Purchasing two portable computers has made all the difference for Ken Levitt, owner of Mexican Accent Inc. in New Berlin, Wisconsin. A manufacturer of tortillas and tortilla chips, the 47-year-old entrepreneur was looking for a way to help him compete with the big guys. The answer: Giving multimedia presentations on the road via laptop computer. Levitt estimates his closing sales have tripled since acquiring portable computers more than a year ago. "They've been a very powerful sales tool for us," he says.
As more small-business owners realize how portable computing can improve sales, boost customer service and maximize their productivity on the road, the real question is how to get started?
"You need to begin with a vision for how the business is going to operate," advises Sharon Marsh Roberts, president of computer consulting company Roberts Financial Systems Inc. in Linden, New Jersey, and vice president of the International Computer Consultants Association.
Roberts recommends you begin by determining who's going to be using the laptop computers, what they'll be doing and their specific needs. Ask employees about the computer functions they deem necessary, and then have a small group of typical users test the models in the field. Once you've settled on the kind of laptop computers required, attempt to standardize them. You don't want members of your sales force carrying 10 different models. "Standardization makes the business function better," says Roberts.
Once employees hit the road in full force, expect a certain number of problems with the machines-particularly within the first few months. Have a standard policy in place, says Roberts, that informs employees how to deal with computer problems and failures. Finally, it's a good idea to create a security policy outlining company strategy for keeping computer files and hardware safe in airports, hotels and typical travel situations.