Reuben Singh has developed alldayPA into a major UK business despite a sprinkling of early setbacks.
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Reuben Singh, CEO of telephone answering service alldayPA, explains how he took the business from zero to more than 24,000 customers and 275 members of staff by delivering a reliable service.
1. Tell us about your business
alldayPA answers phone calls for more than 24,000 businesses across the UK, ranging from lawyers, accountants, and professional services firms through to vets, doctors and e-commerce companies.
We answer calls 24/7 and offer a range of services, including dedicated customer service lines, appointment booking, online orders verification and diary management. We also provide bespoke solutions, such as emergency call-out lines for facilities management companies or handling some very sensitive calls for charitable third sector help lines.
Whatever the phone answering-related problem a business has, we can help. A customer calling a company, which actually comes to us, would never know the difference, so it’s likely that you’ll have spoken to a member of my team and never known it!
2. How did you come up with the idea?
I started my career while studying for my A-levels, when I established a women’s fashion brand, Miss Attitude. I opened my first store in Manchester and the business skyrocketed.
It was this experience, and understanding the challenges that start-ups and small business owners face, that inspired me to launch the business in 1999. The idea was to provide all businesses with a dedicated team of staff to manage any of their calls, but on an on-demand basis only, which I knew there would be demand for as I’d been there myself.
3. Plot the growth story to today.
When we first started out, our clients were mostly one-man-bands or very small business owners who wanted to give the impression that they were larger than they were by having a ‘receptionist’ answer their phones.
And this was how we marketed ourselves – we helped businesses seem more established and reputable. However, as time has gone on, and as clients grew, we noticed there was a market for such a service among SMEs, too.
It’s often more cost-effective for such businesses to outsource their calls to us, paying only for the calls we handle, rather than pay the salary of a full-time receptionist.
Our offering has grown substantially over the years, in response to the increasing needs of our clients. In order to stay ahead of the curve, we’ve invested substantially in the training of staff to handle more challenging calls, as the outbound sales calls the industry used to rely on are being replaced with more complex inbound queries and orders.
To date, we’ve handled over 160 million calls and currently have 275 members of highly trained staff, having moved to new £5 million headquarters in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 2015.
4. Is the market hot or not right now?
Telephone answering is an interesting sector in terms of new entrants into the market. On a micro level, it could be relatively easy for someone to spot a gap in the market and set up a basic message-taking service for businesses in the local area.
However, when it comes to competing on a national scale, it’s a very difficult industry to enter into. It requires a large investment in technology and infrastructure, and lots of staff with a high level of expertise. You could say it’s a bit like playing the piano – it’s an easy industry to learn but a difficult one to master.
In the next five years, I see the business employing 2,000 people and becoming synonymous with the idea of business optimisation. We will be the go-to telephone answering service for businesses that want to maximize efficiency in their communication strategy.
5. What challenges have you overcome?
When I started alldayPA, we made the same mistake lots of new businesses do – we thought we needed to generate lots of money very quickly. We managed to do this, but made the mistake of spending too much on advertising and marketing.
At the time, telephone answering was unheard of in business so we had to spend a lot of money on educating people about the service. Ultimately, we had to restructure and refinance the business. Thankfully, we had an excellent business model, so neither the clients nor our staff were directly affected and the restructure was quick and well received.
Mistakes are part and parcel of growing a successful business
6. How have you spread the word?
We’ve always promoted ourselves on the quality of our service. While we might not always be the cheapest option available, we strive to provide the highest standard of service at a price that remains competitive.
This can be seen in the wide range of packages we offer including things like customer service lines, 24 hour helpdesks, and diary management services. This is much more than the basic message taking that most providers offer, and it has given us a strong message to build our content around in this highly competitive market place.
7. What's difficult about running a business?
I think one of the hardest things for any business owner to do is delegate. I started alldayPA from the ground up, so no one understands this business is as well as I do. Similarly, it can be hard to make other people believe in my vision for the company.
When I started, no one believed it would get to where it is today and it can be just as hard finding people who believe in my vision for the future. As a business owner, when you do find these people who believe in the business and to whom you can delegate, it’s important to keep hold of them.
One of the most fulfilling parts of the job is seeing how far we’ve come and sharing that with the small number of staff who believed in the company and came on that journey with me. Even today there is a small core of staff who’ve been with us for more than 15 years, and it is having those shared experiences and successes that makes it all worthwhile.
8. What is your biggest mistake?
It was towards the beginning when we trusted some people who had little knowledge about our business, but were good at raising money. It put us into a position where we were committing to growth that deep down I knew we would find hard to achieve and thus couldn’t deliver the results proposed.
However, it taught me to always read the small print and that sometimes you need to resist taking money that is being thrown by those who will profit from the loan and ask yourself whether it's the best thing for the business long term.
We just needed to get back on the horse and it allowed us to build the business back up and become stronger.
Think before you take on investment or debt, says Singh
9. What makes your business better than the rest?
We only charge for the few seconds or minutes we’re on the phone. Our £15 million technology base is also unique in that it allows us to have all the information about our clients’ businesses in real time.
Not just a message-taking service, we deal with every type of call – whether it’s customer services, switchboard, reservations, order taking, or even emergency call-out services. This makes us totally unique in our industry.
10. How do you recruit and retain the best people?
We do all the recruiting and training in house. We concentrate on employing staff with excellent customer service skills rather than call centre experience as it’s these soft skills that are most important when it comes to providing an excellent service.
When it comes to developing staff, all of our staff go through the alldayPA academy, which is an intensive six-week course that makes sure they’re up to the standard expected by our clients. Beyond that, we provide additional training in things like adult safeguarding and data protection, as and when those skills are required by specific clients.
All the staff receive regular reviews and training updates regardless of how long they’ve been here, and this ensure we keeps standards high.
This process is also an important part of staff satisfaction as it helps to maintain a strong bond between management and staff on the ‘shop floor’, which is part of the reason why we have such high staff retention rates.
11. What are your top three tips for startups?
My first tip is to fail – and do it sooner rather than later. We all fail at some point in our lives, so it’s best to do it when you have less to lose.
You should never give up and, when you recover, you’ll find you no longer have the fear of failing holding you back and you’ll be able to make your business stronger than ever before. Every day is a second chance.
My second piece of advice is that, if you make a mistake – with suppliers, clients, bankers, investors and, above all, your staff – then admit it, accept responsibility and say sorry. It can help you significantly in business.
Finally, and related to this, forgive others. Whatever happened, you can’t hold grudges – it costs too much money!
For an in-depth interview with Reuben, check out our video section.