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MyOwnBusiness Institute

Communications & Technology For Small Business

OBJECTIVE:

Communication is essential for starting and building a successful business. In this session, we will review the basic forms of communication, tools, resources, and equipment available for your business.

  • Types of Communication
    • External
    • Internal
  • Basic Communication Tools
    • Mail
    • Email
    • Telephones
      • Landline Telephones
      • Cell Phones
      • Smartphones
      • Internet Calling: Google Voice and Others
    • SMS/Text Messaging
    • Cell and Data Plans
    • Video and Web Conferencing
    • Social Networking Sites
    • G-Suite and Microsoft 365/Office
    • Online Collaboration/Productivity Tools
  • Computers
    • Desktop
    • Laptop
    • Notebooks
    • Tablets
    • Software
    • Auxiliary Products
  • Internet
  • Technology Planning
  • Top Ten Do's and Don'ts
  • Business Plan

External and Internal Communication

Communication is key to any business success. Strong external communication helps build your brand and sell your product or service by making customers aware of your company and what it has to offer. Internal communication between employees, teams, partners, and leaders is essential to making the business run smoothly and efficiently.

Two types of communication, external and internal, have different objectives:

  • External communication reaches out to the customer to make him or her aware of your product or service and provide a reason to buy. This type of communication includes brochures, advertising, contact letters/direct mail, telephone calls, business cards, Web sites, and anything else that makes the public aware of what you do.  A couple of things to remember about external communication:
    • Image is extremely important in external corporate communications! Your logo should represent who you are.
    • Consistency is also very important. Use the same words and messages to communicate externally about your business.
  • Internal communication with team members is essential to attracting and retaining a talented staff and monitoring business performance. Consistent communication about business goals will provide direction to the people in your company and make sure everyone is working toward the same objective.  Internal communication can be designed to motivate your team. Methods for communicating internally include performance awards, newsletters, meetings, telephone calls, and both formal and informal discussions. Periodic meetings with top project management groups, including your board of directors and advisory board, should be planned for regular intervals  every year. The importance of an advisory board is covered in Session 2 Getting Your Team in Place of the Business Expansion course.
    • As with external communication, consistency is very important. Use the same words and messages with all members of your team to make sure everyone is on the same page.
    • Many large companies print key messages and goals on employee badges and ID cards so that every person in the organization has the same words at their fingertips.

Don’t take communication for granted. Effective communication requires careful planning and uses many different tools. In this session, we will discuss those tools, as well as planning guidelines, to facilitate business communication.

A wide variety of communication tools are used for external and internal communication.  These tools include mail, email, telephones, cell phones, smartphones, computers, video and web conferencing tools, social networking, as well as online collaboration and productivity platforms.  We begin with some basic communication tools and then discuss computers.

Mail

Even with all the modern methods of communication, regular postal mail is still a powerful tool for a business. It adds a personal touch, and is often used for delivering secure documents and contracts and for delivering purchased items to customers. A convenient way to handle mail from your own home or office is through a usps.com or Stamps.com account (in the U.S.), which allows you to print postage from your own computer. If you are sending mail internationally, there are a number of carriers available. Be sure to learn which carriers are most reliable in each region where you conduct business. You can compare costs to get the best combination of price, delivery date, and tracking options.

Email

Although you may already have a personal email that you use, having a business email will be helpful in communicating with customers, vendors, and internal teammates. Checking email on a daily basis is essential. There are many email features available depending on the type of account you have. For example, for some accounts you can track email to ensure the recipient reads it. You can also postpone sending outgoing email, filter incoming email, and set-up automatic responses with different types of accounts.  Platforms for hosting email include Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo. There are also others. For additional cost, these platforms will set up your own business email address. For example, you could host jsmith@yourbusiness.com on one of the email platforms by paying an extra fee. 

Telephones

The cornerstone of your business communication, both external and internal, may be your telephone. There are many types of telephones, and only you can decide which type is right for you. Even the standard telephone (landline) that is installed in your office has many options. While you may have a telephone already, you should start with at least one line that is unique to your business. This line should have the capability to take messages in case it is not answered personally. Here are some telephone tips:

  • It is important to treat the telephone as a business tool. Answer your phone in a timely manner (within three rings if you can). Always identify yourself when answering. Record a voicemail message that identifies the number, provides brief information about your business, and indicates when you will return the call. Then continually check your voicemail to return calls promptly.
  • Have a separate line for your business phone and your personal phone. Don't have family members pick up or use the business phone. Get any required extra telephone lines installed before you start.
  • When leaving phone messages, clearly state your company’s name and phone number at the beginning and the end of the message.
  • Be polite in cell phone use! Good business courtesy includes avoiding being interrupted by telephone calls, texts, or email when in a meeting or during a business lunch.

Landline

The landline is the telephone system that uses a physical wire for transmission. You may have a landline in your home, your office, or at a public phone location. If the internet is unreliable, you will still be able to use your landline because it relies on a different technology for communication. There are many services available for landline telephones. If you have an existing landline and would like to add additional services such as voicemail, multiple lines, and conference calling, be sure to research the options offered by your service provider and its competitors.  You may not have to switch phone companies to get the features you want.

Cell Phones/Mobile Phones

The cell phone, also called a mobile phone, is used for mobile communications. There are numerous carriers/providers and plans. Many carriers have plans tailored for small businesses including options that bundle popular features and usage patterns making them very cost effective. Be sure to ask questions about your specific needs before selecting a carrier and a plan. Understand the duration and terms of your agreement. Many can be two years or more.  Consider what type of communication you will use most for your business - conversations over the phone, texting, or data. Investigate plans that have unlimited access in your key area to compare pricing.

When your usage or needs change, do not hesitate to request information on plans that more closely meet your new set of requirements. But be aware there are hefty fees for canceling early.

Smartphones

A smartphone is a cell phone that offers advanced capabilities with computer-like functionality. A smartphone incorporates features like email, internet, and social media. Smartphones are capable of text messaging and include a camera with video capability.

Outside your office, a smartphone can be a valuable tool for business. In fact, if you don’t have an office, or work from your home, a smartphone can be your office. With a smartphone you can use email, access the internet, review, edit, or scan documents, use GPS, accept and make payments, and use a multitude of applications (apps) to do almost anything. The most popular smartphones are the Apple iPhone (iOs) and Samsung Galaxy (Android), but new smartphones are emerging on the market everyday. Each has different strengths you will need to factor into your business needs.

Internet Calling: Google Voice and Others

Internet calling is a way to make phone calls using the internet. There are several internet calling providers. Google Voice is the most popular and it is free. Google Voice provides voicemail, Short Message Service (SMS) and texting, and a local phone number.  Users can send free text messages, customize their voicemail, read voicemail text transcript, and more. Users can make or receive calls or texts from their computer or from their mobile smartphone. Google’s voicemail service is now available for free to all Gmail users. Other internet calling providers include Grasshopper, MightyCall, Nextiva, DingTone, Telzio, Freedompop, Line2, Voiceably, and OnSIP, to name a few. Each provides a service for a monthly fee with different features, capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

SMS Messaging and Texting

While not all mobile phones are smartphones capable of receiving videos and pictures, nearly all mobile phones can receive SMS (short message service) messages. These are texts of less than 160 characters that consist only of letters, numbers, and symbols. SMS messaging, and texting in general, is a powerful way to communicate. SMS messaging and texting provide one-to-one communication. As more and more people adopt mobile phones, there are more opportunities to connect directly and personally with mobile phone users (who may be your customers!).

Companies can use SMS messages as a way to remind customers of sales, product offerings, and other announcements. It is important to note that customers must opt-in to companies’ SMS marketing campaigns and that it is illegal for companies to send SMS messages to customers who have not opted-in. Companies can often encourage customers to opt-in by offering them something in exchange. For example, a hot dog company could get customers to participate in their SMS marketing campaign by offering them $5 off their next meal for texting a code to their specialized SMS campaign number. Larger companies might purchase the services of an online text message marketing company to manage these marketing campaigns and to provide them with a short phone number code for customers to use to opt-in to the campaign. Small businesses could also allow customers to sign up for text messages like they might sign up for a mailing/emailing list and send messages directly.

Cell and Data Plans

There are two major types of mobile phone plans: pre-paid and post-paid. Pre-paid allows you to pay a mobile carrier upfront for mobile services, and you must refill your minutes or data when they run out. Be aware that overage charges for minutes or data used that exceed your plan may be billed at a higher rate. You will need to understand if it is possible to go over your pre-paid amount, and what additional charges might be imposed. Post-paid plans allow you to sign a contract with a mobile carrier for different types of mobile services, and you pay for those services at the end of the month. Unused minutes or data may or may not roll over from one month to the next month, meaning you have to pay for your minutes or data each month whether you use it all or not.

Whichever plan you choose, be sure you understand the terms.  There may be penalties for terminating your contract early. You should think about your business needs before deciding on a mobile service plan and whether you want to pay upfront or at the end of the month.

Video and Web Conferencing

Video conferencing provides a way to have face-to-face meetings without the expense of travel. It provides a more personal way to communicate both externally with customers and partners and internally with team members or employees who may work outside the office.

Video conferencing technologies transmit and receive images and voice in real-time so that you can have a “face-to-face meeting.” Web conferencing adds another dimension - it allows you to share documents and applications during your online meeting. Both options allow you the flexibility to have one-on-one meetings, or conferences with multiple attendees. Seeing facial expressions and nonverbal cues during crucial business discussions and negotiations can be invaluable for your business.

Some common tools for video and web conferencing are listed below. These tools are offered at different levels and price points, although there are some you can access for free. Some examples of video and web conferencing tools include:

All these solutions allow you to communicate as if you were face-to-face with customers, partners, and employees anywhere in the world. Time and money that would be spent on traveling can be used other ways for your business. You can share documents, make presentations, and conduct meetings on short notice. For example, without leaving your office, you can collaborate with employees who work from home or from other company locations.

Social Networking Sites

If you are a member of a social networking site or utilize social media, you know that these platforms are popular for businesses that use them for marketing. A social network is an online community comprised of individuals or organizations that are tied together by common interests. Internet-based social networking occurs through a variety of website platforms that allow users with similar interests to share content and interact online. Some popular social networking sites include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and many others.

By creating social networks that follow your business, or the interests of your business, you can  build relationships with current and future customers. For example, there are online social networks for companies, celebrities, politicians, and interests such as travel, home decor, cooking, and exercise to name a few. By posting content to these groups you can provide information to a large number of followers quickly and inexpensively.

Many companies pursue a social media strategy in their marketing efforts. Social media marketing is a relatively inexpensive way to reach specific customer segments that you believe will be interested in your product or service. To be successful it requires a steady effort and participation over time. One mistake companies make is jumping in and posting frequently initially, but then not maintaining the effort for very long. It’s better to begin with a pace you know you can continue, whether it’s once a month, once a week, or once a day. If you find you have more content to post, you can always do more. A note of caution on internet social networking: once you put something out there it's hard to take it back, so you have to be careful. Always be mindful of how a post will represent and reflect on your business. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that your personal social networks may also be visited by potential customers, partners, investors, and employees.

Online Collaboration Tools

The world is at our fingertips when it comes to being able to work online within our business, with partners, vendors and/or customers/consumers. From messaging to group chats, video conferencing, file sharing, document collaboration, elearning, and more, almost anything is possible right from your device. In addition to the tools and resources discussed above, below are some ideas and examples of tools that can be used depending on your goals.

  • G Suite: Google offers a suite of products that enable online collaboration. Using Google Docs you can develop a document that can be edited by multiple people in different locations (or all within the same conference room) in real-time, and at the same time.  Other G Suite products work the same way: Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Drive for example. You can create and manage your documents in a filing system that can be owned by one person or shared among a team. Google Calendar has become a popular way for organizing your own schedule as well as scheduling meetings among members of different organizations or businesses.
  • Office 365/Office Online: Microsoft also offers a suite of products that enable online collaboration. Office 365 includes Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note, Skype, and other applications. The Office 365 suite is not free. Microsoft Online offers software in a cloud-based variety for free.
  • Messaging Tools: Messaging tools allow for online chat and instant messaging between individuals or teams. Some also feature file sharing, file storage, video calling, searchable message-history, image viewing, and creating polls. Some of these tools integrate with Google Drive, Facebook, Dropbox and other softwares.  A few examples are:
  • Online and Shared Calendar Apps and Software: Online and shared calendar tools are wonderful for time-management and scheduling meetings with others. Some examples include but are not limited to:
  • Task Management Apps and Software: Task management applications allows users to manage their tasks from a smartphone, tablet, computer, or smartwatch. Many of them are free; additional collaboration features are available in paid versions. They are a great way to keep track of your progress and projects whether working on them individually or as a team.  Some examples include:

 

A computer is so affordable that it should be included as a key tool in your business. Computers can be purchased for a wide range of prices. For basic word processing, email, accounting, and spreadsheet work, you will not need a top-of-the-line computer.  Computers come in a variety of configurations, sometimes called a “form factor.” Below we discuss the most common configurations: desktop, laptop, notebook, and tablet.

Desktops

Desktops are the most common computer configuration.  They are not portable but can be customized to meet the needs of your business.  A desktop computer system should include:

  • A basic processing unit: either a PC (Personal Computer) or a Mac (Apple). PC's are more common in usage and are lower in cost. Most businesses work in a PC format. However, for many users and applications utilizing graphic arts and design work, the Mac enjoys very steadfast supporters. Considering how you plan to use your computer will help you determine whether to choose a PC or Mac platform. You could also research the programs or applications you will need to ensure they are available on the platform you choose.
  • A flat-panel monitor.
  • Internet connectivity, USB ports, and web camera.
  • Speakers or a sound bar if you plan to do video conferencing or recording. 

Laptops

A laptop computer offers portability with many of the features offered by a desktop, which make it ideal for meetings or if you travel frequently. Drawbacks for laptops include: they are higher in price than desktops, have smaller keyboards and monitors, have limited battery life, and are subject to theft. Most laptops provide the option of connecting to your keyboard, mouse and printer wirelessly or through a USB cable. If you travel and need computing capability, it is worth the extra expense. Popular laptop examples include the Chromebook, Surface Pro, and MacBook Pro.

Notebooks

Notebooks are a rapidly evolving category of small, light, and inexpensive portable computers suited for general computing and accessing web-based applications. They are very popular with with students, bloggers, and businesses owners alike.

While generally less expensive than laptops, manufacturers are starting to beef up notebooks, which is increasing their cost. A caution: their compact size makes them attractive for traveling but if you are considering one to save on the cost of a laptop, you probably will be getting less memory, and many do not have full applications or compatibility with your other business applications.

Things to keep in mind if getting a desktop, laptop or netbook:

  • Get as much capability as you can afford. Laptops are not typically as easy to upgrade as desktop computers because of the nature of their construction.
  • Be sure you get all the features you need when you purchase.
    • Make sure your computer, laptop, or notebook has a webcam built in for video or web-based meetings. If it doesn't you can buy an external one relatively inexpensively.
  • If you do not normally have access to an electrical outlet, get a laptop or netbook with extended battery life.
  • Keep all documentation, software, and accessories that come with your device.

Tablets

A tablet is equipped with a touchscreen or stylus rather than a keyboard to operate the computer. The advantages include flexibility to use without a mouse or keyboard, recording diagrams and symbols, and easier navigation than a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. Disadvantages include higher cost, slower input speed, and risk of damage to the tablet screen. You can purchase a keyboard and mouse for a tablet, but that would also increase the cost. Be wary of the total cost because the cost may be similar to a laptop that has more capacity and capability. Examples of tablet computers include the iPad, Galaxy Tab, Surface Go, and Amazon Kindle.

Software

The software you purchase is key to making your computer productive. The operating system (OS), whether it is a PC or a Mac, should be preloaded onto the system. The operating system is what allows you to interact with your computer. Many software packages are often bundled with the system at the time of purchase and some in the form of trial software. At the bare minimum, you should have the capability to do word processing/create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

To protect your information, an antivirus program is essential. You can purchase one or use a free program; however, the free programs will not afford you as much security as the paid versions.

Additionally, you should consider financial and accounting software that is appropriate for your business. Keep in mind that many accounting/bookkeeping software packages are not double-entry systems and care must be taken in making the entries correctly. Keep in mind that home and professional versions of accounting software may not be compatible or may not be appropriate for your operating system. Be sure to read the software specifications before you purchase to ensure that your hardware and software are compatible.

Auxiliary Products

Many products can be used with your computer to enhance the functionality and image of your business.  Auxiliary products often require special software.

  • Printer: Printers are available at many price points. The connectivity, either wireless or hard wired, will depend on the type of computer you have. Be sure to research the compatibility of your computer and printer before making a purchase. Laser printers cost more up front than inkjet printers but are less expensive over the long run when taking printing costs into account. You can choose either a color or black and white printer. A color printer may allow you to print marketing materials for your business. If you have a small space to work with, consider an all-in-one printer which can fax, scan, copy, and print. Some printers have USB ports or slots for memory cards, allowing you to print directly from these media storage devices.
  • Digital Camera: Many people have a digital camera on their smartphones. For specialty photos or to produce very high quality photos, a dedicated digital camera may be more appropriate for your business. A picture taken with a digital camera can be directly loaded onto your computer for a variety of uses. Many digital cameras also offer wifi connectivity so you can upload images directly to the web or a social network platform.  Usage ideas include pictures of properties, product catalogs, pictures accompanying résumés, and many more. Digital cameras come in various shapes and sizes, but what really sets them apart in price is image quality. Smartphone camera quality is good and improving all the time. So you may have all the digital imaging capabilities you need in your smartphone already.
  • Scanner: Scanners provide the ability to convert a paper document into a digital document that you can send, store, or copy. Fax machines used to be a popular way to collect signatures on documents from people in a different location. Now a scanner is more frequently used because the digital document can be sent by email. There are also applications that allow you to scan a document with your phone. In many cases, a photograph can also be taken of a document, and that image sent or stored as needed.
  • Hard Drives and External Storage: Don't overlook the importance of making regular external backups of the content, images, and individual programs used in your business. A backup is simply saving your information to a second source so you have a second copy in case your system crashes or is lost.  Backups are commonly stored on USB flash drives, external hard drives, and/or a cloud-based system. External storage is relatively inexpensive. There are also services provided on the web to facilitate this process.

The internet is an essential marketing and communication tool for every business. It allows you to communicate with potential customers, create leads, and establish your business.  You should register with internet search engines and crowdsourced business review sites to build your online presence and allow people to find your business quickly. You can advertise on these sites to get more visibility on the page.Utilizing your ability to register on search engines and crowd-source business review sites is an essential marking tool to communicate with potential customers and creating leads.

To learn more, see the links below:

Search Engines:

Crowdsourced business review sites (U.S. based):

How you use the internet in your business is up to you. Perhaps you are not ready to sell your products online, but you are interested in developing a website that lets people know what you do. At the other extreme, you may want to use the internet as your main sales channel. Just remember, the basics are still on the ground: you need products and services that people want; you need to attract people to your internet site so that they have the option of purchasing these products and services from you; you need to convince them to buy; you need a place to store your products; and you need a way to get them to the purchaser.

Website hosting fees vary, so be sure to consider whether you want a site where updates will be infrequent (it’s just a landing page where people can learn about your business), or a very interactive site, with frequent updates, a shopping cart, lots of different types of content, etc. You will also need to pay for your domain, the web address for your business such as www.yourbusinessname.com. Both the hosting and domain fees can be paid annually or for several years at a time.

Session 12 E-Commerce of this course will provide detailed information about the internet and E-commerce.

It is important that you and your employees use the internet appropriately when representing your business. You should have a policy about using the internet at work. Your policy should be in writing and signed by your employees to make sure they understand it. Remember, appropriate use of technology can make your business look established and successful from the very beginning! Unfortunately, inappropriate use of the internet, social media, and social networking can make your business look unprofessional and turn away potential customers.

 

THE TOP TEN DO'S

  1. Ensure that your external and internal communications are consistent and support your brand.
  2. Establish a designated phone number for your business, record a professional voicemail message, and speak clearly and slowly, repeating your name and number when calling others.
  3. Investigate the option of purchasing a smartphone, and use it to support your business.
  4. Consider using video and web-based conferencing tools to allow for face-to-face meetings without the expense of travel.
  5. Create a social media strategy you can maintain, to allow for the most success in interacting with followers and promoting your business.
  6. Investigate and explore what online collaboration tools would work best for you and your team.
  7. Conduct thorough research on what computer is best for you to purchase for your business, and buy the most capabilities you can afford.
  8. Consider a laptop computer if your business requires mobility.
  9. Register on search engines and crowdsourced business review sites for marketing as well as a way to communicate with potential customers and leads.
  10. Invest in antivirus software to protect your computer, your identify, and your information. Regularly backup your data.

THE TOP TEN DON'TS

  1. Underestimate the importance of communications in business.
  2. Assume your personal social media posts will be private and not seen by your customers, investors, and partners.
  3. Use a shared line or family phone number for business.
  4. Overlook the internet and smartphones as important business tools.
  5. Start your business without knowledge about and possession of computer tools.
  6. Overlook making regular external backups to computer programs and your data to a second source such as external hard drive, USB storage, or cloud-based service.
  7. Spend for a top-of-line computer unless it is required in your business.
  8. Sign up for extended time periods on any service including phone and mobile.
  9. Start an active social media campaign if you can’t maintain the frequency of your posting.
  10. Use SMS or text marketing unless you have permission by users who have opted-in to receive your messages.

You can continue to assemble your business plan. We provided Microsoft Word templates for this session below:

 Section 8: Communication Tools

The full template for all sessions can be downloaded as one document:

MOBI Business Plan Template

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