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Grasshopper is everywhere
Small businesses are signing on fast to the new trend of hosted communications, giving them not just the big-company image that a virtual office provides, but it is putting them ahead of the curve to take advantage of the IP Telephony and Wireless revolution.
Mobility, portability, affordability and quality customer contacts are the drivers for small businesses because of their inherent dynamics. These factors also likely to be the same for the major upheaval in telecommunications which is going to affect all businesses — ubiquitous and pervasive wireless access to voice and data.
Small businesses are often fragmented geographically and technologically, as well as being understaffed. They may have salespeople or developers spread in homes and small offices around the country, using different phone & cell phone services and working on different computer platforms. And key managers are just as likely to be on the road selling, as in a central office. Small businesses cannot afford receptionists or other administrative staff to act as mere customer-routers or liaisons.
Web-based hosted communications provide a way to “rent” infrastructure for phones and networking, and allow calls and messages to be routed seamlessly to remote locations. All you need is a Web browser and a phone service of some kind — saving greatly on capital & office expense.
By adopting this Internet-based communications model, these businesses are ready for the additional savings and productivity features that come with IP Telephony systems and Wi-Fi. Big-business executives can see their future in these small-business behavioral changes.
For as little as $10 a month, a small business can have a hosted voicemail system that provides a virtual receptionist, routes calls back and forth to different departments no matter whether it is a cell phone in Chicago or a home-office phone in Miami, can deliver voicemail via email, sends and delivers faxes and offers a 800-number for client contact.
One company that evolved from a pager business (an early mobile communicator) is GotVMail, which now boasts 1600 customers for its virtual voicemail system.
“We had been looking for a voicemail application to make us look more professional but not spend a lot of money,” says President, Siamak Taghaddos. “We worked with one system ourselves for a while but decided to create our own technology.”
“Our goal was to give the customers exactly what they wanted, and make any kind of small business or entrepreneur look more professional and function a lot more efficiently in their business ventures.” “Consumer confidence is built from the very first moment of communication,” says Taghaddos..
GotVMail focuses on the small business user — a market of 40 million people — and avoids competing with AT&T, Verizon and Nortel for the large corporate market.
But Taghaddos believes his company has been able to provide all the robust services that an entrepreneur needs, at a tremendous discount to the larger players. He says their background in pagers helped them focus on the real needs of users, not features that ran counter to actual practice. He says the hundreds of failed unified messaging companies of two years ago are testament to the mistake of trying to change ingrained behavior.
“We have a system that works with their existing email and phone systems, we have set prices that are realistic for small businesses and we only ask for month to month contracts. If businesses want the product, they will stay, if not we do not hold them back.”
Taghaddos said they have only lost 10 customers this year, which makes for a tiny churn rate that most telecommunications companies can only dream about.
GotVMail is a small company themselves — six employees and 20 call center reps — started with venture money of only $1 million. This compares to some of the larger competitors in the market who have taken in up to $100 million in startup funds — and often have to price their products high. This puts many of the bigger players out of the race for the small business market.
These virtual office systems are flexible and feature-rich. Calls can be automatically redirected among sales or customer service people; call forwarding and other features can be changed in seconds from any web browser. A single 1-800 number can serve as the only customer contact point for an organization at any point in its growth cycle, whether scaling up or down.
“Small businesses or entrepreneurs want to attract a lot of customers but are worried about looking too small. Or they have multiple employees in dispersed locations and they have no centralized way of bringing all of them together.
“It all comes down to needing a professional image with something that can centralize their communications. We give them that with the ability to integrate all employees and departments, call forwarding, voicemail and let them log into their systems online, regardless of where their office is.”
Taghaddos says this is a trend that was an outcrop of virtual fax services like eFax, and remote computer access services like GoToMyPC.
“All the companies that are becoming successful in the marketplace today are geared towards virtual communications, allowing people to work remotely anywhere, giving them a professional image and at a very discounted price’” he says.
Customers find these services reduce their infrastructure costs and helps staff satisfaction.
“Several of our staff are single parents. GotVMail has enabled us to allow them to stay at home with their children 3 - 4 days per week, while still making a very nice income. Having the ability to allow this, while still appearing to be in one office, definitely has been beneficial to the lives of the parents, children, and the management of Leadsareus.com,” says Brian Knapp, President, Leadsareus.com.
GotVMail, headquartered in Boston, developed its technology in New York where their hosting facility resides. The company relies heavily for its marketing reach upon Yahoo and Google search results — many seekers are looking for solutions and do not even know that such products exist. They also do print and direct mail marketing.