One of more difficult tasks to deal with when starting a home-based business is to decide how to establish your pathways of communication in such a way that you appear organized and professional, yet don’t have to break bank to get started.
I have found three methods of communication that I use on a regular basis: e-mail, telephone, and fax. These could probably be considered ‘the basics’ for most businesses, large or small, and these are ones we’ll discuss.
As a side note, with technology, of course, there are many variations on these tools. For example, you can now use a cell phone with a built-in camera to take a picture and instantly send it to a friend or business contact. This is pretty spiffy indeed, but this really falls into category of e-mail or telephone communications, depending how you want to look at it. This probably isn’t going to be a main communication method for most businesses, unless you’re an interior designer or an artist and in need of constant visual communications with your clients.
E-mail – I’m assuming you already have an e-mail account or know how to get one. Many people have what are known as free e-mail accounts such as Yahoo (http://mail.yahoo.com) or Hotmail (http://www.msn.com, click Hotmail). While these are easy and free, they don’t portray much of a professional image. Instead, you should take name of your business, for example Home Income Digest, and purchase what is known as its ‘domain name’. In this example, domain name would be ‘homeincomedigest.com’. Now you have ability to correspond using email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or whatever name(s) you prefer. This is usually coordinated with web hosting company that hosts your domain name. There are many topics to discuss with e-mail, but let me hit another one very quickly: autoresponders
An autoresponder automatically responds to a person who has just sent you an e-mail by sending a message that you have previously composed back to them. Sounds great, but many people take this as a sign that you really aren’t serious about your business or are trying to automate everything to point that you don’t have to do any work. Others say autoreponders show you ARE serious and want your customers to know you’ll be in touch as soon as you can. I think you see dilemma here. My advice is don’t use autoresponders if you can generally get back with people promptly (within a few hours, or one business day at most). However, there are situations where autoresponders are perfect, for example sending receipts, since most people don’t expect personal interaction for this type of correspondence.
Telephone – In most cases, you really should get a second phone line. The problem with using your personal phone line is that there is no greeting you can give that will sound correct for all situations. Sure, your friends will get used to you saying, “Hello, this is Jenni’s Interior Designs” but it’s pretty cheesy. Caller I.D. may help, but still. Also, there is really is no appropriate way to compose a voice mail greeting. You could get voice mail with multiple mailboxes, but recording a greeting of “Hello this is Jenni. For Jenni’s Interior Designs press one, to leave a personal message for Jenni press two” doesn’t really impress either. Opt for second phone line, and make sure you use it strictly for business. Also, try to keep phone in a quiet room or where you can shut door if necessary.