10 Time Saving Business Tips!

tsbtTime may be on Mick Jagger’s side (at least according to the song), but it’s probably not on yours. Your business makes so many demands that time has become an adversary. Even when you dip into your evenings and weekends, it seems impossible to get everything done–not to mention find time to spend with your family.

* Technology to the rescue. You may think you’re using technology to its maximum timesaving capacity, but there’s always room for improvement. We’ve uncovered more than 15 techniques that can liberate precious minutes from your day and hours from your week. Judging from our estimates, these ideas could add up to an entire extra day for work or play.

When you think about it, it’s mostly the administrative tasks that so subtly nibble away at your day. You need to call clients to schedule meetings. You have to address envelopes for a mailing. You need to type that valuable article into your word processor for future reference. And you have been backing up your hard drive regularly, haven’t you? No wonder your productivity is plummeting. Before you waste another minute doing these chores the old-fashioned way, consider our timesaving solutions. After all, time marches on–but it doesn’t have to stampede.

TOSS THE TELEPHONE

Schedule meetings via e-mail instead of phone.

Tuesday afternoon is open. So is Friday morning. You need to schedule meetings with five clients, but you don’t have all day to do it. Even if you did, chances are you’d only get as far as leaving voice mail on their machines. The solution: Send your messages via e-mail. It may seem a little impersonal compared with a phone call, but the people you’re contacting are established clients. They’re just as busy as you are and would likely appreciate one less interruption.

E-mail has numerous advantages over the telephone. Its main plus is its speed. E-mail’s one-sided nature means you say your piece, then send it off. The response comes, and you’re done. There’s no time-consuming chit-chat to endure, no games of phone tag to play.

The one drawback is the lack of instant feedback. Not everyone checks his e-mail every day so it might take a day or two to get a response. The solution: Plan ahead. Schedule meetings and announce them a week in advance, thus giving your clients time to answer and you time to make any necessary scheduling adjustments.

Factoring in such variables as phone tag and small talk, we determined that the average time to arrange a single meeting by phone is 10 minutes. E-mail, on the other hand, takes about three minutes.

Old way: 5 meetings x 10 minutes = 50 minutes

New way: 5 meetings x 3 minutes = 15 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

THE PlM IS IN

“GoldMine is far superior

to any Rolodex.”

–Rich Richbourg

In a small market, every contact counts, which is why Rick Richbourg of DIVERsions Worldwide Inc. feels his GoldMine personal information manager “is far superior to any Rolodex” for handling clients of his cave diving and underwater adventure business.

Though Richbourg uses GoldMine (GoldMine Software, 800-654-3526; GoldMine’s Web site can be found at http://www.goldminesw.com) for its address book, he also relies heavily on its calendars, to-do lists, event scheduling, and call-back features. Because he’s often away from the office, Richbourg uses GoldMine on both his office computer and his laptop. “GoldMine is a handy way to update my office PC with notes and other important information collected on my diving trips,” he says.

Richbourg’s favorite use of GoldMine is tracking communications. “I send out a lot of materials describing my business and upcoming dives,” he explains. “These can be linked to GoldMine so I always know which clients have received what information. It keeps my customer service level up, and it keeps my clients happy because they stay informed.”

Old Way: Look up names of 10 clients in Rolodex; track followup calls in a separate log, 20 minutes. New Way: Locate names, numbers, and background information of 10 clients; after call update each contact file, 5 minutes. Time saved: 15 minutes.

–Bonnie Georgia

MERGE THE MAIL

Use your PC–rather than your pen– to address envelopes.

Hand hurts, doesn’t it? That’s what you get for addressing that batch of envelopes for your mailing with a pen. You’ve already got your clients’ names and addresses in a database, so why not use your word processor’s mail-merge feature to address envelopes? Even if your printer requires you to feed envelopes one at a time, you’ll still crank out more in half an hour than you could by hand.

You may have to invest some time to learn and set up the mail-merge process, but that’s a onetime chore. We used Microsoft Word along with Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet 5L–a four-page-per-minute printer that accommodates stacks of 10 envelopes. The actual mail-merge takes only seconds, and a faster printer will yield even better results.

Old way: 50 envelopes x 30 seconds = 25 minutes

New way: 50 envelopes in 13 minutes

Time saved: 12 minutes

FAST FAX

Send faxes from your PC rather than a fax machine.

Although fax machines have been part of our business lives for more than a decade, the technology behind them has changed very little. Most machines still transmit pages at a pokey 9,600 bits per second (bps). A computer modem, on the other hand, can send and receive at 14,400bps–as long as there’s another computer at the other end (an increasingly common scenario).

Even if you’re sending a document from your computer to a regular fax machine, there’s time to be saved. For one thing, you won’t have to watch over the computer to make sure pages feed properly. (There’s no such thing as a paper jam when you fax via modem.) Plus, you won’t need to print documents before sending them. And if it’s a long-distance fax, you’ll pinch a few pennies as well.

For this test, we faxed a 20-page document from two sources: a fax machine and a computer armed with Delrina’s WinFax Pro 7.0. In the first scenario, we had to first print the document, which added five minutes to the overall time. At the receiving end was a modem-equipped PC.

Old way: 20 pages, 20 minutes

New way: 20 pages, 10 minutes

Time saved: 10 minutes

MAKIN’ COPIES

Duplicate pages at home instead of going out.

Even if there’s a copy shop just 10 minutes from your office, you still have to get in the car, drive there, find a parking space, make the copies, and drive home. If you’re doing a big job that requires collating or stapling, you might have no other choice then to outsource the job, but for making a few copies here and there, stay home. You don’t need a photocopier–all you need is a scanner.

There’s a new breed of affordably priced personal scanners on the market and many–such as Visioneer’s PaperPort and Logitech’s PageScan Color–come with software that enables push-button copying. Simply feed a few pages into the scanner, and in seconds your printer will begin churning out duplicates.

We made copies of three different documents using the PaperPort scanner and an HP Laserjet 5L printer.

Old way: Drive to a local Kinko’s, park, get copies, 30 minutes

New way: 3 minutes

Time saved: 27 minutes

We drove to the nearest office-supply store in search of six common office items. Then we ordered the same six items from OfficeMax OnLine.

Old way: 45 minutes

New way: 10 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

MESSAGE IN

A BOX: PDAs

“A Newton gives you about 40 percent of a notebook’s power–and it fits in your pocket.’

–John Schettino

Freelance writer John Schettino never goes anywhere without his Newton MessagePad 120 (Apple Computer, 800-767-2775). In fact, his affection for the Newtons led him to coauthor Basic for the Newton and nab a contributing editor position at PDA Developers Magazine.

During his career, Schettino has used Day-Timer calendars with limited success. “As a writer, I like to be able to capture ideas on the spur of the moment. Whenever I use a Day-Timer, I know I’ve written it down, but I can’t remember where. With my Newton, I can search my database for things I’ve stored, and I don’t need excessive details–a word or name is all I need to find it.”

Schettino relies on the Newton’s system of alarms so he never forgets appointments, and he uses the PDA to schedule meetings on the fly. For him, a PDA is an effective mix of power and portability, making it a perfect traveling companion. “A Newton gives you about 40 percent of a notebook’s power, plus fax and e-mail capabilities, and it still fits in your pocket,” he explains.

Old Way: Search through piles of paper on desk to locate proposal for new story idea; create alphabetized database of appropriate publishing contacts; total, I hour. New Way: Input keyword “brilliant idea” into Apple’s Newton PDA; cut and paste names and addresses of publishing contacts from your computer’s PIM, 10 minutes. Time saved: 50 minutes.

–B.G.

FORGO TRIPS FOR PAPER CLIPS

Order supplies online instead of

going to the store.

Proponents of the virtual marketplace tout the convenience of shopping online versus fighting traffic and surly salespeople. Although you can’t try on a new outfit while sitting at your PC, there’s no reason you shouldn’t shop in cyberspace for such staples as, well, staples.

If you subscribe to America Online or have access to the World Wide Web, you can browse the shelves of OfficeMax OnLine (http://www.officemax.com) and order whatever supplies you need–at any time of the day or night. Instead of wandering endless aisles in search of bulletin boards, copy paper, and ink-jet cartridges, then standing in line and getting home, you can use its Product Search tool to toss exactly what you need into your virtual shopping cart.

Of course, you’ll have to wait a few days for the supplies to reach your doorstep, and you’ll pay a couple bucks extra for shipping. But the time saved is well worth planning a few days ahead.

JUST YOUR TYPE

Use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert physical documents to computer text instead of retyping them.

The technology behind OCR may not be perfect (even the best programs fall short of 100 percent accuracy), but it’s still significantly faster than typing. Even if you type 60 words per minute, you can save gobs of time by letting the computer take the reins.

Suppose a client faxes you a 1 O-page document that you need to revise and fax back. You can spend over an hour typing it into your word processor, or you can import it into a program such as Caere’s OmniPage Pro. In both cases, you’ll have to spot-edit the document for mistakes, but you’ll get to that step a lot quicker with OmniPage. (You can also use a scanner to import documents for OCR.)

For this test, we typed a 10-page document into a word processor (at about 60wpm). We then converted that same document using OmniPage.

Old way: 8 minutes per page x 10 pages = 80 minutes

New way: 10 pages via OCR, 5 minutes

Time saved: 75 minutes

ALWAYS JUST A BEEP AWAY

-Having both [a pager and e-mail] keeps me within reach of my customers.”

–Joanne Mitchell

Joanne Mitchell used to manage calls to her medical billing and training business with voice mail, but she was frustrated with the number of messages she received while she was away from the office. To help maintain her hands-on reputation with her Pacific Medical clients, Mitchell bought an alphanumeric pager, and she’s barely taken it off since.

At a rate of about $20 per month, Mitchell’s alphanumeric pager from Motorola (800-548-9954, http://www.motorola.com) is more expensive than voice mail, but it has brought her tremendous freedom and peace of mind. “It lets me take important calls and make decisions while I’m away from the office, and it helps me fulfill the commitment to my trainees of always being available,” she says.

In addition to keeping her customer service level high, Mitchell says her pager “helps project a big-business image to new and established clients.” Though she wears her pager everywhere (even when she’s in the office), Mitchell doesn’t think she could completely give up voice mail. “I would never be comfortable letting my pager simply shuttle messages to me, but having both always keeps me within reach of my customers.”

Old Way: Listen to and save, delete, or forward 35 voice-mail messages (I.5 minutes per message) left over a two-day absence from the office; write down names and numbers of eight calls to return immediately; return/leave voice-mail messages for the eight calls (average call, 5 minutes); total, 92.5 minutes. New Way: Call in response to 8 out of 35 pages received over a two-day period (approximately 7 minutes per call), 56 minutes. Time saved: 36.5 minutes.

–B.G.

FIND GOVERNMENT STATS–STAT!

Look up information online instead of visiting the library,

Looking for the latest tax information as it pertains to small business? You can spend hours combing the stacks of your local library or hop into cyberspace for up-to-the-minute data directly from the IRS. The agency’s surprisingly stylish Web site (http://www.irs. ustreas.gov/prod/) offers forms, information, and even humor.

Old way: Take a trip to the library 60 minutes

New way: Peruse the IRS’s Web site, 10 minutes

Time saved: 50 minutes

ONLINE VS. ON HOLD

Get technical support electronically rather than by phone.

For most of us, technical support is a necessary evil, like root canals and Schedule Cs. Waiting on hold for 20 minutes while Barry Manilow burbles in our ear is not our idea of time well spent. But when your PC starts to act like HAL 9000, what else can you do?

Send an e-mail or post a message to an online bulletin board. Virtually all computer companies now offer these electronic solutions as alternatives to phone support. Unless your problem requires immediate attention (Windows won’t load, your CD-ROM drive is smoking, and so on), you can fire off a quick note to the company, then check back the next day for the response. If the company has a message area on America Online or CompuServe, you can peruse the postings to see if anyone else has experienced your problem–and find out what the solution is.

We called the technical support lines of five major computer companies and waited on hold for an average of 17 minutes. We also sent e-mail or posted messages online. In every case of the latter, we received a response within 24 hours.

Old way: 17 minutes on hold

New way: 2 minutes to send/post a message + 2 minutes to check the response = 4 minutes

Time saved: 13 minutes

PICK UP THE PACE OF BACKUPS

Use a tape drive rather than floppies to

back up your hard drive.

Sometimes the truth hurts, but this is for your own good. If you’re using floppy disks to safeguard your data, you’re not only wasting mountains of time, you’re clinging to your checkbook a little too tightly. A large-capacity tape backup drive can be yours for as little as $150, and it’ll increase your peace of mind at the same time that it frees up your schedule.

The backup utility included with Windows 95 allows you to archive your data on floppy disks–provided you’re willing to sit there and swap them. Backing up an entire hard drive this way is just plain silly. But even if you’re archiving just 30MB of vital data, the floppy-swap system is a poor choice.

Using a tape drive doesn’t necessarily complete the process much faster, but it has one distinct advantage: You can start the backup at night, and it’ll be done in the morning. Because the tape backup drive requires no supervision, you need only spend the time it takes to select which files to back up.

Old way: 30MB archived on floppies, 30 minutes

New way: Entire hard drive archived on tape, 5 minutes (setup time)

Time saved: 25 minutes

THE NET RESULT

“There’s no excuse not to have a network.”

–Charlie McGrath

Charlie McGrath’s business, Gyre Media, creates multimedia presentations. His colleagues often exchange work on floppy disks, but in his opinion, “a sneakernet is just not feasible for a multimedia design business. You’d go crazy!”

McGrath decided he needed a network “the first time I realized how long it would take to shuttle 40MB files on floppies.” Setting up a network with three Macintosh computers wasn’t much of a challenge. “Because of built-in Ethernet capabilities, networking Macs is a no-brainer,” he says. “It’s so simple that even if you rarely use it, its worth the extra effort.”

“There’s no doubt that PCs are much more costly and difficult to network,” says McGrath, but he maintains that given the time you spend doing multiple file transfers as well as the cost of investing in a ZIP drive or tons of floppies, you could easily justify the expense. “There’s no excuse not to have a network.”

Old Way: Download a 40MB file from a 100MHz Pentium system with 16MB RAM to 29 floppy disks, 30 minutes; upload it to another system with same configuration, 30 minutes; total, 1 hour.

New Way: Send 40MB file via an Ethernet network, 5 minutes.

Time saved: 55 minutes.

–B.G.

ADMIRE YOUR FORM

Fill out forms electronically rather than by hand.

Forms–they’re everywhere. Between the surveys, invoices, fax covers, and order forms, you can spend hours every week just filling in the blanks. But if you have a scanner, you can use software such as Caere’s OmniForm (Caere’s Web site is http://www. caere.com) to complete forms on your PC. Just scan the form in once, and OmniForm will create tabbed fields where you need to type the necessary information. Once that’s complete, you can fax, print, or file the form.

The number and complexity of the forms you encounter will determine the time you can save with this method. We calculated the savings based on 10 forms per week. Each of our samples was a different length, ranging from half a page to five pages.

Old way: 10 forms filled in by hand, 55 minutes

New way: 10 forms completed in OmniForm, 20 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

YOUR PC: BUILT FOR SPEED

Tune your system for higher performance.

Here’s a list of ways you can rev up that monster on your desk.

* Give the 14.4Kbps modem the boot and buy a 28.8Kbps modem for under $200.

* Add eight more megabytes of RAM to your system. Available now for as little as $90, it will make your applications run faster.

* Put your most used applications onto your desktop start-up group so it immediately launches programs when you turn on your PC.

* Upgrade your 486 or lower-speed Pentium to a Pentium with an Intel Pentium overdrive processor. Intel is now selling Pentium CPU upgrades for 486-based systems (prices range from $159 to $219). Upgrades to 120- and 133MHz from 60- and 75MHz systems, respectively, cost $299. At press time, upgrading your system to 166MHz from 100MHz costs $679.

* Create macros in your word processor using Microsoft Word’s AutoText Feature and instantly add a logo, salutation, or closing with a keystroke.

* Design a template with your business letterhead. If you have a scanner, or access to one, scan in your signature and save it onto the template as a bitmap file. You’re now equipped to bypass your printer and fax machines and fax signed documents directly from your PC.

Time saved: 71.5 minutes

COLOR ME PROFITABLE

“Most clients like the color, and it helps me sell my work.”

– Julia Tavis

After growing fired of paying $16 per page for color proofs at a local service bureau, Julia Tavis bought an HP DeskJet 855C for her home-based multimedia and graphic design business, Got-A-Vision Graphics. Now the money she used to spend at the service bureau “goes fight into my pocket.”

Tavis’s HP printer has 720dpi resolution and super color reproduction, making it perfect for creating spot-color proofs and mock-ups of her designs. “My clients want an idea of what their finished jobs will look like,” says Tavis, “and it’s easy for them to picture the project if I use my printer. Most clients like the color, and it helps me sell my work.”

Along with ditching high service-bureau costs, Tavis was pleased to feel more in control of the final product and to eliminate the time she had spent “preflighting” each job. “Running to the local printer meant lots of time worrying about getting them everything to complete the job. The time and money you spend preflighting, driving, and waiting in line,” says Tavis “will quickly pay for the cost of a printer. And you won’t have such high prices to pass along to your clients.”

Old Way: Drive to service bureau and park; give printer job mock-up with instructions; wait in pick-up and cashier lines; drive home; total, 1 hour, 25 minutes. New Way: Print 30 copies of new brochure on one-page-per-minute color ink-jet printer, 30 minutes. Time saved: 55 minutes.

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