4 Cost-Cutting Measures Every Business Owner Can Use

By George Otte

Could your company stand to reduce its expenses?

Just about every enterprise can. And you don’t have to look far for ideas: American Express’ great list of tips for business owners serious about reducing their business costs is just one of many publicly available resources for curious entrepreneurs.

Here’s a look at four of the easiest ways to slim down your business. Most require little to no upfront investment or reallocation of personnel resources—meaning you can get started at your earliest convenience.

1. Use Anti-Malware Protection

Anti-malware programs provide valuable digital protection against an ever-multiplying array of cyber threats. By protecting your system with a reputable anti-malware solution that regularly updates with defenses against the latest perils, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of a major systems breach—a costly, reputation-damaging event that can seriously set your company back.

It’s important to remember that no anti-malware solution is totally foolproof. You can further reduce your risk by training your employees to recognize phishing scams and suspicious files, by putting together a digital crisis management plan before breaches occur, and by working with a trusted computer repair company with experience recognizing and addressing cyberthreats.

2. Make the Most of Your Current Space

A growing workforce is a good problem to have. But the most cost-effective solution isn’t negotiating favorable terms on a new office lease. Rather, it’s reorganizing your current space to accommodate more employees and equipment. Consider switching from traditional cubicle or bullpen-style layouts to shared workspaces with open floorplans and a wider range of seating types: benches, huddle rooms, breakout areas, flexible cubes and depending what is most appropriate for your field of work.

3. Cut Energy Waste Around the Office

Conduct an office-wide energy audit to spot opportunities to boost your team’s efficiency. Look for things like:

  • Empty rooms with the lights on
  • Heat or air conditioning running during off-hours
  • Heavy blinds or open windows reducing the effectiveness of the building’s lighting, heating and cooling systems
  • Nonessential devices and systems remaining plugged in and turned on when not in use

Each of these issues is relatively easy—and cheap—to fix. Even with modest upfront investments, such as new blinds to block out sunlight on hot days, you’ll likely see savings in a matter of months.

4. Invest in Proactive Technology Maintenance and Repair

Proactive technology maintenance and repair can significantly reduce your IT costs. Take simple steps like regularly running Windows updates, upgrading programs and operating systems before the end of the support life cycle, and defragmenting your hard disk. And find a trusted computer repair partner to help you with tasks that you lack the time or in-house expertise to address on your own.

Cultivate a Culture of Constant Improvement

If you can follow these four tips, your efforts to streamline your company’s finances and reduce its expenses will be off to a great start. Keep up the momentum by fostering a culture of constant improvement at every level of your workforce—including at the very top. Whatever the day-to-day brings, always look for ways to do things better, faster, more effectively, at lower cost. In the long run, you’ll see the results in your bottom line.

5 Simple Ways To Protect Your Company’s Sensitive Data Online

By George Otte

Though large-scale corporate hacks are more likely to make headlines, smaller hacks are actually far more common.

According to The Guardian, small and midsize U.K. businesses reported a significant increase in hacks between 2013 and 2015. The story is much the same in the United States and elsewhere in the world: Smaller enterprises are increasingly vulnerable to digital threats.

You don’t need the resources of a Fortune 500 firm to protect yourself against cyber intrusion and data theft. These five practices can substantially reduce your risk.

1. Encrypt Mission-Critical Data

Unencrypted data is vulnerable to theft or copying by digital thieves. Newer systems may have built-in encryption tools, like Windows 10’s BitLocker. BitLocker allows you to store encrypted data on a computer’s hard drive or on external drives (which are more portable). You can also encrypt your data in the cloud using a secure backup service like Carbonite.

2. Use a Sophisticated Anti-Malware Solution

Your company needs a sophisticated anti-malware solution with a regular update cycle. Nothing less will protect your networks and devices against the ever-growing multitude of digital threats. There are lots of choices out there, so get started by reading up on how to choose an anti-virus app.

3. Avoid Running Multiple Security Programs at the Same Time

Since no single anti-malware program is perfect, it might seem logical to run multiple security applications at once. Unfortunately, discrete security programs aren’t necessarily designed to work with one another. Running multiple programs in concert can therefore cause conflicts that make your system less safe. Carefully choose a single reputable, well-regarded security solution and stick to it.

4. Use a Virtual Private Network in Less Secure Settings

If you travel for work or meet clients in the field, you’re likely to encounter open Wi-Fi networks. On open networks, anyone with network access can view and potentially capture information you send and receive—including sensitive data like passwords, client records and financial statements. A virtual private network, or VPN, creates an encrypted “tunnel” between your computer and an outside server network that makes it very difficult for attackers to read and steal your data.

5. Create Strong, Unique Passwords

A strong password is an essential first line of defense against unwanted system intrusion and data theft. Password strength is determined in part by the likelihood that it will be “guessed” by human intruders or (more likely) the algorithms they use to penetrate personal and business networks. Strong passwords are generally longer; use combinations of letters, numbers and special characters such as ‘@’ and ‘!’; and aren’t reused in multiple locations. Bottom line: Devote time to generating long, strong, unique passwords for each of your important accounts and system points of entry—and change them regularly.

Beware Complacency

Cyber-criminals are always looking for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities, and small business owners with limited resources are particularly ripe for attack. While these five practices provide critical protection against data theft in cyberspace, they must be paired with constant vigilance—and the steady hand of an experienced computer services provider—to be truly effective.

6 Things You Didn’t Know Your Answering Service Could Do

How does your business stay on top of incoming calls?

Around the United States and beyond, thousands of small and midsize businesses rely on telephone answering services. Many more businesses should take advantage, as it not only provides efficiencies but cost benefit. If you have a telephone answering service like Responsive Answering Service, you need to take advantage of these six features and capabilities. If you’re still on the fence about investing in an answering service, think about which of these features align best with your business’s processes and mission—you may be surprised to find it’s all of them.

Call Screening

Call screening puts live, human operators between you and your incoming call traffic. Instead of reaching your voicemail when you can’t answer, callers state their identity and intention to real people, who can then forward the call to you in the time and manner (SMS, email, voicemail or fax) of your choosing. This dramatically cuts down on the amount of time you need to devote to calls and eliminates frequent interruptions throughout your day.

Appointment Scheduling

With appointment scheduling, your customers, clients and patients no longer have to navigate cumbersome, confusing touch-tone menus. Initial scheduling and subsequent changes are handled by live operators, who pass the information along to you in the manner of your choosing and automatically remind you when an appointment is approaching.

Telephone Dispatch

Dispatching capabilities allow for the timely, accurate dispatching of important messages, resources and work orders around the clock.

Registration Services

For companies hosting large events, such as trade shows or annual meetings, registration can be a cumbersome process. Outsourcing registration through your telephone answering service streamlines the process and empowers attendees to register over the phone, rather than by email or online forms. They’re able to ask questions about the event and note any particular preferences (such as special meal requests) with a human operator, without the added burden of creating yet another password-protected account.

Message Delivery

Message delivery services ensure that you receive important after-hours communications in a timely fashion. Delivery options include, but aren’t limited to, SMS, email, voicemail, Skype, fax. If you run a practice that needs to be “on” around the clock, but can’t afford internal staff to handle inbound calls at all hours, message delivery can help.

Virtual Receptionist

Virtual receptionist services offer cost-effective, on-hours answering capabilities for small businesses that can’t afford full-time reception staff. Virtual receptionists’ capabilities are surprisingly versatile—they include live answering and transferring, call screening, call routing, administrative support, message taking and much more. All services are performed in a timely, friendly, professional manner, just as you’d expect from an on-site, full-time receptionist—and at a fraction of the cost.

What’s your favorite answering service capability?

These 4 Types of Professionals Need a Hand — or Voice

Busy professionals often don’t answer their own office phones. Unfortunately, they also often lack the staff (or staff bandwidth) to have anyone else do so, either. Companies like Responsive Answering Service, the United States’ premier provider of professional answering services, provide a wide range of cost-effective support functions for professionals and small business owners who can’t always provide them for themselves: 24/7 answering, call screening, dispatching, virtual receptionist services, registration services and much more.

These four types of professionals are particularly well-suited for  virtual answering services. Here’s why each is a natural fit.

  1. Lawyers & Law Firms

Lawyers have a sacred obligation to advocate for their clients. They’re also busy as all get-out. If you’re running a law practice (or, perhaps worse, an overworked associated at one), you likely don’t have the time or resources to handle a flood of incoming calls. Fortunately, an answering service can.

  1. Medical Professionals

Whether you’re just starting a medical practice or have been an independent provider for years, you understand how complex the medical sector has become. When you have to deal with numbingly complex insurance rules, legal compliance, patient needs and a host of other competing pressures on a daily basis, the last thing you need is an unwieldy staff that doesn’t do your patient population justice. Using an answering service frees you to focus on the work that really matters — keeping your patients (the people who really matter) healthy.

  1. Property Managers

Property managers are always on the go. When you’re out of the office more often than you’re in it, it’s not exactly easy to man the phones. And even if you have a support team helping you with the logistical demands of being a landlord, answering calls on the first ring or two isn’t likely to be its top priority. Tapping a professional outfit to handle this mission-critical component of your business is among the easiest — and highest-ROI — decisions you can make.

  1. Government Agents & Consultants

Government employees and agency managers — the sorts of people who quite literally keep the trains running on time — are prime candidates for answering services. These professionals have massive, diverse constituencies to keep satisfied, not to mention tight budgets and competing demands on their time. They can’t afford to run anything less than an airtight ship — and competent answering services can make all the difference in the world.

Answering Services for All

These four types of professionals aren’t the only hard working people who benefit from answering services. Just about anyone who operates a practice or works out of an office, particularly those who don’t have the resources to hire and maintain a large support staff, have something to gain from working with a competent outside team of dedicated logistics experts. After all, they know the value of consulting the professionals — they all too often find themselves on the other side of the equation.

George Otte of Miami Top Tips for Direct Mail in 2016

Direct mail marketing has been around, well, for longer than any of us. Problem is, many younger readers might not realize that it’s still around.

It is — really. As it turns out, says entrepreneur and marketing expert George Otte, direct mail marketing is a surprisingly effective marketing tactic that is gaining ground against newer, flashier alternatives. It’s not quite Back to the Future, but it’s certainly a case of “what goes around comes around.”

Businesses of all sizes are using direct mail marketing to reach new prospects and reinforce existing connections. And in conclusion — backed by growing volumes of statistical data — email marketing actually works.

Need something more convincing? You’re not alone. Here are five great reasons why direct mail marketing might actually be better than email (yes, really):

  1. Email Suites Don’t Like Email Marketing

Gmail and other email suites are taking an increasingly hard line on email marketing, even when it’s dressed up in a personal veneer. Your digital newsletters and ads are more likely than ever to be relegated to a second-tier folder, out of sight and out of mind for the vast majority of your prospects. By contrast, direct mail goes in the same mailbox as every other piece of snail mail, and that won’t change anytime soon.

  1. Direct Mail Is Local

These days, anything “local” sells. That’s just as true for artisanal farm products as for direct mailers. When direct mail recipients see that local postmark on your mailer, they know that a local business has taken the time and effort to reach out to its neighbors and make a compelling case for its services. When it comes to building customer trust and brand recognition, that goes a long way.

  1. Direct Mail Is Attractive and Personal

Direct mail is a personal contact method that simply can’t be matched by cold, unfeeling digital overtures. After all, you can actually hold a piece of mail in your hand — not just a facsimile of a piece of mail on your iPhone screen. Even if they grumble about the volume or quality of mail they receive, the average person appreciates the personal nature of direct mail outreach. In this great big world, consumers like to know that someone — that’s you, direct mail marketer — is still willing to take the time to put their words down on paper.

  1. Direct Mail Is Secure

It’s hard to overstate the importance of cyber-threats. Today’s consumers are hyper-vigilant about anything that could possibly be construed as a threat to the sanctity of their home computers, mobile devices and personal networks. To state the obvious, direct mail is far less threatening in this regard than email, which can carry a whole host of digital threats. The most threatening thing about direct mail, by contrast, is an ill-advised color scheme.

Does your business use direct mail marketing? What’s your favorite thing about it?

Still Stuck on Voicemail? 5 Reasons to Use a Telephone Answering Service

Decades ago, voicemail was a big deal. There was something novel about calling a number, letting the phone ring for a while, realizing the person on the other end wasn’t going to pick up, and still being greeted by their voice on the other end of the line. The best part: you could actually talk to them, or at least provide an abbreviated, one-sided version of what you wanted to say. When compared to letting the phone ring 20 times, hanging up, and waiting to call again (and again and again), voicemail felt like magic.

Those days are long gone, to put it mildly. Today, few things are more annoying (or more inconvenient) than getting someone’s voicemail. It’s far easier and much less awkward to shoot someone a text, ping them on Skype, send a social media message, or use almost any of the other technology-enabled contact methods that didn’t exist a decade or two ago.

The same logic applies to small businesses. If you run a company or professional office that isn’t staffed 24/7, you probably have a voicemail answering system set up to handle after-hours customer calls. Maybe it captures a legitimate message from time to time. But how many more messages consist of clicks or mumbled “neverminds”? The bottom line: by entrusting your after-hours inquiries to a “dumb” machine, you’re almost certainly leaving money on the table.

Fortunately, there’s a simple, cost-effective alternative: a telephone answering service. Here are five reasons to get your business off of voicemail and embracing the power of telephone answering services.

  1. Voicemail Can’t Talk Back

Voicemail systems passively take messages from inbound callers. While this is useful for simple exchanges, it’s not ideal for more complex issues that might require some back-and-forth. Voicemail systems can’t ask logical questions in pursuit of additional clarification. Businesses that rely solely on voicemail are thus left with incomplete or inaccurate caller information, potentially creating problems down-the-line.

  1. Voicemail Is Time-Limited

Voicemail messages are typically limited to 120 or 180 seconds, and sometimes even less. That might not be enough time for a customer or vendor to explain a complex problem. To ensure that nothing is lost in translation, a staff member at the receiving organization may have to follow-up. This becomes a time and productivity sink.

  1. Voicemail Can’t Handle Dispatching or Confirm Scheduled Appointments

As a passive, one-way information gathering tool, voicemail can’t actively engage internal employees or customers. In particular, it can’t arrange employee dispatching or actively confirm scheduled appointments ahead of time. Without a telephone answering service, such processes require human employees, and most likely at substantial cost.

  1. Voicemail Can’t Handle Large Inbound Volumes

The ability of voicemail to process inbound calls and requests is limited by the amount of manpower (or automation) available to assist. Companies that regularly receive large inbound call volumes around specific events or initiatives, such as conventions or new product releases, set themselves up for failure when relying on voicemail to effectively process such onslaughts. Telephone answering services offer registration services for clients who are expecting high inbound volumes, boosting peace of mind come “crunch time”.

  1. Voicemail Can’t Deliver Messages

Voicemail can take messages, but it can’t actively forward them to the appropriate parties. Telephone answering services can — and through a variety of convenient channels, no less.

Does your company use a telephone answering service?

Does Your Professional Office Need a Virtual Receptionist? 4 Arguments in Favor

Small business owners are feeling the pinch of an increasingly competitive global economy. Even if you cater to a local client base, you’re likely still at the mercy of macro forces that are beyond your control.

When you’re carefully watching every dollar — alright, every penny — it’s a challenge to think rationally about investing in the future of your business. It’s easy to fall into a short-term trap: reacting to each new problem as it arises, failing to plan beyond next month (or next week), and ultimately allowing circumstances to dictate your company’s success or failure.

Unfortunately, today’s customers are more demanding than ever. Steeped in a culture that promises instant gratification and customized experiences, they have little patience for businesses that can’t cater to their whims. The concept of “not available” doesn’t exist in their collective mentality.

Catering to these heavy demands is prohibitively expensive for many cost-conscious companies. Fortunately, small business owners who worry about the financial ramifications of hiring new employees or extending their hours have a powerful new ally in their corner: virtual receptionist services. If you’re struggling to square your customer service circle, consider these four arguments in favor of using a virtual receptionist.

  1. Virtual Receptionists Handle Everything That Traditional Receptionists Do

Virtual receptionists are experienced, competent professionals with access to phones, Internet-connected computers, fax terminals and other critical business equipment. They’re adept at using scheduling software, spreadsheets, word processing programs, and more.

In other words, they’re capable of handling everything that regular full-time receptionists do. The only difference: they work remotely, often hundreds or thousands of miles from their clients’ offices. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t bring a host of other advantages to the table.

  1. Virtual Receptionists Are Always Available

Since virtual receptionists work in teams at dedicated telephone answering service facilities, they’re not limited by biology or scheduling. Companies that use virtual receptionist services don’t have to worry about their receptionists breaking for lunch, stepping away from their desks to use the bathroom, or not showing up to work due to illness or personal issues. In short, virtual receptionist services can be more reliable than in-house alternatives. This is particularly important for small businesses and professional offices that lack the resources to build in-house receptionist teams.

  1. Virtual Receptionists Create an Aura of Professionalism

Even if they’re hundreds of miles away, virtual receptionists give businesses and professionals a critical air of professionalism that allows them to impress their clients and boost the likelihood that a given call will lead to a sale (or revenue-generating service). Virtual receptionists understand the specific needs and pressures faced by each of their clients, meaning they’re equipped to both handle all routine inquiries and fill all the mission-critical functions of an in-house employee.

  1. Virtual Receptionists Cost Less Than Full-Time Receptionists

Despite the indistinguishable quality of service and superior availability relative to internal receptionists, virtual receptionists cost far less than their on-site counterparts. This is because virtual receptionist services offer economies of scale that small and midsize companies simply can’t match. Faced with the option to hire a full-time receptionist or tap a virtual receptionist service, the latter is a no-brainer for budget-conscious businesses.

Do you use a virtual receptionist for your business?

Beyond Computer Repair: George Otte’s Entrepreneurial Story

Those that know George Otte well, aren’t shy about calling his biography what it is: a true story of hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, and success. From an early age, Otte focused relentlessly on building successful businesses that add value for customers, employees and society at large. Though he’s still quite young, he’s persevered through numerous challenges — and emerged stronger from each one.

Here’s a look at how George Otte got his start and where he is now. Spoiler alert: There’s inspiration ahead.

Otte’s Early Ventures

George Otte, Miami entrepreneur, got started in business at the young age of 21 — “when most of my peers were more interested in partying than making it to class or work on time,” he laughs. While enrolled as a full-time student at a South Florida university, Otte took a part-time job at Coral Gables bank — ostensibly to help pay his tuition bills.

Otte’s technical savvy caught the eye of one of the bank’s clients, whose offer to pay him for ongoing technical support services began a chain of events that led to Otte’s founding of TSS, his first incorporated company. Otte realized that he had a gift worth sharing with his local business community — and resolved to make a name for himself in the process.

Over the following months, George Otte enrolled in a business law class, incorporated his firm, accumulated Microsoft certifications, and joined the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. He soon found himself hiring helpers to handle his growing client portfolio. By the end of 2005, TSS had more than 100 clients, mostly in and around South Florida. Thanks to Otte’s personalized approach to each of his client relationships and to his uncanny knack for staying on top of a rapidly changing industry, TSS became recognized as the premier independent provider of computer repair and onsite technical support in the Miami area.

Geeks on Site

In 2006, George Otte took a pivotal step in his entrepreneurial journey: he acquired Dallas-based Geeks on Site, an existing technical support and computer repair provider, and set about building the company into a nationwide company. Despite a challenging economic environment and intense competition in many of the local markets into which Geeks on Site moved, the company expanded rapidly under Otte’s expert direction. By the early 2010s, Geeks on Site directly employed more than 100 people in a number of U.S. and international markets. Thanks to a network of local contract tech support experts on the ground in more than 150 U.S. metro areas, Geeks on Site had become a truly nationwide tech support provider.

Geeks on Site continues to offer remote computer repair and onsite technical support services for business clients and individuals alike. However, Otte wasn’t content to make Geeks on Site the endpoint of his business career. Under the auspices of his holding company, Otte Polo group, Otte soon moved into other industries.

Responsive Call Center

In the early 2010s, George Otte launched Responsive Call Center, a geographically diverse telephone answering service company that caters to businesses of all sizes. Responsive Call Center’s primary lines of business include:

  •      24/7 live answering services, both during and after clients’ business hours
  •      Call screening and identification
  •      Appointment scheduling and notifications
  •      Personnel and asset dispatching
  •      Registration services
  •      Virtual receptionist services
  •     And additional outbound services!

Responsive Call Center now has nine distinct contact center facilities, representing six independent companies. The firm’s services are available throughout the United States, catering to companies in the healthcare, legal, professional services, property management, tourism, and shipping industries.

Although Responsive Call Center provides indispensable support for its clients, Otte realized that the company’s work would be even more effective in conjunction with a comprehensive lineup of other business solutions. This realization led to the acquisition of Phase V, a Fort Myers-based fulfillment firm with an existing portfolio of clients and work histories stretching back to the early 1980s.

Phase V

Otte’s Phase V acquisition allows him to serve small, midsize, and enterprise business clients that lack the resources or expertise to handle fulfillment operations in-house. The company’s conveniently located facility offers a wide variety of services, including:

  •      Fulfillment and order processing
  •      Direct mail, including list generation and management
  •      Contact services, including inbound call answering
  •      Warehousing and other logistical services

Otte continues to look for additional acquisition targets that could enhance Phase V’s geographical reach and capabilities.

Building a Business Network

For many entrepreneurs, three successful business ventures would be enough. Not for George Otte. Even as he continues to build Responsive Call Center and Phase V into the top privately-held firms in both their respective industries and geographical areas, he’s on the hunt for new opportunities to diversify his holdings, invest in new communities, and support a growing roster of employees and their families.

Through a recently created subsidiary called Otte Real Estate, Otte aims to replicate his technical support, answering service and fulfillment success in the ever-dynamic real estate industry. Part of the Otte Polo family of companies, Otte Real Estate seeks out and invests in residential real estate opportunities throughout the United States and Latin America. Although Otte continues to devote the bulk of his attention to Responsive Call Center, Phase V, and Geeks on Site, he’s excited by the potential of Otte Real Estate.

What Can We Learn from George Otte’s Story?

George Otte, Miami entrepreneur, is humble and who’s happy with the success he’s created for himself. But he’s not ready to rest on his laurels. Otte is actively seeking to expand his telephone answering service and fulfillment businesses, keen to find and take opportunities wherever they might present themselves. While he’s long since learned to delegate key responsibilities to trusted employees, he’s not shy about continuing to take an active role in the management of his various business properties.

Otte’s commitment to personal development, in terms of meeting and exceeding the goals he sets for himself, inspires his employees, friends, and family. But Otte isn’t a superhero. He’s a regular guy with a combination of above-average drive and the old-fashioned smarts to see his plans through to completion. To borrow another cliche: if he can do it, so can you.

What inspires you most about George Otte’s story?