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Working hard is important. But there’s one thing even more important – working smart.
That’s what technology helps you do. You get more done, you get it done easier and you get it done better. Frankly, by using technology you’re able to do some things that would simply be impossible without it.
Luckily, there’s an array of tech tools that allow you to build your business in extremely smart ways. Be sure to take full advantage of them.
IN THIS STEP, WE WILL LOOK AT FOUR CATEGORIES OF TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTS:
- Online Tools
First, you have to know what’s out there. Second, you need to understand all the cool things that technology can do for you. After all, what’s the point of buying an expensive gadget if you can’t revel in all of its neat tricks?
Technology Options to Consider
Selecting a computer may seem straightforward, but you should carefully consider the way you do business before making your next computer investment.
Let’s say you’re an on-the-go real estate agent who needs data at your fingertips. Your best bet is probably a laptop. Your work goes everywhere with you, whether it’s to a client’s office or the coffee shop around the corner.
But if you spend most of your time at the office and rarely emerge, you’re better suited to a desktop computer. Most of all, a desktop forces you to designate a special place for your work, which helps you fully focus on the task at hand.
Are you using the computer primarily for graphic design or writing and numbers-crunching? Graphic designers and people who produce Web sites or newsletters sometimes prefer Macs, though the gap between PCs and Macs has nearly disappeared.
Whether you’re more of a laptop or desktop person, don’t forget one of the most important computer accessories of all – the monitor. Since you’re likely to spend extended periods of time in front of it, be sure you don’t skimp in either size or quality. Consider a flat screen monitor – it saves room on your desk and comes in sizes small, medium and large.
There are a lot of gadget choices out there that will help you keep up with your business, even when you’re not office-bound.
Smart phones let you respond to e-mails, pull a factoid off the Web, update your calendar and pull an important contact from your database – from anywhere!
The famous BlackBerry product line, the Treo product line and the newer “Q” from Motorola are all wireless smart phones that include these capabilities. Talk about working smart! You can set sail in the Caribbean or simply pick up the kids from school and still stay on top of things.
Being connected with this kind of capability gives you a huge advantage over old-school people who say, “Let me get back to you tomorrow.”
Have you caught the WiFi wave yet? WiFi (short for Wireless Fidelity) enables you to connect computers in a given location via a network that uses radio signals. So now you can hang out in the local bookstore with your laptop and do business at the same time. You can even access wireless networks in your car. Wireless broadband networks are available by subscription through such companies as Verizon and Cingular. You can also tap into these on the spot at places offering wireless networks for a small fee.
Speaking of wireless tools, it’s not expensive – or complicated – to set up a wireless office. It just requires a wireless router and a wireless network adapter. The router converts signals coming across your Internet connection into the wireless broadcast, similar to a cordless phone base station. Routers cost $100 to $200 for a small office.
Today’s computer software for small businesses does everything from keeping track of your inventory to keeping you on top of your finances.
There are some obvious basics, of course, like Microsoft Office software that comes preloaded on many new computers. It often comes with the fundamentals, including an address book that ties in with your e-mail, a calendar system, Excel for making spreadsheets, and PowerPoint, which helps you quickly create dynamic and professional-looking presentations.
The next step comes when you buy your first business server. This special-purpose computer is the master administrator and router of all of your company’s computing needs, and is available in a wide range of models, starting with servers for small businesses. Any type of software or data that benefits from coordination and protection is stored on – and dispensed by – the server. It uses specific server software, often available preloaded on a server, making “going live” with the server relatively turnkey.
With inventory software, you can handle tasks as simple as keeping track of inventory (and where you have it stored) or as complex as forecasts of your future inventory needs. Most importantly, it helps you be strategic and keep that inventory moving in and out the door!
Amazingly, only about 50 percent of small businesses use software to manage their accounting. Yes, this is the 21 st century, but there are hangers-on who still push pencils along paper ledgers. And that would be an example, of course, of not working smart. Using software to help you with bookkeeping and accounting does a variety of things to make your business more efficient and also more strategic.
Do you have a formalized strategy for making the most of your customer relationships? With Customer Relationship Management software, you can improve customer satisfaction and revenue generation by tracking customer interests, needs, buying habits and contact information. You can also tailor your marketing approach to them based on permission they’ve provided you. They get what they need as they change, and you become their provider of choice.
The Internet can allow you to reach an untold numbers of people, but first you have to create a presence that will generate interest in your company:
Your Web site should 1) offer information about your company, products, services and how to reach you and, 2) give the customer compelling reasons to do business with you.
Send out email news blasts
Let your clients and prospects know what you are up to! Send out regular e-mail news blasts with links to your website. I use Constant Contact for myself and my clients. We all get rave reviews from recipients! CC reporting lets you know who opened the e-mail, when and how many times. Very enlightening! Communicate!
– Tip submitted by stonecat
StartupNation’s View: Very smart, stonecat. We agree wholeheartedly. We use iContact with similarly excellent functionality and results. The key is to get permission from people through “opt-in” registration. Then, according to what you promised in the registration area, submit emails to them on the topics and for the reasons disclosed. This form of reminder is an excellent way to keep people thinking about you.
Offer customers free information. Present advice in a blog format, or better yet, include a hyperlink that will allow them to register for one of your valuable free online newsletters.
Designing your Web site can be a lot of fun, and the cost of designing it will vary greatly based on the solution you choose. You can choose to go with an inexpensive (or free) hosted solution; you can seek out a professional in the StartupNation Community or through your local chamber of commerce; you can buy Web design software and try to design your site yourself if you’re particularly tech-savvy; or you can contact the Information Technology department at your local community college to find a Web design student willing to freelance.
Search Engine Optimizers
OK, you have a kick-ass Web site that dazzles visitors with information about your business acumen and A-plus service. But does anyone know about it? You need to understand how search engines work so Web surfers find you before your competition.
Search engines have millions of pages in their databases (at last count Google alone had north of 8 billion). Use a search engine ranking tool to learn how your site ranks relative to others on the Web.
So now you’ve discovered you’re ranked 3,000 for your ideal keyword. (Yikes!) How do you move up in the list? You do it in part through search engine optimization (SEO). SEO refers to the process of making your site accessible to the search engine “robots” that index your Web site, and building up the relevance of your site through the content on and links into it.
Online analytics is a tool that lives in the shadows of your Web site, always watching invisibly from the background, keeping track of everything that’s going on. Online analytics, downloadable from multiple sources online, helps you to measure and analyze what’s going on when people look at your site. For example, suppose you get 300 visits a day, but you’re seeing only 10 shopping cart orders. What’s happening between the time people first click on your site and the time they leave? Online analytics will help you learn how to use your Web site to close more sales. You can also learn the number of repeat visitors you get, the most popular pages, and many, many other things. Knowing what’s happening as it’s happening is an efficiency that’s unachievable in any other medium.
Intranet and Extranet
Suppose you have six people on staff. You may want to create an intranet site just for them. It’s easy to communicate key information to each employee on a regular basis. Workers can also use it as a tool for human resource questions or even tips on doing their jobs better. If you run a small sales team, for example, you also could use an intranet to help people define their target markets and collaborate on customer retention strategies.
An extranet, on the other hand, would allow you to communicate similarly important information with external contacts – customers, for example. Let’s say there’s a fancy animated presentation you’d like to present to a prospective client. It can be served from your password-access-only extranet and you can do the presentation online rather than having to travel to the client. Specific usernames and passwords can be made for specific clients, thereby policing who has access and when.
Find out more in StartupNation’s 11 Steps to Create a Successful Website