Peg Samuel, president and founder, of lifestyle website and blog, Social Diva, finds that one of her main challenges is cutting down the time wasted waiting to confirm information before posting it online. When some of the people she’s waiting to hear back from are advertisers, often there’s no easy way to get them to give the information in a hurry, especially when they have secretaries with little sense of urgency -- that is, Samuel's sense of urgency.
That was before she discovered Skype, an Internet telephone network, which she now uses constantly. “I was on deadline for a project and was waiting for an answer from someone in London. I needed a key piece of information verified prior to launching it live on my website," she recalls. "I saw them on Skype so I was able to 'chat' with them immediately.” No secretary needed, thank you very much.
The Internet is indispensable in doing business today but it can also be an indispensable tool in improving the speed at which business is done. Like Samuel, smart small business owners today are using all the tools available in their arsenal. Harnessing the Internet to increase productivity is certainly a key one.
Here are three ways that experts say you should leverage the Web for the benefit of your business:
One thing that speeds up business processes is the ability of the Internet for us to always stay connected not only with our colleagues, but more importantly, our customers, as Samuel learned.
To that end, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) is a key way to go. Andrea Peiro, founder and CEO of the Small Business Technology Institute, a non-profit that helps small businesses utilize technology, suggests leveraging the benefits of VoIP for low-cost audio and video communications not only through Skype but also though other companies such as SightSpeed and OneBox.
“VoIP gives you the ability to link remote workers more efficiently and has applications that you can’t get from analog,” says Gary Chen, Yankee Group analyst for the small and medium business strategies. One such example is presence -- that is, knowing who is online -- which is what Samuel benefited from. Another extension of VoIP is video conferencing.
Echoes Samuels, a VoIP believer: “Without technology today we wouldn't be able to work in and with multiple cities and countries so easily and quickly.”
Research the research
The Web is a treasure trove of data that can help your business. Before the Internet, one had to rely on the goodwill of the librarian to point you in the right direction, and then, who knew if what you were looking for would be there.
Today, anyone with a computer and a search engine can use the Web as their one place for business research. “It’s great for competitive analysis, sales prospecting, finding suppliers, learning how to leverage search engines and directory services for all your research needs,” Piero says.
One way to go about doing this, for example, is so simple, but often overlooked. Check out your competitor’s websites where they post a lot of information, often good general industry information, not to mention details about the company, such as lists of vendors. You’d be surprised how much is available as public information.
Another benefit of Web 2.0, says Peiro, are online productivity applications. That’s using the Web to deploy quickly and painlessly all productivity tools that your company needs. These can range from sales force automation Salesforce.com, Landslide to full business management NetSuite to project management Basecamp, EasyProjects.Net. Nothing speeds up productivity like organization.