Small Business Internet Phone Service

A good phone number is still one of the principal methods of doing business. Most small business still list the phone number in yellow pages or other small business listing service. A phone number allows your customers to reach you about your store hours, store locations, and available services. A good domain name, Twitter account, and Facebook page are important but a business phone number is essential.

There are a lot of online services that can help you manage your phone line and number for your small business. At this point I would not use a fixed land line, but a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service to provide all my telephony needs. The primary phone number I give personal friends and contacts to reach me is provided by Google Voice. For my small home business, I use Skype phone service. And there are other telephony services that can be useful for small business owners.

What I like about Google Voice is that your GVoice phone number can be forwarded to any other phone, or multiple phones. You customers call you at your GVoice phone number and Google forwards the call to your cell phone, store phone number, or any other number until someone answers it or it goes to voice mail. If the call goes to voice mail Google will transcribe the message and email you the text transcription.

I also use Skype and have a Skype Call-out account which provides me a phone number where my customers can reach me at from a cell phone or landline. In addition, Skype also has some great chat messaging, video conference, screen sharing, and collaboration option that make it an integral solution for my small business communication needs.

Yahoo! has the Yahoo! Voice phone service that fits somewhere between Google Voice and Skype. All of these services can be managed and used to call out and receive calls on your smart phone. The iPhone and Android app for Google Voice allows you to call out and receive calls. In the US, the iPhone app for Skype only allows you to call out when you are on a WiFi internet access.

The one feature I really wish either Google Voice, Skype, or Yahoo! Voice had was the ability to send and receive faxes. Fax support is a popular and commonly request feature in Google Voice that I think that Google will build support for it but there are other online telephony services that already include this feature.

Ring Central is a paid mobile business phone system that includes internet fax services. You don’t need a fax machine in your office to send and receive fax documents. Ring Central also provides a 1 800 toll free number. In addition to Ring Central, I would consider Grasshopper. Grasshopper is a virtual phone system designed for businesses and entrepreneurs. Grasshopper has toll free numbers, unlimited extension, call forwarding, voicemails transcriptions, and other feature suitable for small to mid-sized companies.

Twenty Billionaires Who Started With Nothing

BusinessWeek has a piece on twenty billionaires who started with nothing. A few of these billionaires made their money on real estate, software, or oil and gas.

  • Sheldon Adelson
  • Carl Berg
  • Stephen Bisciotti
  • Leon Charney
  • John Paul DeJoria
  • Larry Ellison
  • Alan Gerry
  • Alec Gores
  • Harold Hamm
  • George Joseph
  • Kirk Kerkorian
  • Ken Langone
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Carl Lindner Jr.
  • David Murdock
  • Thomas Peterffy
  • Howard Schultz
  • Kenny Troutt
  • Albert Ueltschi
  • Oprah Winfrey

Subscription Model Fail Whale

Users naturally get upset when someone pulls a bait and switch wool over their eyes and put in place a subscription model on what used to be free content. Building a community and building a business around a community are not the same thing. This is especially true when a community organically develops around a previously free model. People invest their time and energy around the community but as soon as a pay wall goes up the social contract gets replace with a bottom line. I understand that people need to make money, we don’t like in communist Russia, but lets not forget that communist China is the fastest growing economy.

Andrew Warner, the founder of the startup and entrepreneurship focused site Mixergy, changed his site so that content older than a week is only available to paid subscribers. There is nothing wrong with making a buck, and I am sure he will do okay, but by making a quick buck we actually short our users. Funny enough, Andrew has interviewed dozens of successful entrepreneurs that have made a successful business by providing free content to build a platform to spring board their business.

Leo Laporte has built a podcasting empire with shows like This Week in Tech, MacBreak Weekly, Security Now, FLOSS Weekly and many more. Leo podcasts are ad supported and he spent a lot of time in making sure the ads are relevant to his audience. Another example and another entrepreneur whom Andrew has interviewed is Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary started out by making video reviews of wines for his blog. The video reviews where free but they where also presented and sponsored by his real business Wine Library. Gary has now moved on to write a book Crush It! A similar story can be told of Seth Godin. Seth writes freely available essays on his blog and writes a large number of books based on his writing. Seth has also “spun off” several online business. It is important to make the mental distinction that the free blog, podcast, essays are distinct from the paid service, product, or business. You don’t monetize your community by slapping a price tag on them.

Newsday recently learned by putting up a pay wall to your content does not lead to immediate success. Newsday is a half a billion dollar business and recently made the move to make their content online accessible to paid subscribers for a $5/week subscription. It is reported that after three months Newsday was able to sign up a mere 35 subscribers. I know Andrew will fair better than Newsday, there are a lot of passionate startup founders and entrepreneurs, but the complete and utter failure of Newsday is worth nothing. Subscription model to web content is not an original idea. It is not a purple cow, it will not help you get viral, it introduces money to the equation and money has a different expectation.

10 Ways to Make Your Boss Love You

Here is a draft post that has been waiting to be published. The October 2009 issue of Smart Money had a short list of top 10 Ways to Make Your Boss Love You. I think these are still applicable now.

  • Put in the hours-when it counts.
  • Empathize
  • Defuse a bad situation
  • Be a conduit
  • Ask for help
  • Connect the boss’s way
  • Show initiative
  • Be positive
  • Make like mini-me
  • Get your face time

Free Million Dollar Business Ideas

I just don’t have the free time to execute on every million dollar idea I have, so I am giving them away for free, royalty free, as in free beer and freedom some of my million dollar business ideas! With the right entrepreneurship attitude, you can take this idea to profitability.

Product Placement in Books – Advertisers invented soap operas just to advertise soap. Baseball cards started off as a marketing gimmick for cigarettes. Now, ads are as pervasive as the air we breath and it pays for a lot of the content we normally consider as free. But people don’t like to sit and watch ads, or billboards, or commercials so advertisers have developed product placement ads in movies, video games, and hip-hop music. One media that has not been monetized is the book industry. Imagine, classic with product placement from companies contemporary to the time the book was written. Pride and Prejudice with a supplement chapter or two dedicated to the products and services of the British East India Company! In this fashion, your company can be immortalized in literature. There is a business opportunity for the right marketer to embed ads to your products of services in fiction. For example, imagine the next Danielle Steel romance book being sponsored with embedded as by K-Y Yours + Mine Couples Lubricant that are part of the storyline.

Be a Pioneer – You might be asking yourself, how can I be a pioneer if the West has been won? By pioneer I don’t mean for you to settle in out West in some homestead, I mean be a social media pioneer. About this for a case study, Tila Tequila was one of the earliest pioneer on MySpace. As an early user of MySpace, Miss Tequila was able monopolize her network into a platform to launch a career. Okay, I know what you are saying, “Tila Tequila has a career.” Twitter has provided a number of examples where early Twitter adopter that leveraged the power of friendship and follower have done well for themselves. Zappos, the online retail store, has made it public that it has a Twitter course for new employees. To be clear, be a pioneer and leader in any new and up coming social media community. The truth, is that you can’t predict which and when a new social medium will gain traction or momentum but the cost to entry is usually small. And, as an early adopter, you will get online creed for reaching out to your customer base in new forms and fashion! Just think of it this way, you can’t be first in your industry to have a web page, but you might be the first to have a Twitter account! Monopolize your lead in new social forums to your competitive advantage.

Universal Order Number – A Universal Order Number is printed of your receipt at a restaurant, which I can go online to check for example a drive through order and to make a specific complaint, such as they forgot an order of fries. This can be be used as a market and customer service feature where you can get promotional material based on your recent purchase or where you can complain about missing items. This can also be used to generate customer service reports, as part of surveys for new product trials, provide health tips about the food purchased. Of course you can group orders and see the life time of your purchases. This service would not be complete without the ability to automatically complain or praise of the service via integration with Facebook and/or Twitter.

Gender Specific Foreign Language Books – When a women goes to a foreign country they need a phrase book specific for their needs. A foreign language phrase book for women would help with translations such as: What size is it? Does it come in black? Do you have size 10?

Rating Service Bureau – One of the best business idea I have seen, next to credit card companies, are rating service companies. For example, there are companies that rate bonds, and other investments vehicles. That are service companies that rate individuals credit history. In theory, you can rate anything. You can rate different cell phone plans, quality of different bottled water companies, or rate travel packages. Rating companies such as Standard and Poor’s and Energy Star have become de facto rating services for their industries that they have become a focal point in the economic recovery and green initiative, respectively.

Insurance – Insurance are great business ideas. Insurance is like a tax, you can always come up with a new one. You can create new insurance policies, such as child support insurance to cover the probability of your baby’s daddy being a dead beat. You can create a new insurance policy for the probability that they will lose their health insurance. You can insure anything, it is like Vegas except you pay people not for winning but for a bad event happening to them.

1-800 Directory – They say those who can’t do, teach. Well, those that can’t create content, aggregate. You can be a aggregator for a particular service, such as 1-800-flowers or 1-800-dentists. Imagine, 1-800-Plumbers or 1-800-strippers.

National Day – Make a national awareness day for something. Like National Hispanic Month, National Secretary Day, or National Payroll Week. Celebrate that day, bring awareness to a cause, and sell souvenirs, gift cards, and promotional material. Don’t forget to trademark the idea, terms, and images behind it.

Namespace Land Rush – One great idea is to build into any service a limited namespace. For example, only one entity can own the domain name Only one application can post an application on the Apple App Store for a given name. Only one user can have the Twitter @holla account. In addition to a namespace, develop the market place with the ability to buytradesell on this virtual limited resource.