Meetings in Your Skivvies – Tools for the Work at Home Professional

Of all the perks that come with working from home, one of the most common favorites is the end of senseless meetings. Think of all the time wasted talking about doing stuff, that could actually be used to get stuff done.

meeting-guyMeetings still have a place though, and as a home-based professional, you have a variety of tools available to make them much less painful. I use important criteria when planning a meeting, such as:

  • Do I have to shave?
  • Can I wear a hat, or do I have to comb my hair?
  • Are lounge pants acceptable attire?
  • Will the dog have to leave the room?

These are vital questions to consider when planning out your meetings. With all the options at our disposal these days, you can have a very productive meeting that may not require a dress shirt – or even pants.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is the next best thing to being there. Chances are you don’t have the funds or the need for Cisco’s Telepresence (a real bargain starting at just $79,000), or even the less expensive Microsoft RoundTable.

A simple, inexpensive Webcam, something in the $100 range, should suit you fine. If you want a real-world review round-up, check out Cowboy Frank.

As for software, if you’re using Windows you may already have NetMeeting. I’ve used it for years, and it is “good enough” for most uses. But if you want something really nice, SiteSpeed can’t be beat for the price and features. If you know what a codec is, than you’ll be impressed with theirs. If not, just know that it makes the video a lot less choppy than others.

If you’re on a Mac, there’s no need to look further than iChat. Again, it’s perfect for most home-based business purposes. If you’re on Linux, you aren’t going to want me telling you what to use, you know what you’re doing.

Web-based Meetings

There are lots of options when it comes to Web-based conferencing. Sharing your desktop, making presentations, video, and whiteboards are the most common features. I’ve used WebEx most often, mainly because that’s what my larger clients use. DimDim is a newcomer and is getting some good press and Vyew offers many of the features of WebEx for free.

If you’re looking for just a way to do online presentations, maybe coupled with a phone call, check out SlideShare or Teamslide.

For full project collaboration type options, take a look at Basecamp, activeCollab, or Zoho Projects.

Teleconferencing

When you do a search for teleconferencing, you get so many results, it’s completely overwhelming. I can’t offer much in the way or options here, because I’ve used 2 services in the past 5 years – AccuConference and Skype. There are others that I’m sure are great, but with these 2, I’ve never had the need to try anything else. I’ve found AccuConference to work well for my needs, the pricing competitive, and service reliable. As for Skype, well that deserves its own entry…

Skype

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those Skype evangelists. There are alternatives, but Skype has become such a great tool, that I use it every day. I make all my long distance calls using Skype, use it for chat, and have even done some videoconferencing. My business line long distance bill is now non-existent, and I find that my first instinct is to use Skype for all my calls.

I have the IPEVO Free-1 (in Ultimate Black) Skype Phone which suits my needs fine. There are more expensive and more feature rich options available, but for 35 bucks, it can’t be beat.

Text Chat

It’s becoming more and more common to conduct meetings, brainstorming sessions, and discussions over text chat. I have business partners and colleagues I’ve never met in person, and probably only talked to on the phone once or twice. Text chat is immediate and not encumbering. It lets you get to the point faster and get your ideas down quick.

Chances are you will have to deal with a few different types – AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, GTalk, MSN, Jabber – so I prefer a text chat tool that can handle them all. I have logins for all of the major players, so I want to be able to accommodate the person I’m talking to. I use Gaim as my main chat client (along with Skype as a more all-around tool). It’s open source, free, and handles most of the major login types. If you prefer a commercial client – Trillian Pro is a feature-rich program. Then there’s Meebo, a Web-based version that works with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Jabber or GTalk, and MSN.

You might want to try out a few to see which best meets your needs.

Down With Meetings, Long Live Meetings…

There will always be meetings. That’s something that we can be sure of. But by utilizing the many tools available, you can save you and your clients time, money, and some sanity by making meetings more efficient and useful. So forget about shaving, stay in your comfy pants, and remember why you work from home – to do business on your terms. With or without pants.

Joyful Jubilant Learning

idea-guyI find it interesting that most home-based business folks I work with have a love of learning. It’s interesting, but not surprising. With all of the many hats that we have to wear, and all of the things we have to know, if you don’t have a love of learning, it makes it difficult to keep ahead.

I’m always excited to see new ideas regarding communities of learning and sharing. There seems to be a natural inclination among entrepreneurs and small business owners to want to contribute and share what they’ve learned.

I recently discovered a new community project called Joyful Jubilant Learning:

Welcome to Joyful Jubilant Learning, a content network where the Ho’ohana Community shares their passion for Lifelong Learning.

This site was inspired by an extraordinary experience of collaborative learning which transformed participants in unexpected ways. Join in to help us continue the momentum, spirit, and exploding possibilities.

Join in to “Learn with passion and purpose.”

It’s a new project and seems to have some great potential for like-minded folks to learn, share, explore, and grow. If it sounds interesting to you, check out the post on How Do YOU Get Involved in JJLN? to learn about what it is, and how you can get involved.

The Power of the Niche

tip-guyA common theme you’ll hear regarding home-business success is the niche. And whether you pronounce it neesh or nich, it can be one of the most powerful words in the lexicon of the home-based business. From targeting your message, to clarifying who your customers are, defining your niche is essential to many aspects of a successful home-based venture. I hear the common arguments all the time with folks I work with – “I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself,” “my product really works well in several target markets,” “my niche is everyone with a [fill in the blank].” But by not defining a niche you can really hamstring your business – particularly when it comes to marketing.

Wendy Maynard, the Marketing Maven, has an excellent post from yesterday that really captures this idea well:

Positioning yourself in a niche is powerful.

It is a strategic process to match your expertise and passions with the people you are targeting. And it sets you apart. You are competing with a lot of noise in the marketplace to get your potential customers’ attention – and their business. If you can stand out with a unique benefit (your niche specialization), you are a lot more likely to get noticed because you are unique from your competition.

The real power comes from truly understanding your customers, as well as what you bring to the marketplace. What makes your business special, and a magnet for success, is your unique mix of talents and how you view the world. In order to truly capitalize on those gifts, you have to zero-in on those that can best benefit from what you’re offering – and provide them with the best possible product, service, or experience that you can.

Being More Productive with Printable Paper Tools

tools-guyAs a home based business person, sometimes its hard to stay focused and organized. Okay – most of the time. Being your own boss is great, but let’s face it, you aren’t going to be breathing down your own neck every minute of every day. This is why so many of us pro nesters love productivity tips, lifehacks, and motivational techniques.

One of the most popular and one of the best is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The problem is that it tends to be overkill for many home-based businesses. It was designed for the harried executive, and though it can be tailored to specific needs, that process in and of itself can be daunting.

Enter David Seah’s Printable CEOTM Series

I stumbled upon David’s printable forms earlier this year and have found them to be a great resource for capturing and managing tasks. Unlike a lot of systems, the forms are focused on being simple and easily readable – tools that clearly show what you’re doing, what you should be doing, and how much you’re doing.

The Printable CEOTM(PCEO) was born from a desire to focus my time more productively. For me, that means things that make my freelance practice sustainable and fun. The Printable CEO name comes from the idea that a good CEO should focus primarily on those things that move the company forward; since I can’t afford to hire my own CEO, being able to print one out seemed like the next best thing! :-)

The series consists of several forms, each designed to outline or capture specific tasks, actions, and goals. I’ve found the new variation of the original Concrete Goals Tracker and the Emergent Task Planner to be my favorites, and the ones I use most often.

Take a look at the Printable CEO Series page if you’re looking for some useful forms for tracking tasks and moving projects forward.

Related Resources

  • D*I*Y Planner (I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post. Another favorite.)
  • PocketMod – The Free Disposable Personal Organizer
  • PigPogPDA – A Moleskine Hacked into a Complete System

The Most Important Item on a Top 5 List – #6 – Follow Up

valuable-infoPhil Gerbyshak over at Make It Great! has a terrific post on customer service today. One of the key items on his list – item 6, Follow Up – is in my opinion one of the most important. And as I noted in the comments, is the one most often overlooked. I also think it’s fitting that its number six on a “top 5″ list ;) .

The exclamation point of any contact is a call back after the sale or service is done, and find out if your customer got what they needed or if the item is working the way they expected it to, or if perhaps there is more that needs to be done. This ensures customers are delighted, and if they’re not, it gives you a chance to make it up to them, right then and there. You do want delighted customers, don’t you?

As a home-based business owner, it’s important to spend as much time keeping current clients as it is getting new ones. A simple follow-up phone call, or better yet, a hand written note, is an incredibly effective way to show your customers how important they really are. They become repeat customers and evangelists for your business. I’m guessing if you are doing what you love, from home no less, that you are pretty enthusiastic about your company. Carry that enthusiasm through after the sale to genuinely show that you value your customers. If you’re providing a great service, and something of value, it’s also a good way to hear some nice words. But even in the (hopefully) rare situation where you have an unhappy customer, it’s a way to make things right. It’s often said that a happy customer will tell a friend and an unhappy one will tell 10 (or more these days).

A perfect example is a home-based hypnotherapist I recently worked with. If she does her job well, she won’t have any repeat business (unless they have multiple issues they want to work on). In a sense, she provides a service to lose customers. Her value is making sure her customers won’t have to come back. But what she gains is an army of evangelists, promoting her great service.

So think of ways you can follow-up, and provide some additional value. Treat your customers as your most valuable asset – because that’s exactly what they are.