Wednesday, April 2, 2008

So many ways to communicate, So little time

With the rise of the Internet, the way business is conducted has changed. There are many web resources (and a lot of them are free) that can help you as an entrepreneur to communicate, network and ultimately, increase your chances of being successful.  Of course, due to the high number of web applications, you do need to spend your time wisely or you can easily become swept up. Thus, you need to determine which applications are most important to you. That question can be answered by determining which applications are most important and/or being used by your key stakeholders. Where will your existing and future customers be looking? What about your suppliers, investors, lenders, potential employees, etc.? When choosing among the many different web applications, you may also want to consider the cost, time required (upfront and going forward), usage, reputation and functionality.

Online telephone - In addition to being able to put your entire phone system on the Internet through a company such as Vonage (and thus bypassing the local, old-fashioned system all together - while saving a few bucks), you can also talk through many of the instant messaging systems and/or the rising favorite Skype.

Email - Free services are offered through many sites, although some of the more popular include Hotmail, Google or Yahoo. Or, for a small fee, you can have a customized email created such as one that goes with your website domain. This is an essential base for communication is today's world.

Internet Fax Services - You can easily send a fax from your computer. For a small fee, you can also have your faxes emailed to you (instead of printing off on your fax machine) -- which can be very beneficial for keeping an electronic copy of your faxes as well as being able to retrieve your faxes while traveling. Many different companies exist - check out!

Website - This is becoming an essential way of broadly communicating to the public what you do and who you are - while showing that you are a legitimate business. There are several build-it-yourself website hosts (i.e. godaddy, msn) or this is something that you can sub out to one of the many firms that exist.

Blogging (such as Blogger) - Like the blog you are reading, blogs can be used to offer information. Other uses include product updates, press releases, or simply to keep others updated on your day to day activities.

Social Networking - More and more social networking sites are popping up. Some of the most popular include MySpace or FaceBook. However, there are also many social networking sites that are specific to a specific industry or objective. For instance, is a networking site for entrepreneurs. 

File Sharing - If you have created helpful documents, or if you are looking for something in particular, you might also go to one of the many file sharing websites. One that is relevant to entrepreneurs and business owners is Docstoc.

Instant Messaging (such as Windows Live Messenger) - This is a great way to communicate in a way that I consider to be a cross between telephone and email. You can chat with others online in a real time environment. Who might these 'others' be? Well, some companies use instant messaging for usage between fellow employees while others offer 'chat' customer service.

Tweeting - Formed in 2006, allows users to 'stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?' It can become a bit addictive...but can also be used to get to know others better (or allow others to get to know you). Depending on your industry, this could be important.

Online Meetings - Need to schedule a meeting or training session across the country or in that matter, the world? Check out some of the online meeting websites (webex, GoToMeeting, etc.) where in addition to conferencing the voice aspect, you can also conduct a group chat and give a presentation!

Online Profiles - Similar to the bulky telephone book that you may have sitting on your desk, there are many, many different 'yellow page' sites on the web that show your profile. There are many other 'yellow page' type sites that await to hear from you to add and/or customize your profile. Such profiling sites can be general (i.e., industry specific (find your trade association online and get into their directory), geographic (such as your local city/county directory) or cater to some miscellaneous purpose.  

If you know of other web applications that you have come across, but that are not listed here, please leave a post!