As a small-business person, you probably realize that AUTOMATING your office is becoming crucial to success. The speed of business these days is measured in nanoseconds -- the only way to keep up and stay COMPETITIVE is to get “plugged in.” But where do you start? This list includes all of the major technologies you should consider for your business -– as well as a few suggestions for making smart consumer decisions. Let's start with the three biggies -- fax, phone, and voice mail
Many times, you will need to send a copy of a PAPER document that you didn’t create in your computer to a colleague or prospective client -- and faxing is the way to go. You have several options when it comes to selecting a faxing vehicle. The first is the traditional stand-alone FAX MACHINE -- fairly inexpensive, by today’s standards. The good news is that we’ve moved beyond the thin, slick, hard-to-tear fax paper of the past -- and you can now receive faxes on regular computer paper. The bad news -- for a small or home-based business person – a fax machine is another piece of equipment, destined to take up precious space in your office.
COMBINING YOUR EFFORTS
If limited room is an issue, you can always opt for a space-saving ALL-IN-ONE machine. These usually combine your printer, fax machine, copier, and possibly scanner in one compact unit. Although more expensive than a standard fax machine, these wonders are often less expensive than buying the 3 or 4 separate pieces of equipment. But keep in mind that when one component goes, you have to give up the entire PACKAGE to get it fixed. So if the faxing section of your machine needs work, you will also be without a printer and a copier while you take it in for repair.
The third option is very attractive for techies. You can choose from a variety of ONLINE faxing services. You can either create a new document in your computer or scan in an existing paper document. Then, using a faxing program, you send your document out directly through your MODEM -- no need for a separate machine! This is also a tremendous time (and paper) saver, since you don’t have to print a hard copy out before faxing it. You can even receive faxes over the internet as an E-MAIL attachment. You can read your fax on the screen -- it looks just like a copy of the page sent -- and only print it out if you need a hard copy.
These days, telephones are more technologically advanced than every -- I’ll bet Alexander Graham Bell never imagined “call-forwarding,” “teleconferences,” or “speed-dialing!” And depending on the type of phone you have, your extra FEATURES may number in the dozens. Unfortunately, most of us barely have a clue how to turn the volume down on the ringer, much less take advantage of all the marvelous goodies our phone systems offer. As a small-business person, it is your responsibility to know your technology -- so pull out that MANUAL! Plan to spend a day familiarizing yourself with all of your phone’s features. It may take a minute to figure out, but these features will save you a ton of time in the long-run.
While we’re on the subject of phones, let’s talk about what holding that phone on your shoulder is doing to your neck! If you spend a lot of time on the phone, one of the best investments you can make is a hands-free HEADSET. These little babies either plug into your telephone or offer a remote phone pack that allows you to wander away from your desk while talking -- and if you already have a cordless phone, you can accomplish the same goal with less expense. I’ve been known to make business calls while doing dishes (ah, the joys of working from home!)
Finally, we have to discuss the dreaded CELL PHONE. I think a quote from "A Tale of Two Cities" is an appropriate way to describe the cell phone age -- “These were the best of times, these were the worst of times.” Cellular phones offer a great deal of convenience -– but they are easily misused. The two most important skills to learn when owning a cell phone are not giving the number out to everyone on the planet, and how to turn it off (or let it go to voice mail). The day that you let your cell phone run your life is the day when it stops being USEFUL to you.
Voice mail has gotten a bad rap in past years. But it isn’t voice mail itself that is evil -- it’s the INAPPROPRIATE and irresponsible use of it. Voice mail is actually a wonderful time-saving technological tool. Think about it -- you are trying to set up an appointment with a client who is never at his or her phone. Rather than calling endlessly, hoping to catch this person live, you can take care of all your business dealings by leaving a MESSAGE. I schedule at least 50% of my business appointments through the skillful use of voice mail.
ENDING THE GAMES
If you always end up playing phone tag, then you aren’t leaving the right KIND of message. You have to be specific about why you are calling and exactly what kind of RESPONSE you require from the person on the other end. A proper voice mail message might sound like this: “I’m calling for Jim Greene -- this is Ramona Creel from www.OnlineOrganizing.com. I’m just calling to schedule our next organizing appointment. I’m free on Tuesday the 12th at 2 pm and Friday the 15th at 10 am -- please call me back by the end of the day and let me know which of those times work for you. My number is 404-607-7857, and I’ll be here until 3:00 today -- but you can just leave me a message if I’m not here.” Very SPECIFIC, with a deadline and concrete instructions for getting back in touch with me and getting me the information I need.
Of course, the same is true for the GREETING on your answering machine. Be just as specific about what you need and when you can be reached on your own voice message. “This is Ramona Creel. I’m out of the office today, but will return tomorrow at 9AM. Please leave a message -- including your name, phone number, the purpose of your call, and the best time of day to reach you -- and I’ll get back with you. I try to return all business calls within 24 hours.” That last part is critical -- most people who express frustration with leaving a message say that they hate being left in voice mail LIMBO -- not knowing when the person will return their call. Let folks know when you will get back with them -- and then stick to that promise -- and they will be more than happy to leave you a message.
MORE COMING UP...
Next time, we delve into the technologically exciting world of COMPUTERS -- learning how to turn that machine on your desk from a time trap into a useful productivity tool!
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