These mobile communications tools can keep you connected wherever you are.
You're an hour away from your office, concluding your breakfast meeting with Mr. Jones, your oldest client. Meanwhile, a potentially huge new customer calls your office and needs to speak with you immediately about your business proposal. But how will you know about this call and start working with this new client without offending Mr. Jones?
It's this very scenario that led Lynette Viviani to buy both a cellular phone and a pager. The founder of a small, highly successful public-relations firm in Kinnelon, New Jersey, Viviani needs to be accessible to both her clients and her business associates at all times, and the pager provides her with a quiet notice that she is needed at her first opportunity. "If I'm in meetings," Viviani says, "I don't want the phone ringing. It's rude."
While the pager holds a special place in the world of this mobile entrepreneur, it's the cellular phone that's the workhorse of Viviani's extended office. Viviani has used a cellular phone since shortly after starting her agency eight years ago. Today, her operation employs six homebased associates and deploys five cellular phones and one pager to keep her business constantly connected.
"The use of basic wireless communications has become a necessity; it's no longer a luxury if you are going to be a competitive business," Viviani says. "With the kind of work we do, it increases the hours in the day we can bill clients. It allows for better client service because we are available and can respond better to the media. If we can get back to the media quickly, that gives us a chance to be a bigger part of a story."
Viviani says the use of mobile communications tools has paid off because clients recognize the heightened level of service her company is able to provide. Pager and cellular phone bills that tally several hundred dollars each month are nominal, in Viviani's estimation, compared to the return on investment, in terms of both revenue and client satisfaction.
"My biggest case involved a media call on a critical issue for a client, and the reporter also called the client's competitor. Because I got back to that reporter earlier in the day, my client was a bigger part of a story on that critical issue," Viviani says. "It would have been damaging if the story said so-and-so couldn't be reached for comment."
Pat Devlin, director of sales for Bell Atlantic NYNEX mobile, based in New Jersey, believes that people involved in the fast-paced world of modern commerce need to be more accessible than ever, and that cellular telephones and pagers give businesspeople the opportunity to be better connected. "It is critical for a small-business person to enable people to communicate with them, whether they are customers or vendors or, if they are working long hours, to keep in touch with family," Devlin says. "Productivity is another factor. The majority of small-business people--shop keepers or professionals--have important people with whom they need to be in touch."
The place to begin exploring the options of mobile communications is with a large company that sells mobile-communications services. Consultants with these companies will discuss the benefits, explain the options, and design a plan for a customer who is just starting out in his or her own enterprise.
With most large providers of cellular services, there will be no charge for consultation--that service is part of the sales process. Most large providers will also have toll-free numbers, walk-in stores, or sales representatives on call.
"I think someone should use a communications consultant because there are so many different products and services available," Devlin says. "Many people don't know, for instance, that you can have voice mail on a cellular phone. Assessing the customer's needs is getting the right product into their hands. If a small-business person doesn't get a chance to talk with a consultant, they might not get the right product."
According to Devlin, there are different service plans available for different types of businesses, depending on the amount of use and the location of a cellular customer. In the case of Bell Atlantic NYNEX, which services the northeastern United States, there are services offered that can cover the New York-to-Washington corridor or just one county in the service area. Devlin says the right plan could save a customer 25 or 30 percent on a bill.
"The best way for someone to really familiarize themselves with the products is to call and talk to a professional, visit a store, or have a salesperson call," Devlin says. "Have someone show you the products, and talk to them about your needs. Also, talk to people in your field to see what they have done and what their experiences have been."
When buying equipment as part of a package that includes service, it's important that the unit comes with a loan or replacement option should the product fail or break. If the unit isn't part of a cellular package, it's imperative that the new equipment be bought from a reputable retailer.
"If you look in the newspapers in major cities, you have to be wary of small ads that offer used or reconditioned cellular phones," cautions Devlin. "Cellular phones that are stolen are reported to a `negative list' so that the phone can't be used in other carrier's markets. Look for a warranty, a recognizable name, and ask questions of the people you are buying from--like how they service the phone, or where to take it if something is wrong."
On the equipment side, there is a dazzling array available. Cellular phones come in a variety of configurations and varying degrees of power. Pagers can display the return number of a caller or alphanumeric messages (meaning you not only get the telephone numbers of people trying to reach you, but you can also receive short messages), or transmit a voice message. Recently, Motorola integrated its RSVP pager and its MicroTAC cellular telephone into one unit.
Alphanumeric pagers, while generally more expensive than basic numeric pagers, offer users the ability to receive text messages. Motorola, one of the leaders in both cellular and pager communications, offers a line of nearly 20 pagers, ranging in price from $89 to $450.
Pagers alone may be enough to take care of your communications needs, but when combined with cellular phones, these units can save an on-the-go entrepreneur considerable service costs on incoming calls. Since most cellular services charge for both incoming and outgoing calls, a pager gives you the option of choosing which calls you will return from your cellular phone.
When researching a cellular phone, it's important to consider its portability and power. Car-mounted cellular phones are powerhouses, generating three watts of transmitting power, while portables generate just six-tenths (0.6) of a watt. What this means to a cellular phone user is that it may be tough making a call if you're in an area that's congested with cellular users or located in difficult terrain--like a metropolitan downtown area with many skyscrapers.
Transportable units come with portable battery packs, giving a user three watts of transmission power while away from an automobile. Handheld units can also be pumped up from their normal six-tenths of a watt to three watts by using a car adapter, which boosts its power by drawing on the car's battery.
Other important features to consider: number memory with a speed-dialing feature; a call timer; the size and weight of the unit; and overall comfort.
It's up to the individual to determine if one's business and personal needs will profit from the use of pagers and cellular phones. "Cellular has been around for 12 years, but it's new compared to regular landline telephones," Devlin says. "I think businesspeople are just now realizing the power of cellular communications and how it extends their offices. Most people working long hours today use cellular communications as an extension of their office and as a means of communication with their family."
Viviani, who is also a mother and a wife, agrees. Although the reason her firm purchased mobile communications was to strengthen its responsiveness, Viviani realizes that it helps her keep in touch with her family.
"The integration of the professional and personal life is a reality," she says. "I went to a surprise party Saturday night, and I left my pager number with the sitter. The value of the pager is that it's unobtrusive. The complement between the pager and the cellular phone lets you manage your accessibility. And that's the key, because technology, like anything else, can become overwhelming if you don't manage it."
Glen Weisman has been writing about small business from his home office in Bayonne, New Jersey, for the past six years.