Category Archives: Misc.

Obsolete tech accessories to keep one of: A short list

As computers, home stereo/theater, and other technology products continue to change, so do the accessories they use, and the tools involved in fixing and maintaining them.

This means adding some new accessories and tools — but that doesn’t mean getting rid of all our old inventory, just pruning them. After all, many of us still have older devices we’re still using — or are asked by family and friends to help them with their older devices. (Or we buy them at yard sales, or get them from friends and family.)

Floppy DisksFor example, I’m still working on helping somebody do a full save from his old desktop computer, which is running Windows 95 and has a parallel port but no USB ports. I also have several similarly old notebooks from friends that are potentially salvageable and my own not-yet-resaved archive of hard drives and of floppy backups.

Things I’m hanging on to for fun projects like these include:

  • USB cables: These pile up, but it’s good to have a bunch, especially with USB now the way that many mobile devices charge. Also, many printers that require USB cables don’t include them, and store prices are often whacky-high, so I hang onto the extras that accumulate. My pile currently includes “Type B” ones for connecting to printers, and cables or adapters for the smaller-size (mini and micro).
  • VGA video cable(s): Two or three, since sometimes I get/find monitors that don’t have any; having spares makes it easier to find new homes for these displays.
  • Computer power cables: Ditto — having several spares makes sense. Also some of the two and three-connector ones used by many stereo components.
  • Ethernet cables: A bunch, from short to medium long.
  • Parallel cable: One of these is plenty.
  • USB floppy disk drive: One should be enough, but it’s nice to have a spare to lend out. And some floppy disks.
  • USB CD/DVD drive: I occasionally need it myself, for use with my new 3-pound Lenovo ThinkPad, which doesn’t have a built-in optical drive., Similarly, I’ve lent this out to a friend who needed to install software on a netbook.
  • Adapters: I’ve got a box of video, USB, PS/2, serial, and other cable/port adapters that I’ve built up over the years, from buying sprees at computer stores, and from yard sales. My computer stash includes “gender-menders” (male-to-male, female-to-female), type adapters (e.g., USB-to-PS/2), pin adapters (e.g., VGA 9-to-15). I almost never need these adapters — but when I do, it was worth every penny to have the right one at hand (or several from which I assemble the right combination).
  • OS disks: I’ve got a shoebox full — licensed retail copies often turn up at yard sales for a few bucks — ranging from Windows XP back through DOS, along with a Linux or two. Again, rarely used, but invaluable when needed.

I also have a mouse, keyboard, and small LCD, along with video and power cables, for my “testbench” to check out notebooks and desktops.

And I’ve got a few old hard drives, some “sanitized,” some not (yet), for possible re-use.

Things I don’t hang onto, since I’ve got my limits as a tech geek, include hard drive ribbon cables or power supplies. I enjoy disassembling computers, but I’m not interested in building or rebuilding them. I’ve also recently discarded printer and SCSI cables, among other things.

The same logic applies to stereo gear. I’ve got a modest handful of RCA cables, sundry plug adapters, radio antennas, and power cords, plus a small tin of stereo fuses, and a meter to check speaker impedance.

In general, if anything needs anything more complicated than an adapter, cable and fuse, it goes off to tech recycling, or to somebody else who wants to play with it.

I try to periodically — every year or three — go through my stash, and cull the triplicates and the so-obsolete-I-no-longer-care stuff.

But even the old stuff — and the knowledge of how to use it — comes in handy still, for helping people with computers that are way old, but not ready (or their owners aren’t ready) to be disposed of.

 

Mozy Stash Free

 

Inventorying and IDing your tech stuff: quick tips

Inventorying Your Tech StuffLike all material possessions personal or business, tech stuff accumulates. It doesn’t actually multiply (except, perhaps, for the calculators) but it doesn’t take long to end up with a pile of stuff.

None of us want to end up on Hoarders. To keep A&E cameras from showing up in tyour driveway, it’s essential to be organized — which includes IDing and inventorying what you’ve got.

WHY IDENTIFY WITH ORGANIZATION

One reason is simply so you know what goes with what. Increasingly, power and data cables are near-universal — thankfully, nearly all manufacturers have moved to USB. Even Apple has standardized its device-side connector, so you can pack one Apple cable (“i-cable”?) for use with both an iPhone and iPad. But some devices still have proprietary data cables and AC adapters. Many battery chargers for digital cameras, for example, remain unique.

This means it’s easy to end up with a box — or boxes! — of AC adapters, wires, and assorted cords, and not be sure what goes with what.

Not to mention being able to find software CDs that went with devices. Yes, most of this is available online — but not always, or not always as usefully. For example, I’m trying to set up a Dell printer, and the file I downloaded from Dell was Zip files within Zip files, and seems to be “turtles all the way down,” never resulting in actual install files I could run.

Fortunately, I found the CD — amazingly, in the first place I looked. It’s easy to claim that a success for my organizing system, but there were at least three other places it could legitimately have been, not to mention somewhere within a foot or two of where the printer has been resting.

HELP INSURE YOUR GEAR

Another reason to ID and inventory your tech gear is for insurance purposes.

If you’re covering through a computer rider on your home policy, or getting a separate Business Office Policy (aka BOP), part of the policy cost depends on how much coverage you’re looking for.

And that, in turn, means knowing how much the stuff you’re insuring cost. Of course, if you do have a loss — easy to do, when you’re toting mobile devices around — it’s easier to make a claim if you have the item name, serial number, purchase price and date, etc. Tech support is yet another good reason — and one you’re likely to run into — to have this information easily at hand. Typically, the first product information you’re asked for when you contact Tech Support is the product name, serial number, and maybe when you purchased it.

For larger objects like desktop computers, printers, and flat screens, that information is often at the back or bottom, hard to get to without a fair amount of effort. That’s why I recommend copying this to a label or small piece of paper you then stick on front or side of the machine where it’s visible.

MAKE A LIST

Being organized starts at the beginning. Part of the challenge will be that, like travel luggage, over time, the stuff you’re organizing evolves, and so will how you do it.

Create a document or database to record acquisitions. I’m use a simple Excel spreadsheet with an easy-to-search-for name, since I only need to access it every few months. For example, mine is called DERN_INVENTORY_OFFICEGEAR.

The data I record for each item is:

o Item: Vendor/Product Serial/Key Number Purchased from

o Date of purchase

o Cost

o Estimated current value (updated every so often)

o Tech support phone number

o Warranty

o Misc notes

I’ve separated my items into Computers, Cameras, Audio/Video, and Phone/Mobile. . Give your insurance company a copy.

When you get a new techno-toy (or business purchase), once you’re sure you’re keeping it, add it to the list; when major updates happen, send a copy to your insurance company.

Consider printing this out, for when you need it and your computer isn’t working. If nothing else, make sure a copy gets stored in an off-site backup (such as a cloud backup). One of my friends puts his information into an email message and simply leaves it in his inbox.

For insurance purposes, you might also want to take (digital) pictures of your gear — being sure, of course, to save copies off-site or on the cloud.

LABEL AND BOX

Nothing beats a label to help you keep track of what the heck something is — and to help identify it as yours.

If nothing else, once you’re sure you’re keeping something, label its AC adapter. If this is the only tip you act on, you’re already ahead of the game.

If it’s just an AC cord, label that — so you can tell what’s plugged in on your power strip or UPS.

For the main device, put a label with the serial number (again, while it’s easy to get to), date you got it, and maybe also the main tech support phone number. This is particularly important for printers.

For any accessories that you don’t expect to use most of the time, put them in a baggie — and label that baggie, perhaps by putting some of the packaging with the product name in it. And then put that baggie into a labeled box, like “iPhone stuff” or “Digital camera stuff.”

And if you’ve got the storage space for it, consider saving the box and packing for your monitor — because if you do have to send it back to the vendor (which I did, for one of my flat screens), it will be difficult and/or expensive to get alternate packaging.

THINGS I HAVEN’T TRIED — YET

Now that I’ve got an iPhone, which should be able to work as a bar code scanner, I’m considering trying to use that as an inventorying tool.

The challenge is to find a bar code-driven database, either for my iPhone/iPad, or for Windows. It’s worth doing — not just for my tech gear, but also for stuff like my books and CDs and comic books.

 

 

How to Get the Best Price for an Old Device

How to get the best price for an old deviceIt seems hardly a week goes by without some must-have (or must-avoid, depending on one’s allegiance) mobile device clamoring for our attention. Apple continues to garner the most publicity every time it releases its latest and greatest product, but let’s not forget about the arsenal of Android devices that have proven their worth in the mobile battlefield.

Add some BlackBerry and Nokia devices doing their best to stay relevant, and there’s a good chance that once you get comfortable with your current smartphone or tablet, you’ll be tempted to upgrade to your company-of-choice’s newest offer.

So what do you do with your perfectly functional yet slightly outdated device? You can relegate it to that bottom drawer in your office, keeping it out of sight from polite company and small children, kind of like how the Fratellis kept Sloth chained up in the basement in The Goonies. You can use it as a device for listening to music or snapping photos, essentially employing it as a specialist, like a lefty middle reliever in baseball or a punt returner in football. Or you can cash in before the product becomes grossly outdated.

Cashing in is the practical choice, as it can add some coin to your pocket while the device goes on to live another day in someone else’s pocket. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your old gadgets and early smartphone iterations.

Good Resale Value Is Key

If you’re not sure how popular a device is, a good place to start is looking on Craigslist.org, eBay.com or Amazon.com to gauge interest.

You could also scroll through the various trade-in sites, according to an article in The New York Times. There are many such sites out there, but here are a few:Swappa.com for Android devices; Glyde.com for gadgets and games; Gazelle.com for Apple products and Android, BlackBerry and other phones; NewtonsHead.com for Apple products (including broken iPhones); BuyBackWorld.com or BuyMyTronics.com for all electronics; and NextWorth.com for phones, cameras, tablets and games.

Apple products are the most popular on many of these sites. In a recent study, Priceonomics.com found mobile phones lost much of their value right away, and then continued to lose value more gradually over time. The exception was the iPhone. After 18 months, the iPhone retained 53 percent of its value, compared with 42 percent for Android phones and 41 percent for BlackBerry, according to The Times.

It Pays to Keep Your Device in Good Working Order

It’s sound advice to protect your from physical damage with cases and covers. Another smart move is to buy an extended warranty from the maker — for example, Apple Care+ for iPhone — or from a third party like SquareTrade. When it comes time to sell, having a warranty that you can transfer has value.

If the screen is cracked, replace it yourself with a kit, or send it to a professional service like Phonedoctors.com or iCracked.com. A flawless iPhone can be worth $60 or more over the value of one in good condition at trade-in time, according to The Times.

Timing Is Everything

Like any other market, it all comes down to timing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t employ some crafty tactics. Decide.com, a website and mobile app that tells when to buy electronics, sifts through millions of pieces of data to guess when a new product is coming out. Decide advises shoppers to buy or wait, using proprietary price and model predictions, according to The Times.

Based on observations of the market for used iPhones and iPads, “the best time to sell is a few weeks before the new iPhone is announced,” Josh Smith of GottaBeMobile, told The Times. “It is possible to get a great price for a used iPhone right now, but many users aren’t willing to go without an iPhone until October.”

 

 

Toy Story 2 and Why Backup Matters

Pixar’s Toy Story 2 was almost inadvertently deleted due some careless key strokes and a bad backup. Check out the nerve-wracking video on Tested.com.

Like many of you, I have also lost data from time to time as a result of stupid decisions, or a misplaced command (as with the Pixar folks) or even worse circumstances. It is worth recounting some of those tales to show you how important it is to start thinking about your backups.

Backups usually only matter when you lose something, and then you go into a panic state trying to figure out what you actually lost and where you can retrieve the most recent copy of your files. A survey from Mozy found that a mere 15% of small companies actually use cloud backup to protect their business. So why not take some time now and come up with a solid backup strategy for all of your data? Obviously, using a cloud-based backup service such as Mozy is one part of the picture, but you should also consider some other things. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my past mistakes.

Files Aren’t the Only Thing to Back Up

One of the most important things that I do is write a weekly email newsletter to my clients and potential clients. I have been doing it for 16 years or so. The LISTSERV was once maintained by a friend of mine, on a machine sitting in a second friend’s basement. Well, that arrangement wasn’t working for me when the basement flooded and the machine had to be taken offline. I realized that the only thing that I didn’t have a backup copy of was the actual email names on the list itself, which were easily obtained by sending the listserv a simple command. Luckily, the server was eventually brought online and I could get the names from it. Now I send that command every week to get a fresh copy of my subscribers. This could happen to you: part of a good backup strategy is remembering things such as my email list that don’t fit into neat categories or simple files that are on your own hard drive.

Keep Backups of Backups

Another time I lost my laptop from the trunk of my car: I was in a suburban shopping mall and someone saw me put some packages in the trunk before I headed back for some more shopping. Luckily, most of what was on that laptop was backed up, or so I thought. My emails were using Lotus Notes, which automatically backs up the entire stream on my company servers. When I got a replacement, some of the email addresses were missing. Where did they go? No one knew. This shows that you should never take anything for granted, and have backups of your backups.

Don’t Trip Up on Trips

As a result of losing my laptop in this way, whenever I travel I think about what happens if it were to be stolen or lost? I try to always have a backup of the new work that I created when on the road on some other device: such as in the cloud or on a USB stick that I carry separately.

How often have you been working on a document, only to have the computer freeze up and lose some work? This is a minor nuisance, and most modern versions of word processors have auto-save features, but still. Be prepared.

Test Your Systems!

How did it end for Pixar? Luckily, one team member had made her own independent backup copy and took it home. This gets across my final point: always test your backups to make sure they are actually current and you can restore something from them.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – May 31

Another Chance for Idle ElectronicsAnother Chance for Idle Electronics

More than 278 million mobile devices lie idle or deactivated in the United States, and nearly half are smartphones, according to consultants at Compass Intelligence.

Most of those devices are destined for the recycling heap, but as for the others, that’s cash sitting neglected in drawers, according to an article in The New York Times. Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones that sell for $270 new could be worth $200 used. A Wi-Fi-only 16-gigabyte iPad 2 costing $400 new could fetch $300 or more. See how to sell them for the highest price.

Hope for Innovation Is Found in the Cloud

Innovation isn’t dead, it just moved to the cloud, according to GigaOM.

Cloud computing has made innovation something anyone can do, said GigaOM’s Derrick Harris.

“Somewhere in between Pinterest and biotech, startups are using the cloud to make enterprise software available as a service and disrupt the business models of the very companies that helped build Silicon Valley,” Harris writes.

Even though social media companies may dominate the startup landscape, they’re part of a fundamental change in the way people communicate with each other thanks to cloud-based computing resources and the ubiquity of powerful mobile devices.

GigaOM plans to talk more on this subject at the upcoming Structure conference in San Francisco.

President Wants Government Agencies to Focus on Mobile Apps

President Barack Obama has ordered all government agencies to offer more of their services in the form of mobile apps, according to Mashable.

A new memo called “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People” requires each agency to make at least two services, used by the public, available on mobile devices within 12 months.

“For far too long, the American people have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of information across different government programs in order to find the services they need,” says the memo.

“Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device,” Obama said in a statement.

Mobile App Bump Can Now Push Photos to Your Desktop

Bump Technologies launched a new website feature, allowing Bump’s mobile app users the ability to share smartphone photos to their computers by physically bumping the phone against the PC keyboard, according to AllThingsD.

The photos are hosted online, and users can choose to download the images to their hard drive or share them using a short URL. Previously, Bump’s mobile app allowed for sharing photos and contact information between mobile phones, but not directly to a computer. Find out more about it here.

 

 

Vacation Anxiety and the Small Business Owner: 4 Tips to Help You Stop Worrying

Vacation Anxiety and the Small Business OwnerVacation anxiety. For small-business owners, it’s a reality (and a real summertime bummer). In fact, more than 2/3 of small-business owners stress out while on vacation, according to a recent study by Intuit.

So, how will you cope when it comes time to relax?

Let’s look at some key tips and tricks to thwart vacation anxiety — while still keeping things running smoothly back at the home office.

1. Informing Your Public “Vacation” Means Actual Downtime

No shame in taking a break. Without a chance to recharge, you aren’t running your small business at your best. The key to preventing a mid-vacation slip-back — meaning that day you start office-ing from your beach-side bungalow — communication. “If people don’t know you’re on vacation, chances are they’ll keep on hounding you or feel slighted that you haven’t returned an e-mail or call,” Mike Pugh, of j2 Global, said. “Simply letting people know you’re out is one of the best ways to cut yourself some slack and enjoy your time off.”

2. Leave a Lieutenant in Your Place

Your employees are the people that you count on while you’re away. Make sure you pick the person (or people) that are going to be the face of your small business during your vacation. Give them the information they’ll need to work autonomously. Advise your other staff members of this individual’s new temporary authority. You may even prompt a long-term transformation at your business: the challenge of leading while the boss is away can be a stretch role that transforms a good employee into a great asset.

3. Alright, It’s OK to Office from Vacation (But Just a Little)

Set a morning schedule of 30 minutes on e-mail. Being clear about when and for how long you’re available is the key to keeping your work time in check. If you manage the expectations of your employees and clients, they’ll be less likely to try to wrestle you from your barbecue.

4. Your Phone is (Still) Your Lifeline

More than half of the small-business owners polled by Intuit said that keeping their cell phones on them allowed them to feel better, to know they could keep some connection to the office. So, sure, keep your phone around but get some help from back home on what calls to take and when. Mike Pugh of J2 Global suggests using cloud-based tools for tasks such as checking and sending documents as well as handling faxes.

But mainly: get the break you need. Go back refreshed.

Have tip about how to handle vacation anxiety as a small-business owner? Tell us about it in the comments section, and, on behalf of worrying owners everywhere, thanks!

 

 

Accountants Move to the Cloud: The New Face of Small-Biz Finances

Accountants Move to the CloudOne of the world’s oldest professions is moving to the cloud. No, not that oldest profession; we’re talking about accounting here!

The forecast is this: if the new wave of cloud-based accountants have their way, soon will be gone the days of small-business owners hauling dollies of documents into an old-school brick-and-mortar office.

In fact, in a new study from Xero, one online accounting software provider for accountants and small businesses, 3 in 10 accounting professionals plan to move their clients online this year alone. Xero definitely has an iron in that fire, but the accountants presumably answer as they will.

Let’s take a look at the phenomenon, where it’s at right now, and the future of the idea.

Cloud Accounting: What It Means for Your Business

Accounting in the cloud is changing the pace and immediacy of how a company’s financials are tracked and accessed. Cloud computing not only reduces the amount of physical hardware a small business needs, it also makes key information easier to use.

“You can get a CPA who has access to your accounting data 24/7,” said Nicholas Bird, a partner and accountant at Lucid Books of Utah — he also advises Xero on its accounting front.

Bird is already using the cloud to accelerate his clients’ understanding of their money.

“You can have a phone conversation about money, in realtime, that most small business won’t have right now because it’s a big hassle,” he said.

The labor-intensive spreadsheet crunching of pre-cloud tools may soon be history. Bird pointed out several other benefits, too.

— Time Saving: No more end-of-tax-year aggregation and computation. Keep your cloud-based accountant up to date constantly. No more crunch-time, come March and April.

— Cost Saving: Your accountant’s cloud-enabled process eliminates a lot of the clerical work associated with physically moving data from your world to theirs. Never again will they need to take your business’s copy of QuickBooks with them to do the work!

— Efficiency: “I can spend 90 percent of my time doing work,” said Bird. “As opposed to spending all my time on logistics and saying things like: ‘Hey, you didn’t send a file or a password.’”

Getting Started: Cloud Accounting Apps

There are numerous ways to move your small-business accounting to the cloud. You might choose Wave Accounting, or Kashoo. The options are multiple.

One development that’s ongoing, said Bird, is that cloud-based app providers are seeing the advantages of sewing together whole packages of small-business oriented services.

For example, in May 2012, Xero acquired WorkFlowMax — a complete suite of business-management tools that the company can now incorporate into its extant accounting packages.

“Right now, it’s still somewhat small but it’s only going to get bigger,” Bird said of cloud accounting. “It’s kind of still about building up the ecosystems. It’s going to continue to get better because different companies are integrating these systems together. That’s where I see it going.”

 

 

Small tech stuff (too) easily lost or mislaid, some thoughts

From Bluetooth headsets to SD cards, and even cameras and phones, it’s getting easier to misplace things, even in a home office.

To be fair, my home office and adjacent hallway space is, well, enough of an Over-Clutter Central that even largish things — like notebook computers — can stay hidden if I’m not careful.

But it’s even worse for the small techno-doodads, both the ones I use daily, and the ones I use infrequently.

The first instance of this trend was close to a decade ago, when a 1GB IBM MicroDrive (a CF-card sized hard drive, about half an inch squared by one-eighth of an inch) went AWOL. “How can I misplace a gigabyte?” I wondered, once I realized I couldn’t find it. (This was back in the day when a gigabyte was a significant amount of storage, and not cheap — this 1GB Microdrive was about $340. Now, of course, solid-state CF cards are about two dollars per gigabyte up through 32GB, you can get a professional-photographer-class 128GB CF card for about $600, and 256GB CF cards should be available — not cheaply — by summer 2012.)

My cell phone was the next major offender. I finally decided that, like my glasses, I needed a standard place to put it when I wasn’t carrying it, and, a few years later, dedicated a small box to “stuff that goes in my pockets.”

This strategy has, for the most part, helped me keep track of my cell phone.

But it’s not always good my Bluetooth headsets – they’re a little too small for that pile, so I’ve started a separate, smaller box more or less just for them.

Nor has it helped for my pocket digital cameras, which I don’t use as often. Even worse are their associated AC adapters/battery chargers and cables. Some of these have spent up to a year in hiding. Again, creating a dedicated box is helping — when I remember to use it.

Then there’s the pile of flash drives, SD cards, and other storage media. Again, a dedicated box helps — to some extent.

The worst offender, and biggest nuisance, is cables-and-chargers. Regular USB cables, no problem, I’ve got lots of those. But there’s at least three smaller-size USB cable plugs used for headsets, cameras, and other devices. I know I have lots of each…but where?

Notebook accessories, too, continue to plague me. I don’t have a lot of this, but I don’t some of the accessories that often. My external CD/DVD drive, for example, which recently went on a three-month vacation near my desk. Dedicating a notebook carry-bag to the machine helps keep some of this together.
Part of the challenge is whether I’m solving by category or activity. I’ve got a few small bags I take on trips, with USB adapters, chargers and the like. (I know, a medium-size box marked “Tech Travel Stuff” would be a big help here.)

Another part of the challenge is that, like travel bags for clothes and toiletries, my tech travel needs keep shifting and evolving. Two years ago, I was still using my Nokia “dumbphone.” The only accessories were a wall charger and a car charger. Now, with an iPhone and iPad, I’ve got a handful of accessories to take with me. But as the tech I use changes, so do the associated piles of cables, chargers, accessories, and whatnot.

I also have additional challenges that most people don’t: as a technology journalist who does some reviewing, I’m surrounded by a sometimes-depressing sludge of trial devices and left-over cables, plus, from trade shows, all the free USB flash drives, cables, hubs and whatnot given away at the booths.

One answer, in theory, is to continue to clean and purge. But a surprising selection of that older stuff still comes in handy. And cleaning and organizing takes time. I enjoy it, but it takes time. Plus I have to remember what I did.

So, like many, for affordable things, I often end up buying another of whatever it is. Or I spend an hour or two excavating my desk or digging through my closet.

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is to LABEL EACH AC POWER ADAPTER WHEN I GET IT. Not necessarily for the USB ones, but all others. Especially for notebooks.

OK, and to have a place for each thing or category, and to put stuff away in the same place each time. And to keep getting rid of stuff.

Because next thing you know, I’ll be misplacing terabytes.

 

 

Save time and money with online meeting tools

If you’re like me, you probably hate attending business meetings. Luckily, a number of useful Internet-based tools can help workgroups schedule and run them more effectively. All of the tools here work within most popular Web browsers, and most of them are available for free or for fairly low monthly fees. The challenge is in understanding which tool suits a particular situation, because not every meeting is held under the same circumstances. Let’s look at some of the differences.

Synch Your Calendars

Certainly the most common situations are those where you want to synchronize a common calendar, such as between someone’s PDA and his Microsoft Outlook desktop, or between a boss’s calendar and an assistant’s. Many services can make sharing calendars between work team members (or even between family members or friends) easier. Both Google Calendar (shown below) and Yahoo Calendar offer free calendar sync, and numerous other products–including Apple’s iCal for its computers and iPhones, along with NuevaSync–work with both services. BusySync and Spanning Sync also can synchronize Apple’s iCal calendars with Google Calendar.

Online Meeting Tools

Let Clients Setup Their Own Appointments

What if you want your clients or any other people not employed by your company to book your time directly? In the long-ago past, appointment secretaries would be in charge of the boss’s calendar and would set up meeting times with pencil and paper. Now you can point clients and outside colleagues to self-service appointment Web sites, such as BookFresh,  Tungle.me or TimeDriver. These sites can display your staffers’ free and busy times, as well as what remaining time “inventory” is available for appointments. They also send out e-mail notifications, and they don’t require any special software beyond a Web browser to confirm the appointment. You can easily adjust the schedule when you are going out of town or are otherwise unavailable, too. These services are available for a reasonable cost: TimeDriver has a free 90-day trial and is $30 a year thereafter; BookFresh offers three different plans, including a free one that allows two monthly bookings. Tungle (shown below) is free for the moment.

Online Meeting Tools

Set Up a Common Meeting Time

How about a situation where you want to arrange a common meeting time for people coming from different companies? A meeting organizer could send out an e-mail notification with a series of possible open times, and ask each participant to check off which of those times work for them. But if you have ever tried to organize this kind of meeting, you know how quickly you can get buried under all the back-and-forth e-mail responses.

The free services SetMeeting.com (from Meeting Agent) and Doodle.com are useful in this respect. SetMeeting.com’s biggest weakness is that once you initiate the process it doesn’t allow you to change the meeting location without canceling and starting from scratch. Doodle, which is less sophisticated and has fewer features, is really more of a polling device to help you find a common time; but you may find it attractive if that’s all you wish to do.

As you can see, there are a variety of simple websites that can be used to enhance your meetings. Now if only there was an app that could make the actual meetings shorter.

 

 

Going Mobile: The Benefits of Running Your Company From a Laptop

Run Your Business in the CloudIt won’t be long before you’ll be able to run a global corporation from an iPad, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Cloud computing allows you to access and manipulate complex corporate software on a relatively simple mobile device. Several leading cloud providers say this approach can be almost 70 percent cheaper than buying and running your own servers. While that percentage is dependent on pricing and several other factors, there’s little doubt the cloud is changing the way businesses are run and how information is accessed.

Running your business in the cloud not only frees up cash, it also shortens your in-office hours, giving you time and space to think outside the box, perhaps using that time to coin a phrase to replace the overused, beaten-to-a-pulp “outside the box.”

So now that you’ve freed yourself from the constraints of your office, what to do with your newly earned mobility? Take in the matinee showing of The Avengers? Fulfill that promise to yourself to spend more time in that old-man bar around the corner?

While saving time and money might be the first and second reasons to turn to the cloud, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are just a few of the not-so-obvious benefits of running your business in this brave new mobile world.

Crush the Competition

Sure, they’re a nice couple and have been in business for more than 50 years. Customers seem to like them, and who wouldn’t, with their folksy talk and old-fashioned phrases? No doubt about it: They’re a couple of cards.

The problem is they’ve been steadily taking market share, and for that, they must go.

Your new-found mobility allows you to stake out a competitor’s parking lot to gather intel and devise your next foray into espionage. It also allows you the time to find a good lawyer to explain what you were doing in their parking lot at 3 a.m.

Feeling Groovy

It allows you to work anywhere with a WiFi connection such as the Golden Arches or that hippie bookstore. This allows you the creative space to formulate your next great product or service.

Fact: Some of this century’s greatest thought leaders do their most profound thinking in hippie bookstores (in fact, “outside the box” originated in one).

Fact: That’s not really a fact.

Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With Today?

More personal customer service is sure to arise as you embrace your new mobility. Pop in on a customer. See if they need any orders filled or snafus unraveled. After polishing off the last of their donuts and pestering the receptionist, don’t overstay your welcome. Be polite when you’re asked to leave. Be sure to get your parking validated.

Hover ‘Round

Your out-of-office experience will allow you to see how your staff operates in your absence.

Productivity up? Cash rolling in? Chalk it up to your frequent visits to key customers and the savings realized from going to the cloud.

Surely it has nothing to do with your employees being free from your frequent meetings and over-the-shoulder hovering.

In all seriousness, having the ability to run your business while on the go has numerous benefits. Better work-life balance, the ability of resolve problems day or night, and the oft-mentioned cash savings are just a few. Exploring how to enhance your business with mobility is time and money well-spent.