What business owner isn't trying to save money today? While online businesses often don't have the overhead that comes with a big office and lots of staff, we are often hit with lower profit margins that come with online competition and numerous businesses out there competing with our goods and services. We find ways to get creative about getting our message out there and letting people know about our Web site, but without coupling the advertising with lower costs, survival is difficult.
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So what are some technologies online business owners should be looking at to save money? We'll explore a few of them and what benefits--and potential drawbacks--they bring to you in your online business.
First, let's look at faxing. Multi-function high quality fax and copy machines are pretty inexpensive today; so many businesses choose to have one around anyway. But if you want to go purely online and have fax files sent to you in PDF format, lots of people know about eFax. But the lesser known product myFax, one I have been using for years, also allows you to very inexpensively purchase a toll-free number for your faxing needs.
What about video conferencing? We all see the commercials for gotomypc.com, but what about some other options? Skype allows you to hold conference calls and bring in multiple participants, significantly cutting down on telephone costs. You can use Skype for phone calls, and if you travel a lot, their international package is second to none.
Another solution out there is k7.net, which is an online messaging system that allows you to create your own private voice mail system and have the voice mail forwarded to your e-mail. If you are willing to have a 206 area code, you can get the service for free. Signing up is easy and there are other paid options there as well. Check out Google Voice too--while it isn't as tested yet, it is another option.
Check out the latest product your wireless service provider, including my favorite, Sprint's AIRAVE. Not only does it solve coverage issues for those of us working in areas with high call-drop rates, but it also allows your employees and contractors to jump on the system and not be charged anything for calls while they're within the range of the AIRAVE. This can be a huge cost savings for your team and a nice service to offer them, but it isn't available in all areas yet.
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Another great product is Yousendit. Rather than paying for a server to sit in your office or host a large FTP server and pay for hosting and bandwidth, YouSendIt has a range of solutions--free and paid--that allow you to send files to others through their system by sending an e-mail with a link to the files to download. It stores the files for seven to 14 days depending on the level of service you have.
Are you still mailing out newsletters or updates to your customers? Consider using systems that not only integrate with your Web site so new customers can sign up (and you don't have to manage any subscription updates, freeing you up for content), but also provide you with business-savvy templates that go out in HTML and non-HTML format. My favorite one is Your Mailing List Provider, which has many options for inexpensive mailing lists. There are many solutions out there so look for one that will save you time and money.
Last but not least, I want to touch a bit on online stores and product fulfillment. Who wants to have warehousing costs or storage fees or use up office space (to save us money of course) on inventory? Consider third-party tools like the beta of ShopIt for Facebook, and look at tools like fulfillment from Amazon.com. You can send your products to one of 20 Amazon warehouses around the country and as orders come in. All products will be in Amazon branded boxes, but the packing slip will also have your business name on it. Monthly storage fees are 45 cents per cubic foot plus an extra 15 cents per cubic foot during the fourth quarter. Shipping charges depend on the item, but are usually between $3 and $6 including fulfillment fees for a one-pound item.
Dani Babb is the founder of The Babb Group, an online entrepreneur, a professor, an author, public speaker and consultant. She has a Ph.D. in Organization and Management with a Technology emphasis, as well as an MBA with a technology emphasis. She is featured regularly on top networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and the Today show. She is also the author of The Online Professors Practical Guide to Starting an Internet Business, available from Entrepreneur Press.