Email drives business communication. Sometimes, however, email just doesn't provide enough immediacy to get the job done. In many situations, there is no substitute for live communication.
But with clients and collaborators all over the world, it's important to find ways to communicate live as a group without losing money to global business travel, not to mention the need to reduce our carbon footprints. Conference calling is the cost-effective - and green - solution to making those live connections. The Internet comes to the rescue by providing some affordable choices for conferencing.
There are several services available that offer free and low cost communication solutions to help solve your collaboration conundrums. InstantConference.com and FreeConference.com are two that immediately come to mind.
Simply go to the site, and you can sign up for conference calling on the spot. You'll be issued a dedicated phone number and access code(s) for use by call participants. Unless you choose to foot the bill by choosing a plan that issues you a low-cost (800) number, remember that in most cases those calling in to the conference call are charged applicable toll charges.
Most companies are quite clear about the features of their plans so it's important that you know your needs based on these variables in order to choose the right fit for your business:
Number of callers per call
Number of hours of conferencing available
Whether calls need to be scheduled ahead of time or can be spontaneous
Availability of a post-conference summary
Unless you require more specialized features, most any low-cost conference call company can satisfy your needs at a pain-free price. Most plans offer low-cost upgrades if your needs should exceed those offered in their free plans.
When Leisa Watkins, creator of WealthWisdomAndSuccess.com went in search of a way to conduct conference calls for her business, she had very specific criteria in mind. In addition to the variables already mentioned, Leisa considered some other factors unique to her needs.
Because Leisa's site provides interviews as audio content, she needed to be able to record and download the conference call content. Conference calling services often can be used to record content and will convert the recordings into MP3 files for your online archive.
When Leisa selected a company to help her make conference calls, she chose one with both an online interface and the ability to manage the call via telephone should she be away from her computer. While you may not use conference calls to create audio recordings like Leisa, her experience at being at the helm of these calls has provided her with some insight that may benefit you as you navigate the different options offered
Leisa's conference call management system gives her the ability to:
Easily see who is on the call
Start and stop recording with the click of a button
Lock the call so no one else can enter it
Be notified when participants have questions
Associate a name with each participant's phone number
Call out to individual participants during online meetings
Whether your needs are simple and straightforward or a little more specific like Leisa's, it's easy to find a company and a plan to suit your needs. Conference calls provide that extra level of detail for your communications giving you a platform for immediate feedback, team collaboration and the ability to more clearly express ideas. You can easily have a virtual meeting without the cost of a business trip! Put technology on your side to connect with your team and your clients.
As larger businesses downsize during times of economic uncertainty and recession, many Americans turn to entrepreneurship to make a living, launching new enterprises and creating jobs. It's a daunting undertaking even when the resources you need to get your business up and running are available to you.
Unfortunately, not all emerging entrepreneurs - especially women, minorities, and those in rural and lower-income communities - have equal access to the business development services, expertise, and connections they need in order to grow a successful business. This disadvantage is being addressed by a program called MicroMentor.
MicroMentor is a free online service that connects small business owners with business mentors. It operates under the auspices of Mercy Corps, a global organization dedicated to helping people build secure, productive and just communities the world over.
The MicroMentor program grew out of a major study conducted by the FIELD program at the Aspen Institute, the preeminent research organization for microenterprise development in the U.S. This study found that one-on-one mentoring assistance was unavailabe for lower-income entrepreneurs trying to grow their businesses beyond the start-up phase and avoid business failure. MicroMentor provides a national network of business mentors to businesses that otherwise could not afford this effective yet costly benefit to their business development strategy.
The program helps entrepreneurs overcome the major business growth challenges of isolation, knowledge gaps, and lack of access to industry insiders and entrepreneur networks by:
Providing Business Mentoring & Advising. Utilizing a web application and an automated matching system, MicroMentor rapidly and efficiently connects thousands of entrepreneurs with experienced business mentors and peer advisers, delivering high-impact business development services at a very low cost per client.
Engaging Skilled Business Volunteers. MicroMentor puts experience to work by providing business professionals and corporate employees with convenient and meaningful opportunities to volunteer their professional skills and have a direct, positive impact on entrepreneurs. Volunteers are matched with the entrepreneurs with whom their skills will prove most useful.
Building the Capacity of Local Business Development Programs. MicroMentor helps local microenterprise and small business development programs to efficiently provide mentoring and advising to their clients and to work more effectively with volunteers, enabling them to expand their services and decrease their costs.
MicroMentor is available to all entrepreneurs, including those who haven’t yet embarked upon their business venture, however, if you are a ground-floor entrepreneur, you should still have a clear idea of the business you want to create and a specific goal for your mentoring relationship such as creating a business plan. Additionally, the program provides anyone interested in expanding their existing business. In either case, the process of getting started in the MicroMentor program is the same three-step process:
An entrepreneur signs up and describes their business and their challenges;
Mentors use the search tools to find targeted prospective matches and send an offer to help; and
The entrepreneur accepts their best-fit offer and the match begin.
MicroMentor currently matches over 1,350 entrepreneurs with 1,000 mentors nationally, with participants in 48 states.
How effective is this program?
MicroMentor reports their clients experience increases in annual business sales of $15,500, or 63% and increases in annual household income of $20,000, or 50%. Most impressive is the 74% business survival rate. These statistics suggest that mentoring can benefit businesses of all sizes.
Encouraging the development of small and growing businesses is a key component of economic development and job generation, from the local community to the world at large. Whether you take advantage of the opportunities this program provides to grow your business or to give of your experience as a volunteer mentor, MicroMentor is a boon for both the disadvantaged entrepreneur and the economic system as a whole.
Is it a scary time to be in business? Businesses seem to be failing left and right due to the down eceonomy and those that have managed to survive are reporting record losses. You can use all the seasoned financial advice you can get. While it may sometimes seem as if your financial circumstances are beyond your control, accountant Heather Villa, CEO of IAC-EZ, has some good news: There are some actions you can take to help keep afloat in these stormy economic seas.
Here are some well-considered tips from Heather:
With tax time upon us, make sure you don’t miss any deductions. For example, many people who are paying off student loans are unaware they can deduct all or part of the interest if their earnings were less than $70,000. Did you know that you can claim deductions on medical supplies that are advised by doctors but not prescribed -- and transportation costs incurred due to medical care. You may be able to deduct subscriptions to professional journals, your personal computer or cell phone if required for business-use. But make sure to check with an accountant because job-related deductions can be tricky.
If you own your own business and it suffered financial losses last year, be aware that this will reduce both your business and personal taxable income. Make sure to have your year-end statements from investment brokers that clearly reflect this loss. And if your business is showing a net operating loss, you should carry it forward to next year’s taxes.
With many predicting sharp increases in credit card rates due to the ongoing economic crisis, it’s a good idea to start paying down any credit cards ASAP. But have a plan. Pay down credit cards with the highest interest rate first. Don’t use your emergency funds or make withdrawals from a tax-advantaged IRA. And don’t actually close down credit card accounts because that can cause serious harm in the long-term by hurting your credit rating.
Recessions can actually be a good time to start new businesses. If you think you have the makings of an entrepreneur, the good news is that the Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC) offers free counseling to help you get started. SBDCs are funded in part by the Small Business Association. Find the nearest SBDC on the web at asbdc-us.org
In tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to keep track of all your expenses, both for having a budget plan and preparing for tax filing. You can pile receipts into shoeboxes or track in handwritten ledgers, but you can also use accounting software to see everything at a glance and produce reports.
So take heart: there are things you can do help your business's bottom line - despite the challenges facing you in the marketplace today. From careful tax preparation to managing debt - this is good advice, especially in this economic climate. Use common sense, extra diligence, wise planning, and the advice of a competent accountant. Remember that the economy has always had its ebbs and flows. Be particularly attentive to your finances to help prevent your business from floundering until the tide comes in again.
Edited: 04/27/2009 at 03:19 PM by womenbizblog Moderator
Let's face it, nobody's perfect. From time to time, we all put our foot in our mouth. Once you've said or done something that offends someone, you can't unring that bell. What's done is done and the only way out of an awkward - and potentially damaging - situation is to apologize in a manner that that satisfies all parties involved. The key is to apologize so that it is a boon to the relationship, not a detriment.
Apologies in the workplace are particularly sensitive issues. In the first place, it may be easier to offend someone at work because the nature of your relationship is more superficial than with friends or family. It's easier in that arena to be unaware that you are saying or doing something offensive. Additionally, hurt feelings may be more difficult to address in the workplace due to the professional nature of relationships and whatever hierarchy exists among coworkers.
According to Steve Adubato, trainer and coach in the areas of communication and leadership skills and author of "What Were They Thinking: The Good, The Bad and The Totally Clueless!" apologizing in the workplace can be effective, if done with these things in mind:
Take full responsibility. Admit that it was your blunder which you now regret. Don't attempt to blame it on the offended party or anyone else.
Apologize in a timely manner. Although it isn't an easy thing to do, procrastinating will only make your apology appear forced and less sincere.
Be specific about what you are sorry for. Apologize for your particular words or actions, not the fact that your coworker was offended by them.
Give a credible apology. Instead of trying to defend your words or actions, apologize sincerely for them. Your ability to offer a credible apology demonstrates to your coworker that you are an honorable person, worthy of his or her respect.
Richard Brenner, a consultant with Chaco Canyon Consulting, whose goal is improving personal and organizational effectiveness suggests we also keep these issues in mind when offering an apology:
Ask for permission. In apologizing you are, in reality, asking for the gift of receiving your apology.
Expect nothing from the recipient of your apology. Your apology must be completely unconditional, lest it be misconstrued as a demand for a reciprocal apology or concession. Even asking for forgiveness can seem like a demand. To quote Mr. Brenner, "Only forgiveness freely given has true meaning."
Acknowledge the pain your words or actions caused. Express your inability to grasp their pain fully rather than disregard their pain by claiming to understand it.
Misunderstanding and offence are sometimes unfortunate realities of interpersonal communications. The ability to act effectively to heal hurt feelings is essential to keeping your professional relationships on track. If you seem insensitive to the feelings of your coworkers, you foster an atmosphere of distrust and disrespect. Obviously this uncomfortable aura will impact negatively on your ability to work together as a team.
You may be able to learn from these situations as well. Dealing effectively with a coworker's hurt feelings may heighten your awareness of the potential for your own words and actions to - even unintentionally - cause another's pain. In the course of your apology, you may be made aware of a blind spot you may have or a certain manner of communication that may lead to hurt feelings. Take any feedback you get from the act of apologizing to heart to grow as an effective communicator. Create an environment where people know their feelings are respected within the team and the team will flourish.