Because of the Internet and the opportunities it affords, this is a fantastic time to be an entrepreneur. But equally, it is a challenging time to be an entrepreneur too. It is a time when technology makes owning a business easier than ever and a time when keeping up with technology can make it harder than ever.
It is a tale of two businesses.
1. The Good News
Consider the good news first: We are living in what is, undoubtedly, the golden age of small business. Not long ago, the opposite was true. President Calvin Coolidge famously said that, “the chief business of the American people is business,” referring to the corporate tycoons of the time like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt and huge businesses like Standard Oil and General Motors. And up until approximately the 1980s, big business was indeed king.
But not so today. Today, the chief business of America is small business. Aside from the fact that 99 percent of all U.S. businesses are now small businesses, three different and important factors have combined to make this so:
- Technology: Whether it is powerful software that allows you to more easily run your business or instant communications through email and texting, technology has transformed small business. Easy and affordable phone systems put you in control of your customers’ experience, and the Internet, e-commerce, social media and websites allow small businesses to look big and be global.
- Attitudes: In the past, being a CEO was the brass ring of business, today it is the entrepreneur who is the business rock star. Starting and running a business, especially a small, entrepreneurial business, is where the action is.
- Assistance: Previously, small business people were essentially on their own. No longer. Today, there is an abundance of help and tools available to make the entrepreneurial journey a sweet and profitable one. Organizations like SCORE and the U.S. Small Business Administration, as well as corporations like AT&T that make smart, powerful products designed specifically for the small business market, combine to offer small business people more help than they have ever before had.
2. The Bad News
The flip side of the coin is that there have never been more distractions and more demands on the time of the small business owner than there are today. You know the drill: Smartphones that seemingly demand constant attention, social media sites that are supposed to make you more connected but seem to only connect you longer to your computer, plus the ability to work anywhere, anytime (and doing so). It all adds up to too many people working too much, too hard, and often feeling too overwhelmed.
In addition, because of the Internet and its place in our lives, many people today are experiencing business to be impersonal and distant. This cannot be emphasized enough. Email is an inherently impersonal mode of communication. So too is texting. And yet those are the two main ways most business people connect these days.
The result of all of this is two-fold:
- First, in this era of high-tech, interactions are becoming too digital. Business is all about relationships. But what happens when people lose touch because they are spending their time emailing, texting or multi-tasking instead of talking? Relationships suffer and business becomes more and more impersonal.
- Second, when one relies too heavily on email, mistakes are made. These are mistakes that, frankly, never happened before the e-age. Who hasn’t mistakenly hit “reply all”? Who hasn't had an email communication get lost or become a miscommunication?
So the question is, how do you continue to tap into the promise of the digital age without getting lost, losing contact, or making too many mistakes?
The answer is, pick up the phone.
3. The Solution
Want to stand out from the crowd, get noticed, and create rapport with your customers and vendors? Want people to think you are attentive, go the extra mile, and appreciate them and their business?
Pick up the phone.
When you pick up the phone and take the time to give someone a call, instead of just shooting off another email, you are communicating several very important messages:
- That you care enough to get things right
- That you respect his or her time and don't want to waste it
- That you know that nothing beats good, old-fashioned, one-on-one communication – not the Internet, not your iPad, not a text . . . nothing
When you take the time and make the effort to call someone, it harkens back to an earlier time when people were not so busy, when they took the time to get to know their customers beyond the superficial. Speaking with someone allows you to create a rapport that simply cannot be had any other way, save for meeting face-to-face. When you speak with someone, you can share stories, crack a joke, ask questions and listen to the answers; basically, do all of the things that people like and appreciate and which can set you apart.
It may seem strange that using the phone as a tool for good business burnishes you as someone respectful, committed, productive and resourceful, but it does. Far too often in this e-age, people rely on the Internet and email to communicate for all of the wrong reasons: speed, ease and common practice. But often the opposite is true. Think of a chain of emails that wastes time. Or the lack of nuance. Online communication can too easily be a miscommunication tool, rather than a communication tool.
Again, the answer is as simple as it is powerful: Get on the phone. But remember that you also must answer calls and have a robust voicemail system. People who call you will feel confident that even if they don’t get you on the phone, their calls are important and will be returned promptly.
So the final piece of the puzzle is this: What phone system allows you to most easily and affordably do this best?
4. The Phone System
What you want when you pick a phone system are two things:
- A manufacturer with a solid telephony history/background
- An actual system that is affordable, easy to install and replete with features
Given that, it makes sense that three different small business telephone systems from AT&T SMB Telephony would be at the top of your list:
1. SynJ: With the SynJ cordless system, your employees can work here or there. It is perfect for warehouses and distribution centers, car sales and rental lots, nurseries and other businesses where mobility is key. In fact, cordless mobility can be extended for up to a half a mile with repeaters. The SynJ also offers up to four lines and 11 users.
2. Syn248: The Syn248 is a do-it-yourself, plug-and-play system that is just right for many small businesses. With built-in voicemail and dual-mode auto attendant to ensure that all calls are handled right the first time, the Syn248 supports up to 24 extensions and eight lines, so that you have enough phone capacity for today and tomorrow.
3. Synapse: A great system for growing businesses, the Synapse offers big-business features at small-business prices. Want to make sure you never miss a lead? Then you will love the voicemail-to-email option that Synapse offers. With automatic attendants, advanced call handling and built-in voicemail, the Synapse also supports up to 100 users, PBX functionality, remote office support, IP services and more.
The bottom line is this: At a time when more and more people are moving their business and communications online, for good and ill, you can set yourself apart. You can forge personal connections, strengthen your operations, increase your productivity and improve customer satisfaction by getting and using a robust phone system.
That it is easy and affordable to do so makes this one of the savviest business moves you can make.