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Published August 2006

Chained to your desk? Stay
in touch while out and about
with wireless e-mail

Dear Business.com: Like many young companies, mine has become heavily, if not totally, dependant on e-mail to stay in touch with, well, just about everybody — customers, partners, employees, vendors, you name it. I need mobile e-mail so I’m not chained to my desktop PC. What are other business owners using? — Wired & Chained

Dear Chained: Small-business owners know better than anyone that staying in touch is vital to success. And now that e-mail is such a dominant force in day-to-day operations, the ability to communicate by e-mail no matter where your day takes you is one thing that can set you above the competition.

If you have to be on the road, out of the office — or just away from your desk — you need a way to access your e-mail in order to be responsive to customers, suppliers and employees. These days, people expect fast answers, and if you can’t supply them, you could be hurting your business.

For entrepreneurs who can’t ever seem to break free of the office, signing up for wireless e-mail can be a liberating experience. Suddenly, you can be away but still instantly in touch, making sure the work keeps flowing.

With keen competition, falling service prices and ever-improving technology, wireless e-mail has become a big hit with small business. Some wireless e-mail plans cost as little as $5 to $20 per month on top of the regular voice-calling rate. Services geared to professionals and small-business owners, such as those from BlackBerry, cost about $30 to $40 per month. In many cases, the cost will depend on the volume of e-mails you send and receive.

BlackBerry, from Research in Motion (RIM), originally launched the wireless e-mail market and remains the leader. BlackBerry solutions, devices and support are sold through wireless carriers, retail stores or other vendors.

Treo, from Palm Inc., is a competing wireless handheld gadget that can probably be linked to your current wireless calling plan. Palm’s mobile devices have become “must have” technology for many entrepreneurs who relish the freedom to work efficiently from anywhere. The company’s pioneering Palm Pilot was first introduced in 1996.

In addition to voice calls, here are some of the services you’ll have access to with a “smart phone”:

  • E-mail, Internet and instant messaging.
  • Organizer applications such as calendars, contacts and task lists.
  • Business applications such as mileage managers, time and billing, contact management, inventory control and others.

And don’t worry about losing information or having it on your mobile device when you really need it on your desktop. Choose a handheld that can exchange information wirelessly with your PC.

BlackBerry’s small-business solutions keep it about as simple as possible. If you choose the company’s Internet service, for example, you get wireless access to communications and information with nothing required on your end — no server software or solution outsourcing.

Make It Work LLC, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based fee-for-service computer support franchise, saw wireless e-mail as the key to better customer service. Its computer technicians are constantly making service calls to homes and small businesses. At first, they used laptops to submit billing information and stay in touch on scheduling. But it was inefficient and required that field workers use a customer’s Internet connection.

So Make It Work CEO Eric Greenspan switched to BlackBerry. “Now, if someone is going to be delayed, our customers know about it instantly by wireless e-mail. In a business that is about instant response and 100 percent satisfaction, you can’t underestimate what a tool like this means to us.”

ActionGuide:

  • BlackBerry offers a range of wireless solutions specifically designed for small business, including e-mail, phone, Internet, organizer and others. Visit www.blackberry.com/go/smb.
  • Treo, a “smart phone” produced by Palm Inc., is a popular device among entrepreneurs. It can help simplify your life by combining a cell phone with e-mail, an organizer, messaging and Web access (not to mention the MP3 player and digital camera). Visit www.palm.com.
  • Intellisync Corp. is one of the upstart wireless providers designing solutions for small business. Check “Solutions, By Business Need” at www.intellisync.com.
  • Cingular offers a variety of wireless productivity solutions for small business, including BlackBerry, Treo, Pocket PC and others. Visit www.cingular.com/sbusiness.

Daniel Kehrer (dkehrer@business.com) is editor at Business.com, the leading business search engine.

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© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA