best bet? Ask a colleague whose opinion you value.
[2. Make it electronic.] Use electronic billing and payments to accelerate timing of receipts and payments. Online payment processing such as PayPal (www.paypal.com; transaction fees start at 2.9% plus 30 cents) and business-processing tools such as QuickBooks Online Edition (www.quickbooksonline.com; starting at $19.95 per month) let you easily manage customer relationships.
[3. Create an electronic newsletter.] Newsletters are an easy and efficient way to add value to your business by keeping customers informed and interested in your products or services.
[4. Go back to school.] Use electronic learning tools, i.e., Webinars, as a vehicle for professional development. A good Web host will offer small businesses the opportunity to add such features at a nominal cost as their business grows.
[5. Give them a hand.] Consider incorporating wireless technology, especially the new generation of handheld devices, to improve efficiency and responsiveness. Some good choices include the Blackberry 7100 series (www.blackberry.com; starting at $199) and the Handspring Treo 650 (www.handspring.com; starting at $299), which incorporate phone and PDA functionality in one small device.
[6. Keep track.] Small businesses can take advantage of automated online tracking and distribution services from UPS (www.ups.com), FedEx (www.fed ex.com), and the U.S. Postal Service (www.usps.com). UPS’s WorldShip program, for example, integrates with a company’s order processing and works seamlessly with QuickBooks, Yahoo! Merchant, and other programs.
[7. Link up.] Sure, you already have a Website that complements your brick-and-mortar operation, but consider linking your site to a larger company such as eBay or Amazon.com. As an affiliate, you’ll enjoy the benefits of an expanded customer base and automated payment processing to smooth the way.
[8. Mr. Telephone Man.] Internet telephony or Voice Over Internet Protocol is alive and kicking (and better than ever). While there is a cost for this Internet service, using VoIP offers significant savings on your phone bill. Consider services such as Net2Phone or interactive voice response solutions such as Angel.com (starting at $39.99 per month). GotVMail’s VirtualOne (www.gotvmail.com; starting at $9.95 per month) offers small businesses a virtual PBX system, or call center system, which combines a unique toll free and local number with multiple mailboxes/extensions, call forwarding, music-on-hold, dial-by-name directory, and other advanced features.
[9. Open a merchant account.] Companies such as Visa and American Express offer small business accounts and services that help companies manage expenses. For example,Visa offers VIS Select (usa.visa.com/business), a reporting and analysis tool for business customers. And American Express offers Open for Business (home.americanexpress.com/home/ open.shtml), which features online account analysis and management tools.
[10. Leave it to the pros.] Unless you are a seasoned Website designer, your best bet is to leave the nuts and bolts of a hosted site to the professionals. Do the research to find a h
ost that matches your needs—service, availability, and price.