Today I called six small businesses to gather information and get a quote. I was looking for two specialized items, both that needed to be customized. I needed to talk to someone about the details, possibly schedule an appointment at my home and/or get a price estimate. How many of these six small businesses do you think answered the phone? Three. An one of them was so busy, he asked me to call back. Fast forward, eight hours later, of the other three small businesses that I called and left a message how many have I heard from? You guessed it, none! There is a statistic that when a prospective client gets a voice mail, up to 70% of clients hang up without leaving a message. There is also a correlation with answering the phone and making money. Just like meeting someone for the first time, a first impression goes a long way in determining your level of confidence, and sets up expectations for future engagements. I (and I assume you're in the same boat) am not interested in doing business with someone that cannot even return a simple message. When -- or should I say "if" -- I hear from these three small businesses, my mind has already been made up. I have already moved on and they have lost the opportunity. Amazingly three of the six that I left messages with were from an insert that hit my mailbox. They paid money to advertise, and just when they were expecting calls from prospective clients they could not answer the phone or call back in a reasonable period of time. Isn't this just a baseline business expectation? If they cannot call back in eight hours, I question what my buying experience would be with that company? If they cannot pick up the phone when I want to buy, why would they pick up the phone when I need service? Certainly, there are reasons that they could not call back, but if you are so busy that you cannot respond to a phone call in a single business day -- especially when you are advertising for new clients -- something is wrong. No More Excuses; Services That Answer the Phone For You There are a variety of answering services and virtual assistants that can handle this job without very little set up and minimal costs like answeringservice.com, answerconnect.com, voicenation.com, and myanswering.com. There are a host of executive offices in most major cities that answer the phone as part of the overall office and assistant package. As a small business owner the most valuable resource you have is your time. I realize depending on your business you cannot individually answer the phone for each prospective client. However, you are smart enough to realize that if you don't have someone answering the phone, you are losing money. If you need to make the change to make your organization more professional, I suggest you do it today. One single sale this week probably would pay the monthly fee associated with one of these services. Your Turn Have you had similar experiences? Do you have a hard time answering your business phone, or responding to customers when they want your business?