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I get a ton of spam. No, not the processed lunch meat – unsolicited junk phone calls, or robocalls. These junk phone calls scare people into believing they're in trouble with the IRS or selling them scam-ridden vacation packages. While, as an individual, these spam phone calls annoying, for a small business, they're downright expensive. For small businesses, dealing with robocalls is a much bigger problem than for individuals.

Many small businesses must answer each phone call. In my company, we certainly do. And my self-employed sister sells to hundreds of businesses, so she absolutely has to pick up every call. About half the calls she receives are robocalls. That means hours and hours in the course of a week or month answering useless calls, interrupting real work, lowering productivity.  

The effect isn't restricted to incoming calls. Those small businesses that must make calls to clients or patients now find they must leave messages, keep calling, try other means to reach people who no longer answer their phones, trying to avoid robocalls. According to a study by Consumer Reports, 70% of Americans no longer answer phone calls from unknown numbers.

All that adds up to small business dollars and time lost. Way back in 2014, before robocalls became so ubiquitous, it was estimated that spam calls cost American small businesses a half-billion dollars a year. That number has certainly skyrocketed by now.

By the way – ever wonder how the term "spam" came about for unwanted emails or calls? It goes back to a skit by the British comedy group, "Monty Python's Flying Circus." In the skit, a restaurant served food with the canned luncheon meat brand "SPAM," while a chorus of Vikings sang out, "spam, spam, spam," drowning all other sounds. Thus, spam came to apply to electronic messages repeated over and over, swamping all other communication. (And as an aside, note that Hormel, maker of SPAM ™ luncheon meat, says they never engage in or condone spamming.)

One devious development that made spam calls even harder to deal with for small businesses was the invention of  "neighborhood spoofing"– in which the scammers have found a way to show a local prefix for the caller's phone number, making it look like the call is originating locally. 

As a small business owner, robocalls cost me money. If you have a small business, you probably are sick and tired of spam phone calls, too. Let's see what we can do to reduce time wasted on spam in small businesses.

What can you do to reduce the number of spam calls you get at your business?

1. Train everyone in your company. It's not enough for you to know how to respond to robocalls, anyone who might pick up a company phone – or who uses their own phones to receive or make business calls – must be trained on how to deal with calls:

a. Hang up as soon as they determine it's a spam call. The less time on a spam call, the less likely they are to continue to call.

b. NEVER hit any button or make any response to a call that might even possibly be a robocall.

c. If the caller says they are from a company that you regularly do business with but it could possibly be just spam, listen to the message, but look up their number on a bill or on their website to call back.

2. Contact your telecom company. Small businesses use a variety of telecommunications companies for their phone service, including VoIP (voice over IP) services. Contact them to find out what kind of free help them can provide you in reducing the number of phony calls you receive.

3. Use spam blockers on cellphones. On mobile phones used in your business, you can find tools to help you identify and reduce spam calls you receive. You can find dozens of spam blocking apps for both iPhones and Android phones.

For more information, check out the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) – the government agency tasked with responsibility for telecommunication companies' oversight.

Spam phone calls are a pittance to the caller. Of course, spam costs all the rest of us, especially small businesses, taking up time and costing us money.

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies," the best-selling business plan guide of all time, just released in its seventh edition. Connect with Rhonda on FacebookInstagram and Twitter @RhondaAbrams. Register for Rhonda's free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com 

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