Concerned about burnout? You’re not alone. Healthcare is facing a staffing crisis.

Fact after figure points to this troubling trend:

  • 64% of unemployed healthcare professionals lost their jobs due to COVID-19’s impact on their organizations.
  • 52% of clinicians have reported increased anxiety, burnout, or mental health issues during the pandemic.
  • The healthcare industry needs 5.9 million more nurses to meet global demand—and job growth is “barely keeping pace with population growth.” 

At the same time, patient expectations have intensified:

  • 51.3% of consumers say convenience is the most critical factor in their choice of providers. 
  • 84% say being treated like an individual, not a number, is very important. 
  • 73% expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. 

It adds up to a challenging equation. Overwhelmed, understaffed providers struggle to deliver individualized, compassionate care while balancing patients and business needs. Meanwhile, patients accustomed to quick answers expect more immediate access, but providers can’t deliver the service the expect—leading to patient churn and future staff cuts, starting the cycle over.

How can healthcare providers take care of their own needs while ensuring patients experience the quality of service they expect? Find out in Ruby’s infographic, Telehealth 2.0: beating burnout and delivering on patient expectations.

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Think about your favorite client.  

I’m talking about that client you absolutely love working with. Maybe it’s the business that brings consistent and consistently appealing projects your way. Or maybe it’s the person who’s always friendly and communicative, who appreciates your time and autonomy, who raves about you to their friends and colleagues. 

Yes, that client: 

  • The client who seems like the perfect fit for you and your company 
  • The client you could spend hours chatting with 
  • The client whose values and growth trajectory align entirely with your own 

Wouldn’t it be great if all your clients were like that one? 

Sadly, fate tends not to work out that way. For every dream client, there’s one who’s—how should I put this?—the other kind of dream. Rhymes with “might-nare.”  

You know, that other kind of client.  

I’m referring to that client who doesn’t respect your boundaries, who doesn’t allow you to do your best work, who always needs more, faster and cheaper. It’s the client who texts you at 11:54pm on a Saturday with a sudden crisis they need fixed ASAP, micromanages you through the process, and then falls off the face of the Earth until the next “emergency.”  

Oh yeah, and they’re always at least two months behind on paying you. 

Yep, that client. 

The problem (well, one problem) with that client is that they feel entitled to you. It comes down to the nature of the relationship. When referrals are the primary source of your business’s growth and success, you can’t afford to say “no” very often. You can’t turn down opportunities. You need to make yourself available for those clients—because they have power over you.  

You just know that the person whose late-night text you ignore would be the one who trashes your reputation online. The person whose business you spurn could easily spread negative sentiment among their network about you and your company. 

For B2Bs, every client matters—and every conversation counts. 

Of course, most clients fall somewhere between these two extremes. And no one is one kind of person all the time. Back when I ran my own business, the vast majority of clients I worked with were pleasant, patient, caring human beings. But I had a few run-ins with people who had outsized expectations, or treated me like an app, or must have been going through something that inhibited them from bringing their kindest selves to the client–contractor relationship.  

I took the good with the less-good because I had to. I know of plenty of professionals who do the same. In B2B, every relationship matters—and every interaction has high stakes. For businesses such as agencies, consulting firms, and IT services providers, a single contract may bring thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars, or more, in monthly or annual recurring revenue. Moreover, showing up for every client is an investment in generating referrals and word of mouth. 

The good news is that challenging experiences don’t have to last forever. Provide the right level of service and, over time, an unpleasant situation will work itself out. Difficult clients will mellow and learn to trust you implicitly. Long back-and-forths will diminish. Check-ins will become less frequent. Monthly engagements will evolve into retainer agreements

The time and effort you put into establishing the relationship will make you indispensable—and easy to recommend—and the cycle repeats itself from there. 

Eventually, maybe, you might even have enough revenue and mental space to proactively strategize and market your own business. And then you can truly find your niche—the sweet spot where you can choose to work with only the clients you want to work with, and do only the work you love to do. 

In other words, you’ll have more clients like that first one, which means fewer clients like that other one. 

All of the above is to say that the key to growing your business on your terms is optimizing client experience. Here are a few tips for how to get there from here. 

5 tips for building trust in high-stakes client interactions 

There are five easy practices you can adopt today to build trust with every client your business serves. Watch this video for my quick tips!

1. Delight every person who contacts your business. 

A conversation with a client or prospect is more than an opportunity to win business; it’s a chance to make someone’s day.  

Be kind. Be authentic. Crack a joke, give a compliment, tell an interesting (brief and relevant) story, or hey, just listen. Many people don’t feel heard, and many of us could stand to listen more.  

It’s incredibly easy to delight someone who contacts you—it can be as simple as saying their name back to them

2. Ensure every client feels like your first priority.

Consider what your clients really want—and perhaps more importantly, what they don’t want.  

For instance, they probably don’t want to reach an answering machine when they call you. They probably don’t want to wait longer than 24 hours for a response to an email. In fact, there’s a good chance their patience runs out after five minutes.  

Make sure every touchpoint your business can control is built for a positive client experience. It might be a good idea to map the client journey and prioritize the channels where clients most often get in contact with you, such as your phone and your website. 

3. Do what you’ll say you’ll do.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the old platitude: “underpromise and overdeliver.”

Know what’s better? Promising and delivering.

No over or under. 

Here’s how Work Awesome explains it: 

“While the short-term results of ‘underpromising and overdelivering’ look great, your clients might come to always expect super-fast, super-cheap work from you. Suddenly, the whole ‘managing expectations’ idea backfires completely; your client has learned to set them very high, and raise them each time you exceed your own self-set expectations. You’re caught up in a mess that you created.” 

At Ruby, we’re big believers in doing what we say we’ll do. Consistency forms the foundation for great service and, ultimately, extraordinary experiences. Before you can wow people, you need to set and meet their expectations. 

4. Choose your words carefully.

Words matter. That is, the various lexical units a member of our species may choose to deploy within a given conversational context tend to produce differing effects within the mind of the receiving party in said context. (See what I mean?) Words can clarify or obfuscate, comfort or alienate, gladden or sadden or frustrate or fascinate. 

When talking to clients and prospective clients, use words that create connections. These include words and phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “certainly,” “absolutely,” “I’d be happy to,” and “How may I help you?” 

Use words that serve people and move conversations forward. Avoid dead ends such as “I can’t” and “I don’t know.” Instead, try saying, “I’m happy to find that out for you,” or “That’s a great question! Let me think about it and get back to you.” 

5. Use your website and digital tools wisely. 

Your online presence is analogous to the front door and lobby of your business. For many people, your website and social media accounts are the initial and primary points of contact for your business. If they can’t find you, or if your online presence doesn’t deliver, you’ve missed out on making the right first impression. They’ve shown up to your office and found empty space where chairs and a front desk should be. 

So, make sure your online presence a) appears in search results, and b) provides visitors with the answers and experience they’re looking for. Keep it up to date, easy to navigate, and full of useful information. (Not sure where to start? Download our guide.) 

One underused tool for optimizing an online presence is chat. If your website is the lobby of your business, chat is the equivalent of someone at the front desk greeting visitors and answering questions. If live chat’s not right for your business, consider automated lead capture.  

Remember: your well-being matters. As much as you try, you can’t please everyone. 

Even when you do everything right, some clients may still find reasons to demand more from you. Don’t be afraid to kindly part ways with clients when necessary, and make sure to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with everyone you serve.  

For more client experience tips, check out Ruby’s comprehensive customer service audit checklist.

Check out the list

There’s no need to do this all yourself.  

Delight everyone who contacts your business. Ruby is home to the friendliest, most capable client engagement professionals in the industry

Ensure your clients experience the personalized service they deserve. Ruby answers 100% of phone calls within four rings and 100% of chat prompts within a minute, 24/7/365. You can set a custom greeting and detailed client engagement instructions.  

Online and over the phone, we create genuine human connections that earn you trust. That trust translates into an endless source of recurring and referral business.  

Plus, we offer tools you can use to qualify your leads, making it easy for you to connect with the right people at the right times.  

Enjoy more time, less uncertainty, and greater capacity to grow your business—on your terms. 

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A hand draws connections between wooden dots on a yellow background using a black marker.

Welcome to the omnichannel world. These days, the pressure is on for every business to provide an omnichannel customer experience. 

Is your business keeping up? 

There’s a good chance you’ve already worked hard to be present for your customers where they are most active, online and in person. Perhaps you’ve met your customers on social media, you’ve built an engaging website, your business lobby is warm and welcoming, and you have real humans answering the phone. But you might still be missing something. 

Connection.  

Connection is the core of what we mean when we talk about an omnichannel customer experience.  

You know how to connect with your customers. You might even have a clear idea of what your customers want. But do your business tools and processes connect with each other enough to create a seamless customer experience?  

What does an “omnichannel customer experience” really mean?

Let’s start with definitions. Omnichannel means your customers are everywhere at the same time. Think of yourself as a customer and reflect for a moment: How many digital and in-person platforms have you used today alone? It’s probably more than you realize.  

An omnichannel customer experience means that your customer touchpoints (i.e. your website, social media pages, in-person experiences, and telephone experiences) all not only exist, but connect to create a seamless journey for your customers and potential customers.  

Humans are omnichannel. We interact with the world on multiple platforms all at once. The better those platforms interact with one another, the happier and more connected we feel.  

Creating an omnichannel approach to meeting your customers digitally and in-person starts with having a vision for what that might look like for your particular business. From there, the next step is making your omnichannel vision a reality, by using the right technologies to make all of your customer touchpoints seamlessly interconnected.  

In an omnichannel customer experience, all of the platforms your customers use to interact with your business (social media, webpage, telephone, live chat, in-person, etc.) are aligned and synchronized. Your customers can hop from one channel to another without having to build that connection all over again.  

Every business uses multiple channels to meet and engage with potential customers. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn’t have a website, social media pages, an email address, and a telephone number. These are all touchpoints or places that your customers can get in touch with your business. Most businesses are multichannel, meaning they have all these different ways to interact with customers.  

What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?

The difference between multichannel and omnichannel is how touchpoints connect to one another. In a multichannel environment, a customer may not have a seamless, consistent experience if they switch channels. They have multiple channels through which to reach your business, but perhaps those channels don’t “talk” to each other. In omnichannel customer service, channels share information and coordinate to ensure a continuous, harmonious, convenient experience. 

Let’s say, for example, a customer is shopping on a website for a product. The customer notices a buy-one, get-one sale on the product, but they have to sign up for a rewards program to get the BOGO price.  

In a truly omnichannel customer experience, when the customer leaves their shopping cart to sign up for the rewards program, they return from filling out the online form to an updated shopping cart. In the background, technologies seamlessly updated their cart with the sale price, making it easier for the customer to complete a purchase.  

Essentially, multiple touchpoints talked to each other. The customer left one touchpoint (their shopping cart) to interact with the business at a different touchpoint (the online form). Perhaps they even left the website to check their email inbox for a confirmation email. When they returned to their cart, omnichannel processes made it easier for them to click “buy now,”—the business instantly fulfilled its promise of providing a coupon code.  

That’s just one example of an omnichannel customer experience.  

What omnichannel looks like for your business depends on who you serve and what you offer.  

Maybe it looks like…

  • consistently responsive service online, over the phone, and in person 
  • lightning-fast lead qualification and conversion 
  • seamless patient intake and scheduling 
  • conversations that transition smoothly between phone and chat 
  • 24/7 availability for your clients and prospects 

So, where should you begin? To develop an omnichannel customer experience for your business, you need to understand who your customers are and where they interact with you the most.  

But first, you need to know why omnichannel experiences matter to the people you serve. 

Why are omnichannel customer experiences important? 

Not every customer interacts with your business in the same way. Giving your customers choices for how they interact with your business fosters loyalty and may even encourage your customers to spend more money with your business.  

How your customers want to interact varies based on their needs. Making those interactions connected seamlessly means integrating your business with technology, processes, and people who all understand your vision and goal for your customers’ experience.  

For instance, when a customer interacts with your business online, they should be able to initiate a phone call with a professional who sees and understands what the customer was looking for online. Optimizing the connection between website, live chat, and phone calls—without your customer explaining themselves three times—creates a better customer journey.  

By building an omnichannel customer experience, you’ll give your customers and potential customers easy and intuitive customer journeys, no matter which platform they choose to start those journeys. You’ll need to invest in the right tools. Adapting technology and processes that create connections between your digital and live channels enables you to grow your business while staying in touch with your customers and what they care about.  

How can your business deliver omnichannel customer experiences? 

Before you create an omnichannel customer experience, determine whether it’s the right move for your organization. Not all businesses require an omnichannel approach to create positive customer experiences. A boutique law firm or highly specialized business-to-business service company, for instance, may only have a few clients to interact with on two or three channels.  

Additionally, you need to time it right—trying to go all-in on an omnichannel strategy too quickly can lead to customers bouncing around between channels and dealing with disjointed customer service.  

For most businesses, however, there’s much to gain from delivering omnichannel customer experiences. And it might be easier than you think. Although making changes to your customer engagement strategy can sound overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be.  

To build an omnichannel customer experience, you’ll need to look at your technology, processes, and people through an omnichannel lens. It begins and ends with your customers and the various places they want to interact with your business (that is, your touchpoints). Here’s how to do it: 

Step 1: Start with your customers. 

The core of your customer engagement strategy is your customer. If you’re not already doing so, start collecting data on your customers at every interaction. Consider: What do your customers want? Some customers want faster service and the flexibility to interact with you digitally. Others may prefer to interact with your business on a much more personal level and speak with a human being when they call or initiate a live chat. Part of your omnichannel strategy should include looking at your various customers and their pain points, to identify customer needs.  

Step 2: Design the omnichannel journey. 

Once you’ve looked closely at your customers and identified the customer needs you want to address, you can build your customers’ omnichannel journey. 

Whether you are trying to synchronize the experience of your physical office with a digital app, or connect your customer to the correct department when they initiate a conversation online, think about the possible stops your customers might make from start to finish. For instance: 

  • A client researching a product might start on your website. 
  • Next, they may follow you on social media or subscribe to your mailing list. 
  • Before making a final purchase decision, they might call you to ask about product availability. 
  • After their purchase, they may contact you through chat inquiring about your returns and exchange policies. 

An omnichannel experience integrates those various communication channels so that your customer has a unified journey throughout.  

Mapping out this journey will help you determine what technology and personnel support your company needs to integrate your digital and live channels.  

Step 3: Select your omnichannel tools. 

Omnichannel tools include technology that integrates your web and live channels, tools that collect customer data (and make it available to your customer service agents), and platforms staffed by highly skilled and trained customer engagement professionals.  

To choose the right omnichannel customer experience tools… 

  1. Identify what tools your business already has. What technology and services do you use to serve your customers? Are you using the full capabilities of those tools, and taking advantage of their integrations with other tools? 
  2. Fill your gaps. Looking at your existing tools and the map of your customer journey, determine what you need to add to create a seamless experience on the channels where your customers are active. 
  3. Get to know your new tools. Beyond simply investing in new tools, take the time to learn how to use and get the most value out of them.
  4. Train your team and create buy-in. Ensure that your entire team knows how to use the tools they need to use to serve customers, and that they feel comfortable using those tools. 

Watch out for siloes. Make sure everyone who acts on behalf of your business understands and believes in your vision of a customer-centric omnichannel journey. Keeping your team members focused on the bigger picture rather than hyper-focused on the small roles they play in that customer’s journey will keep all of your various team members and departments looking toward your overarching customer service goals.  

Step 4: Test, monitor, and improve your approach over time.  

When looking to create an omnichannel customer experience, it can be overwhelming to consider the infrastructure needed to integrate all of your various channels. And with more digital and in-person channels coming on the scene every year, it can be a lot to keep up with. You don’t need to feel like you have to integrate them all at once.  

By getting to know your customers through collecting data and surveying customer experiences, you should have an idea of the few digital and live channels you want to focus on at first.  

Implement your plan to integrate your priority touchpoints. Then, track and monitor how well you’re doing. Collect customer data and survey your customers’ experiences to continue to meet your customers’ needs. Over time, you can add (and integrate) more digital or live channels, especially if you see your customers’ needs evolving. 

What does a successful omnichannel customer experience look like? 

If you’re curious about what an omnichannel approach looks like in the real world, consider the ways these companies interact with their customers digitally and in-person: 

Starbucks: Customers can use their Starbucks rewards program across all digital and in-person platforms, including web, mobile, phone, and in-store. Customers can quickly reload their Starbucks cards while waiting in line for their turn to order. Starbucks customers can order, pay, and redeem points all using the same integrated platform. Starbucks will even put your (correctly spelled) name on your drink without asking when you order using their mobile app.  

Best Buy: As a large electronics and appliance store, Best Buy knows that an in-person showroom is just as crucial for its customers as the real-time updated digital inventory through their mobile app. Best Buy allows customers to know their inventory counts for products in real-time through both the mobile app and the digital price cards in front of their in-person products.   

Note that Best Buy didn’t adapt its entire omnichannel strategy all at once. The company first focused on the customer experiences in-store and digitally with their real-time inventory availability. As they monitored their progress and adapted to their customer’s demands, they added more to their mobile app to make things possible, like preloading credit card information and allowing customers to create favorite lists. Today, using the Best Buy app, you can review and buy products, call Best Buy (or even your local store), chat or call for tech support, set repair appointments for your products, apply for or pay your Best Buy credit card bill, and a lot more.  

As buyer behaviors changed, Best Buy evolved its omnichannel strategy to meet customer needs.  

Again, remember that these retailers didn’t become omnichannel legends overnight. The same holds true for your business. Your omnichannel vision will take time and effort to implement. Begin with your customer and their needs and utilize tools and strategies to help you make the customer journey, wherever it begins and ends, a seamless and positive experience for your customers.  

Delight your customers everywhere they interact with your business. 

Unify your customer communications with Ruby’s live chat, automated lead capture tools, and virtual receptionist services. With Ruby, you can rest easy knowing everyone you serve is experiencing personalized service and a real, meaningful connection.  

I mean, why keep something like that to just one channel? 

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Between 40% and 50% of clients are putting off seeking counsel until the COVID-19 pandemic completely subsides. Yet many firms grew in 2020—and are continuing to grow in 2021.

Their secret? A client-centric mindset combined with virtual technology.

According to the 2020 Legal Trends Report, published by Clio: “Delivering on what clients need throughout the course of their matter, in a way that is effortless and convenient for them, earns higher client satisfaction—which in turn drives new business through positive reviews, repeat business, and referrals.”

Discover more insights from the report in Ruby’s infographic, The #1 secret of successful law firms.

(For more information, make sure to check out Clio’s 2020 Legal Trends Report.)

Grow your practice with Ruby.

Deliver exceptional human service backed by sophisticated technology that will grow your practice, with Ruby:

  • 24/7/365 live virtual reception and chat services for your practice
  • Customized call handling tailored to your needs
  • Ability to manage your service and access activity from your mobile phone
  • Integrated with Clio Manage and Clio Grow

Learn more and try Ruby today at ruby.com/legal.

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What does your schedule look like? Do you have availability in the evening? Are there have any earlier slots available? What times are best for you? 

If these kinds of questions drive you bonkers, you’re not alone. Businesses and professionals of all kinds lose untold hours every week arranging appointments and coordinating schedules.  

Even supposedly quick scheduling conversations add up. Every interruption in your day can take up to 25 minutes to recover from. That’s right—when someone pops up on your phone or in your inbox to ask about your calendar, they might have used 25 minutes that you didn’t have to spare. 

Your time is precious. Their time is precious. Don’t waste any more of that precious time scheduling appointments. Let Ruby handle it for you, 24/7/365. 

Enjoy smarter scheduling with Ruby.

Ruby has expanded our scheduling capabilities to support a broad range of requests, across any platform that meets our guidelines. When people call your business, our friendly virtual receptionists are happy to schedule appointments on their behalf. 

We work with your preferred calendaring system through your website, so you’re never double-booked. There’s no handholding required—and no additional cost to you!

Scheduling appointments with Ruby is easy when:

  • We can link directly to your calendar. 
  • All required fields are clearly marked.  
  • The time zone is locked or easily adjustable. 
  • You have fewer than eight different appointment types.  
  • There aren’t any pop-ups that block the ability to schedule an appointment.  
  • Users aren’t required to accept terms and conditions or create an account in order to schedule an appointment. 
  • Your scheduling tool doesn’t collect social security or credit card numbers. Additionally, there’s no complex verification process or CAPTCHA required—a simple “I’m not a robot” checkbox works just fine. 

(By the way, if you’re a covered entity, Ruby can support HIPAA compliance.) 

For more information, review the checklist

Have questions about incorporating scheduling into your Ruby service? Reach out to us—we’re happy to help! 

For a full list of everything you get when you sign up for Ruby, visit our plans and pricing page

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Ready to turn your website visitors into leads for your business?  

Ruby makes it easy—with our automated lead capture tool. 

Automated what now? 

“Automated lead capture” may sound like a mouthful, but it’s simple in practice.  

Here’s a basic overview of how it works: 

  1. Someone visits your website.
  2. The lead capture tool initiates a conversation and gathers the visitor’s contact information.
  3. You receive an email with details, so you can follow up.

Ruby’s automated lead tool is designed for flexibility and ease of use. It’s highly customizable for your business and intuitive for your website visitors. 

Why install automated lead capture on your site? For one, your visitors want it. Did you know that 64% of consumers expect real-time answers? How about the fact that 46% of consumers prefer online conversations over other communication channels? Automated lead capture ensures your business meets the expectations of the people you serve. 

Plus, automated lead capture improves your visibility in search results. Google favors user-friendly webpage design. Automated lead capture is a quick and easy way to provide a better experience for your customers or clients.  

Finally, automated lead capture enables you to collect valuable data from your potential customers, clients, or patients. It’s particularly useful for service-oriented businesses and professionals such as law practices, healthcare providers, plumbers, HVAC technicians, financial advisors, IT providers, creative agencies, and business consultants. 

Take a tour of Ruby’s automated lead capture tool. 

Let’s dive into some of what Ruby’s automated lead capture tool can do: 

Manage conversations. 

Ruby’s automated lead capture tool comes ready to use with basic templates and tons of customization options. With some quick setup you can create a conversational flow that gathers and sends lead information to you and directs any current customers or clients to call your office for assistance.  

And that’s just the tip of the automated lead capture-berg. Use the tool to answer frequently asked questions, collect detailed intake information, relay information about your business, and much more!  
 
Here are a few different kinds of questions you can incorporate into your custom flow:  

 
Question: Use this basic question and answer format to collect general information such as the lead’s name and the kind of service they’re looking for. 

Multiple Choice Question: Define a set of multiple-choice options for your visitor to choose from. This is great for differentiating between current and new customers, for instance. You can route leads to a specific conversational flow based on their answer.  

Statement: Add a remark that doesn’t require an answer from the web visitor.  Use this option for ending conversations and setting expectations for next steps. 

You can reorder your questions by dragging and dropping them up or down, and use branching options to modify the flow of the conversation. Branching gets truly powerful when you use Multiple Choice questions. Ask existing customers one set of questions, and new customers a different set, for instance.

Collect valuable data. 

With Ruby’s automated lead capture tool, you can collect the specific data you need from your customers and prospects. Our validation options ensure nothing falls through the cracks. 

For example, if you need a visitor’s email address, you can set up the conversation so that anyone who doesn’t enter their email is re-prompted to submit it. 

The same function works for phone numbers, dates and times, and other kinds of information.

Make it personal, and make it your own. 

Our lead capture tool empowers you to make interactions friendly and personable by referencing answers visitors have provided during their conversations.

It’s all totally customizable to align with your business’s brand and goals. You can choose the color and position on your website, and add a call to action to engage your web visitors. 

Tips for getting the most out of Ruby’s automated lead capture tool. 

  • Keep your website visitors’ experience in mind when deciding to allow them to skip a question. Depending on the question, not allowing them to decline to provide a certain piece of information may cause frustration and lead to them abandoning the conversation.  
  • Follow up on your emailed leads as promptly as possible! If you have a sales team, set them up to be copied on your emailed leads.  
  • Take advantage of the Branching feature! If the visitor gets to the end of the flow, add a question asking if they would like additional assistance and loop them back to an earlier multiple-choice question to go through an additional flow. 
  • Use the Test button to thoroughly test all of your flows before publishing to make sure your conversation doesn’t have any dead ends.  

By the way… 

Did we mention that this tool is free for all Ruby customers? 

That’s right: automated lead capture is included in every Ruby plan! 

For more details, visit our Plans and Pricing page, or use the buttons to your lower right to contact us. 

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Guide: The story of a lead.

Reading time:

Sales leads—every business wants them, and everyone has different advice about how to get them. To be honest, a lot of that advice misses the point.

Successful sales professionals approach their leads as people, not numbers. They create meaningful, lasting relationships with potential customers and clients.

How? By creating real value and connecting with every lead on a personal level.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to do just that. You’ll learn…

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  • How to categorize leads based on their stage in the buying journey
  • Different sales strategies for different kinds of leads
  • How to convert leads into lasting customers or clients
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Closeup of a Paycheck Protection Program loan application

At a glance:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has reopened for applications in 2021.
  • Businesses with fewer than 20 employees have an exclusive early window to apply.
  • PPP loans are forgivable—qualifying businesses don’t have to pay back the money.
  • The small-business-only period ends on March 9th, and the SBA will stop accepting all new applications on March 31st.

Have fewer than 20 employees? If so, now may be an ideal opportunity to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the PPP in 2020 to provide financial assistance to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike loans through standard SBA programs, PPP loans are forgivable, meaning borrowers who meet certain criteria don’t have to pay back the money. Unfortunately, numerous applicants were turned down last year, and many small businesses lost the chance to access funding before the program closed.

Last week, the SBA reopened the program. And this time, the PPP has an initial application period exclusive to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. In other words, the smallest organizations now have the first shot at receiving loans.

It’s kind of like senior shopping hours at a supermarket, except the seniors are mom-and-pop businesses and they’re shopping for loans, not bananas.

In all seriousness, this move may provide much-needed relief to millions of small businesses throughout the US. According to a fact sheet (PDF) from the SBA, “98 percent of small businesses have fewer than 20 employees” but received “only 45 percent of PPP funding” last year.

The small-business-only window could improve equity as well. It’s one of several changes the SBA is making “to eliminate barriers that disproportionately harm minority-owned, women-owned, Main Street, and other underserved small businesses.”

This exclusive application period ends next Wednesday, March 9th, 2021, at 5pm ET. After that point, the PPP will accept applications from all eligible businesses until March 31st. (So, if you don’t get your application in before next Wednesday, you can still apply until the end of the month—you just might not have the same odds of receiving a loan.)

For more information, check out the following articles:

For free tips, tricks, and tools to grow your business, visit Ruby’s Small Business Resource Hub.

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What do you do when you have too many customers?

It might sound like a non-issue, or something too good to be true, but businesses sometimes find themselves with more customers or clients than they feel they can handle. The right marketing effort—or just plain luck—can bring a ton of new buyers your way.

The other day, for example, I watched an Instagram video posted by a small lifestyle business that was overwhelmed with purchases after getting a shoutout from an influencer. The company’s owner had to stay up all night fulfilling orders. She even called on a few family members to help pack.

Meanwhile, others are well-positioned for sudden growth. Take Nathan Apodaca, better known as Doggface. You may be familiar with Doggface from a video in which he rides a longboard and drinks cranberry juice while lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The video went viral in October 2020, resulting in millions of new fans and business opportunities for its star.

Without the right mindset and resources, Doggface would have struggled to adapt to his newfound fame and capitalize on his large new audience. But he skated nimbly through the transition and found lasting success in sponsorship deals.

For many businesses—especially those with exceptional services, products, or teams—a similar moment could be right around the corner. Indeed, if you invest in marketing and optimize your online presence, it’s only a matter of time before it happens to you.

Optimize your online presence.

Learn how to win more business by improving your website.

Get the guide.

So, what should you do when it happens? In the wake of a major new business opportunity, how can you avoid those late nights and family favors, and keep your cool, Doggface-style?

Prepare yourself.

Not quite. More business doesn’t have to mean more labor. Here are a few ways to work smarter, not harder, when it feels like there are too many clients or customers coming your way:

  • Embrace a growth mindset. Coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the term “growth mindset” reflects the attitude that intelligence isn’t fixed, but can be developed over time. The idea is that we can achieve more by learning from challenging experiences rather than avoiding them, giving up, or simply focusing on how difficult they are.
     
  • Establish healthy habits. Set yourself up for success by establishing the right routines. Eat well, take regular breaks throughout the day, get enough rest each night, ask for help when you need it, take time for your mental health…you get the idea. These sorts of habits will help you keep your energy high and your mind sharp. Remember: your business runs on structure and routine, and so do you.
  • Practice self-care. Here’s another way you and your business are intrinsically linked. Caring for your company necessitates caring for yourself. Practice appreciation; practice celebrating and rewarding yourself. Take that bubble bath—the success of your business depends on it!

Prepare your team.

Business owners sometimes worry about taking on too many clients or customers because they don’t want to let people down.

What if I can’t meet every client’s needs? Or worse: What if I put too much strain on my team?

Let’s flip that around. You can just as easily let a prospective client or customer down by not serving them when they need your business most. And you can let your employees down by not providing them with opportunities to grow and share in your business’s success.

The key to giving everyone what they want is communication. It’s all about communicating the right expectations to your buyers and your team. Of course, you’ll need a growth plan—a strategy for building your business and serving more people (see point 3 below)—but the primary factor in that plan’s success is your ability to get your team on board with and excited about your vision.

In a case of sudden, viral success, there will likely be growing pains and difficult moments, but communication goes a long way towards alleviating stress. Be sure to explain to your employees:

  • What’s happening and why. What’s behind the influx of customers or clients? Was it planned or expected, or did it spring out of nowhere?
  • Why it matters. What does growth mean for your business? What does it mean for your employees? What new opportunities does it present?
  • What’s expected of them. How does this change alter employees’ day-to-day jobs? Will there be a “crunch” period—and if so, how long do you expect it to last? Where can employees go if they need support?
  • How the business will adapt. Will processes change? Will you hire more people? Will you partner with another company?

Regardless of what changes lie ahead, be sure to reward your employees and show gratitude for their hard work.

The good news is that no team has to take on all the work by themselves. Outsourced services like Ruby can act as an on-demand extension of your business, there to pinch-hit when you need it.

Prepare your business.

With the right infrastructure in place, the problem of having “too many customers” evaporates.

Okay, I admit this topic deserves its own blog post—or several. For now, I’ll leave you with a quick tip: You don’t need to rethink your business model or reengineer your infrastructure overnight. There are various services and tools out there that allow you to respond deftly to sudden spikes in demand. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Canary Marketing can help you scale your brand, improve your logistics, and take your business digital.
  • Asana streamlines and accelerates project management. You can communicate with your team, assign and delegate important tasks, and measure progress all in one place, at a glance.
  • QuickBooks offers easy accounting and bookkeeping tools to keep your team organized, informed, happy—and paid on time.
  • Upwork is an excellent solution for hiring talented freelancers who fit your budget.

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To discover more solutions for managing your business’s growth, check out Ruby’s list of 101 tech tools.

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If you want to grow, “too many customers” can be a good thing.

Thunder only happens when it’s raining—and business only happens when you’re marketing. As you optimize your digital marketing, keep in mind that before long, your efforts will result in new customers or clients. Make sure you’re ready for them. Prepare yourself, prepare your team, and prepare your business.

It bears mentioning that many businesses have ceilings for growth, and some reach those ceilings sooner than others. Sometimes, it’s a matter of practical space; a gym, for instance, might have issues providing customers with sufficient room and equipment. Other times, as with a high-end lifestyle business, exclusivity might be at the core of the company’s value proposition.

For the majority of companies, however, more customers or clients are a good problem to have. More business means more revenue and profit, so long as you navigate the growth mindfully and strategically.

(By the way, if you’re looking for more tips, our friends at Grasshopper wrote an article about this topic—read their advice about what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by a surge in new business.)

No matter how small your business, or how pressing the demand, it’s possible to serve and delight every customer. Ruby makes it easy.

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Picture this: You’re days into a power crisis, living with no electricity or running water, and your roof starts leaking. A chunk of your ceiling collapses, dumping rubble all over your bed. Then another leak occurs in your bathroom…and another in your kitchen.  

It sounds like a nightmare, but not long ago, this exact sequence of events was reality for Lisa Gochman, a resident of Houston, Texas. 

“It’s a hot mess,” Gochman told The New York Times. “I’m trying to just kind of go with it…I’ve cried a couple times.” 

Sadly, Gochman is far from the only person who has had to deal with this sort of crisis. In the aftermath of the severe weather of February 2021, countless people in Texas and beyond have faced—or are currently facing—painful hardships and tragedies.  

Maybe you know someone who has experienced a similar situation. Maybe that someone is you, and you don’t have to imagine anything.  

Many of us have experienced the kind of “hot mess” Gochman describes. With the recent fires and freezes in states that house our own employees, we know firsthand the crucial roles local businesses serve in getting people back on their feet. When disaster strikes, we rely on our local plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, healthcare providers, legal professionals, and other businesses for immediate assistance. 

Gochman was able to contact a plumbing service that could help her quickly. But not everyone is as fortunate. After all, disasters impact businesses, too.  

As they endeavor to help people in need, those plumbers, electricians, and other intrepid professionals may be dealing with outages, messes, and difficulties of their own. On top of their and their families’ needs, business owners may encounter serious, compounding staffing and communication challenges.  

It’s another nightmare scenario. You’re getting an influx of calls and website inquiries from customers and clients who need service—ASAP—at the worst possible time for you and your team.  

When your business and the people you serve are facing the same crisis, how can you come to the rescue? 

It’s possible—all you need are the right tools.  

An automated lead tool, for instance, enables your business to meet demand when you or your employees are unavailable. It collects key information from people in need, so as soon as you’re able to, you can communicate with clients or customers, prioritize the most urgent needs, and coordinate follow-up.  

Live chat takes the conversation further, connecting website visitors with trained specialists who can answer their questions and guide them through the next steps with empathy and compassion. 

Automated or live, chat means less burden on you and your team, more control over your business, and more time to focus on your family and livelihood. 

People rely on local businesses—and thousands of businesses across the United States rely on Ruby. Learn about how Ruby makes it easy to connect with the people you serve

If you’re looking for ways to help people in need, consider giving through one or more of these nonprofit organizations:  

Our hearts go out to all of those who are currently being impacted by the severe weather in Texas and other parts of the country. We’re here to support you and hope that you and your loved ones stay safe! 

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You’re here because you have a question:

How much does an answering service cost?

Maybe you’re a business owner and you don’t have the time to answer phone calls and other messages on your own. Maybe you’re wondering if an outsourced service would be more cost-effective than adding one or more receptionists to your staff. You might be looking for answering service pricing so you can compare providers. Or maybe you’re just curious about answering services and how they work.

Whatever you’re looking for, we have the answers you need—the answers about answering services. Answering answers. (“Answer” is a kind of a weird word, isn’t it?)

Anyway, in this article, you’ll learn…

  • what an answering service is
  • different ways answering service providers price their services and plans
  • why cheaper doesn’t always mean better
  • how the right answering service pays for itself

…and more. But first, let’s start with the reason you’re here:

How much does an answering service cost?

As a small business owner considering outsourcing to an answering service, likely one of the first considerations that comes to mind is “How much does an answering service cost?”

Initially, an answering service can seem like an additional cost. However, they are surprisingly affordable and cost-effective, and can offer tremendous value to a variety of businesses.

The good news is that you’ll be able to find an answering service that fits your budget. However, you may initially feel overwhelmed by your options. An answering service cost comparison isn’t always straightforward, but a little education can help you decide which one is right for your business.

The prices for answering services can vary significantly and depend on several factors, including call volume and duration of each call. Pricing also differs depending on the complexity of your business calls. Some clients simply need the name, number, and a brief message taken (about 1 minute), while others will require time upwards of 5 to 6 minutes, thereby significantly increasing the cost per call.

Your billing structure will differ based upon the type of agents you contract. Some services offer a choice of “shared” or “dedicated” agents. Shared agents also handle calls for other companies, and these services are typically paid for by the minute.

Dedicated agents are those that only handle calls for your business, and these services typically charge by the hour. Most services require that you buy full 8-hour workdays when hiring dedicated agents.

As there is no concrete law for how companies should bill for service, pricing for answering service plans can be confusing. The two most common methods of charging for answering services are per-minute billing and per-call billing.

Per-minute billing

As you may guess, with a billing-by-the-minute model, you pay for the time answering service agents spend on the phone talking to your callers. The company bills you for any outbound and inbound call increments, and you only pay for what you use.

Make sure you understand how the provider calculates call time. If it isn’t clear enough, ask how they calculate it. Also, ask if your provider rounds up your call time. For example, you want to find out if it bills in intervals, such as 1 second, 6 seconds, or 12 seconds. You also want to find out if there’s a minimum call time and if the agent’s post-call actions (such as entering notes about the call into the system or relaying messages) count toward your minutes.

Per-call billing

Pay-per-call answering service rates are another accepted billing method. The service charges a specified flat fee regardless of call length, based on the number of calls they receive. This model is less common because it can increase variability in the amount of time the answering service needs to spend on each call.

The rates can also fluctuate based on call volume. For instance, a service may opt to quote a “per call rate” of $1. While it seems straightforward enough, consider that services often charge for hang-ups and wrong numbers, which can add up rapidly.

While the cost per call can be quoted as little as $0.59, some companies may also charge for each message delivered, as opposed to providers that do not have additional fees for message delivery.

Now that you understand the pricing basics, if you’re on the fence about hiring service, continue reading. Learn everything you can about answering services, from how they work to how to choose the right answering service for your business.

You’ll come away with a deeper understanding of how an answering service can help move the dial for your business and gain confidence in the selection process moving forward.

What is an answering service?

Simply put, an answering service is a company that answers phone calls on behalf of another business. Depending on the type you choose, using an answering service can be much more than paying someone to pick up the phone for you.

A first-rate professional answering service can present your business in a positive light to existing customers and prospects, improving your brand image as well as customer satisfaction and retention rates.

The best answering service providers create meaningful, personal connections with every caller, ensuring your business stands out as truly attentive and customer-centric.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of answering services:

Interactive voice response systems

These are the “automated response” systems that provide lists of rudimentary self-service and transfer options (e.g., “press ‘3’ to check the status of a prescription” or “press ‘6’ to speak to a pharmacist”).

Call centers

These are the traditional answering services that are less personal than a virtual receptionist but still a human being. Call centers are large operations that specialize in sales, marketing, and customer support over the phone. They are a good option for businesses in high-sales industries with thousands of customers such as retail, automotive insurance, and telecommunications.

Virtual receptionists

Virtual receptionists are real people who manage phone calls remotely (virtually) for business clients. The only difference is that they work offsite. Virtual receptionists are great for small and medium-sized businesses, businesses in high-touch industries (e.g., healthcare, real estate, law, and financial services), businesses that receive calls at nontraditional times, and businesses looking to differentiate their customer service.

Get the comprehensive guide.

Learn more about the power of virtual receptionists for your business!

Download

Answering service pricing: Why is it all over the place?

Answering services vary widely in terms of price and features, depending on how you use them. As we discussed earlier, most services charge by the minute or per-call. Whichever model you choose is contingent upon your business’s call volume, the features you need, and how long you intend to work with a service. 

Typically, answering services are priced based on month-to-month plan structures, contingent on the volume of calls handled by the service. Most providers offer various plans, and prices vary based on the number of minutes provided. If the minutes in a plan are exceeded, charges are usually incurred by the minute at a predetermined rate. Higher tiered packages include premium benefits and services, such as 24/7 availability and, in some instances, some internet platform answering services.

Answering services are highly personalized; it requires time for agents to learn your business inside and out. Some services charge a setup fee, while others build it into their rates.

Some answering services charge various other fees and upcharges. When calling for price quotes, ask about additional costs (e.g., setting up your account) as well as any recurring and incidental expenses (e.g., overages or holiday rates) that you may be charged. Before selecting a service, scrutinize the company’s contract to ensure you’re aware of all potential fees.

What should you look for in an answering service?

In a Clutch survey of 301 businesses that use an answering service provider, call quality received the highest average rating (4.61 out of 5), followed by responsiveness (4.55). Surprisingly, price was outranked by four other features. This most likely reflects that the cost for answer services is low enough that other features take precedent.

The right answering service can make all the difference in the success of your business. But with literally thousands of telephone answering services, the task of finding ‘the one’ isn’t that simple. Looking for the right answering service can be a challenge.

To make it easier on yourself, you need to know precisely what you’re looking for and what questions to ask to get the information you need.

Opting for the cheapest answering service plan available can be tempting. But although you may save money upfront, you ultimately get what you pay for.

Providers that offer the lowest prices on the market can compete on just one thing —price. Their service levels suffer because their clients don’t adequately compensate them to staff appropriately, hire the best talent, and train them thoroughly. Services with rock bottom rates often employ inexperienced receptionists or disregard the quality of callers’ experiences.

The right answering service can make or break your business. Agents’ experience and professionalism are two of the most important features you can look for in a service. Without great operators, you’ll have difficulty ensuring all of your customers are cared for the same way your employees would care for them. Because every caller is different, you need agents that can adapt well. Sure, gathering a name and number is essential, but each business has different needs the service should be able to meet.

As all businesses depend on customer loyalty, a personal answering service will let your callers know how important their business is. You love your customers, and a personal experience will show them how much you appreciate them. The right answering service will ensure your business creates positive first impressions and genuine connections with your callers, every time.

Best answering service: What makes a quality answering service?

Every answering service answers phone calls on behalf of another business. In choosing the right service for your business, here are some things to consider:

  • Do they provide live agent answering 24/7/365?
  • What is their typical response time?
  • Are they 100% US-based to ensure the most out of every customer conversation?
  • Can they support your needs, whether it’s full-time call answering or backup and fill-in support?
  • Can they work with your existing phone number or keep your number private with a custom, provider-hosted number?
  • Does their net promoter score (NPS) exceed industry standards?
  • In addition to call answering, do they provide online chat?

The recent shift from in-person to online presents new challenges as well as significant opportunities—companies without the ability to respond quickly enough risk losing valuable leads. Chat can close the gap, helping you respond rapidly to potentially valuable connections. Adding chat to your website can help increase leads, conversions, sales, and customer satisfaction.

Ruby: the #1 business answering service.

Trusted by over 13,000 small business owners, Ruby is a virtual receptionist and chat service company that answers your business phone during and after hours or anytime you need us. We are based in the USA and genuinely care about the level of service we provide to every client.

Learn how Ruby empowers your business to deliver personalized experiences and stay connected.

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Photograph of Matt Lurie, Ruby's new content strategist

Well, hello! Hi there! Greetings, salutations, namaste, shalom, aloha, and howdy! Hope you’re having a good morning, or afternoon, or evening, or late-night blog-reading sesh.  

My name’s Matt, and I’m Ruby’s new content strategist. Nice to meet you! 

Okay, truth be told, we’ve met before. Or, I should say that if you’re a regular visitor to the Ruby blog, we’re probably already familiar with each other. I’ve helped develop dozens of Ruby blog posts, guides, and other resources, working behind the scenes with the brilliant Markie Johansen and other members of the exceptional team here.  

Until recently, I was a self-employed writer. I spent a little over nine years running my own content marketing business, helping companies of all kinds and sizes tell their stories and connect meaningfully with their audiences. For much of that time, I was content (eh? get it?) with my career, happy to take the good (freedom, autonomy) with the less-good (uncertainty, freelance taxes). 

Then I met Ruby. And like 13,000+ customers and hundreds of Rubys before me, I fell in love. 

It’s not just what this company does, but how and why. The people, the values, the dedication to small businesses, the collective sense of humor and humanity—Ruby has it all. This is a place where everyone matters, where every interaction is kind, real, and fun. Anyone who’s ever communicated with a Ruby virtual receptionist or chat specialist has experienced the special brand of personal connection that flows through the entire organization, from the frontlines to sales and marketing, customer happiness, operations, and the executive team. 

In short, the idea of working on content full-time at Ruby was a dream job for me. A few weeks ago, the dream came true. 

Reader, they hired me. 

That’s where this story ends—and the next one begins. I’m honored to have the opportunity to share the new chapter with all of you.  

At Ruby, we take pride in creating educational, engaging, and empowering content for growing businesses and the people who operate them. As content strategist, my goal is to provide you with the resources you need to build your organization, delight your customers or clients, and make a lasting, positive impact in your community. Together with the rest of the marketing team, I’ll be expanding Ruby’s library with more content in more formats, keeping value, authenticity, and accessibility front and center. 

I’m looking forward to diving keyboard-first into this role and bringing you more tools, stories, and insights you can use to grow your business. We already have a ton of exciting stuff planned for this year, and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Until then, I encourage you to check out our latest guide: The new front door to your business. There you’ll find plenty of information and advice (including a few sections written by yours truly) about building and optimizing your online presence. Grab it here. 

See you ‘round these parts again soon! 

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A loose pile of 1-, 5-, 10-, and 20-dollar bills, photographed by Alexander Schimmeck via Unsplash

‘Tis the season—tax season! Although it may sound like a ton of paperwork (which, to be clear, it is), this time of year also presents tons of savings opportunities for small businesses like yours. I’m talking deductions, AKA write-offs, AKA ways to reduce your taxable income for tax year 2020.

With January in the bag, most small business owners have sent out tax forms to their employees and independent contractors. Now is a good time to start gathering your own documents to file your business takes. To help you get a handle on what small businesses can write off this year, we’ve created a small business tax deductions checklist for 2020. 

Before we dive in, let’s pause and define a key phrase: “ordinary and necessary.” These two words are the criteria by which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) decides whether business deductions are legitimate or not.

  • Deductible expenses must be ordinary. That is, they should be considered normal throughout your industry.
  • Deductible expenses must also be necessary. That means the expenses should be appropriate for the particular industry. (So, no, you probably won’t be able to write off a jacuzzi for the breakroom.)

As long as your expenses are ordinary and necessary, there are plenty of opportunities to save on your taxes for 2020. Here are 10 tax deductions worth considering*:

*Please note that while we’re small business pros, we’re not certified tax professionals. Be sure to consult with your accountant or financial advisor to determine the best course of action for you and your business.

2020 Small Business Tax Deduction Checklist

1. The qualified business income deduction

Under current tax law, many business owners can claim a 20% deduction of their qualified business income. Eligible small business owners who file Form 1040 can take this one, though it phases out once you reach an income level of $160,700 for single filers and married filers filing separately, or $321,400 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

2. Home office expenses

With so many people working from home in the past year, you’ll want to closely review the IRS’s rules around home office deductions

You can calculate this deduction in two ways:

  • The simplified method is to deduct $5 per square foot used, up to 300 square feet.
  • The standard method is to add up all costs of maintaining your house. This includes mortgage interest or rent, real estate taxes, utilities, and maintenance costs such as house cleaning and landscaping. Multiply the total cost by the percentage of the square footage that you use as your office. 

Keep in mind that we’re talking about the IRS here, so you have to meet specific criteria:

  • First, your home office has to be your principal place of business. You must conduct most business from your home office. For most people, this will be easy for 2020!
  • Next, your home office must be regularly and exclusively used for business purposes. This means it doesn’t count if you use your dining room table for work and for eating. Even if you’re in a small space, you should mark a designated work spot. (Consider taking photos of this space to keep in your tax documents in the rare event you get audited.)

3. Phone and internet costs

If you’re using the internet at home and a personal cell phone for both work and personal use, you can only deduct the portion of the bill that is used for work. Be sure to keep clear records (again, in case the IRS comes calling). If you use a home landline, you can only deduct a second landline for work purposes. 

4. Salaries, benefits, and contractors

You can deduct what you pay employees as salary, paid vacation time, and benefits. If you hire independent contractors, you can deduct their fees, too. 

5. Interest on business loans and credit cards

To say this past year was a tough one is an understatement. Countless businesses have had to take out loans or use credit cards to stay afloat. The good news is that the interest on these debts is tax-deductible—so long as the following statements are true:

  • The debt is in your name. If someone takes out a loan on your behalf, but it’s in their name, you are not legally liable for the debt. So you can’t take a deduction on the interest, even if you make all the payments. If you are legally liable, the interest is tax-deductible.
  • You and the lender intend that you will repay the loan. If you don’t have to repay, it’s a gift, and you can’t write off the interest.
  • The lender is really a lender. Getting a loan from a family member is a little sketchy in the eyes of the IRS if you’re trying to deduct interest. 

6. Moving expenses and rent expenses

Moved last year? Unfortunately, you may not be able to deduct those expenses. Under the most recently passed tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, only members of the US military can deduct costs related to relocating their private residences. 

If you had to move your business, however, you can deduct those expenses from your tax bill. You can also deduct the cost of renting a place of business—but not the cost of renting your home if you have a home office. (See deduction #2 above for more information.)

7. Business meals

You can deduct up to 50% of a business meal, as long as you discuss business either before, during, or after the meal, so keep your receipts. (Consider writing down the purpose of the meeting or main points discussed on the back of each receipt, in case you’re audited.) 

8. Costs related to using your car for business

If you have a car used exclusively for business, then the whole cost of owning and operating it is deductible. 

If you use your motor vehicle for both business and personal trips, keep careful track of the business mileage. There are two ways to take the deduction: 

  • Calculate the standard mileage rate. Take the total number of business miles you drive for the year and multiply it by the standard mileage rate. For 2020, the rate is 57.5 cents, a small decrease from 2019’s 58 cents. 
  • Use the actual expense method. Keep a record of all car-related costs for the year—gas, oil, repairs, tires, taxes, and licenses. Multiply the total cost of using the vehicle by the percentage of the annual miles driven for business. 

9. Other expenses

Here are a few more business expenses you may be able to write off for the 2020 tax year:

  • Advertising and promotion are completely tax-deductible. Launched a new website? Redesigned your logo? Ran a marketing campaign? Sent out advertising mailers? It can all come off your tax bill! 
  • Premiums paid for business insurance are deductible. This can include health and dental insurance for employees, property insurance, liability insurance, and workers’ compensation. 
  • Many professional fees—such as fees paid to a lawyer, accountant, or customer engagement service like Ruby—are tax-deductible.

10. COVID-related business assistance

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) introduced emergency funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, as well as many new tax credits. Be sure to review the credits below to know if they provide any benefit to you.

  • Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC). The ERTC credit was created as a way to keep staff employed after government-mandated closures or substantial profit loss (more than 50% for any given quarter).
  • Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA required sick/family leave to COVID-19 affected employees and provides eligible tax credits for 100% of qualified sick-leave pay and related FICA taxes.
  • Business interest expense deduction increases. Certain business interest expense deductions have increased to 30%-50% of adjusted taxable income.

We hope this small business tax preparation checklist helps you save some money this year! The big question is what you’ll do with the money you save. You could invest it back into your business. Or upgrade your equipment. Or, better yet, save even more money and accelerate your business’s growth by hiring a service like Ruby to engage with your customers over the phone and via website chat. 

Discover how Ruby empowers your business to succeed in 2021 and beyond.

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For small business owners, choosing the right customer engagement solution has never been more important. And with so many new technologies and customer trends to keep track of as a business owner, it can be difficult to know which of your business investments is going to end up paying off in the long run.

In 2020, we faced many challenges and most of us needed a bit of extra empathy as we navigated a new way of being in the world and handling our day-to-day business. These unexpected challenges ended up contributing big time to a new customer service trend that is here to stay: responsive and empathetic customer service.  

Facing obstacle after obstacle in 2020, customers started expecting (and even demanding) that businesses prioritize personal connections and quick responses. In fact, 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services – up from 80% in 2018.

Tip 1: Look for technology that helps improve empathy and responsiveness. 

After everything people have been through in the last year, customers are now looking to do business with companies and people they feel safe with. Making sure your customer engagement solution allows you to be proactive in communication is one of the best ways to make people feel secure and safe doing business with a company. 

Look for a customer service solution that includes phone support so people can simply pick up their phone and call to ask your team a question. With the pandemic, many businesses have noticed an uptick in phone calls as customers look to get answers about modified business hours and new safety protocols being put in place. 

And with 90% of consumers rating an “immediate response” as important or very important when they have a customer service question, it becomes clear how vital it is for business owners to find a way to connect with customers in the moment they are actually reaching out. If a business can’t help them answer a question or solve a problem right away, most customers will call, web chat, or email the next business they find on the search results page. 

Tip 2: Find personal ways to connect online.

In a 2020 report, 88% of people say they expect a personalized experience from businesses. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many business owners but the implications around this expectation have big effects on consumer behavior.

Before the pandemic, customers would walk-by store locations or drive themselves to a physical location to do business in-person. But with a huge move to online interactions business owners have had to shift business operations to their website. Which means business owners must invest in trying to recreate that feeling of doing business in-person where you could offer a warm and genuine connection with an easy smile. 

Any customer engagement solution you choose will need to have built-in ways to help you and your team create that warm, personable connection that customers are craving these days.

Tip 3: Supporting yourself and your frontline staff.

Did you know that Google is now taking user experience into account as part of its SEO ranking algorithm? And with more customers wanting self-service options when they visit your website—having a chat option makes a lot of sense for business owners. But who can you rely on to be there 24/7 to answer the chat questions?

It’s also important that your customer engagement platform has documented and proven ways to show that your customers will be on the receiving end of genuine and helpful customer service when they call or chat with your company. 

2020 was a tough year and as we’ve moved into 2021, it will be important for business owners to find ways to support their staff. Virtual receptionist services and live chat specialists can serve as a backup for your in-house team, or take over as your front line answering solution to leave your team available for other business operations. 

Ian Golding of CCXP is a Global Customer Experience Specialist and recently said, “As we move into 2021, the employee experience has become as prominent as the customer experience. The way we treat our employees will reflect the way they treat our customers. In 2021, the companies that continue to put their people first are the ones who will succeed as the world recovers.” 

This is exactly why so many small business owners are updating their websites to include a chat option and making certain their phone lines are answered consistently by someone dedicated to making the most out of each conversation. 

Check out our 2021 Customer Engagement Report to learn more about how to prioritize personal connections with customers while ensuring your team has the support they need to deliver empathetic and proactive customer service.

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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.