Cleaning my office recently, I came across stack after stack of my old business cards. These were cards I can no longer use because my phone number, address, or e-mail address has changed. Some of those cards were expensive to print, too.
But even worse than the cost of the cards is the possibility that clients -- or potential clients -- would like to reach me can? t find me.
It used to be that your contact information only changed when you moved. These days, however, with so many different ways for someone to communicate, the chance some of your information will change is greatly increased. Some things are out of your control, such as when the phone company changes an area code, but much of your other contact data you can keep stable even if you're not:
E-mail address/Website: My sister's e-mail address changed three times over the last few years. Her Internet provider was US West, so her e-mail address was something like firstname.lastname@example.org. They were bought by Qwest, which meant an e-mail address change. Then Qwest sold its internet business to Microsoft -- which meant another change. It's time to stop the madness!
The solution is to get your own domain name. You'll keep both your Web site address and your e-mail address stable. My domain name, for instance, is rhondaonline.com. Preceded by www., it's the address of my website, and it? s also the second half of my e-mail address: Rhonda@rhondaonline.com.
When you own your own domain name, you can take it with you if you change Internet providers -- or they go out of business!
To get your own domain name, go to an online domain name provider, such as www.netsol.com or www.register.com. The cost is around $35 a year. IMPORTANT: Make certain you -- not your Internet provider -- are listed as the administrative contact when you register. Otherwise, they will control your domain name and access to you.
Phone numbers: If you're willing to pay, you can keep a phone number virtually forever, even if you move. Just ask your phone company about remote location call forwarding. With that service, when a call comes to your old phone number, it is immediately forwarded to your new number. You pay any long distance or toll charges, but your customer never knows they? ve called a new location.
Of course, you don't need to forward calls forever, just for a period of time until you educate your customers (perhaps one or two years) about your new number.
Cell Phone Numbers: I chose a cell phone service that treats all phone calls -- local or long distance -- the same. So if and when I ever move there? s no reason for me to change cell phone numbers, at least in terms of the calls I make. Incoming callers may have to pay toll charges, though, so if you get a lot of incoming calls, this may not work for you. The hassle of losing your number if you change service providers is about to end, with a new policy requiring companies to let customers take their numbers with them when they go.
Mailing Address: Easy. Get a private mailbox from a company such as Mailboxes USA, where you can keep an address as long as you pay the bill. If you move, they'll forward mail to your new address. Don't be tempted to get a postal box from a U.S. Post Office -- most of them won't accept deliveries from private delivery companies (e.g., FedEx, UPS) and they don't offer the range of support services, such as calling you if a package arrives. If you work out of your home, having a private mailbox also offers you privacy; you don't have to give your home address to strangers.
Despite all the precautions you take, it's likely that some of your data will change. So remember that no matter what steps you take logistically, you still have to continually communicate with those you want to have your new contact data. Most people won't take the time to update their Rolodexes or computers without a few reminders. So let them know how to find you!
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2002
Rhonda Abrams writes the nation? s most widely-read small business column and is the author of The Successful Business Organizer, Wear Clean Underwear, and The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies. To receive Rhonda? s free business tips newsletter, register at www.RhondaOnline.com.