Navigating the Family-Owned Business
By Zelda Greenberg
With 80 percent of businesses being family-owned, many couples desire to work together, even when it means overcoming the various obstacles and challenges business owners face. So, if you’re already in business together, what can you do to improve your company, both financially and emotionally? How can married couples thrive in business together? These issues are especially important to family-run telephone answering services, which never close and seldom given owners a break.
Goal Setting: Every business should have a written business plan. In the beginning, it might be only a couple of pages. A business plan is always a work in progress. You’ll continue to tweak the plan as the company grows, but there are basic items it must convey to avoid future conflict.
First, state your overall goals, both short- and long-term. Then ask each other, “What will we do to advertise and market our answering service?” The plan should cover all the elements necessary for success. It should also describe who is in charge of each area, including sales, marketing, operations, technical, and finances. Then it’s time to determine a budget. Discuss how much money you’ll need to accomplish all the plan’s goals.
Responsibilities: Your business plan should clearly state the different responsibilities needed to run your business. Together, you should determine who can best accomplish each responsibility. Is your spouse better at finance and numbers? Let the stronger one be in charge of fiscal responsibilities. The spouse who is in charge of the financials should also be responsible for government reporting and all accounting functions. Who will handle sales and customer service? Once a job function is designated, respect each other to make the right decisions. Review this on a regular basis.
Communicate Effectively: Everyone has a different style of hearing and learning. Listen to how you speak to one another. Some people hear what you say but need a little time to process it. Learn how each other hears and be patient. Whenever you have a disagreement, never voice those concerns in front of employees or other family members. Let each person state his or her opinion and, if necessary, go back to the written business plan as a reference guide.
Leave Egos at the Door: There’s no room for power plays in a family-run business. You must create and maintain a harmonious environment for yourselves and your staff. Your harmony (or lack thereof) will make a huge difference in sales, customer service, and effectiveness. Customers, employees, vendors, and suppliers must see you working together. A bickering couple creates tension and makes the entire environment toxic.
Hold Regular Meetings: It’s a great idea is to schedule weekly or even daily meetings. They should be held at the office, not home. This is the time to discuss expenses, profit-and-loss statements, goals, and problems you have. All communication should be constructive and in line with the business goals.
Trust Your Board of Advisors: An outside board of advisors is wonderful for finding solutions. You can meet periodically as a group (quarterly, for example) or one-on-one as necessary. A good mix would include a CPA, an attorney, a banker, a marketing expert, and someone retired from the TAS industry. Also, check with your local chamber of commerce to see what programs it may have to help businesses grow. It doesn’t matter if your board is formal or informal; what’s essential is that you have a group that will provide honest feedback.
Remember: At the end of the day, you’re going home together. Try to keep that in perspective and leave the shoptalk where it belongs. To survive in today’s competitive marketplace, you must be able to successfully conquer a work-life balance. When you maintain balance, you can have a successful business and happy marriage.
Zelda Greenberg is a consultant, speaker, and entrepreneur; for information call 904-262-7357.
Pagers in the TAS Industry
By Ted McNaught
The telephone answering service industry has long used paging technology to deliver messages to clients, especially for those who need to be reached in emergencies. The messaging options available are expanding with SMS and smartphone paging apps that promise the same fast, reliable service as pagers. However, if your clients require absolute reliability in your ability to reach them with critical messages, it’s important to understand the differences between traditional paging technology and SMS or paging apps.
Messages using SMS or a smartphone paging app are delivered on cellular systems, which are known for dead zones, dropped calls, and poor in-building coverage. Cellular systems were not designed for the delivery of critical text messages. In fact, most cellular carriers provide a disclaimer and caution users not to rely on their system for critical messaging.
During almost every major U.S. disaster over the past decade, including the recent Joplin tornado and Hurricane Irene, local cellular systems were either overloaded or disabled. Anyone who relied on those cellular systems for SMS or used a smartphone paging app was likely unreachable. Additionally, unexpected heavy call volume, like during the East Coast earthquake in August, can quickly cause cellular networks to become jammed.
Unlike a cellular network that sends a message from only one site at a time, a paging network sends the message over every transmitter in the network at the same time. This simulcast technology is unique to paging and is more reliable than the cellular networks used by smartphones.
Paging also outperforms cellular systems when it comes to broadcast power. Paging systems have up to seven times the power of cellular networks, translating into more reliable message delivery. A single paging transmitter site typically covers 176 square miles, while a typical cell site covers only ten to fifteen square miles.
If your clients think that receiving critical messages via SMS or on a smartphone paging app will offer more convenience, ask them to think again. SMS is only as reliable as the system it is delivered over, and the smartphone paging apps compete with emails, streaming video, and other network data. Also, after upgrading smartphone software, some messaging apps may not continue to work as they did before. And don’t forget that smartphones are also vulnerable to malware and virus attacks.
When reliable, immediate communication is paramount between your TAS and your clients, encourage them to consider all the facts before they trade in their pager for a smartphone app or SMS.
Ted McNaught is president of Critical Alert Systems, the third largest paging carrier in the United States. Ted has worked in the paging industry since 1986, was the founding president of the American Association of Paging Carriers, and currently serves on the executive committee, as well the Enterprise Wireless Association’s board of directors.
Startel Now Employee-Owned
William Lane, CEO and president of Startel Corporation, announced that Bill Robertshaw has sold the company, which has become an employee-owned entity backed by private investor Brian W. Stewart. Bill Lane and the Startel team will remain in place, and day-to-day operations will not be affected. “It was in the best interest of Startel Corporation, its employees, and especially its customers to sell the company at this time,” said Robertshaw. “Bill Lane has done a superb job of leading Startel out of its post-Comverse years, and I am confident that Startel, with the support of Mr. Stewart, will be able to progress to the next phase in its corporate evolution.”
Amtelco miOnCall Offers Calendar Sync
Amtelco’s subscription-based on-call scheduler, miOnCall, is a secure, cloud-based on-call scheduling application used to assign schedule coverage, view schedules, and dispatch messages. It syncs with any calendar app that supports the iCalendar specification (RFC 5545), which includes Microsoft® Outlook® 2010 and 2007, Apple®, Google, Hotmail, and Yahoo!® calendars. Many of these calendars are accessible using a computer, smartphone, or other mobile device. Amtelco president Tom Curtin stated, “The power, flexibility, and convenience of miOnCall is making it a popular and vital tool with a wide variety of uses. The easy accessibility with all the various calendar apps is helping keep even more people informed.”
Paging Carrier Association Adopts New Name
The American Association of Paging Carriers has changed its name to the Critical Messaging Association (CMA). Founded in 2002, the association is the only U.S. trade group for companies that provide paging and critical messaging products and services. Emergency healthcare professionals, first responders, and public safety personnel – who require reliable, fast communications during a crisis or disaster – have been the core critical messaging user since paging was first introduced in the early 1960s. CMA has launched a new website (www.criticalmessagingassociation.org) in conjunction with the name change and will hold its 2012 Global Critical Messaging Convention in Austin, Texas, on March 27-29.
AnswerNet Opens New Facility in Allentown, PA
AnswerNet has relocated its Allentown call center to 1729 W. Tilghman Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania after thirty years in the waterfront district. The city of Allentown announced plans to develop a new arena for the American Hockey League’s Adirondack Phantoms, setting the move in motion. AnswerNet’s former location will now be part of the waterfront reformation. “The decision to relocate within Allentown represents our commitment to this community, the city, and the people of Allentown,” said AnswerNet CEO and president, Gary Pudles. AnswerNet celebrated the move by hosting an open house on December 7, 2011.
Amtelco miSecureMessages Reporting
Amtelco’s miSecureMessages, a subscription-based smartphone paging and messaging application, reports all miSecureMessages traffic, including messages sent from Amtelco Infinity, Intelligent Series (IS), and miSecureMessages solutions, messages sent from devices back to Amtelco solutions, and messages sent from device-to-device. Reports can be exported to Excel or PDF, imported into billing software, or sent to clients. It logs the message subject, content, the contact that message was sent from and to, the message sent, delivered, and read timestamps, and replies with timestamps within the message thread. Records can be filtered by date range, individual, or group. The billing report lists and totals the messages sent and received by contacts or groups.
CenturiSoft Announces Email Encryption
CenturiSoft now meets HIPAA/High Tech requirements on voice and fax delivery via email. Using 256-bit AES encryption technology, CenturiSoft encrypts these messages before they leave the Centuri Messenger system. Having the actual file encrypted allows delivery to an unsecured device such as a smartphone. When a user accesses the file, they are prompted for a “password key” and are allowed access only if they have the proper credentials. This allows users to receive fax and voice messages the same way and satisfies the security and confidentiality of the message or fax to the end user. The password key can be set or changed for individual subscribers as often as needed for compliance requirements.
[Posted by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD for TAS Trader, a telephone answering service e-publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]