Posts Tagged ‘small business’

Faxing Solutions for Small Businesses

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

fax

It’s a modern day dilemma for a small business: with 99% of all visual communication coming to your business through email or online, how can you justify the expense of having a fax machine and a separate phone line for that one customer a year who prefers this mode of communication?

The good news is, there are alternate options to traditional fax lines. The bad news? Well, choosing the right option for your business can be a little tricky. Here are some faxing suggestions with their associated pros and cons:

Efax.com | This is the online service I use to receive faxes. I signed up for the free account. Pros: you can immediately receive a fax number and successfully receive faxes after downloading their easy-to-use software. Cons: With the free account, the area code for your fax number will likely be a long distance number, and you won’t be able to send faxes or receive faxes greater than 20 pages in length. Fine print: you can get a custom number and send/receive faxes with larger page lengths if you upgrade. Their lowest-grade plan starts at $16.95/month, with a $10 start-up fee.

SimplifyFax.com | This is an online subscription service starting at $7.95 per month for a local number and $10.95 for a toll-free number. Pros: you can receive an unlimited number of fax pages and send up to 250 outbound pages for no additional fee. Cons: After your 250 pages, you pay five cents per page to send.

Faxaway.com | This is also an online subscription service. They have an initial $10 set-up fee and after that, it’s $1/month. They bill by transmission time to send, versus per page. Pros: receive an unlimited number of faxes for the monthly fee. Cons: Unless you’re living in Seattle, you’re likely to have a long-distance number. Also, transmission rates can be confusing to determine: they’re based on distance more like traditional phone lines. In this modern world, this seems antiquated to me!

Land lines | If you can get your hands on an old fax machine through ebay, Craigslist, garage sales, or TwinCitiesFreeMarket.org, you may have some telephone options that could be less expensive than online faxing. For example, one home-based freelance designer I spoke to simply tells the sender to let her know when to they’re ready to fax, then plugs in her machine to her main line to receive a fax. Prefer to keep your fax plugged in? Another colleague has a $3/month separate incoming fax line in addition to her land-based business line. These options can get tricky if you don’t use your land-based phone company for long-distance service (who does these days, when long distance is included in your cell phone plan??).

Buck the system. I think the reason I’ve opted to go with the crummy free fax number is that I’d like to think that ineffective technology should go gracefully to the sidelines when its day is up. I mean, when is the last time you received a fax that looked as crisp as an email? That had the color of a jpeg or a pdf? Or the interactivity of an e-newsletter or web page? With Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word, you can create comments right on a document and track changes by reader/editor. And desktop scanners, starting under $100, can convert documents to digital files which you can quickly email anywhere for free.

So, the best solution? Education about the benefits of non-fax communication. And for must-fax situations? Well, make friends with the fossil who has a fax machine next door.

Thank you to Creatives Group members for your ideas for this article.

A note on integrity

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

One of the many blessings in being a small business owner is that you get to set your own rules: your hours, who you want to work with, how you do your work, what constitutes a “finished” product, and more. Well, a big one for me is being able to maintain personal integrity in my work. Until you’ve been challenged, you may not realize how important this is.

Let me share my favorite excerpt from the book, “How to be a graphic designer and not lose your soul,” by Adrian Shaughnessy:

By standing up for yourself, by having beliefs (creative and ethical beliefs), and perhaps most importantly of all, by questioning what you are asked to do as a designer, you can acquire self-respect, which is the first step on the path to earning the respect of clients and other designers. You might get the sack—but that’s integrity for you—there’s a price to be paid for it. Just remember, it’s always less than the price of your self-respect. I might even say, the price of your soul.

Of course, you can substitute “employee” or “business owner” for the word “designer” throughout the above passage. This really applies to anyone in the workplace.

The author makes a point that we must show integrity to each of three audiences: our clients, our intended audience, and ourselves. If we show our clients and intended audiences that we believe in them, they will in turn believe in us. And of course, we can live with ourselves at the end of the day.

The hidden value of personal integrity in the workplace? Higher quality work. When you demand this of yourself, your employees, and your contractors, the shift turns from “How can we make a buck?” or “How fast can we do this?” to “How can we make a quality design/product?” and “How can we better service our clients?”.

Author note: I’d love to hear your stories of personal integrity in the workplace. Please leave your comments for others to read!

Going Green: 5 Easy Things For Small Businesses To Try

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Last night I attended a teach-in called “Making Your Business Greener”, hosted by MetroIBA. I have to admit, as a small business owner, being “green” often takes a back-burner to thinking about other aspects of owning a business: marketing, meeting deadlines, accounting. . . well, you get the idea. But this seminar made me think about how going green could benefit my business—really! Here are some ways they mentioned that your business can save some money, improve company morale, and get some great PR:

1) Take a close look at your energy consumption. As it turns out, there are some easy ways to reduce consumption that result in significant annual savings, such as:

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or retrofit LEDs. HUGE energy savings!
  • Put your computers to sleep at night (or when you’re not using them). Would you believe that 60% of computers are left on all night? A “sleeping” computer uses only 4% of the energy of a powered-up computer.
  • Replace old-fashioned CRT monitors with LCDs. Not only do they look cooler and take up less space, they’re WAY more energy efficient!
  • Get some Smart Powerstrips. Appliances that are plugged right into the wall continue to suck energy, even when they’re off. Smart Powerstrips put a stop to that, directing energy to computers and more only when they’re turned on—saving you money on electricity! The marketing folks who make the things say it pays for itself in 6 weeks.
  • Get a free energy audit. Power companies like Xcel Energy offer this service for free. Contact your local power company for info.

2) Evaluate your company’s resource procurement. Hmm. . .this is a fancy way of saying you should set criteria for what you purchase. Should you buy “green” energy? Consider paying $4/month extra for wind power from your power company. Should you only buy non-toxic cleansers? Consider purchasing Restore brand cleaners. Maybe you buy a certain amount of recycled materials, or give preference to organically-grown products. You decide, it’s your company. But be intentional about it. Then let your clients know your efforts. It’s a good marketing tool, too.

3) Reduce your company’s consumption. There’s a number of ways to go about it: duplex copying and printing (saves 25% of paper consumption), teleconferencing vs. travel, electronic memos and pay stubs, and more! Get creative: what do you NEED, and what can you do without?

4) Make “Green” your company culture. Companies that sucessfully build a culture of sustainability do it by enlisting the talent and creativity of their employees to come up with ideas and carry them out. A lot of companies are finding that going green is helping them to recruit high-quality employees and improve company morale.

5) Recycle. While recycling at home has become second nature, recycling at work is not as wide spread. Recycling batteries and refilling printer ink cartridges saves money and Mother Earth. You can also recycle your office paper, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (crucial, since they contain a small amount of mercury), cell phones, computers, and electronics. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, check out twincitiesfreemarket.org for recycling old office furniture and more.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be! The one take-away message from this seminar was that small changes add up. So, if you try only one thing this month, it’ll have an effect. Don’t know where to start? Get an energy assessment from the Alliance for Sustainability or a SCORE test from BeSustainability.com.

STILL want more resources? Here are some sites for getting up to date on going green:

www.greenbiz.com

green.alltop.com

coopamerica.org

www.upongreen.com

OK, so you do this stuff. . .now what? Let your clients know that you’re making an effort to be sustainable! If you have an office, hold an open house and let them see your plans in work. Give tips in your e-newsletter or share a new employee-designed initiative to save energy, reduce, or recycle. Demonstrate your green-ness by printing with Soy Inks, using recycled-content papers, and using e-alternatives for advertising.

A footnote: thanks to Dan Marshall of Peapods.com (a Mix client!) for conceiving of and moderating the event.