Staying apart from clients and working exclusively from home goes against the grain of how many businesses are designed. It even goes against much of our fundamental human programming! However; we are fortunate that we’re living in a time when technology can completely transform how we work, and keep us interacting with one another face to face. With a few inexpensive (or even free) tools and an open mind, you can keep your business up and running in this time of social distancing.
All of us on the Nine Planets team have worked remotely for many years and are familiar with a variety of tools to connect with one another and our clients from anywhere we find ourselves working. Here are a few of our favorites that we think you could also use to help quickly bring your business into the virtual realm:
Online Collaboration Tools for your team
These days, many people are familiar with Google and their fantastic and seemingly endless bank of online tools. Starting with the ubiquitous Gmail, and then on to online file sharing and editing, share-able calendars and whiteboard, chat, and video conferencing; Google offers an ever growing collection of productivity tools. Google offers their suite for businesses at very affordable rates. Check out G Suite here or contact Nine Planets and we can set up the suite for you.
Employee Website / Intranet
Sometimes all you need is an online place for your employees to go to get the information that they need. We’ve recently had some requests for intranet sites, or places where employees can log in and access what they need from wherever they are working. There are quite a few options out there for online collaboration. You could use a third party service (some good examples are Jira, Teamwork, Basecamp, Trello, Podio, Confluence), a custom built site to fit your employees’ needs or even something simple that’s built upon the existing public site that you currently have. If you’re curious about creating an employee intranet site, just reach out to us and we can help you explore the idea.
Online Meeting Tools
There are a lot of options available to move your face to face meetings (whether they be with clients or your team members) into the virtual realm! Some of today’s popular options (and also some of our favorites) are Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting and BlueJeans. Many of these have free options, and some also allow you to do things like meet with multiple people at once, share screens and files, and even record the meetings for later review.
Flexible (VOIP) Work-From-Anywhere Phone Numbers
Sometimes working from home means needing a phone number that you can take with you anywhere. Having a separate phone line or cell phone for business needs is not necessarily affordable or convenient. Fortunately there are a number of options for VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) that allow you to receive and place calls from a number that is different from your home or cell number. Take a look at Skype and Google Voice options.
Tools to reach your clients online
Use virtual tools to reach clients
You can use the same tools that you use to connect with fellow employees to connect with customers! For example, you can use Square, Stripe or PayPal invoices to collect online payments for your services. You could also use virtual meeting software like Zoom to hold meetings, consultations, or tutoring sessions with your clients. We have friends and clients that use Zoom to do virtual yoga classes, dance and even group painting classes! It’s not just about work these days — people are turning to all kinds of online tools to keep connected with their organizations, families, and friends.
Explore Website Extensions
For those of you that are already Nine Planets customers, you’ve probably already got a website. (If you don’t and are interested in getting a website, just reach out to us and request a quote.) If you have a site, you may be able to extend its functionality to help get your business further into the virtual realm. Here are a few ways that you can engage your customers from your website (We are happy to help with any of these, just reach out!):
- Add A Shopping Cart – If you sell a product and it can be shipped or distributed electronically, you may want to consider adding an online shopping cart to your website. Payments can be easily and securely handled via solutions like Stripe, PayPal, Square, Apple Pay and a variety of others. Woocommerce for WordPress is one of the most popular shopping cart systems that we work with, but there are many other choices depending upon your needs.
- Add Action Forms – Action forms make it easier for your clients to reach out to you than simply listing a location, phone number, and email address and hoping they take that extra step to reach out. With an action form, you can request that a visitor contact you right from where they are on your site, no extra steps. Effective forms also often ask specific questions of folks – for example, you may have a form that schedules an appointment, another that gathers a request for specific information (custom product request), and another that requests a quote based upon some specific criteria. Formidable Forms is a powerful form builder tool for WordPress that can be customized to fit almost any different scenario that you could think of needing an action form for. Get in touch with us if you think you might have a use for it!
- Add Live Chat – Have some front line employees that can’t work while social distancing is in play? How about turning them into online chat representatives for a time? Live chat is a text discussion that is initiated directly from your site’s user interface. A site visitor can then chat directly with you or one of your employees. Tawk.to is one of the popular choices to research.
- Add a Chat Bot – Have lots of questions to answer, but no staff to cover it? Perhaps consider a chat bot like Quriobot which you can program to answer common questions or lead visitors through a series of questions to get them to the answer that they need without the help of a human.
Google My Business
We’ve talked about this powerful tool in previous articles (Upgrade Your Online Presence and Keep Your Business On The Map) — Google My Business information displays alongside search results and is often the information that visitors see first on a Google search for your business. You can claim this information and customize what to display in that area. And it doesn’t stop there! From that prominent area in Google, you can interact with your customers, manage reviews, post information, news specials and much more. We recommend that you sign up for a Google My Business account and check it out! Don’t have time? Nine Planets can handle much of the setup for you, so just reach out if you need help!
This is another topic that we’ve mentioned several times in previous articles (see Social Media for Small Business in 10 minutes a day!). Jumping on the social media bandwagon is almost critical to business success these days. Joining social media, you bring your business to where the discussions are already. A lot of platforms offer services like event scheduling, selling and advertising opportunities and more.
Keep an open mind and look for opportunities
This might be a scary time for lots of people, but remember, there is opportunity even in adversity. Keep your eyes peeled for ways to adapt to our new, socially-distant environment. We’re all in this together, and the world has a lot of brilliant minds thinking about these things now, even more than they have in the past. There will only be more opportunities emerging and we’ll keep you posted when we hear about them!
In the meantime, we are happy to discuss the challenges and hurdles that you face getting your business in shape for the virtual realm. Just reach out to us any time!