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Helping Your Small Business Cast a Big Shadow: My top free resources for new businesses

I’m always thrilled to stumble upon a web site, phone app or piece of technology that is designed to help a small business give the image of a large corporation. Small businesses don’t have the disposable income or office structure to support the expense of big machines like faxes and scanners, to purchase multiple business phone lines or to pay for a full time accountant. Instead, we become the Jack-of-All-Trades. Sure we’re the CEO’s, but we’re also the billing department, human resources, administrative assistants and IT. I choose to work from home because I love minimizing my overhead costs (and working from a local park or in my pajamas from time to time). But one aspect I DON’T love about working from home is the reaction I sometimes get when I say I run my Public Relations Firm just a few doors down from the same place I sleep and eat. For some people, I feel like this discredits the professionalism of my business. So I’ve taken an active role in finding completely free resources that allow me to run Bennis Inc as I would a much larger scale firm, while still keeping the intimate communication with my clients and low rates to reflect my low overhead.

CamScan – This single phone app alone has saved me the large investment of purchasing a scanner and fax machine for my home office. Imagine this – any printed invoice, piece of mail or even a magazine article can be scanned by your phone and directly emailed to you or your client with a few clicks of a button. At times, this works even better than a copy machine. If I’m sitting in a meeting and want a copy of a document we’re discussing, I simply CamScan it and it’s there as a document in my phone to refer to as I please. Best yet, this app is completely free, scans crystal clear and takes mere seconds to install. To find it, simply search “CamScan” on your Android or iPhone Market Place app (Learn more here).

Google Voice – When I first started taking on more clients in the Harrisburg area, I was often questioned about my cell phone’s area code which is from a different part of the state. On my business card it was obvious this out of area number was a cell phone and I felt unprofessional because I didn’t have a dedicated business line – but I didn’t have the budget for this. I found my solution with Google Voice. This online feature let me pick a new phone number of my choice (so of course I chose one with a local area code) and connect it directly to my cell phone. Now my clients can call my “business line” and I answer it right on my phone. Google Voice also has a ton of other features like personalized voicemails you can assign to certain numbers who call you and the ability to set “do not call” hours where it won’t roll your business calls to your cell phone….say on the weekends or while you’re on vacation. Google is truly an invaluable resource small businesses (Learn more here).

Boomerang – This is one of the newest features I’ve added to my tool kit. Boomerang connects directly with my Gmail account and allows me to use all sorts of cool features like pre-scheduling emails to send at certain times and on certain dates. I use this to format meeting reminders weeks in advance while they’re on my mind. Boomerang also has a feature to “boomerang” a message back to your inbox if you don’t hear back from someone in a certain amount of time. This is much better than having to mark a follow-up reminder on your calendar – or forgetting to do it altogether. But the most useful feature of Boomerang for me has been the ability to pre-schedule my monthly invoices to clients. I can format them and set them to send on the exact date they’re due. Now, no matter how hectic my day becomes, I know my invoices are accurate and on time. This really helps Bennis Inc to function like a professional business even though, for better or for worse, I am my own accounting department (Learn more here).

WiseStamp – This feature is more “for show” than it is for business function, but it’s one of those areas where you can really help your business to leave a lasting impression. WiseStamp allows me to format my email signature to include my company logo and all my social media links in an organized template. I chose to use the feature that inserts my latest blog post into my signature as well. The week I started to do this, I saw a surprising increase in my amount of web traffic. If I can get my email contacts interested enough to visit my blog and starting reading, I increase my chances of them also clicking on my web site to learn more about me and my business. WiseStamp allows you to add in a privacy disclaimer, your business slogan or favorite quote as well. I’d recommend not using all of these features at once, but design an organized signature with the right touch of special features to create a professional first impression (Learn more here).

Here’s what my WiseStamp signature looks like

 

I could continue listing the various other free resources I utilize on a weekly basis to help Bennis Inc function like a big PR Firm. But instead, I’d like to ask you to share even just one of your favorite no-cost technologies that make you more efficient or make your business more professional. The millions of other entrepreneurs out there thank you!

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Technology: Bridging the Gap or Building the Wall?

My day begins with technology. The first sound I awake to in the morning is the ringing of my phone alarm which I immediately grab—but not just to shut it off. Instead, I proceed to check the weather and then my email all while still lying in bed. If I head for a run, I use the RunKeeper app on my phone to map my miles and track my pace along with my iPod to ensure there’s not a moment of silence or serenity from the time my feet hit the ground.

Before 8am I feel so connected to the world, but yet I haven’t had one single face-to-face interaction.

Let’s rewind this scenario and this time take away technology. I might wake up and have a cup of coffee with my boyfriend instead of checking my email. Without a phone or an iPod to keep me busy, I might choose to walk with a friend and catch up on each other’s life. Without the technological noise, I’m now available to engage a neighbor in a morning hello and actually get to know the special people who live right around me.

So what role does technology play in our lives? It’s certainly the Great Connector, but just like any other tool—it’s all about how you use it. I can use smart phones and social media to stay connected with people all over the world; for this reason, technology bridges the gap. But the moment I refuse to “disconnect” long enough to interact with the world right around me, technology instead begins to build a wall—a fortress, really.

At one point or another, we have all found ourselves in at least one of these scenarios: G-Chatting with a friend sitting two computers away. Sitting at a restaurant where everyone at the table is looking at their phone, texting. Thinking the person in the bathroom stall next to you is engaging you in conversation, when really they’re on their phone. Breaking up via phone call, email—maybe even by simply ending the relationship on Facebook. Asking someone for directions only to realize they have an iPod in and didn’t hear a word you said.

These are such trivial examples, but they’re signs that bigger problems are on the horizon. When did we become a society more comfortable Skyping with someone continents and oceans away, but too uncomfortable to talk to the person bagging our groceries?

Technology is one of the greatest tools we will ever possess, but it’s up to us to use it to build bridges not walls.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Technology

 

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