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Cell Phone Madness

Do you become cell-phone obsessed toward the end of the billing cycle? Should you?

I was talking with Scott Blum-founder and former CEO of buy.com and a real New Economy heavyweight-when snap, crackle, POP, my phone connection snapped and we were disconnected. "What happened?" he asked when I managed to reconnect with him. "It's raining up here," I mumbled, and mercifully, he didn't pursue the point: Since when does a sprinkle blow out a phone line?

The truth was simpler but harder to say: It was nearing the end of my cell phone billing cycle, and with 200-plus minutes left in my account, I was making every phone call on my cell phone, trying to chew up those minutes because, hey, I'm paying for them and it's plain crazy to waste them. Right? Or is it crazier to make calls to heavy hitters like Blum when I miss 20 percent of what he says because the connection is weaving in and out, and signals persistently "drop," which is cell phone speak for terminate? Face it: Cell phone connections are dramatically better than they used to be but they're still no match for a landline connection.

Do you find yourself doing likewise?

Here's my monthly routine: As the billing cycle nears its end, I log on to the Sprint PCS Web site, check how many minutes I have left in my account, and I start calling. The good news is that I now keep in much better touch with family and friends than ever before, but that's not a business pay-off. The bad news is that, from a business perspective, I spend lots of agonized minutes worrying about losing connections, asking people to repeat themselves, and generally wasting oodles of time.

So I've resolved to make changes. Like what? I closed one cell phone account and now have only 250 paid minutes per month to use up. What if I exceed the minutes? Simple: If that happens frequently, I'll upsize the plan and buy more minutes-but my bet is that won't be necessary. Really, now, how many minutes do we need to be talking on a cell phone anyway, what with the (still) mediocre connections, the demonstrated problems that arise from jabbering while driving, and the possible connection between cell phone usage and brain cancer. My vote: Let's cut the total down.

Here's another action item for you: Right now, dig up your last three cell phone bills. How many minutes have you wasted? Should you be talking with your provider about a smaller plan? Hint: Most providers nowadays are obsessed with lowering "churn" (customers who quit) and are eager to offer deals just as long as you stay a customer. Ask and you just may get a better plan. It's that simple.


Robert McGarvey has covered the Web since 1995-just about forever in Internet years. He's the author of How to Dot.Com: A Step-by-Step Guide to E-Commerce. His columns appear in Entrepreneur magazine, HomeOfficeMag.com, TipWorld.com, and Porthole Magazine. Find out more by visiting his Web site, www.mcgarvey.net.

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