Small Home-Office
As you know, staying in touch with your customers is the key to being successful in business. If you can't always be in the office to answer calls, you probably have a voice mail system or an answering machine in the office. To make this communication system as professional as possible, here are some tips: - Make it a habit of recording a new greeting each day that includes the day of the week and the date. - If you're going to be out of the office for any length of time, include the date of your return in the message so that the caller knows when to expect your return call. - Request that the caller let you know when is the best time for you to return the call. - If you're using an answering machine, invest in a system that records the date and time of each call and plays that information back as you listen to your messages.
Do you bill your clients by the hour for work you do on your computer? Maybe you just need to monitor the amount of time spent on different projects. If so, you need a reliable way to keep track of your time. Fortunately, there's a shareware program called CompWatch, which is available from PC World's shareware database, that does just that. BARGAIN HOTEL ROOMS Does your business require that you travel out of town frequently? If so, you can save money on hotel rooms by working with hotel brokers. Hotel brokers usually specialize in particular cities and help hotels book unused rooms. To find a local hotel broker, look in the travel section of your local newspaper. You can also contact the Hotel Reservations Network at 800/964-6835 or In addition, you can contact Quikbook at 800/789-9887 or WHAT'S IN A NAME? If you're getting ready to start a small business and are in the process of developing a name for your business, begin by making a list of all the services and benefits your business will offer its customers. Create a second list of all the things you want your customers to expect from your business. Then, as you think of business names, you can refer to these lists to help you come up with a name that reflects what your business is all about. Here are some other tips: - Try to come up with a name that inspires confidence. - Try to come up with a name that will still be appropriate for your business as it grows. - Avoid names that are too short to make sense or too long to remember. - Stay away from names that are difficult to spell or pronounce. GENTLY USED SOFTWARE If you run a small business with a limited software budget, here's something to keep in mind: Most people only use 20 percent or less of all the features in a given software package. As such, chances are that you don't really need to purchase the newest software package on the block to get your job done. If you prefer commercial software to shareware, you can save money by buying last year's software packages from your local computer store, local computer swap meets, or a direct market catalog company such as Damark (call 800/729-9000 to ask about a specific product or to order a catalog). There is even a new national franchise of software stores called Cyber Exchange that specializes in buying, selling, and trading new and used software and hardware. To learn more about Cyber Exchange and to find the store closest to you, check out its Web site at THE ART OF DELEGATION If the home business that you started in your basement has grown to small-business proportions and you now have several employees working for you, you may need to delegate certain tasks so that you can focus your attention on other matters. The problem is that letting go of things that YOU'VE always done isn't easy--especially when you've built the business with your own sweat and tears. However, if know how to delegate tasks properly, both you and your employees will be happier. Before you assign a task to someone, take time to evaluate exactly what it is you want them to do. Then, put the task in writing making sure that you provide specific deadlines. By doing so, your employees are sure to know what they need to do and you won't feel the need to check up on them constantly. WHAT THE HECK, CALL THEM FOR A CHANGE As you probably know, long-distance carriers, such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint frequently develop new long-distance plans to stay ahead of the competition. If your small business requires that you make a lot of long distance calls, you can save money on your long-distance charges by regularly calling your carrier and asking if you're currently using the company's best plan. Better yet, call them at home--during dinner. AUTO MILEAGE ALLOWANCE INCREASE When you're keeping track of your car travel, keep in mind that the IRS increased the Auto Mileage Allowance for business travel from 31.5 cents per mile in 1997 to 32.5 cents per mile in 1998. RETURNING CALLS WITH STYLE If you receive voice mail from a potential client who leaves his or her name, area code and phone number, knowing what state they're calling from and what time it is there, before you return the call can be helpful. If you know the state, you may be able to work that information into the conversation, get the client talking about something they're familiar with, and in the process build a better relationship with the client. Also, knowing what time it is where the person is calling from helps you plan the best time to return the call. To help you achieve this, you can download a shareware program called AreaTime from PC World's shareware database. Once you download and install the program, all you have to do is type in the area code, and AreaTime will tell you the local time for that area code and the state where it's located. STICKY-NOTE TASKS If you have trouble getting all of your tasks accomplished, here's a trick to make your tasks easier to organize. Place a medium-sized bulletin board on the wall as close to your desk as possible. Using a black magic marker, divide the bulletin board into four quadrants. Now, number each quadrant starting with the top-left quadrant. Once you've done so, grab a stack of sticky notes and write each of your tasks on individual sticky notes. At this point, place each sticky note on the bulletin board in the appropriate quadrant. Quadrant one is for your most pressing tasks, quadrant 2 is for your next most pressing tasks, quadrant 3 is for things that just need to get done sometime, and quadrant 4 is for things you'd like to do if you had the time. As new tasks cross your path, write them on sticky notes and place them in the appropriate quadrant. When you complete a task, take the sticky note off the board, mark it as completed, date it, and file it away for your records. Once you complete all the tasks in quadrant 1, you can move tasks from quadrant 2 to 1 and so on. With this kind of visual arrangement, you'll find that you're able to get through your tasks more efficiently. And before you know it, you'll be doing the tasks that you'd like to do if you had the time. MOTIVATION TECHNIQUES When you run a home-based business, inevitably there are going to be days when you have a hard time getting motivated. Fortunately, there is a book that can help you to find motivation on those days when you least feel like it. Called 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, this 192-page book provides you with advice for breaking the habits that send you into the funk in the first place and shows you interesting techniques to get motivated to meet your goals. This $16 book is written by motivational speaker Steve Chandler and is available from at LOOKING AT BUSINESS LOANS At one time or another, most small business owners think about applying for a business loan from a bank. As such, you should be aware that applying for commercial credit is actually more of a custom-tailored process than getting consumer credit. (However, keep in mind that it does require a lot more preparation.) Banks usually offer several types of business loans: Short-term loans: Short-term loans usually last less than a year and are probably the most common types of business loans. This type of loan is designed to provide you with working capital when your business is in need of quick cash. For example, you happen upon a truckload sale of widgetsat a great price. You would then repay the short-term loan in one payment once you sell all the widgets. Intermediate-term loans: Intermediate-term loans usually last for one to three years and are used for startup costs, purchasing new equipment, expansion, or working capital. You repay intermediate-term loans in either monthly or quarterly installments. Long-term loans: Long-term loans usually last one to five years and are frequently based on the life of the asset being financed. This type of loan is designed to fund major capital improvements, startups, or acquiring major fixed assets. You repay long-term loans in either monthly or quarterly installments. A line of credit: A line of credit is a special type of loan that allows you to borrow repeatedly without having to reapply for approval each time. This type of financial setup can be a great asset to a business owner. You repay long-term loans in either monthly or quarterly installments. When considering one of these types of business loans, be sure to shop around, as the banking industry is highly competitive these days. A HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION If you run a home-based business, you may be able to deduct your home office on your income taxes. However, keep in mind that the IRS only allows deductions for home offices when the office is the main place of business for your trade or occupation, or as a place where you meet with your customers. In both cases, your home office must be used on a regular and exclusive basis. A home office that is used for both business and personal purposes won't qualify for a deduction. For more detailed information on whether you can deduct your home office, investigate Publication 587: Business Use of Your Home. You can read this document on the IRS Web site at BUSINESS LETTERS Writing business letters can sometimes be a difficult undertaking. You want to sound professional, yet you don't want to come off as being stuffy, either. Rather than having to reinvent the wheel each time you need to write a business letter, wouldn't it be nice to be able to select an example letter from a collection of common business letters and modify it to your situation? Fortunately, you can download such a collection from PC World's shareware database. Check it out at GET FEDERAL ASSISTANCE FROM SBDC If you're a small business owner, you may be eligible for federal assistance from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program. An offshoot of the Small Business Administration, the SBDC was established in 1977 to make assistance and counseling widely available to present and prospective small business owners. Today the organization has a national budget of more than $60 million, and there are more than 950 offices nationwide. Basically, the SBDC makes highly specialized and very expensive services available to small businesses at a reasonable cost. These services include such things as assisting small businesses with financial, marketing, production, organization, engineering and technical problems, and even feasibility studies. For more information about SBDCs, contact your local Small Business Administration office or investigate the Small Business Administration Web site at BETTER BUSINESS PLANS As you may know, a good business plan is the foundation on which a great business is built. To get a good start on writing your business plan, you should investigate Energeia Publishing's booklet, Writing the Business Plan. This 12-page booklet, which sells for a mere $3, will provide you with the basics for describing your products or services in a business plan. For more information on the booklet, you can contact Energeia at 800/639-6048 or visit its Web site at Energeia publishes a whole series of booklets that small and home-based business owners may find useful. Be sure to check out the company's catalog of titles. IT KEEPS GOING AND GOING AND GOING . . . If you dial up the Internet or AOL at 28.8 kbps--heck, at any dial-up speed--you almost certainly run into the occasional traffic jam. Your browser's pulsating thingy just pulses away while the page loads at a snail's pace or not at all. Often, that slowdown is simply Internet congestion at peak hours. However, sometimes you've simply got a noisy connection to your ISP or AOL. Phone line noise will slow a data connection to a crawl. When this happens, don't just sit there waiting minute after minute for the page to load. Instead, try disconnecting and redialing. Chances are you'll get a better connection on the next try, and that page will load right away. When you consider that it takes only a few seconds to hang up and redial, it's probably a speedier solution. Especially for you Type-A people (and you know who you are). SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION DISTRICT OFFICES Have you checked into the Small Business Administration's district office in your area? The Local Information page on the SBA's Web site, at can hook you up with your local office. The page provides a map of the United States. Just click on your state to get a page of links to your district office. Besides the contact info for your local office, you'll also find information about training courses, special local events, small business development and investment, export assistance, and other information specific to your state. MAYBE THEY NEED A CUTE MASCOT Search engines: You've seen one, you've seen them all, right? They've got catchy names, they return a zillion unorganized results, and it takes forever to sort through the stuff they present. Well here's a search engine worth checking out: Inference Find. Not only does it organize results in a tidy manner (according to commercial sites, educational sites, government sites, and so on), but it also doesn't have a goofy name. Well, maybe it's not the best name in the world, but at least it doesn't sound like one of the seven dwarfs. Best of all, it's lightening fast. Inference Find searches several of those search engines with the catchy names, then returns results in as few as seven seconds. You'll find Inference Find at NOT ALL ISPS ARE CREATED EQUAL Are you getting the best possible deal and the best possible offerings from your Internet Service Provider? OK, maybe you're stuck with your current provider because he's your brother-in-law, but you want to have a second one ready in case you can't get out via his service. Why not check out the PC World ISP Finder? Just type in your area code, and the Finder will return a chart of ISPs in your area, including contact information, pricing, and a description of the services the ISPs offer. At a glance, you can tell just how good your brother-in-law's deal is. You'll find the ISP Finder at

BUSINESS CARD SAVVY If you have your own business, chances are that your business card contains your title along with all the other pertinent information. If your title is president or CEO, it can work against you in certain situations. You should actually have two business cards: one with your title and one without. Here's why: Suppose that you're making a sales call, and the person you're dealing with is in lower or middle management in a small company. If you hand that person a card with a grand-sounding title such as president or CEO, chances are that the prospective client is going to view you as a big shot and may feel intimidated. In this situation, a card without a title may make the deal move more smoothly. On the other hand, when your prospective client works for a big company where organizational charts are very important, handing out a card with a president or CEO title will make the prospective client feel important and eager to strike a deal.

FREE SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE If you run a small business or are considering starting one, check out the Free Small Business Assistance site at Published by the Small Business Development Center of Northeast Texas, this site provides a plethora of advice, news, facts, and warnings about common startup problems for small business owners. They'll even alert you via e-mail whenever they update the site.

JOHNNY COCHRAN, EAT YOUR HEART OUT "Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? A: How many can you afford?" That's just one of the many lawyer jokes you'll find at the Nolo Press Self-Help Law Center at While Nolo Press' main gig is selling legal books, you'll also find a lot of interesting advice, tips, research, and yes, jokes, at the site too. Check out the Small Business link for information on small business legal issues. If you're in need of legal information, this is a great place to start. And, what the heck, check out the jokes while you're there.

THOU SHALL NOT STEAL When people consider the pros and cons of working at home or running a small office, they often underestimate this fact: IT'S GREAT! Ah, the brief commute from bedroom to office, the handy fridge full of treats, the comfy couch for breaks, the lack of meetings and office interruptions, the handy access to Rosie O'Donnell. However, there is one huge drawback: You can no longer steal office supplies. But that doesn't mean you can't get some deals on the Web. Two sites we've seen lately, OfficeMax Online and Office Depot Online can keep you in a constant supply of staplers, stationery, and sticky notes. And you don't even have to switch out of your bunny slippers or resort to embezzlement to get your office supply fix.

GO POSTAL You might be surprised how informative and fun the United States Postal Service's Web site can be. Point your browser at and explore the options. Not only can you search for Zip Codes, get rate information (a large package, weighing 60 pounds, going from Louisville, Kentucky, to Boston, Massachusetts, via Priority Mail will set you back $46.90), and track Express Mail packages, but you can also read "Unforgettable Letters," confirming the fact that indeed, not all charming missives are delivered via e-mail.

Most tips are from TipWorld - :The Internet's #1 Source for Computer Tips, News, and Gossip