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Voice commerce/microconsultancy

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Friday June 23, 2006 )

As publishers, commentators and authors, we’re always looking for new ways to generate revenue from our efforts. It’s great to be able to provide information for free through our writings, but we all need to eat and pay our bills too :). A few weeks ago, I mentioned the idea of what I termed microconsultancy as a possibility for creating a stream of income through the provision of consultancy services in small bursts.

For example, you may write an article on how to write a press release that stirs up some interest in your readers who want to learn more on the subject or to gain clarification on some points you’ve made. They may not be willing to engage you in a full blown consultancy role, but they are more than happy to pay for an hour of your time on the phone. I’ve come across this quite often after having published “how-to” articles and tutorials.

In my article on microconsultancy, I suggested having a button at the end of specific articles inviting people to engage your services. The button would link to a page explaining the service and your rates, the client would enter some details in a form and the appointment would be scheduled.

I’ve just been reading about a new service that could work in very well with streamlining this idea – Ether.

Ether provides you with a free, unique phone number which acts as a conduit to your own number via VoIP – your own phone number is kept private, as is the clients’. You then set your rate for telephone consultancy services and you can bill in as little as 15 minute increments. Then you set the times when calls can be made to you; so you’re not being disturbed in the middle of the night – an occupational hazard for those of us who work from home offices :).

The Ether service provides you with a “click to call” feature – it’s a button you can put on your site/blog which will explain the process, collect payment details from the client and patch them through to you. You will only get calls when people prepay your rate.

If you’re not available to take calls at the time, the Ether service will allow clients to try and arrange a consult for a few hours later or to schedule the call for another day. Ether will then notify you of the tentative appointment, the amount of cash involved and you can then choose to accept or reject the call.

Ether also offers options for selling digital content such as reports, podcasts and other forms of premium content. For example, you can send an email that contains premium content and set a price that needs to be paid before the content is viewable.

Ether’s commission is 15%. It seems like a rather large chunk, but that covers all functionality, long-distance costs, and credit-card processing fees. There are no setup fees or monthly service charges.

Ether is available internationally, currently in the following countries:

Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Sweden, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United States and United Kingdom.

I’m not sure what happens if you’re getting towards the end of the consultancy time if the client is still talking and asking questions. Whether it’s a case of the caller being told the equivalent of ‘please insert another quarter’ by the system or they get a voice warning just prior to the end of the time and then the line goes dead isn’t clear :). The former would most certainly be a better arrangement as it would cause minimum disruption to the conversation.

The other issue is the client may call in relation to something that you really don’t have the answers to – but the way around this would be to encourage brief prior email contact from the client first to ascertain if you’ll be able to assist them with their needs.

The revenue you generate from the service can either be wired to your bank account or you can request to have Ether send you a check.

It seems like a great idea, and given that there are no setup fees or monthly fees involved, it may be worth your while to give Ether a whirl. If you do, I’d be really interested to read your thoughts on the service!


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