Tech services that small businesses find especially useful

Tech Tools

A look at some of the gadgets and technology services that small businesses find especially useful
By RAYMUND FLANDEZ
October 1, 2007; Page R9

As more small businesses find technology indispensable, more technology companies are finding small businesses indispensable.

This is good news for small businesses, as tech
providers are increasingly targeting them with a wide array of
products. But it’s also creating more confusion among small firms, as
they face a widening array of buying options.

What’s a small business to buy? Based on interviews
with small-business owners around the country, here are some of the
tech tools and services that many have found particularly helpful.

 HyperOffice

hyperoffice.com4

This company’s Web-based software makes it easier for
owners, employees, suppliers and business clients to plan projects,
share and edit documents, and manage information any time and from any
Internet connection. HyperOffice, based in Rockville, Md., allows small
businesses to also set up their own intranets and other portals for
vendors and customers.

This follows
the new trend in computing, whereby all applications are hosted and
maintained over the Web, replacing desktop-computing applications and
eliminating the need for on-site servers and other hardware.

The cost averages $6 to $9 a month per user, with
multiple levels of user log-in and administrative rights set by the
owner for security. There’s a free 30-day trial.

"HyperOffice is the backbone communications tool of
our business," says Sean Hackney, co-owner of Roaring Lion Energy Drink
LLC. The seller of Red Bull-like beverages to the bar industry has five
employees in Sun Valley, Calif., and an additional 36 salespeople
scattered all over the country. The Web-based application, installed
four years ago, is the company’s back-office email solution, document
and marketing-data repository, and database for graphic elements,
employment forms and contact lists.

For example, if one of Mr. Hackney’s employees in
Chicago needs the Roaring Lion logo for a promotion, he or she can just
access it on the Web, where the file resides.

"We’re a virtual company in that respect," says Mr.
Hackney. Roaring Lion’s previous Web tool for intra-company
communication was Microsoft Corp.’s Hotmail, but the company grew to a
point that it wanted to have more flexibility and functionality in
dispersing information and communicating with employees. Mr. Hackney
now says he typically budgets about $500 a month on the HyperOffice
software for all of his staff.

"It’s an easy-to-use, cost-effective platform," he says. "It offers a great deal of functionality."

 

 TalkPlus
talkplus.com9
 

Think about this: one cellphone, multiple numbers. One number is for personal use, the others are for business.

TalkPlus is an independent telecom service that makes
the separation between work and personal life easier and clutter-free.
You can give out one phone number to friends, a different one to
clients, and receive both calls on the same phone. The company owns
large blocks of phone numbers in more than 30 countries that it sells
to clients.

Lee Mendiola, a psychiatrist who runs a clinic in
Ventura, Calif., formerly used a pager to field emergency or hospital
calls. Six months ago, he started using TalkPlus instead. It tells him
if a call is on his professional or his personal line. Then, if he
doesn’t want to answer, the call goes to voicemail, where it’s
converted into a sound file attached to an email that he can retrieve
later.

[image]

There are two versions of TalkPlus. One is a download
application that TalkPlus.com sends as a text message to the cellphone
for installation. This application makes recipients of your calls see
the number you have chosen. They can call you back on that number as
well.

The other version allows you to add numbers that ring
on your cellphone. But when you call someone else, your cellphone’s
original phone number will show on their display.

TalkPlus costs about $11 per month for two numbers
(additional numbers cost $3.99 each). For calls within the U.S., add
2.7 cents per minute to your carrier bill.

 

 Trueview Services
trueviewservices.com10
 

Trueview Services LLC, a New York-based online
monitoring company, lets a business owner see what’s going on in the
store without being there. Real-time and archived video streams can be
accessed by logging on to trueviewservices.com. The videos are saved
online for at least two weeks, and can be downloaded for later viewings.

The service starts at $1,495 for installation of two
cameras. Monthly service is $29.99 for two-week storage and
round-the-clock technical support. The cameras can be wireless. The
company also is working on making its systems accessible by mobile
phone.

For years, Jason Schwartz, president of Creative Cash
Flow Solutions Inc., Amityville, N.Y., used a $5,000 analog-camera
system with VHS tape to monitor the goings-on at his 20-employee
electronic-payment-processing firm. But two months ago he changed to
Trueview for convenience and cost.

"The technology, since it’s Web-based, gave us the
ability to log on remotely and see real time what’s happening in our
office," says Mr. Schwartz, who paid $3,000 for about a dozen Trueview
wireless cameras and online remote backup system. "If I’m out of the
office or out of the country, I could log on to see who’s at their
desk, what time everybody came in for work and what time they left, and
I could see what people are working on in their computers, in each
workstation," he adds.

 

 AAA Mobile
aaa.com/aaamobile11
 

A salesman who is on the road a lot for a company of
any size might find a cellphone-based navigation device useful. A few
such programs are on the market now from several carriers.

AAA and tech provider Networks in Motion have teamed up to offer just such a Global Positioning System program on phones from Sprint Nextel
Corp. and Verizon Wireless. The phones give audible turn-by-turn
directions, including to such locations as restaurants, gas stations
and hotels. At $9.99 a month on both Sprint Nextel and Verizon
Wireless, it’s far less costly than an in-car or personal navigation
system.

"I use it for GPS navigation when I have to go to an
unfamiliar location," says Lawrence Johnson Sr., a 60-year-old
independent sales associate based in New York for Pre-Paid Legal
Services Inc.

Networks in Motion, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., has
also developed software used in other GPS-enabled cellphones: the VZ
Navigator from Verizon Wireless, Alltel Corp.’s Axcess Mobile Guide,
and U.S. Cellular Corp.’s Your Navigator.

 

 Virtual Management
evadirect.com12
 

Phil Immel, a real-estate broker in Laguna Beach, Calif., gets real help from a virtual assistant.

Mr. Immel, who has a staff of 12 at his Prudential
California Realty firm, says his peripatetic work life often means that
he forgets to follow up on a scheduled call, or that he is delayed in
telling his workers which tasks need urgent attention. "I’m always in
the field, with clients, driving by properties or looking up listings,"
Mr. Immel says.

But two years ago, he signed on to Electronic Virtual
Assistant, a 24/7 service from Virtual Management Inc., St. George,
Utah, that provides customers with U.S.-based assistants for a number
of tasks. Among these: help with storing and retrieving data, sending
emails, scheduling meetings and reminders, and filling out sales
reports.

With EVA, Mr. Immel can have information on recent
home sales sent to clients he just met with before he gets back to his
office. He calls EVA’s voicemail number (a toll-free number with PIN
access), where he dictates his instructions. Within minutes, an EVA
assistant transcribes the instructions into an email for his office
assistant, who then forwards the requested home-sales data to the
client. Mr. Immel also can send thank-you notes on the fly and receive
reminders to make follow-up phone calls.

Mr. Immel pays $160 a month for a premium service. He
averages two to three calls a day to EVA. And what kind of results is
he getting?

"My follow-through is probably three times better than it used to be," he says.

–Mr. Flandez is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s New York bureau.

 

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