Ask most people what they like about working with small marketing firms, and you'll hear answers such as "their personal approach" or "I'm not just a number to them" or "I get to work with the heavy hitters instead of some trainee just out of school."

Yes, those are some of the things they say when things are going well. But should the perceived service level drop, those same enthusiastic supporters begin to question their decision about working with a small firm.

In particular, things that they used to find charming—such as a live person taking messages instead of a system putting a call through to voice mail—suddenly become indications that maybe they need to consider a somewhat larger, "more professional" firm.

The good news is that these small-agency quirks don't have to be fatal. In fact, many can be fixed by applying simple technology that provides big-business tools while allowing firms to stay true to their small-business core. The following eight cures to the common small-marketing-firm ailments will help ensure that your company doesn't fall into the "too small" trap:

1. Don't have one phone line for all your business communications

Nothing says "too small" like a phone number that returns a busy signal or a phone that rings and rings until the caller finally gives up.

In today's business world, someone placing a call (instead of sending an email) expects the call to be answered or, at the very least, routed to an auto-attendant or voice mailbox. Though a standard private branch exchange (PBX) phone system might be too costly to install and require too much specialized knowledge to maintain, virtual PBX services can provide the same professional "face" without the equipment investment or the maintenance.

Those services automatically route calls to extensions that you set up, and they provide voice-mail services so callers can leave a message. Callers will never get a busy signal and won't be stuck in a ringing loop, and so they will gain confidence that you have the staff to service their business.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Adams is the vice-president of marketing for Protus (www.protus.com), a provider of communications tools, including the MyFax (www.myfax.com) Internet fax service; my1voice (www.my1voice.com), a virtual phone service; and Campaigner (www.campaigner.com), an email-marketing solution. He can be reached at sadams@protus.com.