Technology tips for improving your work-life balance

I don’t usually boast anything Microsoft, but thought these thoughts were generally helpful no matter what your platform — and there are tools out there to accomplish all these things below on ANY platform!
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A few years back, personal coach Maya Talisman and husband Tom Frost, a jewelry importer and distributor, decided to move their his-and-hers businesses and four daughters from Portland, Ore., to Mazatlan, Mexico.

“We chose Mazatlan because we had been there on vacation and knew it would be a friendly, peaceful place to spend our first year abroad and learn Spanish,” Talisman says. The family rented an apartment in the historic colonial district and enrolled the kids in school.

Talisman’s meditation books and courses are sold online while Frost’s company, Swell Products, distributes his brand of magnetic bracelets to hundreds of retailers across the United States. The bracelets are manufactured in China and shipped to the United States. Frost employs a sales manager and part-time bookkeeper, who work from Oregon.

“That experiment worked so well that 10 months later, when school was out, we moved even farther south, to Buenos Aires, Argentina,” says Talisman.

How do they pick up their businesses and move wherever they want? By relying on technology, Talisman and Frost have created virtual headquarters for their companies and they operate with a roster of web-based applications.

How technology can save time and money

Certainly, today’s always-on-and-available-anywhere technology can lead to addictive work habits. We’ve all seen examples of that among friends and family.

But having a cheap, convenient, 24/7 global reach through technology can also efficiently enable you to live the life you’ve always wanted. The choice is yours.

Here are some affordable tools and ideas that harness technology’s power to save you time and money. Cherry-pick among these solutions to build in breaks, or reconfigure your work-life routines, or, like Talisman and her family, reinvent your life entirely.

1.  Use Voice-over-Internet protocol phone service (VoIP) to create a virtual office. To maintain a professional phone line and still travel, take time off or live abroad, VoIP telephone services are a terrific help. You’ve probably heard about such affordable services, which, basically, use the Internet to send and receive calls. Usually, you pay only for Internet access and not for calls, much the way e-mail works.

“We have an Oregon phone number in Argentina,” Talisman says. Frost’s Oregon-based manager has a similar setup. The Buenos Aires and Oregon phones ring at the same time.

There are dozens of VoIP providers to choose among. Try a Web search if you don’t know one.

2.  Use online services for office communications and banking. The Frosts host their company computers on external servers, so they can access all e-mail, files, and financial information or transactions from any Internet café. (Of course, you do want to have privacy safeguards in place when working this way.)

“We have no bank account in Argentina,” Talisman says. “We’re paid in dollars and living on pesos—enough said!”

3.  Leverage the power of a professional Web site. Setting up a Web site, more than any other technological helpmate, will shave considerable time and effort from your workdays.

With a professional site, you can more efficiently conduct business, fulfill orders, organize contacts, share documents with employees or contractors, and market your wares or services, even when you’re out of the office or on the road.

For more about launching a site, see the Microsoft Office Live Small Business offerings. Once your site is up, you can bolster its effectiveness by keeping customers, stakeholders, or media up-to-date with an online media kit.

4.  Use your site features to stay in touch with customers. With so many marketing channels and consumer options these days, increasingly, it’s the business that quickly responds to customer needs that gains a competitive advantage. You can use your Web site to “listen” and react to what your customers request.

For example:

Set up an online forum so customers can register and post comments to you and to each other.
Set up a survey that customers can take online. This can be a focus group type of survey (say, about a new product) or a customer satisfaction survey.
Set up a special e-mail address and ask customers for specific feedback or advice whenever you launch a new product, service, or special promotion.
5.  Use e-mail software to track schedules and tasks. Software such as Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 can improve your performance. Most people are good at creating to-do or task lists, but often become distracted and don’t commit to a scheduled time to accomplish those tasks.

By utilizing the task and reminder functions of an e-mail program, you can set up a calendar that generates alerts, whether annual, weekly, or daily. Some business owners say that such alerts boost their productivity by 50 percent or more.

6.  Stop thinking you must do everything yourself. “Doing administrative work is necessary, but it can detract from an owner’s primary purpose of growing and nurturing the business,” says Jennefer Witter, who founded The Boreland Group, a New York City public relations agency, in 2003.

“I’ve known too many entrepreneurs who are penny-wise and pound-foolish,” because they won’t hire help, she says. “One was working until midnight because her admin work took so much time.” The solution, Witter suggests, is to hire virtual assistants. “Be more efficient by getting a qualified, trained person who can handle the chores.”

With instantaneous communications and the ability to seamlessly connect from anywhere, virtual assistants can work remotely and provide quality work. “Many of us are in home offices and don’t have room for another person,” Witter says. “That’s another beauty of VAs.”

There are lots of job boards and industry associations that list virtual assistant services, if you decide to look for one. Also, check listings at the International Virtual Assistants Association.

7.  Create a sales contact database for your business. Software such as Contact Manager, included within Office Live Small Business, can transform your electronic address book into a sales, contact management, and marketing tool.

Then, when you send out marketing or sales material, instead of hand-addressing envelopes, you can automate the process with labels or envelopes printed from your database list. Similarly, you can use the database to send e-mail marketing messages. Just make sure that the software you use for your database (usually part of a sales contact program) can be integrated with your e-mail program.

Besides mailings to your entire sales list, you can use the database for specific or premium marketing, such as holiday cards, special discounts, and birthday greetings.

8.  Invest in e-mail marketing that yields results. Certainly, consumers now delete e-mail marketing messages faster than you can say “click-through.” However, when it’s done right (which means your consumer really wants your message and knows your brand), e-mail marketing remains relatively cheap and incredibly effective.

You can automate the process of sending and tracking your e-mail campaigns with affordable tools and either off-the-shelf or online software.

Such low-cost services can help you mount campaigns, send out e-mail newsletters or campaign mails, and maintain scrubbed, up-to-date lists much faster and cost-efficiently than you can on your own.

Tip:   Secure double opt-in permission before adding a prospect to your e-mail list.

Mobile phones and continual access to e-mail now make us available around the clock. So, in the end, all the technology in the world won’t let you kick back unless you make some rules.

Begin with these, and then move on:

Schedule specific times to check e-mail.
Turn off your phone when you’re home or out with friends.

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By Joanna L. Krotz

[Original Link]

About the author   Joanna L. Krotz is the founder of Muse2Muse Productions, a custom content company for business and consumer magazines, newsletters, and digital imprints. Krotz has launched marketing Web sites and e-news portals, as well as created magazines and online marketing for a variety of companies. She is co-author of “The Microsoft Small Business Kit,” a 500-page guide to launching and running a business.

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About KappaDiva
Learning Leader Tech Ed Advocate Empassioned Educator Perpetual Student Professional Learner Chief Learning Officer Tonya is a learning leader, instructional design, performance support and multimedia communications professional, with nearly 20 years of experience in healthcare, information systems, instructional design and training, web and creative design, internal and external marketing, PR and communications, social media, service excellence, leadership development and non-profit operations management. She is currently Director, Staff Learning & Development, Teach For America; President, A2ATD; principal and Chief Learning Officer of Kappa Beta Technology & Instruction; grad student at The University of Michigan; and author of the Learning Leader Blog (www.learningleader.org,) an emerging technologies resource for 21st century educators. She current is living in Macomb County, MI, with her cat and several Mac and iOS devices.

3 Responses to Technology tips for improving your work-life balance

  1. Dan Waldron says:

    Nice site. There’s some good information on here. I’ll be checking back regularly.

  2. Thank you so much Tonya for the best marketing a virtual assistant could have. So many more business owners and corporations should realize the advantages to hiring a virtual assistant — just a few – no payroll taxes, health insurance, time off pay, vacation pay. They only pay for the hours worked and most of the time down to the minutes. A Virtual Assistant is the next generation in office administration. Thanks again.

    Kind regards,

  3. Matt McAdams says:

    Tonya, interesting article, thanks for reposting it and I’m glad I happened across it. By coincidence, I just learned last week that a former coworker of mine has moved to Buenos Aires and is running his own freelance website development business from there — and all of his clients are in the States. He uses the same the types of tools mentioned above.

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