Todd Shryock

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Review: WinFax Pro

When e-mail exploded into the business market, the days of fax machines were thought to be numbered.

But even with seemingly every worker wired into e-mail, faxes still play an important role and have become another part in the communication tool set.

There were 400 billion pages sent by fax in 1998, and traffic is expected to increase 22 percent by 2001.

Faxing is an important part of daily business life, but going to the fax machine can be time consuming. Symantec's WinFax Pro was designed to give users all the functionality of the fax machine right on their desktops, with advanced features that might not be available on their stand-alone fax machine.

With nine previous versions, what was left for Symantec to do in version 10? Plenty.

Photos. While a document such as a real estate spec sheet might look great on the computer with crisp text and a color photo, when the item was faxed, the photo came out as an unrecognizable black blob. WinFax now recognizes when it's sending to a fax machine and keeps the images in black and white at the best resolution possible for the receiving machine.

Signatures. WinFax allows a simple process to import your signature into the program. When someone faxes you something that needs to be signed, you can push a button, have your signature appear on the document and fax it back.

Fax to e-mail. Many users wanted the ability to send faxes to an e-mail address. The problem was, computers would often have trouble reading the proprietary file format the fax was sent in and wouldn't be able to open it. WinFax now creates a self-viewing fax, so that anyone with an e-mail address can receive and view a fax from you. A bonus is if you are sending a fax out of your area via e-mail, there are no long distance charges, and the document is delivered directly to the recipient's in-box, avoiding the possibility of confidential information being exposed to others the way a traditional fax might be.

Integration. WinFax takes much of the hassle out of converting data from the most common contact manager programs, such as Act, Outlook and Lotus. The program autodetects phone books in these programs and asks whether you would like the lists imported for use in WinFax.

Drag and drop. Drag any document onto the fax icon and WinFax will prepare it to send.

Dialing options. The program was updated to recognize that some area codes are split between being local calls and toll calls from your location. You can identify the various exchanges with special dialing instructions if needed.

Enhanced interface. One of the problems with version nine was there was too much information displayed, making the interface confusing at times. Version 10 solves this by cutting down on the clutter and displaying only the most relevant information.

Reports. If you need to track faxes or charge backs for client accounts, WinFax can generate various reports to support your billing.

WinFax Pro has maintained its lead in the business fax market with this latest version, and with excellent documentation and online help available, this is a top-notch product. Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Out of order

The wired world we've created has spawned a whole new range of behaviors to cope with the changing environment.

Francine Toder, a psychologist at California State University -- Sacramento's Psychological Counseling Services, has identified the top 10 computer neuroses. "One person's response to technology might be to push toward it," says Toder. "Another's might be to run away from it. Yet another might think, 'The government is trying to get us.'"

Toder's top 10 personalities are:

The technophobe. Technophobes have a strong fear of technology. They might be otherwise forward-thinking, proactive people, but like a person who is afraid of snakes can be paralyzed when faced with one, they can be paralyzed by technology.

The resister. This is the most common personality. "When you meet someone who fits this profile, you know who they are by the energy it takes to convince them to try something new," says Toder. "Resisters aren't afraid of technology; they dislike newness and prefer the simplicity of a technology-free life."

The challenger. Challengers are similar to resisters, with added anger, hostility, resentment and/or acting out behavior. They may be opposed to technology or show signs of paranoia. They can be destructive, like the Unabomber, or use technology in ways that are harmful, such as committing cybercrime. Toder says this reaction is not uncommon when people get up to speed technologically, then don't receive support from management with hardware, software or other technology.

The hermit. Hermits isolate themselves and avoid face-to-face contact. They may have strong technical skills but weak people skills. They embrace technology but have difficulty communicating with others about it.

The addict. Addicts can't stop. They have a myopic approach to life -- eating, sleeping and breathing technology while ignoring other aspects of work and nonwork life. Addictions take two forms: mind-numbing activities like playing video games and checking stock quotes; and mind expanding activities such as Web surfing.

The driver. These technomaniacs are similar to addicts but with manic energy directed toward outpacing competitors and keeping their cutting edge. Drivers are extroverts who love the attention, appreciation and adoration of others.

The procrastinator. Hidden fear of failure causes this type to avoid doing what needs to be done. Instead, they use technology for less relevant tasks that are easier and more satisfying. Unlike the technophobe, the procrastinator feels competent using technology and uses it to mask feelings of incompetence in other parts of life.

The imposter. Imposters feel like fakes, so they make a big show of playing around on the computer, hoping to avoid being found out. They spend more time covering deficits than doing their job, which interferes with work relationships and further erodes self-esteem.

The player. These are grown-up gamers who distract themselves by playing when things get heavy, scary or difficult. On the job, Web surfing, chat rooms and ongoing e-mail conversations may be the most satisfying parts of the workday. They are only interested in technology as a way to advance their play.

The dreamer. Dreamers have unrealistic expectations about the role of technology. They feel cheated when their grandiose ideas about technology fall short of reality. Dreamers may have a general pattern of wishful thinking, distorted perceptions of what is possible or a tendency to exaggerate.

Toder says that many people will not fit one of these personalities, because they only describe those who have a bad relationship with technology. Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Name that domain

You want to set up a Web site, but when you try to register the domain name that best reflects your business, thumbtacks.com, you find that it's taken.

You think of some other ideas, but they, too, are already registered.

The next step is to list every conceivable idea that remotely relates to your business, and try to register each one until you find one that's available.

Or you could skip the whole process and go to Nameboy.com.

"Nameboy is the first intelligent name creation site," says Tom Jackson, who goes by the title of chief executive boy for the company. "It's different in that it has a variety of different techniques for creating domain names using linguistics."

In simpler terms, you enter a name you're interested in. If it isn't available, the site returns a list of many names that are similar in meaning to your original choice. For example, entering thumbtacks.com reveals that it is taken, but the site offers a list of alternatives that aren't, such as ethumbtacks.com and thumbtacksnet.com. It also lists words that are similar in meaning to help you find a related term. In this case, pushpin and paper fastener are two of the alternatives.

The company has one linguist on staff and another consultant to help keep the search engine fine tuned.

"We also help in the naming process by providing names that are already taken," says Jackson. "This can help stimulate brainstorming. There is also a good chance the name may be for sale if you like it. We provide information on who owns the name and how to get ahold of them."

The site gets 85 percent of its customers from small businesses. The service is free -- Nameboy makes its money on referrals to other sites.

"We're the only intelligent naming site out there," says Jackson. "They say that Network Solutions (the company primarily responsible for registering domain names) is the first step on the Internet experience. But if you think about it, you can't take a step until you find a name you like, is brandable or available.

"There are people who take the 'ready, fire, aim' approach when developing a site. We precede the purchase of the name."

As the first stepping stone into the Internet, Nameboy has become an attractive focal point for businesses targeting this niche.

"We are the narrowpoint in the funnel to selling services to new businesses. The reason we started was because we recognized this was a way to attract companies who were interested in distributing their products to a highly qualified customer base."

The 25,000 top words in the English language are all currently registered as dot-coms.

"Right now, some people think every name is taken," says Jackson. "It's a challenging problem, but I hope Nameboy can continue to be the solution." How to reach: Nameboy, www.nameboy.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Log in

If you read the research reports, category X will rise in sales from $2 million this year to $500 million in a few years. It doesn't really matter what X is, because all the reports are almost identical.

In reality, the only products that are definitely selling well over the Internet are books and music. But if you sell something else, does this mean you can't profit from the Web?

No way.

Consider Town & Country Log Homes. Log homes aren't something you'd readily equate with Internet sales, yet the company garners 92 percent of all first contact with customers through its Web site.

"One of the things that makes it work so well is that we have such a narrow niche," says Dave Reed, vice president and marketing director for Town & Country. "We can target our customers very easily. Our customers are people who are seeking log homes and are looking for a specific thing. They are seldom just looking for a home."

In the early '90s, niche publications, color brochures and catalogs were the company's main means of showing the product.

"We decided in '94 or '95 to produce a CD-ROM as an adjunct to or a replacement for the brochure because of the economies," says Reed.

The company could produce a CD with 700 pages of plans and pictures for 65 cents each, as opposed to a 100-page plan book for $10 to $12 each.

"Our Web site really flowed along with that technology," Reed says. "As we advanced electronically, it made sense to sell on the Web because the people interested in our products were likely to have a CD player, Web access and were likely to use it.

"Our site evolved with a combination of some technical advances, along with some general updating. That's the nature of the difference between a site and a printed piece. The site is more like a fluid liquid document; there's always fine tuning. We get feedback from customers and visitors, and new photography gets online much faster. It's as much a communication tool as advertising, per se."

The company was careful in its selection of which technology to use. When virtual photos, which allow the viewer to pan 360 degrees, became available, Town & Country waited.

"We waited quite awhile until the technology got to a better resolution," says Reed. "In the earlier versions, the quality just wasn't there, and that wasn't a direct fit for us. We try to stay away from whiz-bang items just for the sake of saying it's cool. We look at is as, "How will this help the customer get more information about our product?"

The site URL is listed on every printed document the company has, from ads to business cards, to checks and invoices. It also does keyword advertising on a search engine, so when someone types in a search for "log homes" or "cedar homes," its banner comes up.

Of the 92 percent who find the company through the Web, about half found the site through printed materials or shows. The other half comes from links or Web searches.

"There are a number of companies in this business, and you have to do these things just to be ahead of the competition," says Reed. "If you don't do it, someone else will. The real key is to have a narrow niche product. You can do this cost effectively.

"I've listened to people throw around numbers -- like you need $10,000 to have an effective site. In five years, we don't have $10,000 in our site. You can have a quality site on a minimal budget that works, if you are thoughtful about it." How to reach: Town & Country, www.cedarhomes.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Blank banners

Almost every Web site has unsold banner ad space. Studies show the average company has 75 percent of its banner space available, leaving business owners a large inventory of virtual real estate that's not making money.

One company has come up with a solution: Turn this empty space into your own branded wireless service.

"We actually allow any company on the Net to create a private-label wireless phone business," says David Steinberg, founder and CEO of Inphonic. "We allow you to sell a wireless phone that our partners activate the contracts for and pay you a percentage."

Here's how it works: Inphonic makes banners and boxes to fit the ad spaces on your site and uploads them to run in the unsold space. When someone clicks on the ad offering a free wireless phone, they are taken to a site customized for your business. For example, Talkcity.com users who click on the phone ads are taken to a site customized for Talkcity wireless.

Users type in where they live, and the site finds the wireless partner in their area to activate the contract. When the person receives his or her phone, it is labeled for the business it was purchased from -- in our example, it would be Talkcity.com.

"Because these ads are running on space that is unsold anyway, this is a zero opportunity cost," says Steinberg.

Inphonic is adding a service to allow users to answer questions about usage patterns, then be directed to the provider with the best deal for their needs.

"Only 25 percent of people in the U.S. have phones, which is the lowest rate of all the industrialized nations," says Steinberg. "That means 75 percent either don't have one now or have never had one. We're aiming for both the 75 percent and those who are already experienced."

Inphonic started working with sites that were receiving 1 million to 50 million impressions per month, but is adding an automated service so that any size business can participate. All you will need to do is upload your logo for use on the site and the phone labels. Larger companies also receive a customized toll free number to help users, while smaller companies will receive a number which, instead of referring directly to the business (such as Talkcity Wireless), will say "Powered by Inphonic." That will also be noted on the site.

"The average consumer looks at their phone 12 to 15 times a day," says Steinberg. "How much do you pay to get your name seen once a day in the paper? This is a great branding opportunity. You get a percentage of revenue for the phones sold, your customer gets a brand name phone and you are monetizing unsold ad space." How to reach: www.inphonic.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Setting the sale

You may have no intention of selling your business in the next 20 years, but start planning for the inevitable now.

"Every seller wants the same things: the highest price, the least amount of effort in the quickest timeframe," says Chad Simmons, author of the "Business Valuation Bluebook." "There are steps you need to take to make this occur, and you can't start thinking about it this week if you want to sell next week. The time to start thinking about it is the day after you start the business or the day after you buy the business.

"You need to be looking at least a year ahead to prepare. There are things you can do that will result in a dramatic improvement in value."

Secure your good location. "No lender will offer a five-year business loan to a business with only three years left on its lease," says Simmons. "Go in and renegotiate with an extended term with some options to renew. It will help ensure to the potential buyer that the location is going to be there."

Develop your Web address. "A Web site is becoming like a telephone -- you have to have one," says Simmons. "Those who put one up are more viable than those that don't, even if there is no direct increase in sales. It's just one more thing a buyer won't have to do."

Preview your business. Clean up your business, both literally and figuratively. Get rid of old inventory and eliminate positions that are no longer needed.

Prepare your numbers. "You're going to have to make some disclosures to any potential buyers," says Simmons. "It's a good idea to know what they are going to be and prepare them ahead of time. Also, get a nondisclosure agreement for the parties to sign. When someone asks to see three to five years' worth of financials, respond positively and hand them the statements you've already prepared. This eliminates a lot of the running around."

Reduce uncertainty. Don't tell your employees you're going to sell. You don't want to scare valuable employees off, and you don't want to give the buyer a reason to say no.

Don't cheat. If you're skimming from the business, stop now. It's illegal and will greatly complicate matters when others start looking at your financial statements.

Prepare to transfer knowledge on how to run the business successfully. "Be prepared with a training program," says Simmons. "Prepare a written outline on how you will help the buyer fit into the business, teach them about the product or service and introduce them to customers." Find a way to convert your skills into the business itself so the best assets aren't walking out the door when you leave.

Protect your brands. Use copyrights, service marks and trademarks to protect your brands if you haven't already done so.

Solidify your customer base. If possible, put your customers under contract, even if just for a year. It gives a potential buyer confidence that the client base will still be around when he or she arrives.

Increase your visibility. "A great time to hire a PR firm is one year before you sell," says Simmons. "The more people that see you, the more that will want you. It will make your business more attractive."

Take your own look. Hire a broker, accountant or attorney to take a look at your business as if you were going to buy it. See how it looks from an objective point of view. This will help you anticipate problems and give you an idea of how any deal will be structured -- and don't expect a suitcase full of $100 bills.

"The most important thing may be to be realistic," says Simmons. "I've seen so many who have had wonderful businesses, but they have an overinflated estimate of what it is worth. It's damaging and sad. They could put it on the market for the right price and sell it quickly and be on to whatever they have in mind next. But they think it's worth so much more, that it sits on the market for a year or more with all the associated holding costs.

"Their attitude really turns sour, the employees see that and revenue goes down. It's important to do a valuation and know what your business is worth." How to reach: Chad Simmons, www.priceaspower.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Choose wisely

In today's tight labor market, it's very tempting to hire the first person that walks through the door, even if he or she is barely qualified for the job.

But don't do it, no matter how long you've been trying to fill the position.

"The smaller you are, and the fewer employees you have, the more important it is to hire the right person," says DeAnne Rosenberg, author of "Hiring the Best Person for Every Job."

To find the right person, start by ignoring most of what is on the resumes you receive.

"The resume is virtually a nonplayer," says Rosenberg. "Resumes can be very misleading. Candidates say they have a familiarity with computers. What does that mean -- they've seen one? They say they worked very closely with the buyer. What does that mean -- they had a desk down the hall from them?"

Candidates put forth on a resume only the information they want you to know. Before you hire, have a long conversation with yourself and determine what skills you need in a person to fill that position.

"Get some clarity about your expectations," says Rosenberg. "For most jobs, there are only five major areas you need specific results in, with the rest not being as important. Pull each one apart and determine what you regard as satisfactory performance. Then, figure out, in order to meet those expectations, what skills will the person need. Your interview questions should target those competencies."

Don't make the mistake of falling back on cliches for your interview questions, because there are cliche answers that go with them. The entire interview will be on autopilot and you'll learn nothing.

"You want a match between the candidate's goals and what you need for your business," says Rosenberg. "It has to be a partnership where the candidate is helping you achieve your company goals while you help them with their career goals. You can't motivate people who have no goals, so don't hire them.

"You want people who want to expand their knowledge, because then you have the basis for a partnership."

If you have your expectations listed in advance and work off of those, you are working off a set foundation and can keep the interview focused on the aspects that are important. If you are working off the resume, you're working off the moving target that the candidate has prepared and you've lost control.

If you panic and fill a position with the wrong person, you can alienate your other employees and end up with more open positions. If the person hired isn't pulling his or her weight, and the manager simply reassigns work to other employees to make up for it, you may find that the employees picking up the extra work are heading for the nearest exit.

"There are two main reasons people leave work: They either don't like the way they are being managed or the work is boring and nonchallenging," says Rosenberg.

Being a smaller company isn't necessarily a disadvantage in the job market. Emphasize that employees will never be a number in your business and that they will have many more opportunities to grow because they are expected to perform many tasks. Also, don't give up on people who have left the company.

"You never know how the new job will work out," says Rosenberg. "Keep in touch with them by sending them birthday cards and tell them they are missed. It's always nice to know you are wanted, and it's hard for a person to admit they made a mistake by leaving.

"This way, they don't have to, and you won't have to train them." How to reach: DeAnne Rosenberg, www.managementsense.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Changing pressures

Hospitals, already turned upside down by the merger and restructuring craze that has hit health care during the last several years, are facing more difficult decisions.

According to a study by Deloitte & Touche, financial pressures are forcing hospital CEOs to cancel managed care contracts at a "surprising rate." Overall, nearly one-third of hospitals have cancelled an HMO contract; that number leaps to nearly 60 percent for hospitals with more than 500 beds. The most commonly cited reason for cancelling an HMO contract was poor financial results.

"Despite near-term financial pressures, hospitals are more optimistic about their long-term survival," says Ray Cisneros, the survey's architect and a national health care partner with the firm.

Even though the market environment is challenging and many hospitals are closing, optimism remains high. The survey found that 75 percent of hospital CEOs expect their organizations to still be operating in five years -- up from 57 percent a decade ago. This increased optimism has allowed executives to direct their attention to meeting the needs of consumers.

One of the growing demands of these consumers is alternative medicine.

"Hospitals have discovered that alternative medicine and health care therapies can provide new revenue," says Tom Hochhausler, national health care partner with Deloitte & Touche. "That's resulted in steady growth in the number of organizations offering complementary care, especially among larger urban facilities."

In fact, 25 percent of inner-city and 32 percent of larger hospitals offer alternative therapies more frequently than do their counterparts. The study also found that 24 percent of hospital CEOs use alternative therapies, such as natural and herbal medicines.

What is slow to change is the downsizing of overall acute care capacity, with nearly 40 percent of those surveyed reporting an excess supply of these services in their respective markets. A portion of this excess is being converted to outpatient use, with a growing percentage of CEOs reporting that outpatient care represents more than half of their revenue.

Despite these facts, 40 percent of suburban and other urban hospitals report plans to increase acute care offerings over the next two years.

"While nationally there appears to be an imbalance in supply and demand, some acute care facilities are simply not located where they are needed," says Cisneros. "As a result, we are seeing many hospitals shutting acute care wings while others are adding beds."

Cisneros cautions that hospitals need to keep an eye on the capacity problem and not compete on size without regard for demand. Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Family obligations

Running a business is difficult. The pressures on time and money can be extreme, and there is always the looming possibility of failure.

Add to this the needs of your children and elderly parents and you have a situation that is putting a strain on your sanity.

"People have to determine where their values are," says Shirley Duncan Garrett, a professional speaker and author on the issue of finding balance in your life. "Look at your checkbook and your calendar to see where you are putting your values. If you value family, then you need to create family time."

Garrett recommends picking one night a week, preferably Sunday to minimize conflicts, that will become a time for a ritual get-together. You can invite other adult friends and the children can invite a few friends as well, so you get to know their friends and they get to know yours.

"It can be something as simple as preparing and enjoying a meal together," says Garrett. "Don't make it too complicated, but don't just sit down and watch television, either. Play cards or board games. Don't make a big production out of the meal. People try to run their house like it's a business.

"It's not that big a deal. Just sit at a table and face each other and open up a time for some dialogue."

The family night chosen should become sacred. That means turning off cell phones and pagers and planning other activities around it.

Another issue that is becoming increasingly common is dealing with elderly parents.

"Most people have this belief that their parents aren't going to get old," says Garrett. "They think their responsibilities will be limited to talking to them on the phone on occasion and seeing them on holidays, then one day they will have a heart attack and you'll miss them. But as they age, they will have more and more needs."

It is important for you to become an advocate for your parents to make sure they are getting the best care. Ideally, you should talk to them while they are still well to find out what their wishes are

"Talk honestly about what you are capable of doing to help," says Garrett. "It's easy to make promises not to put them in a nursing home, but the level of care they need may require that. It's also important to understand their finances and insurance coverage."

A clear set of plans laid out in advance of any health concerns will help take care of problems, especially because this is a time when sibling rivalry or pecking order can come into play.

"To broach the topic, say, 'I am concerned about making sure that things are handled in a way that you want them to be handled,'" says Garrett. "Ask your parents if they have made arrangements in case they become ill, including living wills.

"The hardest thing about this is it is one area of our lives that we can't put off. You can't put off being with children, because you'll turn around and they'll be grown and gone. You can't say, 'Once I get my company to this level, I'm taking my parents on a vacation.' By the time you get there, they may be gone," she says.

"And if you can't find the time, maybe you need to look at why the business is controlling your life and carve our more time for yourself." How to reach: Shirley Garrett, www.shirleygarrett.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.

Friday, 28 June 2002 07:00

Testing the market

Arthur Brown started ChanTest Inc. in 1999 with two employees, and in three years, has grown the company to 18 employees and $2.4 million in revenue by testing more than 400 drugs. The Cleveland-based firm specializes in testing the safety of drugs for pharmaceutical companies and drug discovery research, and has been profitable since its inception.

One of its keys to success has been recognizing the need by regulatory agencies worldwide for pre-clinical tests that could predict whether noncardiac drugs might cause sudden cardiac death.

Chairman and CEO Brown developed a testing method that was a strong predictor of this side effect and has been in great demand by the pharmaceutical industry, which has seen several drugs with sales of greater than $1 billion pulled because of the danger of cardiac arrest.

"We deliver good lab practice products of the highest quality with fast turnaround time," says Brown. "We can do this because we have the most outstanding group of research scientists dedicated to these ion channel-based assays anywhere in the world."

This range of expertise sets ChanTest apart from its few competitors.

"We serve a small niche market with an essential product and we have assembled the most firepower in the world to deliver the product," says Brown.

Despite its current proficiency, Brown knows the company has to keep getting better and faster to stay on top.

"The biggest challenge will be technological -- development of assays that are faster and cheaper than ours," says Brown. "We meet this challenge by being beta site tester for the instrument companies that are trying to develop these new technologies. Because we have the largest experience in our market, we are attractive collaborators for these companies."

Brown also has other goals to keep the company moving forward.

"During (the next 18 months) we will bring a fast, cheap high throughput safety testing screen online," says Brown. "This screen will complement our present products and give us a large competitive advantage. We will accelerate our drug program this year. Over the next two years we will develop a more general platform of ion channel target discovery that will be based on and utilize our present expertise in ion channels." How to reach: ChanTest Inc., (216) 332-1665