I ADMIT THAT I AM NO HIGH-TECH GURU, BUT ANY BOOK FULL OF great ideas has to include vital tips on making the most of affordable equipment and technology.
Even the worst technophobe has to deal with it. You can't be in business without the right stuff, especially when computer and communications equipment has never been faster, better and cheaper. Affordable technology truly levels the playing field giving any company the chance to act as competitive and professional as much bigger firms with greater resources.
Most entrepreneurs rely on others to guide them when it comes to choosing and maintaining their computers and software. In fact, 36% of small business owners surveyed by Hewlett Packard in 1997 said they rely on outside tech consultants to repair computer problems. Forty-four percent said they call consultants for routine maintenance.
Computers are great, but they're not cheap. Companies with fewer than 20 employees spend an average of $292 a month on computer maintenance. Companies with 50 to 100 employees spend an average of $1,019 a month, according to the HP survey.
Although 81% of those surveyed said access to free or low-cost technical support is critical when they decide what brand to purchase, only 5% said they use the manufacturer's tech support for routine maintenance; 14% use it for troubleshooting.
Anyone who has ever waited on hold for 35 minutes or more trying to speak with a human tech-support person wouldn't be surprised at these figures.
Despite needing help with maintenance and installation, 43% of those surveyed classified themselves as "smooth operators" when it came to their computer systems. A mere 3% felt they were "clueless."
For this chapter, I've relied on several colleagues to share inside tips. Mie-Yun Lee, a syndicated columnist and publisher of the monthly Business Consumer Guide, suggests some great equipment to buy for your business.
Amy Berger, founder of Berger Technology Research, in Fremont California, follows the ever-changing communications technology market and keeps me posted. She helped with the section on communications options.
My emphasis is on telecommunications, because to me, good communication is the core of every successful business. We've also found a few new things to whet you appetite for the future of business technology.
So check out ways to link your computer to your telephone, how to train your employees online, what to buy for the busy entrepreneur on the run, how to sell your products online and many more great ideas to get your small business moving into the year 2000.
FIND THE RIGHT COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY FOR YOUR BUSINESS
When it came time to consider the best kinds of communications technology for my business, I turned to an expert I can trust: my sister Amy Berger.
Communicating with your customers is the most important thing for small business owners. Here are some key devices and services to consider:
* Cellular telephones. There are four different kinds of cellular telephones on the market: analog digital, dual-mode, and PCS. Analog phones have been around for about a decade and are given away by many companies when you sign up for service. Dual-mode phones accommodate both analog and traditional digital service, which works well if you live in analog-only areas of the country.
Digital phones are being superseded by PCS telephones. PCS stands for "personal communications services." PCS relies on radio frequencies that the FCC made available within the past few years. PCS frequencies are not available nationwide, so make sure they are in your area before you buy a phone. PCS handsets sell for about $150.
There are many, many companies providing a confusing array of cellular phone services. Do your homework and ask other business owners which providers they use before signing a long-term service contract.
* Multifunction boxes. In 1996 a new telecommunications product was created. It looks like a printer with a scanner, but it can do four things: fax, print, copy and scan. For about $1,000 retail, it's a great deal for a small office. Hewlett Packard and Canon make these affordable multifunctional machines.