No matter what kind of Virtual PA you are, you need a telephone. Lots of virtual assistants manage for a while with their home number or mobile but it's not a satisfactory solution.
Most are uncomfortable giving out the family number and an 07 mobile number shouts "I'm an amateur" (or student trying to earn something in the holidays).
Virtual PAs need to project a thoroughly professional image, that's why your clients choose you so you don't want one of your kids or your partner grabbing the phone before you do!
You also need to know whether the call is for your business or your family - so you can answer it professionally. A tentative "er Hello?" doesn't really work does it?
Luckily, these days VoIP can solve all these problems for you. You don't have to rely on BT to get a second telephone line; with VoIP getting a real telephone number that anyone can call is easy, cheap and instant.
Don't worry, virtually no-one does - you don't need to know anything about VoIP, you just need to have an internet connection and a VoIP telephone - we do the rest.
This free PBX feature enables you to see which of your telephone numbers is being called instead of the number of the person calling you. ie it displays Called Line ID instead of Calling Line ID (CLI) on your phone.
This can be a very useful feature because with Voipfone you can have as many numbers on your account as you want but sometimes you need to know which one of them your caller dialled.
For example, if you run more than one business but only have one telephone, you will want to answer the phone with the correct business name.
Some Virtual assistant services answer calls for their clients. One of the biggest challenges for this kind of service used to be getting the call from the client to the VA without the caller knowing that it was being diverted.
Then there was the difficulty that theVirtua lAassistant couldn't easily tell which of her many clients' numbers is being called so that she could answer it appropriately. (She could only see the number of the caller, who could be anybody of course.)
Solving these problems used to be costly and difficult and made it a game for only big companies and rich clients but with VoIP it becomes simple, immediate and, frankly, very cheap; which opens the market to more users and more VAs offering more personalised services.
There are several tricks that VoIP performs beautifully that make the Virtual Assistants service work.
This is how our own business, Voipfone works. All our customer support team work from home (as do all our employees and Directors), scattered throughout the UK between Newcastle to Kent. Several of our software programmers are even overseas.
Try it; call our London number 020 7043 5555 and ask whoever answers where he or she is - they may be a bit shy at first but if you explain why you're asking they'll all happily tell you. (You can test the call quality too.)
We have many VAs already using our service for their own Call Answering businesses. In fact they asked for our help as our own customers often ask us if we provide a VA service ourselves.
(We have thousands of small businesses who can all divert their calls to any Voipfone based VA service for free and they are just the type of business that needs a VA).
VoIP is as simple or as sophisticated as you need it to be.
A simple telephone number that allows you to make and answer calls independently costs £3 per month. (You can have any type of number you like but we generally recommend a normal 01 or 02 one.) This is a no contract service, so you're not tied in to long-term commitments.
You'll normally need to buy a telephone too - we usually recommend one that costs £80 (a snom 300) for VA work. But you can use your PC as a phone so it can be totally free if you like or use your own VoIP telephone or adapter.
If you then need to add other VAs onto your service you give them a telephone extension for £1 per month each (they'll need to buy a phone too.) You could also add a number on each extension so that people can call the number directly, if that's how you prefer your VAs to work.
Then you can get clever and give your clients their own numbers so that they can transfer their calls to you when they need to for free.
Getting cleverer still, you can have one phone but dozens of callers and still be able to answer the phone in the name of the company being called using Line & Number Presentation - a free feature that comes with the extensions.
And of course you can transfer calls between everybody, use voicemail, music on hold and call conferencing - all free.
Kate runs a virtual assistant business that includes Call Answering. She has a team of VAs to help. Some are full time, some part time, some just work evenings and weekends. One even runs her own VA business but they help each other out occasionally.
They all work from home and Kate schedules their time and schedules the rotas.
When a new client joins, Kate buys a telephone number from us, (£3 pm) and also adds a telephone extension, (£1 pm) for him onto her Virtual PBX switchboard from our website.
In her online control panel, she allocates the new number and extension to the new client. She then ticks the Line and Number Presentation box so that the number that appears on her VA's phones when a call is made, is the new client's number; not the number calling. As soon as Kate presses the save button, the number and extension is active.
She then adds the new client's name and number into the address book of all her VA's phones so that now, when any of their phones ring, they show the company name and they can answer appropriately.
She then decides who will answer the new client's calls. She can do several things here; she can make all her VAs phones ring and whoever is available grabs it (this is what we do) or she can allocate the number to an individual who knows the client's business best or she can do it by groups of individuals.
She can change any of this at anytime to suit her rota. She can set her business hours online so that when her service is closed, her client's calls go to a personalised voicemail. Messages can be listened to directly by Kate or her client and all messages are converted to an MP3 files and emailed to her; she can then store them on her PC or email them to her client.
If an important or difficult call has to be dealt with, it can be recorded at the press a button - alternatively, all calls can be recorded all of the time.
The new customer has a couple of things to consider. If he has an established business and telephone number he needs to find a way of diverting his inbound calls to Kate's service.
Most telephone companies have a call divert service; BT's costs about £2.40 per month with call charges on top (unless you take one of their packages). Using that service he can divert his calls to Kate new Voipfone number whenever he needs to.
If the customer is just starting a new business or doesn't need to use his existing number, he could take a Voipfone number himself and then the call divert becomes free. As do all calls between Kate and her client - an obvious advantage for both of them.
Most Call answering VAs charge a fixed amount per call. They can also have a fixed charge per month, which covers the costs of her extensions and numbers.
Voipfone provide real time call statistics per extension and account. These can be read online or downloaded in .csv format, which opens into Kate's spread sheet programme, Excel. From this information she can calculate how many calls to bill her clients and provide him with a detailed invoice showing the time, date and durations of all the calls she answered for him.
She can also see how busy each of her VAs are and use the information to pay them, if that's her business model.
Once per week she holds a telephone conference between all he VAs to plan the week and discuss events and ideas. The conference service is free and can be used anytime.
Sometimes a VA will not be able to answer a client's or a client's customer's question directly and need to talk to a colleague, or the caller may ask to be put through urgently to the client.
With Voipfone this is simple, as calls can be put on hold (with music) while another call is made, transferred from any telephone to any telephone or put into a 3-way conference with the push of a button.
Sometimes VA will be ill unexpectedly and, because many VAs also manage a young family, they may have to deal with a family emergency or just need to do the school run or nip to the shops. The system allows Jean and her VAs to simply divert calls to whoever is still available, then switch back when things are normal. The VAs can even work out swops between themselves so that they are always covered - It's the ultimate in flexible working if you want it to be.
New technology can seem confusing at first, but don't worry, we are here to help!
Log in to your online control panel to configure your services. With Voipfone's online control panel you can manage your account in real time, from your PC anywhere in the world.