In days of yore, using virtual assistants and online conferencing services was a sign of not being a serious business – not having the capital to invest in solid premises full of real people tip-tapping away, sounding busy.
These days, although using virtual B2B services is still a sign of transience, this is more and more a reflection of how business is evolving – streamlined, flexible services that respond quickly to change.
Online, hosted alternatives to traditional B2B – accountancy, marketing, secretarial – have grown into reliable, polished services in their own right, and using them is nothing to be ashamed of.
1. Call centres
Large-scale call management is still essential for many companies, who rely on it for sales and customer service. But the traditional call-centre money-saver – outsourcing to countries whose language is substantially different to that of your customer base – has proven, over the last decade or so, to be less than ideal, with complaints soaring and many otherwise successful organisations pulling their call-centre operations back into a national vicinity.
This can be much more expensive, however, so for start-ups the recent rise in PAYG cloud hosted call centre software, such as that offered by EasyCallNow, has enabled a professional-looking operation to develop without investing more than it can afford.
2. Secretarial/call answering
For entrepreneurs and start-ups, the need to look bigger – or at least more professional than you might actually feel during those early seat-of-the-pants months – is an age-old issue, with that old adage about first impressions drummed into us from a very early age.
Time-management can also be an issue – when it’s just you, or just a few of you, having to field calls and emails from people who aren’t immediately relevant can be immensely time-consuming.
But hiring a permanent, dedicated secretary can seem extremely self-indulgent when you’re just starting out, especially when there might not be work to occupy them on a fulltime basis.
There’s also a chance that your team is not all working from the same place. Virtual assistants and call answering services like Moneypenny and AllDayPA have become a perfectly acceptable way to present a united front – and filter out all those sales calls.
The benefits of online accounting depends on how complicated your accounts are, and how much you need a wily accountant to figure out how much tax you can avoid paying.
Accountancy software for small businesses (Kashflow and Clearbooks are good examples ) is one of the most successful B2B services to make the jump online, while accountancy itself is still trailing a little behind.
Many businesses still trust word of mouth or DIY to randomly trusting a faceless website for a monthly fee that may or may not be less than the money saved in taxes.
4. Web conferencing
Although some of you may be secretly nostalgic for a bygone era of all-expenses-paid business jaunts and drunken conferences with your colleagues, there’s no denying that these can seem of questionable value to the company itself – even more so once you’re running a company of your own.
With many of us working remotely with colleagues spread across the globe, web conferencing, whether using freebies like Google Hangouts or subscription models like Join.Me, is ideal for briefings and quick meetings amongst small groups.
Eight or nine years ago, it was still a faddy new idea, its proponents certain that this was the way forward for all interactions – the reality is somewhat less totalitarian, with the impracticalities of web-conferencing more than a dozen or so people, and the one-sidedness of using it for, say, training an office full of new hires.