Monday, July 28, 2008

Tackling the telecommute

Ouch! That’s all I can say after filling up my sister’s gas tank last night at more than $1.44 per liter in Canadian dollars. That’s like more than $4 a gallon to you Americans. Ouch! And every time we think we’ve hit the limit of how high it can go, the oil companies prove us wrong. I’m personally amazed that the villagers have not been storming their corporate headquarters with torches and pitchforks (like in the old Frankenstein movies), but so far not a whisper. Maybe everyone’s afraid they’ll raise it another couple of dollars if we make too much of a stink.

As I’ve mentioned before I ride my bike to work and don’t own a car so you may be wondering why I even care. Two reasons really, first I do have to pony up my share of gas money when I’m travelling farther than my bike will take me, and two, because most of my friends drive I am forced to listen to conversations on this topic whenever we get together.

The solution seems to be looking for other ways to cope. One of course is riding your bike to work but I realize this isn’t practical for everyone.

Another way is telecommuting. If you can believe what you’re seeing in the media, telecommuting is on the rise.

Back in the good old days, when gas was a “mere” 77 cents per Canadian liter/$2.25 per American gallon, telecommuting was used primarily by people who worked for a company but lived hundreds of miles away, working moms who didn’t want to see their entire paychecks swallowed up by the cost of day care, and freelance writers. Today, though, things are changing.

Some companies are actually encouraging employees who live within a few miles of the office to log in from home one or more days a week to help them offset rising fuel costs. That’s a huge change from the days when people assumed their telecommuting co-workers were actually sitting in the sun on the patio sipping Margaritas while the office-bound workers slaved away under the cold glow of the fluorescent lights (and the cold gaze of the Boss).

For some of us, the challenge of telecommuting is self-discipline. There are a lot of distractions at home not present in the office. For example, it’s very tempting to get a head start on the week’s laundry rather than looking at a month’s worth of sales figures. And let’s not forget the Oprah factor…

But one of the biggest challenges is being able to operate out of your home they way you operate out of the office. There are a lot of little conveniences there we take for granted. A well-stocked supply cabinet is certainly one. At the office, if your stapler runs out of staples, you just go to the cabinet and get more. At home, you probably don’t even have a stapler let alone staples. So if you’re planning to telecommute regularly, carve out a little space to store the essentials – pens, pencils, paper, rubber bands, binder clips, paper clips, etc.

Another good tip is to make sure you have a comfortable chair and desk. Sitting on the couch with your laptop perched on your lap is not going to cut it.

Sending and receiving faxes is another consideration. We take the technology for granted until we suddenly find we need a client to send over a 10-page document and there’s no fax machine in sight. Fortunately, there’s a solution for that one – a MyFax account.

For just $10 per month (or the approximate cost of 2.5 gallons of gas) MyFax lets you send 100 pages and receive 200 pages anywhere you can get an Internet connection – including the sunny patio. That’s a pretty good deal – especially when you figure what it would cost in time and gas to drive 10 miles each way just to pick up that same document.

Of course, I’m sure some of you veteran telecommuters have some good tips of your own. Tell you what. If you’ll share them in the comments section below, we’ll pick out two or three favorites and give you a free month’s worth of MyFax service. That may not quite be the “free gas for a year” promotion some of the desperate car dealers are running. But it will certainly help make your telecommuting a little easier.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The world is now your office

You know, I remember reading once somewhere that there was a time in business where when you walked out the door at night you were done for the day. If there was a dire emergency at the office you might get a call at home, but that was the exception. If you left for a week’s vacation, well, either someone else had to figure it out, or it would wait until you got back. Those were the expectations, and they were universally accepted.

Not anymore, of course. The office is no long a single place. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the whole world is now your office. That’s the new expectation. And if you can’t live up to that expectation? Well, customers, prospects, and business partners will find someone who can.

What got me thinking about that was reading one of the case studies on the my1voice web site. We have a customer, Chris Biber, who operates a small business called SearchingWorks that helps its customers with search engine optimization, search engine marketing, pay per click advertising and Web analytics. All very cool stuff, and all very important in today’s marketing world.

The thing is, a lot of Chris’ business happens outside of the office. First of all he has a distributed workforce, including one person in Romania. (I always picture going there as being like landing in the middle of a spy movie.) Then there are the client visits. Even if everyone was in one location, the nature of their business takes them out of the office a lot anyway. Which means they could be tough to reach at any given time. Add in the fact they’re all over the place and it was really tough for their clients to figure out who to call where. And when.

That’s what brought Chris to my1voice. He wanted to be able to give out a single phone number to every client, partner and supplier, then have an auto attendant funnel the calls to the right extension. Not only would that make things more efficient, it would also present a more professional appearance than handing out multiple phone numbers for each person. While he had looked into a traditional PBX (private branch exchange) phone system like many small businesses use, he found it was very costly. It also only worked for people who were in the same office as the equipment. Furthermore, if someone left the office there was no way to forward an important call to a mobile or home phone.

Glad to say my1voice solved all of that for him. He was able to set up extensions for people inside and outside of the main office, just as though they all worked in one office spanning the world. He also has taken big time advantage of the find me/follow me feature – his personal favorite – that rings his second office, mobile and home phones either simultaneously or in a particular order (depending on how he sets it up). my1voice has helped SearchingWorks improve their response time to clients, and has made them a lot more reachable. In the fast-paced world of Internet marketing, that’s huge.

My generation (and those that follow) will never know what it’s like to just leave for the day and be completely disconnected from the office. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. But as long as the expectation is there, it’s good to know that technologies such as my1voice are around to make it a little less painful – and a lot more convenient.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Profit in any Market

I know we have a lot of real estate agents and brokers using MyFax and my1voice. My colleague forwarded this blog from Chris Pollinger to me today and I thought it would be of interest to you, our customers working in this industry.

Actually, there is a lot of useful information here for every small and medium business.

What do you think about this list? Do you have additional ideas you’d like to share here?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

my1voice (could have) Saved the Day!

In my last post I told you a little bit about some of the different products we now have at Protus, and I thought today I’d go into a little bit more detail about one of them because something annoying happened to me that directly relates to my1voice, and I need to vent.

Tell me if this has ever happened to you. You get a voice message and it goes something like this:

Hi Tara, it’s Jon from xxx I really need to get in touch with you today so if you could call me back I would really appreciate it. If you get this message before 9:00 am (oh don’t forget I’m on the west coast, so that’s my 9) could you give me a call at this number, xxx-xxx-xxxx. If it’s after 9, call me at this number instead xxx-xxx-xxxx. If it’s after 9 but I don’t pick up at that second number, try me at this one. xxx-xxx-xxxx. It’s really important I talk to you so if you can’t get me, can you leave me a message? Better do that on the second number, so I’m sure to get it during office hours.

While this is playing I’m scribbling numbers down like crazy and trying to put little notes beside them so I remember which number is which, and of course, the numbers are said fast so I have to listen to the message more than once, AND THEN I have to Google the west coast time zone because I can never remember if it’s two hours or three hours difference. By the time I’m finished I can’t figure out any of my notes, and I hate Jon for putting me through all of this, so the last thing I want to do is call him at ANY of his numbers.

Are you with me? Are you feeling my pain on this one? I know this has happened to you at some point.

What makes it even worse is now I know I don’t have to go through all of this, if John had a service like my1voice he would have left me one number that he had set up to call all of his phones. I in turn would have listened to a nice, normal-length message and promptly (because I always return my phone calls right away of course) called him back. I would not have spent 10 mins trying to get the numbers down, 5 mins on Google, and 10 mins complaining about Jon to everyone within earshot of my desk.

Oh and if you are Jon, or someone like him, and you leave messages like this on a regular basis, I’m telling you, people are calling you names and muttering all sorts of other things under their breath as they’re constantly looking up and/or dialing your multiple numbers. So you should really at least check out my1voice and see if it’s right for you. Like MyFax there is no obligation or contract, it’s easy to use, and you can be setup right away, even before you leave your next annoying message!