Today’s always-on-and-available-anywhere technology can lead to addictive work habits. We’ve all seen examples of that among friends and family. But having a cheap, convenient, 24/7 global reach through technology can also efficiently enable you to live the life you’ve always wanted. The choice is yours.
- Use Voice-over-Internet protocol phone service (VoIP) to create a virtual office. You’ve probably heard about such affordable services, which, basically, use the Internet to send and receive calls. Usually, you pay only for Internet access and not for calls, much the way email works. There are dozens of VoIP providers to choose from – BT’s packages start at around £5 per month.
- Use online services for office communications and banking.
- Leverage the power of a professional website. Setting up a website (free with Office Live), more than any other technological tool, will shave considerable time and effort from your workdays. With a professional site, you can more efficiently conduct business, fulfil orders, organise contacts, share documents with employees or contractors, and market your products or services, even when you’re out of the office or on the road. Use your site features to stay in touch with customers. For example:
– Set up an online forum so customers can register and post comments to you and to each other.
– Set up a survey that customers can take online. This can be a focus group type of survey (say, about a new product) or a customer satisfaction survey.
– Set up a special email address and ask customers for specific feedback or advice whenever you launch a new product, service, or special promotion.
- Use email software to track schedules and tasks. Software such as Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 can improve your performance. Most people are good at creating to-do or task lists, but often become distracted and don’t commit to a scheduled time to accomplish those tasks. By using the task and reminder functions of an email program, you can set up a calendar that generates alerts, whether annual, weekly, or daily. Some business owners say that such alerts boost their productivity by 50 per cent or more.
- Stop thinking you must do everything yourself. Doing administrative work is necessary, but it can detract from an owner’s primary purpose of growing and nurturing the business. There are plenty of ‘virtual office assistants’ around who can help when you need additional resources.
- Create a sales contact database for your business. Software such as Contact Manager, included within Office Live Small Business (see a demo of Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007), can transform your electronic address book into a sales, contact management, and marketing tool. Then, when you send out marketing or sales material, instead of hand-addressing envelopes, you can automate the process with labels or envelopes printed from your database list. Similarly, you can use the database to send email marketing messages. Just make sure that the software you use for your database (usually part of a sales contact program) can be integrated with your email program.
- Invest in email marketing that yields results. Certainly, consumers now delete email marketing messages faster than you can say ‘click-through’. However, when it’s done right (which means your consumer really wants your message and knows your brand), email marketing remains relatively cheap and incredibly effective. You can automate the process of sending and tracking your mail campaigns with affordable tools and either off-the-shelf or online software. (Tip: get double opt-in permission before adding a prospect to your e-mail list.)
- Mobile phones and continual access to email now make us available around the clock. So, in the end, all the technology in the world won’t let you kick back unless you make some rules.
– Schedule specific times to check e-mail.
– Turn off your phone when you’re home or out with friends.