Letting customers schedule their own appointments
Do you sell a service that requires customers to make appointments with you? If so, try using an e-scheduling system on your Web site. E-scheduling systems provide a mechanism on your Web site to allow customers to check your availability and make appointments with you. Many systems also allow your customers to pay for appointments in advance with credit cards. Reminder notices can also be sent by e-mail to customers a day or so before their appointments. Two e-scheduling service leaders are MDSI Connectria's eService Manager ( www.eservice.com ) and TimeTrade ( www.timetrade.com ). The prices for e-scheduling services vary; most start at about $50 per month.
On the Small Screen
Get big files on little cell phone screens.
What's that on your mobile phone display? A 20-page project report? Well, a screenful of it at a time, anyway. Access ( www.access-us-inc.com ), maker of one of the world's most popular minibrowsers, has teamed up with online storage provider i-drive ( www.idrive.com ) to allow users to "stream" big files from their Net-based virtual drives to their cell phones.
Making virtual drives accessible by mobile phone browsers will eventually let you download large project files to the small screen. If your storage provider offers access via Web-enabled phones, you can already clip Web pages to store on your virtual drive, share with other drive subscribers, or download to a PC, a fax machine or a printer.
Eventually, audio, video-every type of file format-will be delivered to wireless devices this way. Having memory-hogging material stored remotely and then sent in small bits to phones overcomes the lack of storage space and other resources likely to plague mobile phones in the near term. Expect to pay modest monthly subscription rates based on storage amounts, and look for the more advanced services to arrive on a mobile phone near you sometime next year.
Stacks of Macs
Apple stores bear fruit.
Sleek displays of iMacs, G4s, Powerbooks, USB peripherals, flat-panel monitors and rows of software surround you. No, you're not attending MacWorld. You're in one of Apple's new retail stores. Expect 25 of the new establishments to open in malls and other high-traffic areas by year-end.
While the Apple Stores have a distinct consumer leaning, they do offer opportunities for Mac-faithful entrepreneurs. After all, nothing beats a good, hands-on test drive when it comes to buying new computer hardware. For example, if you're not sure about moving up to OS X, then go check it out. Investigate the software, burn a CD-R. You can also ask questions and get assistance from a Mac know-it-all at each store's "Genius Bar."
Apple has never been known for having a strong retail presence, and the Apple Stores appear hot on the heels of the closures of some Gateway Country stores. So can you count on the Apple version to stick around? One major difference is that the Apple Stores will have product stock on hand, whereas Gateway Country stores mainly display PCs for ordering. Combine that with the support of Apple's core audience, and you could be shopping for your business at Apple Stores for a long time to come.