Small businesses are increasingly being challenged to compete directly with their Fortune 500 counterparts, creating situations where your local small business is simply out of its depth trying to provide the services its customers want and the expanded hours that they need.

Many go about it haphazardly and end up throwing a lot of money away in the process. If your small business is looking to expand into a 24/7/365 type of company, you’ll need careful planning and a step by step process to follow in order to achieve the best results.

Here are three key steps we recommend, though you may need to make adjustments based on your industry and market:

  1. Set up a self-service website. First things first: A good website can expand your customer reach without requiring that you add any new staff, which can be really helpful if you’re still a pretty small business.As you grow, your can put your efforts into other directions, but a really thorough self-service website and corresponding mobile web presence is hands-down the best way to start. Your customers will know they can look up the answers to common questions and email you with inquiries. So long as you’re quick on the draw with the email in the morning, this will suffice for a while.
  1. Shift your calls to an answering service. As that little web presence grows and your business starts to expand, you’ll need to shift more of the work off your own desk. Hiring a full-time staffer to answer the phone or schedule appointments might not be cost-effective, but you can hire an answering company that will charge you by the call to handle this traffic.Answering services can do a lot these days, from handling customer service inquiries to setting appointments and taking detailed messages to speeding up your return calls. These small business partners are truly a great way to look bigger without spending more on employees.
  1. Expand your staff to hold the doors open longer. With the calls rolling in and the website flooded with visitors, you’re probably going to start getting a lot more walk-in traffic if you have a brick-and-mortar location.It’s time to start keeping those doors open later, the lights on more often and invite customers to come on down to experience your expanded hours. Careful research will need to be done to ensure that you’re choosing hours that will be profitable and useful for your customers, but between customer self-report surveys and marketing surveys, you should have plenty of data to make the right decision. Your call volume reports from your answering service may also be able to shed some light on when callers are thinking about your business most.

Going from a single shift small business to a thriving 24/7/365 company can take a great deal of effort, but the payoff is immense. Just take each step slowly and as it comes, don’t rush into expanding until the time is right and you’ll have the customers to cover the additional cost of the necessary support team. An answering service company can help to bridge the gap between being a small operation and having a large team of employees—or it can act as a branch of your company indefinitely if you prefer.