I’m a student of efficiency, and I love technology. So I’m always looking for tools and tricks to make my life easier, to complete tasks faster, and to do more with less. I have a special fondness for inexpensive solutions. Here are some of my current favorite inexpensive technology tips and tools that will improve your efficiency, improve your image, or improve your sales.
Two Monitors Are Better Than One
I use a laptop. One of the downsides to using a laptop is the size of the screen. I’m always toggling back and forth between different windows on my laptop screen. Closing one, opening another, then closing it, opening the first, etcetera. It’s very tedious. I bought a large monitor so I would have more screen space when working at my desk. That was better. But then I realized I could use my laptop monitor AND the external monitor at the same time, side by side, synchronized as though they’re each part of one big monitor. This gives me a lot of screen real estate.
Now I can drag things from one monitor to the other. I can open two spreadsheets and display them side by side on different monitors. It’s great! I’ll never willingly go back to just one monitor. Here’s the best part: multiple monitors increase productivity. I know this from my own experience, but objective studies from Microsoft Research show improvements from 9% to 50%. A study at Northrup Grumman showed productivity gains of 10% and error reductions of 26%. With the low cost of monitors this is an investment that pays off quickly. I’m such a big believer in this that I bought an extra monitor for everyone in our office.
You can do this inexpensively with laptops and desktops though sometimes it’s a bit more work for desktops, depending on your desktop video card. Find more information at: http://www.microsoft.com/athome/organization/twomonitors.aspx.
Make Your Email Address Work For You
Using Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, or any other such email provider as your business email address sends the wrong message. If you knew nothing else about Jack the Contractor, what would you think when you received email from him at [email protected]?
How would it be different if it came from [email protected]? The first email address gives the appearance of a small, instable company. The second gives the appearance of a larger, more sophisticated, technically savvy company. This is CHEAP: you can get your own domain with email hosted for $8 plus $2.50 a month from www.Cheap-DomainRegistration.com. Better yet, whoever is provisioning your website, like Contractors Online-Access (www.Online-Access.com) can set up your email for you, and make sure it’s fully integrated with your website.
Communicate Better With Your Email Signature Block
I get email every day from people who don’t include a signature block in their email. Change your email so it AUTOMATICALLY includes your signature block with all your contact information: your name, title, company name, phone number, fax number, email address, website, and address. It gives you a substantially more professional look, but more importantly, it makes it easier for people to communicate with you. Put a coupon below your contact information list awards your company has won, and list some charities you support.
Every email system I’ve used in the last 10 years has the ability to automatically include a signature block on every outgoing email. You and everyone in your company should do this. It will save you time, improve your communications, improve your image, and generate business for you.
Fax is a technology that’s been around for 50 years and just won’t go away. You can make faxing more efficient by using an internet / email faxing solution. That allows you to fax from your PC without first printing your document. Incoming faxes can be distributed by email, stored digitally, and never printed. It saves time, money, and paper. There are many to choose from. We use efax, and it works fine, but I don’t think there’s much to differentiate them – eFAX, MyFax, SmartFax, just to name a few.
While we’re on the subject of faxing, you should use always use a standard cover page for your company and each cover page should include (like your signature block) contact information, a coupon, and your list of awards and charities. It’s inexpensive, it’s professional, and it will get you some additional business.
Cellular networks are providing more bandwidth and improved reliability. New mobile devices are being developed for those networks. Service software vendors are integrating their systems to work with mobile devices and with GPS systems. This provides a great opportunity to put productivity tools in the hands of field-based technicians and sales people. I am particularly impressed with the mobile integration with dispatching and other back office systems. These provide huge productivity opportunities from:
• Entering the data once, not multiple times
• Reduction in errors from interpreting handwriting, and rekeying errors
• Invoice, service, and equipment history available to the field coworker
• Location notes available to the field coworker
• Auto expense reduction
• Improved labor and inventory tracking.
Get More From Your Software Just By Asking
You already invested in software to manage your business. You also invested time and money in training, and setting up your system. Are you getting the benefits you should be getting from your system? Most companies don’t use all the features they already have available to them. In the rush to implement a new system people often forget about other features and benefits like data mining, ad hoc reporting, telephone interfaces, promotion tracking, and website integration. Call your software vendor and ask what you already have that you’re not using. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
David Heimer is Chief Operating Officer for Service Roundtable and has 25 years in Information Technology. You can reach him at [email protected] Learn more about Service Roundtable at www.ServiceRoundtable.com.