NEW YORK-Ever thought about hooking up a virtual phone service to go along with your virtual office space? Robin Feltner did–and she’s glad she did! Using a virtual receptionist has been a real boon for business.
Feltner is the founder and CEO of Supernatural Botanicals, an eco-friendly, all-natural bath and body product line. Over the past four years, she has built a thriving business that has seen sales increase more than 325 percent since she opened her doors.
While most of her success has come from hard work, trusting her gut and an encouraging family behind her, she has also benefited from advice and support from business and professional associates. To pay it forward, Robin shares key advice for growing a business.
When summing up her path to success, Robin lists these three non-negotiables: know how to analyze the numbers before you start counting your profits, figure out how you are going to build your brand awareness before you spend, and rely on the right technology to support your growth.
One of the potential obstacles to success is not having a comprehensive understanding about what it actually costs to make a product or deliver a service. It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs don’t understand or know how to determine profit margins. It is imperative to know more than formulas or how to be the best at producing something.
In Robin’s case, she had already figured out all of the costs she would incur before making her first sale. Her calculations included everything from the cost of ingredients, to advertising, packaging and shipping, and the outlay for a business phone.
Growth doesn’t require hiring an MBA or veteran CFO. There are classes available to anyone who wants to start their own business. Community colleges, SCORE and Small Business Development Centers are cost effective avenues to gain the information needed to run your business just as effectively as the most successful big enterprises.
Robin also suggests looking to your community and network to plot the path to success. Create relationships with potential mentors. People are excited to share their knowledge but they’re not going to knock on your door. You need to bang on theirs. Find your advisers through LinkedIn, local business associations and proprietors of businesses you respect.
Once Robin made the decision to produce and distribute Supernatural Botanicals, she needed to figure out a way to announce to the world that her all-natural bath and body product line was available. In 2008, adult consumers were just beginning to communicate through social media platforms. Working from her gut, she chose to develop her brand through free social media tools instead of allotting budget for traditional advertising.
Robin credits social media as being a major factor in her success. Through Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth, her business took off. By tweeting, Robin’s product was featured in Everyday with Rachael Ray. Today, she continues to use social media as the primary way to build her brand. She recommends it as a great way to advertise without spending any money upfront, especially before there is income to cover the cost.
She cautions fellow entrepreneurs not to spend too much time fretting over what to write. You don’t have to be a great writer. Your third grade teacher isn’t grading you. It’s about getting the information out quickly and continually. For instance, while you may want to stay away from sharing what you had for lunch, tweeting who you had it with may be of interest to your audience.
Once Robin determined how she wanted to run her business, she needed to figure out how to run her office in the most professional manner without eating up her profits. One of Robin’s recurring themes in business is that the more people you rely on, the less control you have. Rather than hiring a receptionist for her business, she chose a virtual assistant tool provided by eVoice. The virtual receptionist is there 24/7 at a minimal cost. All of her employee cost could be devoted to delivering green, pure and gentle products to customers.
Like everything she does, Robin investigated the various ways to help organize her calls and appear like a larger, more professional business to her customers. Robin cut the cord on her landline and switched from a local Cincinnati area code to an eVoice toll-free 800 virtual phone number. She estimates saving at least $70 every month since dropping her landline.
eVoice offers multiple extensions that are routed to her cell phone and has set up multiple extensions with special greetings for specific audiences. She has an extension for shoppers with questions about a product, another for general customer service issues and created an extension for her wholesale segment for salons, spas and retail businesses.
In the end, it’s all about the numbers. Just remember not to cut corners without considering the repercussions on your success. The key to that is all in the knowing.