Techniques: Microcases


Problem: Handling crucial files on the road
Solution: A Web site for storing them
Payoff: Bypassing the cost and security risks of laptops

As regional sales director for a Web-based company, Melissa McNatt twice a week left her cat and her apartment in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno to make sales calls in Southern California. On the side, McNatt moonlighted as an independent sales consultant, helping small-business owners with everything from sales letters to telephone scripts.

But with her PC firmly ensconced in San Bruno, McNatt faced a problem: how could she run her own business while she was on the road? "I was struggling with how to do it all from my home computer," she says.

Frequently, McNatt and her customers collaborated to develop sales letters or PowerPoint presentations. To communicate -- whether from home or from a computer at an airport or the nearest Kinko's -- McNatt relied on E-mail attachments, which sometimes led to technical complications. "You can't do a fast download of a PowerPoint file," she says. "And small-business owners are paranoid as hell about getting viruses." To satisfy her customers, she often had to resort to sending printouts of drafts through the U.S. Mail -- a time-consuming chore. And her lack of equipment on the road often hampered her wooing of new customers. If, say, she met a prospective customer in Los Angeles at a bar, she'd have to wait until the weekend to send a follow-up letter. "When you're selling, you want to close as fast as possible," she says, "before they get buyer's remorse."

Then last July, about five months after she'd begun consulting, McNatt was at home browsing the Web when she happened upon a link to a company that offered document storage at its site. NetDocuments, in Orem, Utah (888-297-2736;, has a Web-site format that resembles that of an online E-mail account. After registering and getting a password, McNatt found herself in the "NetDocuments Inbox Folder." From there she clicked on a link that gave her access to the site's tools for creating new folders and subfolders. Once she'd created the folders, she clicked on "Add new items to this folder," and a box containing all the files on her hard drive popped up. With her mouse she simply highlighted the files she wanted to import into the various folders she'd created on NetDocuments and hit "OK" for the upload to begin.

Now when McNatt makes the trek south -- or even to a local customer's office (she left her sales-director job in January to consult full-time) -- she takes her consulting customers with her. From those same rentable computers, she logs on to NetDocuments not only to access her documents but also to share them with her customers through a feature called NetEnvelopes. NetEnvelopes works like an E-mail in-box with editing capabilities. First, McNatt designates with whom she wants to share a document. Those parties receive an E-mail message telling them that the document is open and that they can log on at any time to view or edit it. The only hitch is that to get into a NetEnvelope, the user must be registered with NetDocuments and have a password. The site does, however, allow users to set up accounts for others: McNatt can register a customer's name and E-mail address, and that customer will receive a temporary user name and password to access the NetEnvelope.

For $4.95 a month, users can get a premium service that gives them 100MB of storage space. McNatt, however, is satisfied with the 10MB she receives free. In addition to avoiding the costs of buying a laptop, she's built her own Web site without having to spring for the technology to make documents downloadable off the site. Visitors can learn about McNatt at her site ( and go to NetDocuments to take advantage of her services once they've signed on as customers. And if she meets a prospective customer at a bar, she can walk down the street to Kinko's and personalize her best follow-up letter on NetDocuments in minutes. "Now my sales cycle is two days, whereas before it was seven or eight," she says.