them on time. Respect the value of their labor by paying their invoices as soon as you can. Taking care of the financial details keeps everyone happy.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep them informed. Be clear about your expectations of them. Ask them if they’d like feedback, and give it politely and constructively. Encourage them to offer their own feedback and ask their own questions.
  • If you love them, consider hiring them. Some contractors would be thrilled to join your team. Others prefer their independence. But if you have a company opening that you think they might be interested in, it never hurts to offer it.

Building culture, remotely.

Whether on-site or virtual, in-house or remote, work should be fun and rewarding. Everyone deserves to be part of a positive, diverse, inclusive, and equitable team.

The best organizational cultures are built on shared purpose as well as a full commitment to trust, respect, and curiosity. People contribute authentically and work together at the top of their game when they feel safe to speak up and be themselves at work. This requires empathy and vulnerability on the part of every team member—and it starts at the top.

How do you build culture remotely? Here at Ruby, we do it by centering three elements of our mission:

Incent. We dig deep to uncover and follow intrinsic motivations. Team members achieve meaningful rewards for work they love doing.

Inspire. We share stories that uplift and inspire our team, showing them the spectacular things others have done and what they can do to join in.

Empower. We give our people the tools and freedom to make judgment calls on behalf of customers and our company—to push themselves to be their best and exceed expectations at every opportunity.

Remember: an employee or contractor’s experience with your company is forged during the onboarding process. Nail the first impression and provide everyone with the necessary information and support, and they’ll be motivated to bring their best self to the virtual office every day.

A few ideas for building remote workforce culture:

  • Celebrate individual accomplishments in group meetings and company-wide communications.
  • Plan a digital charitable fundraising effort with your team.
  • Appoint people to become mentors or coaches. 
  • Host virtual trivia nights or movie nights.
  • Create a Slack channel where people can discuss their hobbies or post their creative work.
  • Run a contest in which people can submit and vote on new ideas for the business—and then implement the winning idea.

Delivering exceptional service while virtual.

Ultimately, the key factors for success remain the same no matter how, when, or where you’re doing business. It’s all about delivering an incredible product or service—and providing an exceptional experience to every customer or client.

At Ruby, we call this WOWism—making customers say “WOW!” with truly memorable moments and extraordinary customer service. The WOW comes from meaningful connections. We take every opportunity to build relationships and connect with the people we serve, human to human.

You can practice WOWism and improve your customer service experience by…

  • listening to your customers or clients with empathy and an open mind
  • continually expanding your customer service toolbox
  • stepping outside of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to learn
  • staying calm and managing difficult emotions in heated situations
  • remembering the why of what you do and what your business is about

Four Steps to WOW-Worthy Customer Service

Deliver a quality service or product.

Get to know your customers.

Connect and WOW.

Earn referrals.

Ruby: outsourced customer service built for the virtual office.

Need help going virtual? Looking for ways to save money through outsourcing? Want to deliver exceptional customer service experiences remotely?

We’ve got you covered. Ruby will bring your business to the next level with industry-leading live answering services. Our team of remote receptionists is ready to represent your company and create meaningful connections with the people you serve.

Ruby’s virtual phone and live chat services fit seamlessly into any business environment and workforce model—remote, brick-and-mortar, flexible, or otherwise. Our platform is available 24/7/365, staffed by real people who sound like they’re in your office. We’ll develop a plan to fit the unique needs of your organization and customers, with custom greetings, call handling procedures, and more.

Over 10,000 businesses have trusted Ruby to serve their customers over the phone and via live chat. We’ve been doing this virtual thing for over a decade—and we have the chops to prove it. We’re happy to report an average 20% increase in sales inquiries and customer service satisfaction among our customers, as well as 2–3 times quantifiable return on investment.

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Katie Hurst:
Hello, everyone. And welcome back to our small business series, Business Unusual. My name is Katie Hurst, and I’m the director of communications at Ruby. And today I’m joined by Damien Filiatrault, the CEO of Scalable Path. So Damien, why don’t we start off by you telling us a little bit about yourself and your company?

Damien Filiatrault:
Sure. Well, my background is in geography and computer science. I worked as a software developer at various digital agencies in San Francisco. And at one of those, I did a five-month stint in India, where I managed a team of developers. And what I found over there was it didn’t work so great, that outsourcing experience. And I started working with people in Latin America and found it worked really well. And I also saw how much digital agencies were charging, versus what they were paying their developers. And so about 10 years ago, I decided to start Scalable Path and provide better value to clients.

Katie Hurst:
The best stories are always when the entrepreneur has experience with the pain point, right? So today we’re talking about outsourcing, and as you already mentioned. So we’re talking a little bit about the benefits, the challenges, when it’s right for your business, and how to evaluate platform options. So let’s just jump right in and start with, what do we mean when we use the term outsourcing?

Damien Filiatrault:
Yeah. Outsourcing means when you hire an outside company or contractor to perform work that you would normally do in-house. I think the word outsourcing is actually trending downward. I verified that on Google Trends. Words like freelancing and staff augmentation, I think are a more modern way of talking about it. In software development, for example, at Scalable Path, we use the term staff augmentation, because I think there’s a little bit of baggage sometimes associated with the term outsourcing, potentially because of early forays into outsourcing. They tended to be in software, and in India and places like that, and it didn’t always go so well.

Damien Filiatrault:
So yeah, there’s other ways to refer to outsourcing. Also, there’s sort of a spectrum of outsourcing. There’s on one end or a spectrum of hiring, on one end of the spectrum, you have full-time employees, on the other end of the spectrum, you might hire an agency, who then has people working for them. And then somewhere in the gray area, I think, is when you’re hiring a contractor. Is that outsourced? Is that not? Sometimes it can feel like outsourcing. I’m not sure what your opinion is on that, but just wanted to say also early on in this, that the perspectives that I’ll be sharing are from the perspective of a remote software development freelancing company. So that’s what my company does. And I think my opinions are related to that.

Katie Hurst:
And I think most people, that’s when they think about outsourcing, they typically think about web development. But these days, outsourcing can, as you mentioned, there’s a spectrum, can apply to a lot of different things. And myself, I’ve been a contractor before. So I’ve sort of been that outsourced talent, because either it wasn’t the right time to bring someone in-house, or the company just decided that they didn’t want the overhead of an in-house employee, and felt it was better to have somebody working remotely, which are some of the things that we’ll talk about today.

Katie Hurst:
So you mentioned that there’s some baggage. There’s a little bit of some negative feelings can be around outsourcing. So why don’t we start by dispelling some of those. So what are some of the common myths or misconceptions that you’ve come across when it comes to outsourcing?

Damien Filiatrault:
Well, one is that you have to compromise on quality. I don’t think that’s true. You got to be careful, but you can get good quality. Another is that you’ll have reduced productivity. I think that you do have to, again, make good decisions about who you work with, and you do have to work with someone that you trust. I think, especially in the current times of this pandemic, when a lot of people are working from home, there’s going to be, I hope what comes out of this, because what I believe is that people can be equally productive at home. I hope out of these companies start seeing that people have been continuing to get their work done, and that they have been doing a good job remotely.

Damien Filiatrault:
Another misconception is that it might be unsafe for your intellectual property or your data. What I’d say to that is that there are always risks of that, whether someone’s in-house or not, and that these kinds of bad actors who would take advantage of their clients like that are rare. They do exist in both settings, whether it’s in-house or outsourced, but you should still be careful, and there are ways to mitigate that. That’s another topic, but you can avoid sharing information that does not need to be shared with people that you are outsourcing with.

Damien Filiatrault:
And lastly, I mean, some people might think it’s expensive. That’s more, when you’re thinking about maybe working with a high-end digital agency. They can be expensive. I mean, definitely places like software outsourcing to India, that’s not expensive. So some people might think other the end of the outsourcing spectrum might be expensive.

Katie Hurst:
Yeah. I wouldn’t have thought about the mitigation piece. That’s a really interesting thing that you bring up. But really, if you’re a bad apple, you’re a bad apple, no matter if you’re in-house or outhouse, right? It’s really about, you can’t just trust that the person on the other end of the line is going to be a good person. You really have to interact with that person and you have to set expectations. That’s just general best business practices, whether you’re deciding to outsource or hire in-house. So that’s a really great point that you bring up.

Katie Hurst:
And also, you’re right about working at home. I think that there’s a lot of studies that are being done. This is a great time to finally be able to conduct those studies that are finding that there are some companies that are experiencing higher levels of productivity, because of the lack of interruptions from certain things. But then we’re also dealing with some interruptions from other things, right? So it certainly is weighing what’s best for your business.

Katie Hurst:
So you kind of talked a little bit about some of the benefits of outsourcing, such as that cost factor. So why don’t you walk me through some of the other benefits of outsourcing, and then we’ll talk about some of those challenges, and ways that you can mitigate some of those.

Damien Filiatrault:
Right. Well, you mentioned saving money. I mean, going a little deeper into that, one of the things we think that different clients of ours compare us to, is what if I just hired a software developer myself as a full-time employee? And you might say, well, just to take a round number, I could pay someone a hundred thousand dollars a year as a software developer, or that breaks down to about $50 an hour. That’s my rule of thumb. But what you’re not considering there is all the other costs if they’re a full-time employee, like health insurance, social security, bonuses, you got to provide them a place to work, and equipment, computer, pay for sick days, pay for vacation. And when you add all that up, you’re not really comparing apples to apples. You could be paying significantly more, 30, 40% more of these hidden costs, when hiring someone internally.

Damien Filiatrault:
So you can save a lot in that sense. And then another benefit of outsourcing is that you can ramp up and down more quickly. So when you’re hiring a full-time employee, that can take a while. I don’t know the number off-hand, perhaps you do, of how long it takes on average to hire a full-time employee. I think, for a position, it’s more in the ballpark of months than weeks.

Katie Hurst:
Sure. It takes me, as a communications professional, it takes me like a good three months at a minimum to get the voice, to get the brand. Yeah, for sure.

Damien Filiatrault:
So, if you go to a company or a platform, you’re looking at way less than that. With our company, it’s usually about a week. You can be up and running with a software developer that meets your needs. Some companies are faster than that. But you can, and when your need reduces, there’s really no commitment on your end. You can just say, “Okay, the project’s over,” guilt-free, or say, “Okay, you’re a freelancer. You go do your thing. We’re good.” Whereas if you hired someone full time, you might feel an obligation to keep them employed, or you might actually be legally obligated to keep them employed. So yeah, those are a couple of important benefits of outsourcing.

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Filter Robo Calls with Ruby

Reading time:

1,297

That’s how many robocalls were made per second in June of 2020 for a total of just over 3.3 BILLION for the month per YouMail.

With everything else going on, it’s enough to make you throw your smartphone out the window…but don’t yet.

Combatting Robocalls with Technology

While the pandemic has seen an increase in spam robocalls pitching coronavirus tests or claiming to be the Social Security Administration, private businesses and public institutions are getting wise to their ways. For example, the FTC notified nine VoIP providers licensing the numbers warning them of the penalties for assisting illegal robocalls and call blocking app downloads have increased.

While tools like these can reduce robocalls and solicitations to your personal number, how can you combat similar calls coming through your business line? Spam calls not only interrupt your day but take away from potential and current customers trying to reach you.

Robocall Filtering Options for Business

Virtual receptionist services like Ruby can provide a buffer for small business owners annoyed by these calls. As the receptionist takes your calls, they’ll recognize solicitations and either send to voicemail or take a message and note that it sounded like a solicitation. 

And as technology has improved, so have the tools to empower receptionists further. Using Ruby’s proprietary platform, our customers can enable Robocall Filtering. Our software recognizes potential spam calls and sends calls straight to voicemail instead of a virtual receptionist answering the call. Plus, we also flag these filtered calls with a robot icon on your call activity so you can quickly sort these types of calls out, leaving you more time to focus on your business.

With a virtual receptionist and Robocall Filtering, small business owners:

  • Save time and resources spent reviewing irrelevant voicemails and messages
  • Save money by reserving your minutes for true business needs from potential and current customers

Interested in learning more?

If you’re already a part of the Ruby family or have questions about our live virtual receptionist service, reach out to our team at 866-611-7829(RUBY)!

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“We’ve missed you! Come back!”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever received an email with a subject line like that. 

Raise your other hand if you’ve ever sent that email.

Now waggle your hands around like a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man.

All right! Feeling pumped up? Ready to learn about some customer winback, remarketing, and reengagement strategies? I hope so, because that’s what this blog post is all about. 

I realize not everyone finds the prospect of winning back customers as exciting as I do. Marketing and sales efforts frequently focus on generating new business rather than converting people who have lapsed or lost interest. And let’s face it—those “Where have you been? Please come back” emails can feel pretty…desperate.

But the fact is that winback and remarketing campaigns can be some of the most powerful and cost-effective strategies for building a business. Consider the following:

For a typical business, 80% of profits come from roughly 20% of the company’s existing customers. This is known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule.

According to Hubspot, existing customers are not only “50% more likely to try a new product” but will “spend 31% more than new customers.”

Research from Bain & Company suggests that improving customer retention by as little as 5% can increase profits by 25–95%.

Companies with successful winback campaigns have seen over 5x ROI, as this case study illustrates.

Clearly, a little nudge can have a big impact. So how do you win back customers effectively, without coming off as tactless or needy? 

It’s about more than an attention-grabbing offer or a deep discount (although those are often important ingredients). Great winback and re-engagement strategies are built on trust and empathy. They create real value for customers while respecting those customers’ time and emphasizing their humanity.

Here are a few examples of what we mean:

1. Bonobos

What Bonobos did: Sent a short email to disengaged newsletter subscribers asking if they wanted to remain on the mailing list.

Why it works: This is a perfect example of how to write a winback email. It’s brief and upbeat, with a clear call to action. If people don’t click the button, they’re automatically removed from the list. Receptive customers have an easy way to re-engage, the rest stop receiving emails that aren’t relevant to them, and Bonobos keeps the list clean—all with minimal effort.

2. Grammarly

What Grammarly did: “Awarded” inactive users with a badge for not using the service.

Why it works: Who doesn’t love winning something? I admire the cheeky way this plays with the concept of achievements—you earn recognition for what you haven’t done—activating customers by provoking an odd combination of feelings, all at the same time. Someone at Grammarly must have majored in psychology. 

Best of all, this little “prize” doesn’t cost the company anything to produce. And look at that “Go” button! Don’t you want to click it?

3. TeeSpring

What TeeSpring did: Tailored winback emails with customer data.

Why it works: This email goes a step further than Bonobos and Grammarly by using data to make the message hyper-specific to the recipient. It serves as both a reminder of the company’s value (“we helped you make money!”) as well as an enticing suggestion of future value (“you can make more money!”). 

This probably wouldn’t work for every user who’d lost interest in TeeSpring—imagine if you’d sold zero products—but it’s an excellent way to engage the people whose history with the service indicates they’ll see benefits from continuing to use it.

4. Alice + Olivia

Why it works: We’re moving past emails here and into the realm of more foundational business practices. Like many retailers, NYC-based boutique Alice + Olivia lost significant opportunities to connect with customers following the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike many retailers, however, Alice + Olivia didn’t simply close up shop or redirect customers to their online store. 

Instead, they launched AO2GO. Through the new service, a customer can talk to a stylist over text, phone, or video. The stylist will then curate a few outfits for the customer, who can either pick up their try-on wardrobe in person or get it delivered if they live nearby. 

What’s so cool about this program is how it adapts the company’s brand of personalized retail to the limitations of the moment. Rather than compromising on quality or service, Alice + Olivia can continue to provide one-of-a-kind shopping experiences. Plus, it’s newsworthy—it gives them a reason to reach out to all of their customers, including the ones who became disengaged before the pandemic.

5. OneLogin

What OneLogin did: Acknowledged their shortcomings, changed their company culture, and delivered on their core value proposition.

Why it works: After suffering its second major security breach in the span of 12 months, access control and password management provider OneLogin was in crisis. How could customers trust the company to safeguard their sensitive information?

The company regained customer trust by acting quickly, decisively, and with full transparency. First, they acknowledged the breach the day it was discovered, then provided multiple updates over the following few days about how they were responding. Next, they imbued their culture with a security-first mindset, promising to “make any tradeoff” to keep information protected. This led to the company finding and fixing 150 defects in their infrastructure and making the decision to remove every bug within 48 hours of discovery. 

To put this into perspective, the average company takes “100 to 120 days to patch vulnerabilities,” according to IBM’s Security Intelligence, and “many companies have critical vulnerabilities that go unpatched altogether.”

Thanks to these efforts, customer perception of OneLogin is higher than ever, and the company is recognized as an industry leader. They’re not only winning people back, but winning new people over.

Bonus: O.B.

What they did: Sent personal apologies to tens of thousands of customers—through song.

Why it works: This one’s from a while back, but I wanted to include it because it’s truly one of the greatest winback campaigns of all time. 

It started with a months-long shortage of O.B. tampons in 2010. When the line finally returned to shelves, Johnson & Johnson could have easily issued a short press statement, or say nothing at all. 

Instead, they went big, with a song that would make the likes of Josh Groban weep (remember, this was 2010). The campaign made use of automated sound editing software in clever—and frankly, mind-blowing—fashion to create a personalized experience for every customer who couldn’t find O.B. tampons during the shortage.

I could sit here and explain more about this campaign and why it works, but you should probably just watch the video for yourself

Customer winback tips from Ruby.

These are just a few of the ways businesses have successfully earned attention and trust from disengaged customers. There are countless other examples out there, from small-scale email campaigns to complete overhauls of products, services, and entire organizations. Think of Mattel’s line of Barbie dolls, for instance, or Adobe’s evolution into a 100% cloud-based company

Maybe you’re thinking about how you can better serve your customers, too. Perhaps you’re considering creating your own winback campaign, launching a new offering, or even undergoing a thorough business transformation.

Whatever you have planned, here are a few quick tips from us to optimize your strategy:

Acknowledge the customer’s experience. If your business or messaging hasn’t resonated with a customer, think about why that may be. If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it. If you’re changing something, communicate why you’re changing it and what value the change will bring to the people you serve.

Make it personal. Honor each customer’s journey with your business. Tailor your message to their unique characteristics and needs. Pull in data where it’s appropriate and meaningful (think back to the TeeSpring example). Remember: this is about them.

Listen. Pay attention to who your campaign resonates with—and who it doesn’t. Know when a customer relationship is over. Silence almost always means “I’m not interested.” Move on to the people who are interested and invest your time and energy with them.

Whether you’re winning back customers or acquiring new ones, everyone you’re reaching out to wants the same thing: an amazing customer service experience. Get more tips on customer service with our Customer Service Audit Checklist.

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Learn how Ruby can help you set the groundwork for the kind of customer service that yields big, meaningful results in this tip sheet.

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Missed connections translate to lost revenue. With Ruby, you have a partner in gaining and retaining customers. Plus, we’re so confident you’ll love our service, we offer a 21 day money-back guarantee*.

*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 cancelled 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.