Talk Is Cheap

Hands Free

Headsets aren't just for operators anymore.

Remember the recurrent sketch on Laugh-In where Lily Tomlin played Ernestine, the bureaucratic, headset-wearing telephone operator? In those days, the average viewer would have never owned such a contraption. Telephone headsets were the purview of operators and call centers, and were generally associated with big-business culture. Not so today. More and more entrepreneurs who want to take calls but also keep their hands free for other tasks are turning to headsets.

Today's technologies are not the clunky tools of the past. Current headsets offer all kinds of innovative features, such as noise-canceling microphones, which provide great audio performance. They're made of lightweight materials, not heavy, protruding, metal parts, and come in many different colors. There's also an array of styles, not just a series of one-size-fits-all solutions: You can choose from over-the-head, on-the-ear and in-the-ear headsets.

With a phone headset, both the earpiece and mouthpiece are positioned optimally for hearing and speaking. You don't have to hunch over or cradle the phone on your neck, activities that can lead to back and neck strain.

The major makers of phone headsets are Plantronics Inc. (http://www.plantronics.com), GN Netcom Inc. (http://www.gnnetcom.com) and ACS (http://www.acs.com). (Although GN Netcom recently bought ACS, it still sells the company's products.) Prices for low-end headsets start at $29.95 (street) throughout the industry but can exceed $100 for products with features like Internet telephony.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Talk Is Cheap.

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