Some entrepreneurs are naturally tech-savvy. For the rest of us, technology seems like just one more daunting task to master. Even choosing the right cell phone or PDA, such as a BlackBerry, has become a complex and time-consuming effort. But when you're running a business, you need to maintain a certain level of professionalism from the start--especially when it comes to tech basics like e-mail, website and communications. Fortunately, there are countless programs you can tap for help on tasks ranging from e-mail blasts to telephone conference calling to website add-ons, even with limited technical know-how. I'll share a few of them here.
First and most importantly, take a look at your e-mail address. As the owner of a company reaching out to potential retailers, partners or media, it's essential to present a professional name to the world--and that should begin with your e-mail communications. A common mistake I frequently see business owners make is that they continue to use generic e-mail addresses like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo. While these are great free services for personal e-mail, it's easy, inexpensive and essential to register an e-mail address that instead incorporates your company name. For example, if you sell widgets and your name is Jane Smith, you'd register Jsmith@widgets.com as your e-mail address. It doesn't cost much and it's simple to do, but it already sets you apart.
There are countless services (such as www.1and1.com ) that enable you to register your own e-mail, including, most likely, your current internet service provider. You may also wish to "bundle" this service at one of the many companies that also offer web hosting, web design, internet service and more web-related resources under one roof.
A relatively inexpensive service that can help kick up email blasts, surveys or newsletters is Constant Contact. This company offers a wide variety of pre-designed templates to help you create great looking professional e-mails. You don't need design skills or knowledge of HTML--all of that is done for you, and even design novices find it easy to use. The site also provides tools to store, track and manage your e-mail contacts. Best of all, you're charged monthly by the number of e-mails you send or the amount of survey responses you receive, and monthly fees start at just $15. So that means if you're starting small, say, an e-mail blast of under 500 recipients, you don't have to pay the big ticket prices.
Another service that can help you create professional e-mail surveys is Survey Monkey. This service helps you design and create great looking, easy-to-read surveys, (again, without any design skills or HTML knowledge) plus manage contacts and analyze results. The service also lets you download raw data into spreadsheet or database format to help you organize and evaluate your feedback.
Of course, you can't neglect your web site. Often it's the first (or only) impression you'll make on customers, potential retailers, the media and more. Not only should you make sure it looks professional, it should also be searchable. When people type in search words related to your company, your business should be one of the first to come up. Unless you are design- and HTML-proficient, I recommend getting help. This will ensure your site looks great and that it supports your brand (e.g., if you have a fun consumer product it should look inviting, appealing and creative; if you have a business-to-business product it should look crisp, professional and reliable). And don't forget that good writing and proofreading also go a long way in maximizing your web marketing and/or sales tactics. Whether you hire a local freelance designer, a web design firm, or you take advantage of the countless web design and hosting companies online that provide do-it-yourself templates, be sure to take the time to strategize what you want your site to do and what message you'd ultimately like it to convey. One such site that provides professional-looking templates is www.yahootemplates.com .
Another cool site I recently discovered that can really help make your web site pop is Audio Acrobat. This site allows you to record audio or video content that you can upload to your current website to make it come alive. For example, if you'd like to record a personal message and speak directly to customers, or you'd like to upload a media appearance or a product demonstration, this site makes it easy and affordable to do so. Once again--few tech skills required.
When you find yourself getting off the computer and on the phone, www.freeconferencecall.com may come in handy. This site helps you communicate via professional conference calling services, and some of them are even free. So instead of investing in an expensive telephone conference calling system, this company provides conference calling services for up to 150 callers for free just by scheduling with them. You can also pay a fee for more specialized services, such as toll-free conference calling, conference call recording, or clearer, all-digital connections. Basically, whatever suite of conference call services you need, this company provides; and your business calls, seminars or virtual meetings can operate without a hitch.
Of course, these are just a few of a deluge of services available to your business to help you communicate via e-mail, the web and the phone with professionalism; even if your company is just one or two employees strong. Talk to fellow business owners, search the internet and ask for recommendations when other business requirements arise along the way; chances are there's a company that will cater to your needs. And remember, perception is everything--retailers and customers will take you more seriously if you already look like an established, profitable business they can rely on.