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Voice Mail, 800 Numbers Increase Business Credibility

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Millions of Americans are small business owners, while millions more have second income streams from home-based businesses. Still others work remotely, or telecommute, at least part-time. They do most of their work online, even getting customer service training that way. Over the past decade, I've had the opportunity to do all three. Although attitudes have changed in the past ten years, I find that there continues to be some stigma attached to working in a professional career from home. The credibility of those of us who don't commute is sometimes questioned by those who do. That's why it's important to use voice mail and other tools to put the most professional face on our home-based businesses.

During my tenure as the editor-in-chief of two consumer magazines, I worked out of my home office in northern California. Although the publishers had offices in New York and New Jersey, the magazines themselves didn't have a physical office - only a virtual office. My art director was in southern California, my department editor was in Arizona, and I hired writers from all around the globe. All of us worked out of our homes, yet managed to create glossy consumer magazines with national and international distribution. How did we do it?

While much of our interactions took place via email, we also relied heavily on voice mail software. Although I'd considered hiring an answering service, I found that an answering service was cost prohibitive and less reliable than a voice mail system. With such a voice mail system, no one ever had to know that the magazine's core editorial staff was really located all around the United States.

Likewise, because we didn't have an office, we had to find a way to make the magazine accessible to subscribers who had questions or concerns. Our solution was to have a toll free number that subscribers could call to reach the service department. Our business 800 number was extremely cost effective, and our subscribers appreciated being able to call a toll free 1800 number rather than incurring long distance charges to order or inquire about a subscription.

800 numbers can add tremendous credibility to a virtual office or home based business. 800 phone numbers reassure customers that they are indeed calling a "real" business, and the cost of a toll free number is easily offset by the additional business you'll garner or the additional items you'll sell.

There are many companies that provide toll free numbers to entrepreneurs or those who work in a virtual office. When selecting a service, you should look for the following features:

* An "auto attendant" who answers the calls

* A voice mail system that offers multiple mailboxes

* Unlimited message capacity

* Music that plays while the customer is on hold

* Online administration

* Caller I.D. or call announce, so you can decide whether to answer the call or let it go through to voice mail

Having a virtual office doesn't mean you need to sacrifice credibility. With a toll free number and a good voice mail system, the people with whom you deal on a regular basis will never be the wiser.

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