By Lee Griggs


Private Investigators : Information Specialists & Consultants



Just this week alone, I have had the necessity of calling a dozen or so PI's around the country. Over 50% of the phone calls, during normal working hours, were NOT answered. No telephone answering machine, fax tone, voice mail, nada!! A number of times I needed to fax materials to some of these PI's -- again, no answer or no fax tone or whatever. Ladies and gentlemen: if you are not using voice mail or a telephone answering machine or a secretary to cover your phones, you are losing business and you don't present a very professional appearance to your prospects or clients. Yes, I know some of you provide your clients your cel number or pager number, but what about the ones that don't have this info?? Admittedly, I got one PI in CA out of bed at 0330 this morning to cycle his fax machine but my day starts early in the East.
I use the Panasonic, 2-line answering machine,phone with auto-logic. It takes a message when we are out and then automatically calls our pagers so we know we have a call. This phone also has a memo feature that will allow you to record any incoming or outgoing call while you are talking. It is quick and simple to use and very effective. It uses the small MC-60 tape cassettes which are the same my pocket tape recorder uses. You don't have to buy different tapes for each use. Nice and simple. I use custom ringing on my second line so that my fax has its own number and it is set up to recognize custom ringing (Brother Intellifax 1450MC--plain paper fax). The Brother also has voice mail built into it so that it could serve as a voice mailbox, fax back, incoming fax, message transfer unit. It can be purchased at BestBuy or such for under $400.
We also use custom ringing on our other line so that it gives us the effect of four numbers plus our 888 number on the second line on a third custom ring. You are able to determine what the call is, the fax will answer automatically and the answering machine takes regular calls if we are out. It is not an expensive setup. Costs a lot less than a secretary and is less than using a telephone answering service for months.
If anyone would like info on our system, Email privately. The Panasonic phones, custom ring equipment, caller ID products, fax machines, etc., can be purchased wholesale from TeleConcepts (I posted this company's address and phones earlier).
When we first decided to establish our businesses in Camden, SC, we discovered that communications were primary here. People want to talk to a live voice the majority of the time so --- We could not afford a full-time secretary nor could we stay in the office/shop full time, so----
(1)We purchased pagers for each person. No rental. Purchased (reconditioned) pagers with time stamps on the messages so we would know exactly when we were paged.
(2)Bought Panasonic KX-T2740 two-line telephones with answering machines built in and with automatic message transfer. The unit will take a message and then call any number you have programmed into it and tell you that you have a message. These units also have memo features so you can record any incoming telephone call (incoming/outgoing) without having to use a separate recorder. The tapes for this unit also work in our portable tape recorders.
(3)Had remote call forwarding put on each line. This allows us to change the forwarding number from any remote location as we move around or when the situation changes. We can forward to home, friends or cel phones and remotely change the forwarded number. We even forward to locations in other cities when we are travelling.
(4)Got custom ringing and ring detectors for the home office. We have three extra numbers coming in on two lines. The custom ringing allows us to KNOW what line is calling so we can answer properly by business name or just "hello". It also
gives us a 24 hour dedicated fax line without the extra cost.
(5)Purchased a plain paper fax machine with ring detection and built in voice mail features. We have the voice mail ability in our home office and central office computer with Cardinal modems but do not like to leave computers on the phone line except for our dedicated work computer used by field techs, etc. (this one has an excellent firewall to prevent unauthorized access and records any attempted access also). The fax machine we use is a Brother Model IntelliFAX1450MC with many useful features built in including a copier and, especially nice, fax-back. This cost around $300 at Best Buy.
(6)Added CallerID to each line and we use Cidco 2-line ID units. We also put ID blocking on one line for outgoing use.
(7)Added A.T.&T. Starterline 800 service coming into one of our custom ringing lines so that we know when an 800 call is coming in. The Starterline gives us national 800 service at a minimum cost per month.
(8)We use "if no answer-forward" on our cel phones so, if we are forwarding to the cel and cannot answer it, it automatically forwards to our second line and takes a message on the recorder which then automatically calls our pagers.
(9)Utilizing the fax machine voice mail features, we are able to create mailboxes whereby the client or prospect or whoever can either
  • (a) leave a message
  • (b) get a message
  • (c) send a fax
  • (d) request a fax back.
    The fax machine also has message forwarding in it and calls the pagers or whatever. We program codes into the transfer so we know which line and what phone or fax is calling us. This allows us to travel, do surveillance, make sales calls, go on vacation or whatever without missing any calls especially important calls.
    (10)We use the "value added" package on our cel phones which allows us to have one primary billing number and the other phones come under that package. This reduced our monthly cellular bill tremendously.
    (11)We have Transcrypt encryption units on each cel phone and all main office and home office phones so that we can encrypt any phone conversation between units. This guarantees privacy of communications between techs, agents or other company personnel.
    (12) For radio communications, we began with 5 watt itenerant frequency radios with encryption. Privacy and good communications between units. We later added our own repeater unit for our handhelds and mobiles (all encrypted) and use a phone patch on the base station so that we could make phone calls. This costs less than cellular to use but is not dependable in some areas--so the cellular backup. I own my own equipment because I do not like being dependent on someone else's repeater service.
    This may sound complicated but it is NOT. It was not expensive to do either. We purchased reconditioned pagers, bought phones and phone equipment wholesale and worked closely with our telco business office. We also review our phone and communications use every 6 months and keep an eye out for special packages from the telcos. My cel bill for 4 phones averages around $100 a month. My telephone bill is reasonably low also because we use packages put out by Bell South and
    A.T.&T. BTW: we also combined ALL of our phone numbers under one billing contract and put all of our LD calls under one bill. This gives us maximum discounts on total billing and reduces costs.
    We DO NOT purchase service contracts on any office equipment--they just cost money!! Our clients are guaranteed either an immediate voice contact 24 hours a day or a return phone call within 5 minutes of their leaving a message. They like that and spend money with us.
    We do cost studies on everything we use and can show actual return on investment for each piece of equipment or service that we use. We DO NOT use large YP ads either. Our biggest phonebook ad is column width by 3 inches and that is for the locksmith business. That one pays regularly. We survey each incoming new business call as to where they found out about us so we know what our ads/brochures/mailers,etc., are producing.
    If you are not doing cost studies on your business and your advertising, you are missing out. You may be spending money where it doesn't pay and not spending enough where it does pay. You should know what each piece of equipment you are
    using is producing in business or time reduction/customer satisfaction, etc. If you are going to buy a new camera, you should already know what that camera is going to produce in income for you before you buy. You should be doing the same thing with every online database you pay for. Are they making money for you or costing you money??
    You should also have a business plan for your business and work the plan. Your banker is going to want to see a business plan if you ever have to go borrow money. It will help when you decide to set up a line of credit for your business. We established a credit line with the ability to draw against it at any time. This means I can write a check on the road, if necessary, and not have to worry about available funds. The same line of credit allows us to purchase equipment and take advantage of cash discounts. That credit line also supports the other businesses when needed. We use credit cards (not AMEX) while on the road and immediately pay the receipts when we return home and clear the credit card statement on arrival. This means we don't pay any credit card interest. We do not take cash advances on credit cards because they are quite expensive. We go to a bank, cash a check, and use cash that way. We have yet to run into a situation where we could not do this and needed an ATM cash advance.
    I hope that this information has helped someone or given someone one idea that can help their business or help them save money.
    Lee Griggs
    Email: lgriggs@msegroup.com
    Lee Griggs
    Private Investigators : Information Specialists & Consultants