Sunday, June 11, 2000

Distance need not be deal breaker




By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

        A few years ago, I realized that 100 percent of my consulting clients were located out of state, and I live in a big state - California.

        And that was before the Internet. Now, I have employees in Maryland and Oregon, my marketing firm is in Georgia, and I have customers all over the country.

        In today's world, doing business long distance is a critical skill, even for the smallest of enterprises. Clients are increasingly comfortable working with far-distant companies, and if you have a Web site, you have no geographic boundaries.

        It's a lot easier and a whole lot cheaper to work long-distance than it used to be. E-mail not only reduces long-distance phone bills but makes it possible to send documents just about anywhere without costing a cent. With a little planning, you can run an international operation, even from a home office. Here are the essentials:

        • Time differences: One of the most difficult aspects working long distance is juggling time zones. You'll have to make some accommodation — working later on the East Coast, earlier on the West. Here's an important trick: Whenever you leave messages, indicate which time zone you're in, especially if you work from home. Believe me, those 8 a.m. phone calls from New Jersey can be a rude awakening in California.

        • Telephones: It's virtually impossible to do business long distance without using the phone. Even if you're a power e-mail user, actually talking to someone builds relationships and prevents misunderstandings, so don't hesitate to pick up that phone. It pays to be persistent when checking out rate plans from long-distance carriers — we managed to cut our phone bills by a third and get frequent flier mileage. To encourage distant customers, get a toll-free number (800 or 888) from AT&T, which can ring on your regular home or business line.

        • E-mail: This is absolutely essential. E-mail enables you to instantly do business around the world. If you don't have Internet access and e-mail, get it. You can get free Internet service from providers such as Juno (www.juno.com or call for a disk, 888-TRY-JUNO). With the free service, you have to answer a questionnaire and see ads, but it's better than going without e-mail.

        If you travel regularly, even if you already have a local Internet provider, getting a second account with a company like Juno enables you to dial up a local number toll-free when you're out-of-town.

        When doing business on the Internet regularly, you'll experience problems if your Internet service provider doesn't handle attachments well or if your Internet connection is slow or unreliable. So upgrade to a faster connection (DSL or cable modem).

        • Document sharing: It used to be I couldn't live without overnight delivery services, but in the last year, my FedEx bill has plummeted. The Internet has made it easy to send and receive documents, graphics, even presentations instantly and free.

        Problems arise if you and your distant correspondent don't have compatible software. Macintosh users often forget to save documents in formats that can be read by Microsoft products, and Microsoft regularly and irritatingly makes its products increasingly less compatible, not only with other software but with earlier versions of its own software. So try sending and opening attachments in different formats long before you're on deadline.

        If you're a bit more technically proficient than average, you can put illustrations, presentations, text, etc., on your Web site in a password-protected area for you and your clients to access. This makes it possible to retrieve from any Internet connection, and there are no compatibility problems.

        • Face time: Wonder why all those airplanes are still full in this Internet age? Because nothing beats getting to know someone face-to-face. If you can, always meet your major customers and suppliers in person. For ongoing relationships, especially with remotely located employees or subcontractors, set up regular travel times to work together; I recommend no less than once a quarter. Face time really makes a difference.

        The world really has become a much smaller place for business. If you have a specialty, whether a service or a product, you can reach out to a much larger market than you ever could before. So get connected and stay in touch.         Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies. To get free business tips, register at www.RhondaOnline.com or write Rhonda at 555 Bryant St., No.180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

       



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- Distance need not be deal breaker