Long-term partnership; the key to growth
Emma Webber is the founder of Lever Learning – a Sydney-based learning transfer group. Emma, British by birth and Australian by choice, came to Australia with the idea of starting and running a successful international business. She rather cleverly allowed herself the safety net of “if it wasn’t working within a year, I could always return home and say I’d just been travelling”. Starting as a one-woman show, 15 years on, she’s still in Australia with the business going from strength to strength.
“Congratulations! That’s rather a long time in small business. How did it start?”
Thanks. Yes – it’s a rather different from where we started; much bigger too.
I’d come from a blue-chip corporate background, but I’d always wanted to work for myself and I had a vision of an international business. But I knew it wouldn’t give the right impression for a successful ‘international business’ to look like it was run out of a single bedroom in Manly. So right from the start, I set up a virtual office in London and engaged SOI to look after me in Australia. And we’ve been working together ever since.
SOI’s support has been an integral part of growing from just me to a team of 40 coaches, delivering in 20 countries in 11 languages.
“What has been one of your biggest challenges during that time?“
There have been several that spring to mind. I’d have to say growing the business has been a significant challenge. 15 years in, and we’re chasing the next level of growth (and then the next). And it’s something that’s really hard to do if you don’t have the support of a team you can count on.
SOI’s been a significant part of my team from day one. SOI answers our phones, provides CBD meeting space if we need it – which complements our Northern Beaches office and if I’m working in town around meetings, I can grab a hotdesk and get work done with none of the down time that some business owners find comes with meeting days.
Plus, every time I’m there, or I call to speak and to one of the girls, it really is like they’re my own team. We’ve built a true partnership with the team at SOI.
“That’s a lot of growth!”
Actually, I’d have to say, creating sustainable growth is the real challenge for any business owner. It’s too easy, because you’re super passionate about your business, to put your health (and therefore your business) at risk working all hours and ignoring any sort of balance. That was a lesson for me.
I’m glad I’m not in the position of running myself ragged any longer. Now, I’m a big believer in taking weekends off, making sure I allow myself time to switch off from the business and having thinking time. SOI helps with that too.
SOI’s team screens and announces all of our calls – so I’m no longer interrupted by random sales calls. But if it’s a client, I’ll do my best to talk with them. However, if I’m not available, their messaging service allows me to return calls at a time that works for me. It also means that my team aren’t disturbed whilst they’re on client calls either with having to answer other phone calls.
“The phone sounds like a critical part of your business”
Yes, it really is. A lot of what we do is phone-based. Working with SOI gives us the kind of flexibility that means my team can be based anywhere when facilitating the learning transfer of clients who’ve been on training or learning interventions. So in Australia, we’ve got members of our team in QLD, Melbourne, rural NSW, but every client experiences the same level of professionalism, every call is answered and transferred by SOI exactly the same way.
But more than that, we’ve found the phone is great for our clients too. As we developed our learning transfer methodology, we found we got better results over the phone than face to face. People open up quicker than if you were sitting opposite. It allows you to have a more intimate and real conversation. Clients are more prepared to open up and really talk about what their challenges are or where they’re stuck implementing their learning or their behavioural change. It’s a deeper, more rewarding, and efficient conversation. The last thing you want, when that’s going on is another phone call disrupting you.
SOI also helps us deal with uneven call volume. It just makes it more efficient.
“Did you have any concerns initially with someone else answering your phone?“
Initially, I was so small, I didn’t really have a choice – I just knew I needed someone to answer the phones to give it more gravitas. Now, with a business that’s powering along – I’d absolutely have concerns about my clients not getting the level of professionalism, consistency and stability that we, luckily, found in SOI first time.
“And that’s led to a 15-year partnership with SOI?”
Yes. We’ve had an enduring partnership with SOI since I set foot here. We got to know the SOI team very well right from the beginning. And we’ve always been well looked after. Every few years we’ll have a chat with the reception team and talk them through what’s changed, our clients, our products and services. That’s important, because although they’re not on our team per se, they’re most definitely an extension of our business. We think of them as part of our extended team.
We haven’t been quite so lucky with one or two of our other European virtual office providers. We’ve had to change providers three or four times over that same period.
“What did that lack of service provider continuity mean to your business?”
There are the annoying things like having to change phone numbers and the cost of changing marketing materials and keeping two offices going at the same time whilst you change over – and the costs that go along with all of that.
But for me, it’s more the time and energy that’s lost in all of that. And that it might diminish the experience for clients. Maintaining a great client experience is key for us.
“What would you say to someone considering SOI’s virtual reception service?”
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. Your calls are always in good hands. SOI also reduces the number of things that you need to worry about which is always a good thing for a business owner.
That, and I really do believe in playing to one’s strengths. That’s why we use SOI because their core strength is answering and diverting calls professionally every time. It doesn’t matter if the client calling us is in their first year of their career or it’s the CEO of a listed company. Both are greeted as if they’re the most important person in the world. And that’s the kind of great client experience that builds a business.