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Offering Call Answering as a VA

Call answering - how do I charge for it?

We get asked about answering calls on behalf of clients often enough that we started copying and pasting the answers from old call answering threads... So we thought we'd do a blog post on it instead!

The first thing I'll say about answering phones: You cannot do it properly as a solo VA.

(At this point I get many protestations from the aspiring call-answerer that the client understands that it is ad-hoc cover and there won't be many calls.  Read on for why you cannot do it as a solo VA...)

call answering as a virtual assistant

Why you cannot answer phones as a solo virtual assistant

Murphy's Law: When call answering, the phone won't ring all day - until the second you pop to the loo... At which point it will be the client checking if you're doing your job.  Understandably they will be peeved that the service they are paying you for isn't being done - because the only time they called you, you didn't answer the phone!

So you need at least two people to do it properly.

And for that, you need some gadgets (well, we all love a gadget!).

What tech do you need to answer a phone?

The low tech version of covering call answering tends to be that the client will give you a mobile phone to use.  This is a terrible idea.  Not only could the phone get damaged, but it ties you personally to the phone unless you can physically give it to someone else to answer.

So if you drop the phone down the loo (while attempting not to miss that all important client check-in call!) or you get loaded with flu, the phones will be going unanswered.

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The better set up is for the client to divert their calls to you - BT have their *21* service to do this, most VOIP providers will have a dashboard where the clients just types in where they want the calls diverted to.

Alternatively you can issue the client with a number to give out as their own - by using a VOIP service.  VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol - in other words, the calls go via the internet rather than a phone line.  The advantages of this are myriad:

  • You can issue new phone numbers in just a few minutes
  • They can be for any geographic location (01 or 02 numbers in the UK or international numbers)
  • You can set calls to ring in multiple locations (e.g. your office, the client and your back up VA - whoever picks up the call first answers it)
  • You can set calls to bounce through to people in a set order (e.g. If the client doesn't answer, it rings on your phone and if you don't answer, the back up VA gets it)
  • You can set calls to ring using the number which was dialled - CLI (Caller Line Identification) - so you can tell who the call is for if you have a number of different call answering clients.
  • You can act as a switchboard and forward calls to landlines/mobile phones if the caller really needs to speak to your client urgently.
  • It's cheap - typically each phone line costs under £5/month and the call charges are low too
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If you want to check if this is going to work you will need:

  1. Test the speed of your broadband - it should be at least 0.5MB on upload and download to get a clear reception: www.speedtest.net
  2. (Too slow? You can still use voip but will need to set your dashboard to forward the number to a landline rather than answering it on a VOIP handset)
  3. Set up a VOIP account - we use VoipFone.co.uk but there are lots out there!
  4. VOIP phone - you can have a physical handset or download a "Softphone" i.e. an app which lets you answer the calls on your computer/smartphone

How do I charge for call answering?

First off: YES you should be charging something for the facility of being prepared to answer the phone, even if you get no calls.  If the client had to hire a temp to answer the calls, it would be £300-£400 a week!

Not only that, but if you are tied to your desk all week, it means you can't pop out and grab lunch / do post office / bank etc. and will be unable to do any networking or meetings with your other clients. So you must charge some sort of fee for the facility of you being at your desk, even if they don't get any calls.

Let’s say you charge per call, and then the phone doesn’t go once… but you’ve turned down a networking event; you couldn’t have a phone meeting with your other client because you can’t hang up in order to answer a ringing phone; and you didn’t get to bank a cheque which you need for cashflow because you can't answer the phone while driving. That’s a lot of hassle for zero money.

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Even assuming that you do have a reasonable amount of calls whilst they are away, the very fact that phones are an immediate RINGING need means that your productivity will drop elsewhere in your business.

E.g. You are doing some audio typing, the phone rings, you stop and answer it, deal with the message, you go back to the typing...Not 5 minutes later it goes again... You lose your flow and a 20 minute tape which should have taken an hour has actually taken you 2 hours because of all the interruptions.

My suggestion would be to charge a fee for the facility of call answering, plus a per call charge on top.  That covers all bases.

Other alternatives:

The other alternative to recruiting your own call answering partner is to use a call answering company to take overflow calls - there are a few owned and operated by virtual assistants.  These sound like small offices, not giant call centres, and you can brief them on how the calls should be handled:

To be honest, this is usually what I recommend VAs do - it's less disruptive to your business and means you still make money on it.  If your clients want 24:7 answering, it's time to look at the bigger call answering companies... But a lot of clients are trying to avoid that, so these are good alternatives!

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