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Basic Computer and Communication Tools

Provided by My Own Business, Content Partner for the SME Toolkit

OBJECTIVE: Communication is necessary to any business success. In this session we will review the basic forms of communication and equipment available for your business.

 

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Types of Communication

Communication is key to any business success! Unless potential clients and customers are aware of your business, they will not have the information to contact you or to purchase your products. When they are aware of your business, they must be able to contact it easily.

Two types of communication are essential - external and internal.

  • External communication reaches out to the customer to make them aware of your product or service and to give them a reason to buy. This type of communication includes your brochures, various forms of advertising, contact letters, telephone calls, web sites and anything else that makes the public aware of what you do.

    Image is extremely important in external communication! Your logo should represent who you are; your letterhead should be a selling tool; your telephone message should reflect your professionalism.

  • Internal communication is essential to attracting and retaining a talented staff. You must provide the direction for the company by consistently communicating that message; you must motivate your staff through various forms of communication, which can include awards, newsletters, meetings, telephone calls and formal and informal discussions.

Effective communication requires tools and planning. In this session we will discuss those tools, as well as planning guidelines, to facilitate that key element of your business - communication.

The following discussion will be grouped into 1) basic communication tools; 2) computers; and, 3) the Internet.

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Basic Communication Tools

Specific tools that can be used for communication include landline telephones, cellphones, smartphones and fax machines. The lines between the devices are blurring. For example, an advanced cellphone (the smartphone) can contain many of the functions of a computer including Internet, email, faxing, word processing and more. For this discussion, however, each device will be presented as a separate entity.

Mail
Even with all the modern methods of communication, regular postal mail is still one of the most powerful tools for a business. It adds a personal touch, it's used for delivering secure documents, contracts, and shipping items. A convenient way to handle mail from your own home or office is through a Stamps.com account, which allows you to print postage from your own computer.
 

Gwyn Myers, Ph. D. Management Consultant Gwyn Myers, Ph. D.
Management Consultant
Play Audio
You can't do without communication and computers, they are absolutely key to the success of your business.
Landline Telephones
There are many types of telephones, and only you can decide which type(s) or combinations of types are right for you. Even the standard telephone (landline) that is installed in your office has many options. You should start with at least line that is unique tone o your business. This line should have the capability to take messages in case it is not answered personally. Here are some telephone tips:
 
  •  Have a separate line for your business phone and your personal phone. Don't have family members pick up or use the business phone. Get any required extra telephone lines installed before you start.
  • A remote (voice mail) answering system is usually more desirable than using an answering machine. Voice mail is reliable, reasonable in cost, accessible from anywhere and projects a more business-like image.
  • The need for an 800 number is becoming less important because long-distance rates are much more affordable.
  • Consider using either a wireless or corded headset for both landline phones and cell phones. It is clearer, safer and you can move about with free arms.
  • When leaving phone messages, clearly state your name and phone number at the beginning and the end of the message.
  •  Be polite in cell phone use! Good business courtesy includes avoiding being interrupted by telephone calls when in a meeting or during a business lunch. 
Gwyn Myers, Ph. D. Management Consultant Gwyn Myers, Ph. D.
Management Consultant
Play Video
Please expand on the role of communication tools in business.
Cell phones/Mobile Phones
The cell phone, also called a mobile phone, is used for mobile communications over a cellular network of cell sites. There are numerous plans and carriers. Many carriers have plans tailored for small businesses including options that bundle popular features and usage patterns, making them very cost effective. Be sure to ask questions about your specific needs before selecting a carrier and a plan.

When your usage or needs change, do not hesitate to request information on plans that more closely meet your new set of requirements. Most cell phone companies allow you to return the phone within 15 to 30 days after activation if you are not happy. Use this time to check if the cell phone has acceptable reception at your home and work place. Basic cell phones are offered free by many carriers for a specific length of time, usually two years. But be aware there are hefty fees for canceling early.

Smartphones
Growth in demand for advanced mobile devices boasting powerful memory, larger screens and open operating systems has outpaced the rest of the mobile phone market for several years. A smartphone is a cell phone offering advanced capabilities with computer-like functionality. A smartphone can incorporate advanced features like e-mail, Internet and e-book reader capabilities and include a full keyboard or an external keyboard. In other words, a smartphone is a miniature computer that has phone capability.

Smartphones are also capable of text messaging and may include a camera and video recorder. Some models are capable of "Push to Talk" which is a feature similar to a walkie-talkie. Outside your office a smartphone can become a valuable tool for e-mail, web browsing and the ability to review and edit documents. Several models have global positioning system (GPS) capability and many other available applications. The most popular are the iPhone, Blackberry, Droid and Google's Nexus One. Each has different strengths you will need to factor into your business needs. 

Stan Henslee CPA Stan Henslee
CPA
Play Video
Would membership in a community service organization such as Rotary or the Chamber of commerce be helpful to most new business owners?
Video and Web Conferencing
Video conferencing transmits and receives images and voice in real-time. Web conferencing adds another dimension - it allows you to share documents and applications. For more details on Webinar conferencing with customers visit Session 2 in the Building My Own Business course.

Telepresence takes video and web conferencing to new levels. A telepresence conference room includes ultra-high-definition video cameras, large screens displaying life-size images, and spatially discrete audio to create an "in person" experience. Facial expressions for crucial business discussions and negotiations can be discerned across the "virtual table." Telepresence solutions can be deployed to support your business' need from one-on-one conferencing in private offices to stadium seating for larger meetings.

All these solutions allow you to communicate as if you were face-to-face with customers anywhere in the world. Time and money that would be spent on traveling can be used to conduct meetings. You can share documents, make presentations and conduct meetings on short notice. For example, without leaving your office you can collaborate with employees who work from home or from other company locations. You can get detailed information on video and web conferencing at: www.google.com and www.wikipedia.org. At My Own Business, we use www.WebEx.com conferencing solution from Cisco Systems, Inc.

Social networking sites
A social network is a social structure made of individuals or organizations that are tied together by common interests, often like a community. Internet-based social networking occurs through a variety of websites that allow users to share content and interact around similar interests. It has expanded to include a company's customers, celebrity's fans and a politician's constituents. This has created a great opportunity for businesses to generate interaction with present and potential customers through Web-based sites established for that purpose. To be successful requires a steady effort and participation over time. With an ongoing commitment of effort you can create a niche market through sites such as MySpaceFacebook and Twitter. A note of caution on Internet social networking: once you put something out there it's hard to take it back, so you have to be careful.
 

Greg Washington Consultant, Marketing for Physicians Greg Washington
Consultant, Marketing for Physicians
Play Audio
Look at the Internet as an opportunity to create an electronic brochure.
Online chat tools
Wikipedia describes chat tools best: "Online chat can refer to any kind of communication over the Internet, but is primarily meant to refer to direct one-on-one chat or text-based group chat using tools such as instant messengers." It is commonly used in place of email when there is a need to communicate live. Chat tools can be used both for internal and external communication and can be placed on a website so customers can talk to a customer service person in real-time. Utilizing chat tools usually requires a free software download. There are many options available including GoogleTalk and Skype. Features can vary from simple one-on-one messaging to highly developed tools for group chat, file transfers, video and document collaboration.

Fax Machines
The decision must be made as to whether to buy a stand alone fax machine or an "all-in-one" model. All-in-ones function as a printer, scanner, copier and fax. (Not all models have the fax or scanner capability). If you plan on sending and receiving lots of faxes you might consider the stand alone. For less frequent use the all-in-one can cost less. They are also compact and more energy efficient. Consideration should be given to your budget and your space constraints. Generally, the simpler the machine, the less problems you will have with it. If your business will rely heavily on faxing, it is important to get as much memory as possible to speed up the printing of documents.

Some phone vendors can provide you with a fax number that works with your e-mail system. Receiving a fax works just like it does when the fax is being received by another machine but you receive it as an attachment to an e-mail. This can be very handy for those who travel on a frequent basis and are not always near a fax machine. Here are tips:

  • Use a cover page that is appropriate for your company. Remember, this is an external communication that reflects your business and your image.
  • Use a separate dedicated phone line for your fax machine.

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Computers

Gwyn Myers, Ph. D. Management Consultant Gwyn Myers, Ph. D.
Management Consultant
Play Video
In what way can a business owner use a computer to their advantage?

A computer is such an affordable tool that it should no longer be considered an option for your business!

The following discussion will focus on three basic models - desktop, laptop, personal digital assistants - and the software that makes them work.

Desktops 

This is the most common type of computer: one that is set up to operate in your office. The computer system should include:
  • A basic processing unit: either a PC (Personal Computer) or a Macintosh (Apple). PC's are in more common usage and are lower in cost. Most businesses work in a PC format. However, for many users and applications including graphic arts, the Mac enjoys very steadfast supporters.
  • A flat-panel monitor.
  • Internet connectivity, a CD/DVD drive and USB ports.
  • A printer. Laser printers cost more up front but are less expensive over the long run when taking printing costs into account. If you have a small space to work with, consider an all-in-one printer.
  • Some type of backup storage should also be considered, such as a USB Flash Drive, External Hard Drive or a writable CD or DVD.
  • An antivirus program is essential. You can purchase one or use a free program; however the free programs will not afford you as much security as the paid versions.
Jane Williams La Habra Journal Community Newspaper Jane Williams
La Habra Journal Community Newspaper
Play Audio
If you cannot go it alone, consider very carefully if you really need a partner.

Laptops 

A laptop computer offers portability with many of the features offered by a desktop which make it ideal for meetings or if you travel frequently. Drawbacks for laptops include: they are higher in price than desktops, have smaller keyboards and monitors and are subject to theft. Traditional and wireless printers, keyboards and even the traditional mouse are options available with laptops. If you travel and need computing capability, it is worth the extra expense.

Notebooks and Netbooks

Since their recent appearance, netbooks have grown in size and features. At the same time, notebooks have become smaller and lighter. The result is that for practical purposes we are going to use the two words interchangeably since there is no longer a significant distinction between them. They both can be described as rapidly evolving categories of small, light and inexpensive laptop computers suited for general computing and accessing web-based applications. They are gaining in popularity especially with students, bloggers, and even some businesses.

While generally less expensive than laptops, manufactures are starting to beef up notebooks, which is increasing their cost. A caution: their compact size makes them attractive for traveling but if you are considering one to save on the cost of a laptop, you probably will be getting less memory and many do not have full applications or compatibility with your other business applications.

Things to keep in mind if getting a desktop, laptop or netbook:

  • Get as much capability as you can afford. Laptops are not typically as easy to upgrade as desktop computers because of the nature of their construction.
  • Be sure you get all the features you need when you purchase.
  • If you do not normally have access to an electrical outlet, get a laptop or netbook with extended battery life.
  • Keep all documentation, software, and accessories that come with your device.

Tablet Computers

tablet computer is equipped with a touch screen or stylus rather than a keyboard to operate the computer. The advantages include using when it is not convenient to use a keyboard and mouse, recording diagrams and symbols, and easier navigation than a keyboard and mouse or touch pad. Disadvantages include higher cost, slower input speed and risk of damage to the tablet screen.

Handheld Devices
Handheld computers, or Personal Digital Assistants, are still popular despite the growing sales of smartphones. There are basically two versions of these units: 1) those using the Palm Pilot operating system and 2) those using the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. These units allow synchronizing your key organizational elements with your computer. Functions of a PDA and smartphone have become almost indistinguishable; however PDAs generally perform faster and can synchronize data to your PC. The capabilities of PDAs are not built around a cell phone whereas a smartphone is a cell phone with other capabilities built into the phone. More and more features are being built into these units, integrating them as a powerful tool in the business world.

Software
The software you purchase is key to making your computer productive. The operating system, whether it is a PC or a Macintosh, should be preloaded onto the system. Many software packages are often bundled into the system at the time of purchase and some in the form of trial software. At the bare minimum, you should have the capability to do word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. 

Ken Blake CPA Ken Blake
CPA
Play Video
Do you recommend business owners use accounting software and why?

Additionally, you should consider financial and accounting software that is appropriate for your particular business. Keep in mind that many accounting/bookkeeping software packages are not double-entry systems and care must be taken in making the entries correctly.

Auxiliary Products - There are many products that can be used in conjunction with your computer to enhance the functionality and image of your business. These also require software specifically designed to facilitate their usage.

  • Digital Camera - a picture taken by this type of camera can be directly loaded onto your computer for a variety of uses. Usage ideas include pictures of properties, product catalogs, pictures accompanying resumes and many more.
  • Scanner - when you have a printed copy of something that you would like to include as part of a digital document, you can create a digital image by scanning the printed copy with this type of equipment. Generally speaking, the higher the price of the scanner, the better the image produced.
  • Wireless Transmission - this feature allows you to communicate with other devices equipped with the same feature. Being able to simply point your device at another one, without hunting for the cord and plugs, is very appealing and has many productive implications.
  • Don't overlook the importance of making regular external back-ups to the individual programs used in your business. Backups are commonly stored on CD's or Zip discs but there are also services provided on the Web to facilitate this process.

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Internet

Testimonial
Lloyd Totten
Pest Control Service
"Offering good service and being punctual has resulted in word-of-mouth referrals."
Transcription - html

The Internet has become a very important business tool! It can be used at a basic level for email and for research and it can be used at a more comprehensive level as a channel for selling your products and services.

To get access to the Internet, you need a browser. This is a piece of software. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator are the two leading browsers.

Now that you have a browser, you need to get access to the Internet. This is done through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). These providers range in the features that they provide, but all give you the capability of email. If you want a very comprehensive set of features, then America Online or MSN might be for you. If you are comfortable with accessing the Internet and working within an environment that assumes a little more knowledge on your part, an ISP such as AT&T or Earthlink might meet your needs. As with other forms of communication, there are many plans and prices from which to choose.

How you use the Internet in your business is up to you. Perhaps you are not ready to sell your products on the Internet, but you are interested in developing a website, or home page, that lets people know what you do. At the other extreme, you may want to use the Internet as your main sales channel. Just remember, the basics are still on the ground - you need products and services that people need; you need to attract people to your Internet site so that they have the option of purchasing these products and services from you; you need to convince them to buy; you need a place to store your products; and, you need a way to get them to the purchaser.

Session "e-Commerce" of this course will furnish you with detailed information about the Internet and e-Commerce.

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Technology Planning

Before you start, plan for the technology that you will need. Get those extra telephone lines; purchase and learn how to use the computer; decide how you will and will not use the Internet.

Keep in mind that the monitoring of employees' use of the Internet while at work is not a violation of their rights to privacy. Your policy should be in writing and signed by your employees.

Remember, appropriate use of technology can make your business look established and successful from the very beginning!

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Top Ten Do's and Don'ts

Do's

  1. Gain the capability to do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and e-mail.
  2. Gain the capability to use a smartphone.
  3. Consider a laptop computer if your business requires mobility.
  4. Learn digital technology including use of pictures for marketing purposes.
  5. Consider using a headset for cordless and cell phones.
  6. Plan ongoing internal communications including awards, newsletters and discussions.
  7. When leaving messages, clearly and slowly repeat your name and number.
  8. Use a remote Voice Mail answering system rather than an answering machine.
  9. Use separate dedicated phone lines for your business and fax lines.
  10. Develop a logo to represent who you are: for stationery, signs, cards and Web site.

Don'ts

  1. Start your business without knowledge about and possession of computer tools.
  2. Overlook making regular external back-ups to computer programs.
  3. Overlook the Internet and smartphones as important business tools.
  4. Purchase more equipment than will meet your need for the next two years.
  5. Spend for a top-of-line computer unless it is required in your business.
  6. Sign up for extended time periods on any service including phone and mobile.
  7. Neglect requesting information on communication plans that more closely meet your new requirements.
  8. Fail to exercise your rights on return policies within time limits allowed.
  9. Neglect the importance of an 800 number.
  10. Sign up for long term plans with Internet Service Providers.
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Business Plan for Session Basic Computer and Communications Tools

We heartily recommend that you download the individual business plan template for this session Business Plan Template Document 3 and complete it now.

Section "Communications"
Microsoft Word File MS Word

Instructions on filling in the business plan template:

  1. Each box has a permanent title in CAPITAL LETTERS
  2. Below each title is a sentence starting with an "Insert here" sentence. This will suggest information to insert. The boxes will enlarge as you take up more room so use all the space you need.
  3. After completing each box, delete the "Insert here" sentence, which will leave only the permanent title of the box and the information you have filled in.

We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan
as you proceed through the course.

The template for all sessions can also be downloaded into your computer as a single document:

Section 1-15: All
Microsoft Word File MS Word

Include sufficient research findings and background materials. Make it interesting up by the use of background data, your biography, charts, demographics and research data. When your business plan is completed, print off and assemble the 15 sections.

Many other business plan formats are available in libraries, bookstores and software.

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Session Feedback and Quiz

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