August 17, 2010
Let's face it, the economy is still miserable and many small business owners are struggling. While the Bay Area may not have been hit as hard as other parts of California, we are still trying to claw our way out of a hole dug by unemployment rates over 11%.
With this kind of uncertainty, business owners are reluctant to hire new employees even when faced with increased demand. Fortunately, when applied correctly Information Technology (IT) improves worker productivity, helping to stave off the need for new employees.
Top Small Business Productivity Boosters
- Break out of Email Jail with cloud-based services. If you still download your email to a desktop program like Outlook or Thunderbird, and you cannot view those emails when accessing your web mail, then you are trapped in email jail. Consider switching to a service like Gmail where all of your mail is stored online. You can continue to use Outlook to work with your mail, the only difference that your mail is now stored safely online.
- Use email instead of fax or letters. Have you ever wished you could simply email a document to someone instead of faxing it or stuffing it in an envelope? You can do it if you have a PDF print driver installed in your computer. With a free tool like PDFCreator anything that prints can be sent as a PDF document. Other tools like Adobe Acrobat or Nitro PDF allows you to create PDF forms that are filled out by your customer and emailed back to you.
- Upgrade or replace computers. Don’t let frugality in computer buying impact your customer service. Focus on computers that support “customer-facing activities” like a cashier, service ticket writer, or customer service agent. A new computer increases worker productivity, especially if the old computer has been in service for five or more years. Replace customer-facing workstations first and then delay upgrades for back office workers.
- Use business-class printers. Nothing ruins a day more than a dead printer, especially when that printer works as your cash register receipt printer. Replace inkjet printers with higher-end laser models that include onsite warranties. Focus on those printers used for customer service to shave seconds off of customer waiting times. Always use original equipment manufacturer toner supplies to avoid glitches from remanufactured cartridges.
- Make better use of your smartphone. There are several ways to make that iPhone or Android device an even more useful part of your business life. Start with synchronizing your calendar and address books. Learn how to use financial services apps to keep up with your banking and credit card activity. You can even use your smartphone for remote access to your work computer.
- Use your web site to communicate with your customers. Do you still have a form on your web site that people fill out and fax back to you? Does your “Contact Us” page have a spam-proof form where people can reliably get in touch with you? Do you service customers calling in to check the status of their order? Consider using secure web forms to collect and store customer information. Web forms collect legible order information, validate and process credit card orders, and give your customers ways to perform self-service when making order inquiries.
- Access your work computer from home or the road. Think of all the times you had to go into the office to retrieve some information you left on your work computer. Or, when you are traveling and play "blind man's bluff" with someone in the office to look up information for you. Remote access solutions range from a monthly service like GotoMyPC, configuring a router, or setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).