Technologies for a Lazy Small Business OwnerGene Marks
I recently read a post on Lifehacker titled "How to Winterize Your Body and Stay Fit and Healthy in the Cold Months Ahead." In it, writer Jason Fitzpatrick suggests things like taking vitamins, being active, getting lots of sunshine, and staying well hydrated. I should take this advice. But, as usual, I won't listen. It's much easier to huddle on the living room sofa with a box of glazed Krispy Kremes (KKD), watching HBO. There is no way I'm motivated to do all the smart things he suggests. I'm just too lazy.
Unfortunately, I'm the same way in my business, particularly when it comes to new technology. Fitzpatrick suggests taking fish-oil caplets that are rich in vitamins D and A. I'm too lazy to follow this advice, just as I'm too lazy to heed the people who advise me to use online document applications from companies like Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) for my business. I realize these hosted apps are hugely popular. And I know the cost is insanely cheap, too ($50 per year per user for Google Docs). Everyone keeps telling me the Google and Microsoft docs and spreadsheets are even easier to navigate than the desktop versions in my office. I understand that my people can store everything online and access this information from anywhere. They can share the same files or even, if necessary, convert files back to Word or Excel. Plus, I don't have to worry about installing/updating/upgrading applications on my office PCs. I should get more vitamins this winter. And I should start using this technology. But I'm just too lazy.
Fitzpatrick says that the more social you are, the more you can fight the wintertime blues. Sorry, dude, this isn't gonna happen either. I talk to enough people at work and don't need to interact even more on my free time. Even so, Jason's advice got me thinking about the technology I should be using so that my people can interact more on our office projects. At any given time we have about 15 to 25 open client projects and a few internal ones. How do we manage them? Spreadsheets. Scrap paper. Post-it notes. Maybe if I was willing to be a little more social I'd realize that there are dozens of Web-based community-type applications for managing projects that could make my business more profitable. For example, for as little as $50 per month all my people could use products like Basecamp or Central Desktop for tracking hours, actions, e-mails, and notes on a project they're working on.
Maybe I wouldn't be so lethargic if I got more exercise. But it's too easy to be a vegetable on the sofa, watching reruns of Eastbound and Down and ordering takeout Chinese food online. Yep, I'm so lazy that the little Chinese restaurant down the street is more Web-savvy than my own company. And I'm supposed to be a tech guy. I need to get off my duff and start using some of those Web tools out there for my business.
For example, when someone goes to my site and signs up for a training event or for product information, we manually enter the information into our customer relationship management (CRM) system and then manually send out reminders. I know that most good CRM and contact management applications, like ACT!, GoldMine, and Salesforce.com, can create Web forms where data collected online can be automatically brought into the system, without manual interaction. And then there are automated processes to generate reminders and follow-ups based on these data. And there are inexpensive products like eGrabber that do this automatically. I should get more active—especially with my own website.
And I should get more sun, too. "Don't underestimate the power of sunshine," Fitzpatrick writes, to maintain health during winter. He's right. Unfortunately, my business doesn't need more sun. It needs more clouds—as in cloud computing. I'm so lazy I'm missing the benefits of cloud-based tools to help run my business. We don't have a physical office. Everyone, including me, works from home. We use a combination of Windows Terminal Server and GoToMyPC for remote access. It works fine. But even that's getting old. These applications require support and a reliable Internet connection. For a few hundred bucks a month I could have all of our applications hosted by one of the hundreds of third-party companies that do all the heavy lifting—the backups, the Windows support, the security, the works. Maybe I should listen to Jason. I should get some sun—and some cloud.
Closing Deals Electronically
Winter can put people in a bad mood. Jason tells us to watch out for that. But you know what else can put a business owner in a bad mood? Not closing deals fast enough. That's my problem. There's technology available to help me but I'm still too lazy to use it. So when a client asks for a service agreement or a sales order, we commence a manual process of preparing, signing, mailing, and filing. I should follow the lead of firms that use online document signature services like EchoSign and DocShaker.
For very little money these services can create the document and ask my clients to electronically sign, which is now binding and legal in most states. Turnaround time would increase significantly. Questions can be answered faster. And my documents would be stored securely for future reference.
Fitzpatrick says drinking abundant fluids is a critical biological backup, a "key element for winterizing your body." I wish I had that kind of backup in my office. Because if all else fails, I'm not sure if my backup software will even work. I should be using one of those online backup services like Carbonite or Mozy. For around $50 per year these services will grab whatever I want from a workstation or server and back it up online. These services are reliable and safe.
I wish I was more motivated to do a lot of things this winter: eat fish pills, drink lots of water, socialize, exercise daily. And in my business I wish I were more motivated to get off my duff and employ some technology that would help me to make more money. But on those long, cold winter nights, here's the more realistic scenario: me lounging on the sofa, munching sweet-and-sour chicken, and laughing at Kenny Powers.