We live in an era where information is king, and it's a professional businessperson's responsibility to know how to use information and technology to their advantage. This is critically important to internalize because the sooner you use the available technology to your advantage, the sooner you'll beat your competition in growing your business.
Let's begin with the simple things. If you do business outside your local calling area you need to at the very least have a toll-free phone service. If you only work within a small geographic area, a basic local phone line will suffice. You also need a fax machine and fast connection to the internet. Don't even waste your time or money on "economical" internet service; you need information coming and going as fast as possible.
Just as important as the technological equipment is the software you select. If you own a franchise, the appropriate software is probably provided or, at the very least, recommended. Take whatever classes are necessary to master it because not knowing how to use it effectively will only hold you back.
If you must select your own software, get advice from someone already in business; don't just listen to your accountant here. I'm not saying they don't offer sound advice, but they'll most likely only tell you how to best set up your books. That's a necessary part of business, but if there's a software program that helps you make more sales, don't you think you could afford to hire someone to "do the books" for you? You need easy access to online, e-mail and snail-mail promotions. You need to get positive PR. Having software that helps you track existing clients and get the word out about your product or service is critical. You also need to be able to track your promotions to know which ones work well for you.
Face it: If you don't make sales, you're not in business. Keep abreast of the latest technology strictly from the standpoint of whether or not it could help you increase your business volume. This includes ideas for using existing technology to serve your clients better through customer service follow-up programs. Even if your product is something people will only invest in once in a lifetime, they may know others they can refer to you--if you keep in touch.
If you're what we call an "outside" sales representative, meaning you invest much of your time in your car or anywhere but a retail or home-office location, you need the best wireless communications plan possible. Before getting involved with one, ask others you know in the area which service they use. Find out which one has the best coverage in your particular area.
You may also need a wireless laptop computer, a portable printer and either a phone on your camera or a digital camera. Having a camera on hand is an easy way to impress clients. For example, imagine you're an interior designer and are at a client's home, and after they select new carpet or drapery fabric, you arrange a little display of their choices, take a photo and either print it out or e-mail it to them that day. How impressive is that? They don't have to keep your samples or wait until the items are delivered to shop for decorating accessories. They'll have something they can drop into their purse or pocket.
Another way to use technology to your advantage the day you close a sale is to follow up immediately. Every new client should receive an order confirmation and/or thank-you note sent on the day of purchase. Whether you send it via snail-mail or e-mail is up to you, but it makes you look so much more professional than the competition to have a technological system in place to make this happen.
To top it all off, invest some time in finding and mastering software for planning. This would be a calendar program of some sort. If you like the handheld versions, great! If you prefer something on your computer or to use the one on your wireless phone, that's great as well. The most important point is to use it well. Record appointments, time for prospecting, follow-up and personal time. Being truly successful in business means you're on top of your game. Effective use of today's technology gets you there and keeps you there!