So, Shahida, tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Thank you, Tracey. My name is Shahida Afzal. I run a business-to-business telemarketing company in Reading. I’ve had the business now for over 22 years.
We work with four sectors – IT, pharmaceutical, construction, and manufacturing. We’ve made some serious changes this year in terms of our approach and who we target. And I think this has been heavily contributed to by me finally listening to the wonderful BBB Group and understanding that there are many ways that I can achieve what I’m looking to achieve within the growth of my company.
So, for me, sectors have slightly shifted and targets have slightly shifted, which I’m sure they have for many of you guys out there. But for me personally, what was an ideal customer at the beginning of this year now looks very different.
I’ve got to ask the question: why telemarketing?
I like the fact that I find it really easy to address problems and fix them. And for me, it’s simply about asking questions. And I don’t see it as telemarketing. So, for me, it is about asking questions and how I can match the problems up with the solutions. Whoever it is my company is representing, it’s really trying to understand and get granular with what is actually the problem.
I don’t feel every service lends itself to telemarketing. That’s why we’re very specific with the sectors we work in. But the feeling of actually fixing someone’s problem, especially when they’ve had poor experiences – there’s nothing else quite like it. And yes, I’ve been doing it for a very long time, but I do genuinely believe there’s still so much more to learn.
So tell us about your biggest success over the last little while. What’s really stood out for you over the last period?
So as a business, as I said, we’ve changed direction quite a bit this year. Up until last year, recruitment was a real big challenge for the business. And the reason it was recruitment was because – I’m not going to paint telemarketing as a pretty picture – it is repetitive. And sometimes it does border on mundane.
Finding the right mindset to do this work is very challenging. And in fact, in the 20 years, I’ve been doing this work, there have been very few people I’ve come across who have stuck to it. And I’m quite pleased to say, one of my longest-serving members of the team has been with us for more than 10 years now.
But one of my biggest challenges has always been recruitment and getting reliable people. Because we’re at the university, it’s assumed that we’re using or working with students. That’s not the case.
I’ve never used a recruitment agency. And it was just getting my head around that it’s an investment. Using an agency that really understands you is actually a worthwhile investment. And that has really changed the shape and direction of the business to a point where during the peak of the lockdown, Trifle employed four full-time telemarketers, which is huge for us. And we continue to take on staff currently, with a view to, by the end of next year, having twenty full-time members of the team.
I love that. And for someone that’s run their business for so long, to then be open to other ways of working – other possibilities – I think that’s pretty courageous.
So, what’s been your biggest challenge over the last little while?
Our biggest challenge has been applying what we do to people who need it the most in the current climate.
It was thinking that we had to make changes. It was getting lost with COVID, thinking we needed to flex into a different way of working. But actually, for us the challenge became more of a blessing in disguise. Because here we were, trying to generate business for companies we thought we could help in this period.
But, actually, if we’d stuck to what we know and what we’re good at, business for us was still there. So, it was recognising that we didn’t actually need to change it that much. And in fact, we carried on doing what we were doing.
The business is very fortunate that we have grown quite a bit during this climate. What was initially a challenge when the shutters almost came down at the beginning of March, we turned around. We persevered. And we took it head on and stuck to our guns.
I hear you. But credit where credit is due. It’s been inspiring, for sure.
Thank you. And I would like to say, I know telemarketing isn’t always everyone’s preferred method of getting the word out and promoting their services, but for Trifle Solutions in particular – all the seeds that we’ve been sowing – one of our biggest customers during lockdown came through someone who I had emailed seven years ago, and it was absolutely amazing considering about ninety percent of our customers withdrew their work. They just paused.
And like many businesses, I sat there in that office thinking, “What do I do now? I have jobs to protect.”
And when we least expected it, we had an order come through from a company, who seven years ago I was in conversation with, and it kept people in jobs and created additional jobs at a time when we least expected it.
Phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. Well done.
So, what’s one piece of advice that you would give business owners right now?
Stick to your guns. If you believe it worked in the past, there is no reason it wouldn’t work now.
We’re often disheartened because we don’t see instant results, or as immediate as we would like them to be. But if we stick to our guns and we know that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right avenue to pursue, then you will see the rewards.
And just before we go, Tracey, I wanted to say that if it wasn’t for me getting in touch with BBB and joining your group, there’s so much I would not be able to do that I’m doing today. It was the inspiration. It was changing the mindset. It was just giving me another way of thinking that has really inspired me to make the decisions that I’ve made. So, thank you guys.