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Businesses have enough to contend with without compounding problems with inefficient online practices. Here’s some solutions. PAUL WALLBANK

Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

By Paul Wallbank

Last week I was in the central west of New South Wales giving a NSW Small Business Month talk on internet marketing.

During the lunch break one of the participants, a manager for a building supply company, was telling me about the problems she was having making sales.

The main problem was her products were higher quality and more expensive than the competition. She also found her sales staff were slow getting quotes and marketing information back to prospective buyers because of their large territories.

All of this was compounded by the owners’ reluctance to invest any money on IT and internet connections– which made remote access, a topic we’re discussing this week in a SmartCompany webinar on Thursday, a little difficult.

The afternoon session on web 2.0 tools was a good opportunity to give some thought on how a business in this position can use free and cheap tools on the net to overcome a lot of these problems while not breaking any budgets.

So here’s a few ideas that might help your business as well.

1. Get mobile data packs. To overcome the tyranny of distance, connect the salespeople’s laptops to mobile internet. That way they can get information back to the office before they have even left the client’s site. I discussed these plans in a previous blog.

2. Put estimating documents online. Both Google and Zoho offer online spreadsheets and word processors. The sales people can enter the information online and the estimators can then access the completed documents from the office.

3. Start a blog. Overcome the resistance to price by showing your commitment to service. Describe how your product helped customers; how the sales team helped a builder out of problem or an architect come under budget. Emphasise the value and why buying solely on price can be false economy.

4. Use streaming media like YouTube to help tell your story. You don’t need high production qualities, just passion and a clear story will tell the tale. Show off the projects you’re proud off and the reasons why your product is such high quality and value for money.

5. Put photos online. Services like Flickr! and Picasa can also be a display cabinet of your successes. Privately sharing photos can also help with preparing reports, progress claims and estimates.

On this final point, a building inspection company I know of uses Flickr! to save inspection photos online, which means the inspectors don’t have to head back to the office to download photos from their cameras and prepare reports.

This has cut turnaround times from two weeks to four days. It also means the building inspectors (a grumpy bunch at the best of times) spend less time in the office and clock up more billable hours.

These are just a few ideas on how a business can use free or cheap web 2.0 tools to improve marketing or productivity. The go2web20 website has a list of over 2700 sites with thousands of services that might help yours.

A note too about local Business Enterprise Centres. I was a guest of Bruce Buchanan and his team at the Orange BEC which is, like all the BECs, a terrific resource for both big and small businesses.

If you are looking at setting up a business or struggling with the challenges of running one, you should have a chat with your local Business Enterprise Centre.


Paul Wallbank is Australia’s most heard computer commentator with his regular computer advice spots on ABC Radio. He’s written five computer books and just finished the latest Australian adaptation of Internet for Dummies. Paul founded and built up a national IT support company, PC Rescue and has a free help website at IT Queries. Today he spends most of his time consulting and advising community and business groups on getting the most from their technology.

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