By Steve Adams
June 7, 2010
The peak summer vacation season is rapidly approaching. And with it comes the dilemma small business owners have been facing since the beginning of the Industrial Age.
On the one side, research has shown the therapeutic value of taking time off to clear your head and recharge your batteries. On the other side, though, is the very real fear that if you’re not available when a customer has an urgent need or something goes wrong - as Murphy’s Law dictates it will - there won’t be anything left to which you can come back. Even if you do decide to get away, that same fear can prevent you from enjoying your vacation.
Fortunately, these days it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice. There are technologies available that can help you stay in contact with the office and/or your customers while still allowing you to get away from - well, if not all, at least most.
Virtual Phone Service for Small Business
These services are the most significant vacation-enablers, because they offer so much flexibility and mobility at such a low cost. A virtual phone service provides businesses with a single phone number for the entire business. The service then allows you to assign extensions to different people in the organization, both inside and outside of the main office. A virtual receptionist greets callers with a professional greeting and provides a dial-by-name directory, generally helping get callers get where they need to go. These services also include professional business features such as voicemail and conference calling that are normally only found in expensive corporate phone systems.
Where they really pay off come vacation time, though, is with their smart call forwarding capabilities. You can set your office phone to forward all of your calls to your mobile phone, allowing you to answer them just as though you’re in the office. You can even specify when the phone rings and when it goes to voicemail if you want to keep normal “business hours” while you’re basking in the sun or climbing that mountain.
Another nice feature is the ability to choose how incoming calls are directed based on the phone number. This way you can easily see if the incoming call is personal or business-related. Having that information before you answer can help you decide if you need to find somewhere quieter, or if you’re even in a position to take a business call.
If you don’t want to be disturbed at the moment but want to stay on top of things, you can set your virtual phone service to send all calls to your business voicemail, then receive an e-mail telling you when you have voicemails waiting. It’s a great way to organize your time so you can both participate with the family and service your customers.
As long as you have mobile service - whether on your own phone or one you pick up in another country - you can stay on top of the business.
Internet Fax Service
If your business relies on faxes, having an Internet fax service is indispensable during a vacation. After all, if you’re vacationing hundreds or thousands of miles away from the office it’s going to be a little tough to pop in just to check faxes. Of course, even if you’re enjoying a “staycation” you probably want to avoid the office so you don’t stop by for a few minutes and wind up there all day.
With an Internet fax service you can send and receive faxes anywhere you can get an Internet connection. And on any device - a laptop, smart phone, or even one of those hotel lobby PCs. You have a choice of using your e-mail account or a secure online portal so there’s no worries about how to get connected.
If the fax requires further action from someone else, forwarding it is as easy as forwarding an e-mail. You can even add comments before you send. With most Internet fax services you can even have the fax sent to one or more partners’ or business associates’ e-mails as well as your own - just in case you’re having too much fun to take care of it right away.
Technology has definitely added to the sense of urgency in our everyday lives. But the right technologies can also help restore some order.
This summer, make time for yourself by signing on to a virtual phone service and Internet fax service. It’ll make getting away from the office a literal day on the beach.
Steve Adams is the vice president of marketing for Protus, a provider of communications tools for small-to-medium-businesses and enterprise organizations, including the MyFax internet fax service; my1voice, a virtual phone service; and Campaigner, an e-mail marketing service. He can be reached at [email protected].