Technology can be a great tool to assist you in running your buisness or it can be a serious distraction. We had already talked about having an online sales presentation as a website, and promoting your website on the internet. I think about promotion as advertising and a website as media, neither are really technology in the scheme of things. Although a website literally is software that causes your browser to do various things.
As far as technology goes I am taking about the hardware and software you use for various business tasks. That might include your word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, financial software, computer, cell phone, pda, and anything else in a similar vein. There are a lot of cool things to use these days but are they helping or hurting your business? If you spend three hours per day answering email, this is probably hurting your business because you are not selling or managing your business.
We used technology in many different ways for our business. We used Quickbooks to manage our sales, customer service, and financials. We stored customer names, addresses, credit card numbers, and specific issues with the customer as part of their customer record for quick look up. We used software that I wrote to convert emails that were requests for information to shipping labels. This saved us having to add customer information to Quickbooks that would get free info and samples but would never order. This program would also print labels for orders. Codes were printed above the customer name that would tell us what the customer would order: How many bottles, information and samples, or business information. The program would also assemble credit card data for our credit card processor so we could just run a bunch in and not have to enter each one.
We put little labels on all of our bottles and samples, which we generated with a label program. I used spreadsheets to figure out how much product we should order and when so that our orders got filled on time. We used a postage meter and shipped through the US Post Office. We advertised we shipped priority mail and used their tyvek envelopes that we could get for free. We had a black and white laser printer (so passe these days) to print invoices, labels, and anything else we needed to print.
On top of all of these technologies, we also had a telephone system. At first, we leased time with an off-site service that we could configure to do what we wanted. Our 800 number went to the automated service and it would direct customers to a scripted voice mail for orders and information, round robin people to us or one of our distributors, or put them into a general voice mail. We told it our office hours and it would not put a call through to us after business hours. This was important because we would often get jarred awake in the middle of the night by a telephone call or a fax.
Oh and yes, we did have a fax machine. We printed order forms that people would fill out and mail in with a check, or fax in with a credit card number. So our options to order were: mail, fax, scripted voice mail, 800 number, or internet. All of our options had information about the other options so that customers could choose their methods.
Without all of our technology, we could not have served all of the customers we had or our distributors. As things were we often stayed up until midnight and beyond getting things out the door. Our business objective was to avoid hiring employees and we were able to successfully do this with our technologies and with the tireless effort of my wife Chris, who was going constantly with young kids, returning telephone calls, filling orders, and getting the mail to the post office.
Often our technology advances were exercises in solving problems that we had. Our label print program was developed because we could not keep up with the information requests for instance. If your business grows enough, you will find ways to use technology to solve problems and further your business objectives.