Basic Computer and Communication Tools
OBJECTIVE: Communication is necessary to any business success. In this session we will review the basic forms of communication and equipment available for your business.
Types of Communication
Communication is key to any business success! Unless potential clients and customers are aware of your business, they will not have the information to contact you or to purchase your products. When they are aware of your business, they must be able to contact it easily.
Two types of communication are essential - external and internal.
Effective communication requires tools and planning. In this session we will discuss those tools, as well as planning guidelines, to facilitate that key element of your business - communication.
The following discussion will be grouped into 1) basic communication tools; 2) computers; and, 3) the Internet.
Basic Communication Tools
Specific tools that can be used for communication include landline telephones, cellphones, smartphones and fax machines. The lines between the devices are blurring. For example, an advanced cellphone (the smartphone) can contain many of the functions of a computer including Internet, email, faxing, word processing and more. For this discussion, however, each device will be presented as a separate entity.
There are many types of telephones, and only you can decide which type(s) or combinations of types are right for you. Even the standard telephone (landline) that is installed in your office has many options. You should start with at least line that is unique tone o your business. This line should have the capability to take messages in case it is not answered personally. Here are some telephone tips:
The cell phone, also called a mobile phone, is used for mobile communications over a cellular network of cell sites. There are numerous plans and carriers. Many carriers have plans tailored for small businesses including options that bundle popular features and usage patterns, making them very cost effective. Be sure to ask questions about your specific needs before selecting a carrier and a plan.
When your usage or needs change, do not hesitate to request information on plans that more closely meet your new set of requirements. Most cell phone companies allow you to return the phone within 15 to 30 days after activation if you are not happy. Use this time to check if the cell phone has acceptable reception at your home and work place. Basic cell phones are offered free by many carriers for a specific length of time, usually two years. But be aware there are hefty fees for canceling early.
Smartphones are also capable of text messaging and may include a camera and video recorder. Some models are capable of "Push to Talk" which is a feature similar to a walkie-talkie. Outside your office a smartphone can become a valuable tool for e-mail, web browsing and the ability to review and edit documents. Several models have global positioning system (GPS) capability and many other available applications. The most popular are the iPhone, Blackberry, Droid and Google's Nexus One. Each has different strengths you will need to factor into your business needs.
Video conferencing transmits and receives images and voice in real-time. Web conferencing adds another dimension - it allows you to share documents and applications. For more details on Webinar conferencing with customers visit Session 2 in the Building My Own Business course.
Telepresence takes video and web conferencing to new levels. A telepresence conference room includes ultra-high-definition video cameras, large screens displaying life-size images, and spatially discrete audio to create an "in person" experience. Facial expressions for crucial business discussions and negotiations can be discerned across the "virtual table." Telepresence solutions can be deployed to support your business' need from one-on-one conferencing in private offices to stadium seating for larger meetings.
All these solutions allow you to communicate as if you were face-to-face with customers anywhere in the world. Time and money that would be spent on traveling can be used to conduct meetings. You can share documents, make presentations and conduct meetings on short notice. For example, without leaving your office you can collaborate with employees who work from home or from other company locations. You can get detailed information on video and web conferencing at: www.google.com and www.wikipedia.org. At My Own Business, we use www.WebEx.com conferencing solution from Cisco Systems, Inc.
Social networking sites
Wikipedia describes chat tools best: "Online chat can refer to any kind of communication over the Internet, but is primarily meant to refer to direct one-on-one chat or text-based group chat using tools such as instant messengers." It is commonly used in place of email when there is a need to communicate live. Chat tools can be used both for internal and external communication and can be placed on a website so customers can talk to a customer service person in real-time. Utilizing chat tools usually requires a free software download. There are many options available including GoogleTalk and Skype. Features can vary from simple one-on-one messaging to highly developed tools for group chat, file transfers, video and document collaboration.
Some phone vendors can provide you with a fax number that works with your e-mail system. Receiving a fax works just like it does when the fax is being received by another machine but you receive it as an attachment to an e-mail. This can be very handy for those who travel on a frequent basis and are not always near a fax machine. Here are tips:
A computer is such an affordable tool that it should no longer be considered an option for your business!
The following discussion will focus on three basic models - desktop, laptop, personal digital assistants - and the software that makes them work.
DesktopsThis is the most common type of computer: one that is set up to operate in your office. The computer system should include:
A laptop computer offers portability with many of the features offered by a desktop which make it ideal for meetings or if you travel frequently. Drawbacks for laptops include: they are higher in price than desktops, have smaller keyboards and monitors and are subject to theft. Traditional and wireless printers, keyboards and even the traditional mouse are options available with laptops. If you travel and need computing capability, it is worth the extra expense.
Notebooks and Netbooks
Since their recent appearance, netbooks have grown in size and features. At the same time, notebooks have become smaller and lighter. The result is that for practical purposes we are going to use the two words interchangeably since there is no longer a significant distinction between them. They both can be described as rapidly evolving categories of small, light and inexpensive laptop computers suited for general computing and accessing web-based applications. They are gaining in popularity especially with students, bloggers, and even some businesses.
While generally less expensive than laptops, manufactures are starting to beef up notebooks, which is increasing their cost. A caution: their compact size makes them attractive for traveling but if you are considering one to save on the cost of a laptop, you probably will be getting less memory and many do not have full applications or compatibility with your other business applications.Things to keep in mind if getting a desktop, laptop or netbook:
A tablet computer is equipped with a touch screen or stylus rather than a keyboard to operate the computer. The advantages include using when it is not convenient to use a keyboard and mouse, recording diagrams and symbols, and easier navigation than a keyboard and mouse or touch pad. Disadvantages include higher cost, slower input speed and risk of damage to the tablet screen.
Additionally, you should consider financial and accounting software that is appropriate for your particular business. Keep in mind that many accounting/bookkeeping software packages are not double-entry systems and care must be taken in making the entries correctly.
Auxiliary Products - There are many products that can be used in conjunction with your computer to enhance the functionality and image of your business. These also require software specifically designed to facilitate their usage.
The Internet has become a very important business tool! It can be used at a basic level for email and for research and it can be used at a more comprehensive level as a channel for selling your products and services.
To get access to the Internet, you need a browser. This is a piece of software. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator are the two leading browsers.
Now that you have a browser, you need to get access to the Internet. This is done through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). These providers range in the features that they provide, but all give you the capability of email. If you want a very comprehensive set of features, then America Online or MSN might be for you. If you are comfortable with accessing the Internet and working within an environment that assumes a little more knowledge on your part, an ISP such as AT&T or Earthlink might meet your needs. As with other forms of communication, there are many plans and prices from which to choose.
How you use the Internet in your business is up to you. Perhaps you are not ready to sell your products on the Internet, but you are interested in developing a website, or home page, that lets people know what you do. At the other extreme, you may want to use the Internet as your main sales channel. Just remember, the basics are still on the ground - you need products and services that people need; you need to attract people to your Internet site so that they have the option of purchasing these products and services from you; you need to convince them to buy; you need a place to store your products; and, you need a way to get them to the purchaser.
Session "e-Commerce" of this course will furnish you with detailed information about the Internet and e-Commerce.
Before you start, plan for the technology that you will need. Get those extra telephone lines; purchase and learn how to use the computer; decide how you will and will not use the Internet.
Keep in mind that the monitoring of employees' use of the Internet while at work is not a violation of their rights to privacy. Your policy should be in writing and signed by your employees.
Remember, appropriate use of technology can make your business look established and successful from the very beginning!
Top Ten Do's and Don'ts
Business Plan for Session Basic Computer and Communications Tools
We heartily recommend that you download the individual business plan template for this session Business Plan Template Document 3 and complete it now.
Instructions on filling in the business plan template:
We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan
The template for all sessions can also be downloaded into your computer as a single document:
Include sufficient research findings and background materials. Make it interesting up by the use of background data, your biography, charts, demographics and research data. When your business plan is completed, print off and assemble the 15 sections.
Many other business plan formats are available in libraries, bookstores and software.