The quiet lull of any holiday period is a great chance for small business owners to take a break from their 24/7 schedules and recharge. It is also a prime time for customers to reach out to businesses while their schedules are momentarily free.
As the lifeblood of any small business, capturing these customer enquiries is crucial – especially when you’re out of office.
So how can small businesses balance the need to save on staffing costs, while still being there for their customers during any shutdown period? If you’re looking to take a much-needed break, there are a few options to explore:
Work on a skeleton crew
If you’re operating business-as-usual during any holiday period, there are ways to cut costs while you deal with reduced customer traffic. Rostering just a few staff to keep operations running along during this shutdown period will help you manage costs and remain responsive to your customers.
If you’re thinking of staying open over the holidays, it’s important you know your obligations as an employer during this time. Staff can be directed to take annual leave during a shutdown if their award or registered agreement allows it, and most have rules about how and when an employer can direct this leave be taken.
If your employees’ awards or agreements don’t contain rules about taking annual leave during shutdown periods, you cannot direct an employee to take compulsory leave. You can however come to an agreement that your employees will take annual leave or unpaid leave for the shutdown time. It’s important to note that employees can’t be forced to take unpaid leave: if you’re unsure of your obligations, head to the Fair Work Ombudsman for more information.
Outsource your customer service
For some business owners, outsourcing customer touchpoints to a live answering service is cheaper than rostering staff on just to answer the phone. A live answering service saves you from recruiting and training a short-time staff member, and instead provides you with a receptionist that can field customer calls while you’re enjoying your time off.
Live answering services are a popular option for small business owners who want to cut down on costs during quieter periods. David Kaunitz, co-founder of Sydney-based architecture firm Kaunitz and Yeung Architecture, uses live answering service Alltel to capture client calls at any time.
“I am a huge fan of using this service. The last thing I want to have is calls outside of hours about work, especially when they’re not relevant to the business,” Kaunitz tells SmartCompany.
“It has enabled phone calls to be filtered, which saves time and enables staff to focus on their work rather than answering the phone.”
Another small business that’s seen results using a live answering service year-round is Darlinghurst Dental. If a customer calls after-hours with a dental dilemma, owner Dr Frank Farrelley uses live answering services to make sure urgent requests are recorded and responded to in a timely manner.
“As we are a dental practice, we want to be available for our patients in case of emergencies. Previously we used an answering machine, that needed to be manually checked. It could be up to 24 hours before we got messages,” Farrelley explains.
“We use it so we never miss a call and also so we get messages ASAP after hours when not in the office.”
Farrelly also uses the service year-round, and finds it especially useful during the holiday period.
“Not only does it reduce staffing costs, it allows more flexibility with staff holidays and dentist time off.”
Get a head start on your invoicing
During quieter holiday periods cash flow can become a challenge for many SMEs who rely on monthly cash injections to keep the business moving forward. Getting those invoices in early means you’ll have enough cash reserves to keep operating business as usual.
Having enough runway to keep the lights on and your business minimally staffed during the holidays can save you from potential lost business and even give you a leg up on competitors who may be closing their doors during this time.
Maintain customer touchpoints
If you are considering closing down over any holiday period, keep your customers in the loop. In the month leading up to your closing period, let them know you’ll be taking a short break, but will soon be back and available to help them in the new year.
Communicating your availability with customers will give them buy-in to your business and make them feel like valued and respected patrons.
These are just some of the simple and cost effective ways small businesses can keep the lights on over Christmas, or any holiday period, without breaking the bank.
Alltel is a trusted provider of business communications solutions in Australia. We focus on straightforward telecommunication services for SMEs, so you can focus on the things that matter.