Which tool or technology has benefited your business in a way you never expected? And how difficult would it be to operate without that tool today?
Once again, I asked several entrepreneurs and business people to answer our question of the week. As usual, the answers give a lot to think about. We learn that technology has the power to free us from drudgery and avoid frustration; make us more efficient; expand our marketing reach; go after new business opportunities; even cut through writer’s block and save money.
Let’s read what my panel has to say, and which technologies have benefited their businesses:
“Desktop search program,” says Ed Bott, Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise:
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who file stuff meticulously in neatly labeled file folders, and those who stuff everything into shoeboxes.
After years of trying to be a file-folder person, I finally accepted the reality that I’m a shoebox guy. Thankfully, the software industry took pity on me early in this millennium and started coming out with new tools to help me locate and organize information automatically, without forcing me to do much upfront work (aside from throwing it in the right shoebox). Today, I can’t imagine working without a decent desktop search program.
I started out using X1 and later switched to Copernic (which I still recommend for use with Windows XP). Today, all of my business PCs run on Windows Vista, which has superb desktop search capabilities built in. I can usually find an invoice, a report, a draft of an article I’m working on, or a string of e-mail messages within a matter of seconds, by typing a keyword in the search box. If the list of results is too long, I can winnow it by date or file type or person.
Oddly enough, these tools actually have made me a more organized businessperson. When I’m creating a new document, I usually think about how I’m going to find it later, which inspires me to include keywords that will help make it easier to zero in on. And every so often I go through the virtual shoebox that is my Current Work folder, sort the old stuff and completed projects into their own subfolders, and then file it away.
“Broadband Internet access,” says Harry McCracken, Technologizer:
I like to add new products and technologies to my toolbox as often as possible, so at any given time, my favorite one may be the one I’ve discovered most recently. At the moment, I’m particularly tickled with the Verizon Broadband Access wireless Internet service for my laptop that I finally signed up for after too many months of thinking it over but being intimidated by the cost ($60 a month).
Wi-Fi hotspots and hotel broadband are all very well, and I’ve used them for years. But they’re not always available. When they are available, they’re sometimes slow or temperamental. And they often cost money — it’s easy to blow $40 or $50 a month on them without noticing.
So far, the Verizon service has worked like a champ everywhere I’ve tried to use it. I’m squeezing valuable productivity into formerly wasted moments, like the time I spend sitting in airplanes on the runway before they tell us to shut down our laptops. (Okay, maybe it’s embarrassing that I want to be online even then, but I do.) And the sheer time I save not searching for hotspots and troubleshooting balky hotel Internet connections is a blessing.
For the first time ever, I don’t feel like it’s a crapshoot whether I’ll be able to get online when I need to. The minute I started spending that sixty bucks a month, I stopped stressing out over it.
“A blog,” says John Jantsch, DuctTapeMarketing:
For me it’s without a doubt my blog — both a tool and technology I suppose. It’s led to many opportunities, national publicity, a book deal, a growing community, brand awareness, product sales and strategic partnerships. Of course, while all of that has been important, the primary thing it’s done is forced me to write, teach, speak and educate — the master small business skills — in ways that have helped me become much better at communicating, understanding and growing my business.
I think it’s easy to look at tools like blogs for the practical ROI. Search engine traffic, subscribers, content, and greater participation in social media are all practical reasons to blog. But, a truly powerful long-term benefit of any tool in business is how it can help shift the overall consciousness of the organization and brand. If a tool can, over time, make the entire organization more aware of what it’s about, now that’s a powerful tool — and for me, that’s the long-term value of blogging.
“Giant lasers,” says Phillip Torrone, MAKE Magazine:
Giant lasers. It sounds “space age” and futuristic, but it’s not. “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet” – A quote from one of my favorite science-fiction writers, William Gibson.
A couple years ago when I started Epilog 35 watt “mini” – it has a 12″ x 24″ bay (perfect for engraving art on gadgets) – the business revolves around this tool and it’s allowed us to have a successful business while also providing a blueprint for others. We’ve released all our files, documents, settings and how-tos online so others can start their own laser etching businesses … and over the couple years, dozens have!
“Our Web platform,” says Jeremy Gutsche, TrendHunter.com
Trend Hunter is an online community, so our platform itself is the breakthrough technology that has driven our business. Unlike other publications, Trend Hunter is a virtual playground for those looking for ideas. We are constantly focused on reinventing the user experience and finding new ways to keep our readers inspired and coming back for more.
And now for my own “unexpectedly helpful” technology:
“A headset,” says Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends:
Six or 8 different technologies come to mind that have transformed my business in unexpected ways. But one of the most fun and personally liberating is my headset for my computer.
I use a stereo USB headset. It plugs into a USB outlet in your PC — that means it is easy-peesy to install AND has great sound. For something that costs under $50, it has done more to liberate my time and open up new communication options than anything since my first cell phone.
With a headset, I can use the voice recognition software that comes with Windows XP and Windows Vista (you may not even realize you have voice recognition software, but it’s there). I am able to dictate articles and emails. I can even dictate blog posts directly into WordPress. With a good quality headset and taking an hour to “train” the voice recognition software to recognize your pronunciation, the results are remarkably accurate. Not only can it be faster to compose documents via voice, but dictation often helps me break through writer’s block. If I don’t know where to start on a lengthy report or article, I simply begin talking. It’s the little secret to being able to write as much as I do each day.
I also use the headset with Skype, to initiate long-distance phone calls. That way, I am able to get by with a much lower wireless cell phone bill. Whenever possible, I return calls using Skype, which costs just a few dollars a month. And the headset is ideal for conference calls and online meetings, where I need my hands free to take notes. I even conduct my Internet radio show using my headset and Skype.
So — having heard 6 examples of technologies that are unexpectedly helpful, tell us your picks. What technology have you found to be “unexpectedly helpful” in your business? Or, that you could not operate without? Leave a comment below.