My life changed the other night.
It was 10:00. I was sitting in front of my living room TV watching a baseball game. And, as usual, I was catching up on my company's daily paperwork. My wife came in the room and took the remote from me. She switched the channel to Bravo and together we watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
My life has never been the same.
I was riveted. Who wouldn't be? Ashley, who is Jacqueline's 19-year-old daughter, got into a fight with Danielle and—can you believe this—ripped out some of her hair extensions in front of everyone. At a benefit party, no less. Danielle was understandably upset. The police got involved. The husbands got involved. I got involved.
This show makes the Sopranos look like English royalty. I must see more episodes, but the only way I'm going to be able to do this is to get more work done during the day. I need to be more efficient if I'm going to make The Real Housewives of New Jersey a major part of my life.
How am I going to do this? With good, productive small business technology.
A Social Network of Your Own
First, I'm going to cut down on the number of service calls my people are answering and try to get my clients to answer their questions faster. The more we work online, the more time I'll have to watch Teresa and Jacqueline complain about Danielle. I'm going to get my webmaster to install a gadget from Chat4Support or Zopim on my website so clients can chat with us online rather than wasting valuable TV time yapping on the phone. And instead of running into my high school friends on Facebook, I'm going to create my company's own social network on Ning or Forumotion so my clients can research issues themselves or post questions and we can respond with advice, support, and articles.
Next, I'm going to eliminate all the different calendars in my company and improve the way my people schedule appointments. I'm sick of spinning wheels asking where everyone is or having to explain why we double-booked a client visit. I should be spending more time figuring out how in the world Danielle's breast became infected and how she can avoid such things in the future. When scheduling internal appointments I'm going to use Google's calendar (GOOG) or FindMyShift, or just move everything we're doing to an online project management tool such as Basecamp, Skylight, Ubidesk, or Wrike. And if I need to involve outsiders I'm going to make more use of Tungle or Meetifyr to coordinate everyone's available time.
I got too many things on my plate right now, so I'm going to outsource more. I'm going to find people to help me with my bookkeeping, telemarketing, customer service, and personnel stuff on elance or Guru. I don't care where they live—I'm going to connect them to my office through GoToMyPC or Logmein, or just give them access through my internal Windows Terminal Server (MSFT) on my private network. I'm going to conduct conference calls with them using FreeConferenceCall or video chat with them over Skype (EBAY) or Oovoo.
Subtleties of Communication
I can learn a few things from these fine New Jersey ladies, too. For example, see the way they communicate? Lots of yelling and dropping the f-bomb. Of course, I can't get away with that in my business, but I can certainly use technology to improve how I communicate with my clients. I can make sure they're getting frequent e-mails using such services as Constant Contact and Jangomail. I can schedule frequent training webcasts using GoToWebinar and WebEx. I can record tips and examples on my computer and send them over as screencasts to my clients using services such as Screen Castle and Screen Jelly. Or I can simply invite my clients to connect to my computer using Glance or CrossLoop so I can quickly share information with them.
A buddy of mine in construction told me that he always watches past episodes of The Real Housewives of New Jersey on his iPod, which got me thinking: Hey, if I started making better use of mobile technology in my business, I could have more time to watch this stuff on my iPod, too. So I'm going to make everyone in my company download Google Latitude, which is a free GPS service that lets me track where everyone is. I'm going to try out iVisit to help us all do video chats from our mobile devices. And Qik to grab videos or photos at a client site on a mobile device and send them quickly back to the office.
I'm going to get smarter with my documents, too. If my people and my subcontractors can share more stuff online, I figure that should free up some Housewives time for me. So I'm going to look into expanding my usage of Zoho's applications. They host word processing, spreadsheet, customer relationship management, project management, and other tools that everyone can use from anywhere. Or I may decide to use Microsoft's Live service and put my Office files online. Or I may abandon Microsoft altogether and move toward a fully hosted office system such as Google Apps, Open Office, Peepel, Feng Office, or Think Free. The key here is accessing my files from anywhere, sharing this information with my people and getting things done quickly. That way I have the time to see whether Joe actually gets the vasectomy that Theresa wants him to have. Ouch.
Expand Your Cash Flow
One thing that kind of bothered me when I watched the last Housewives show: How can these people have so much money? I love them all—but they're not exactly the smartest sharks in the tank. This show has motivated me not only to be more productive, but also to use technology to increase my cash flow. I'm going to sign up with such services as Paypal, GoogleCheckout, and AcceptPay so my clients can easily pay me online. I'm going to start doing more invoicing on the Web, too, using such applications as BillingBoss, Curdbee, and InvoiceBubble to help me get bills out quicker so I can get my money quicker. That way the little missus can afford a trip of her own to the Paramus Mall—a favorite haunt of the Housewives.
The payback from all this? My life will change. With the time saved I'll be able to rent the entire Season 1 of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and sit around all day watching. I can even spend a few of those extra hours working with the Real Housewives' Make Over Tool on Bravo's (GE) website, too. And you thought these small business technology tools were JUST about saving money. Silly you.