Life Is Free, Sometimes – Everything “Free” in Business Today

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A long time ago not too far away, everything had a price tag because there were not much options available. If something was given away for free, it was more of a privilege than the norm. “Buy One Get One Free” and other big sales promotions were never much of a big deal as life was good, simple and easy.

Today, when something free is offered, everybody goes out of their way to get into the action. A “Big Sale” event is enough reason to change one’s daily routine or make a snap decision to drop everything and tell your spouse, “let’s go – now!” That’s exactly what happened when I spent the day at the Bonifacio High Street commercial area inside The Fort after attending a BCBP fellowship breakfast. My good friend and I hopped from one retail outlet to another window shopping and ended up at Starbucks for more banter before calling it a night. When we left the café at around 7:30 PM, we were surprised to see hundreds of people loitering around the two-block area. I realized they were all waiting for a free view of the scheduled Pyro Olympics. Unfortunately, many of them didn’t know that that Saturday’s show has already been rescheduled and moved to January 2010 because of the previous Saturday’s fireworks competition between China and Germany turning out to be a rainy night and thus spoiled the show.

I’m an ardent fan of anything free. In fact, my moniker for this is “free, fast and forever” – the three F’s of things that are must haves for anything that being offered for free. When “free” fails the two remaining F’s, it’s not enticing to continue the service.

However, some things will never come for free. There was a long go internet site that offered free phone calls to any US number (I couldn’t put my finger in it but it started with the letter “S”) but eventually stopped giving its service for free because (probably) of the cost of providing it for free was just too much. So, in the spirit of “free,” I’ve compiled a short list of things I use for my business matters that’s “free, fast and (hopefully) forever.”

Skype – still the best free PC-to-PC voice service

Skype is the best peer-to-peer voice platform using the internet that’s been around for free and has maintained the quality of service I expect a voice provider to do. Yahoo Messenger et al also provides the same service but their voice quality isn’t as good as Skype. Though I chat with friends, I try not to do this with my North American clients. In fact, many of the latter don’t even maintain a chat account because they’d rather speak than type. I would e-mail clients asking for a good date and time to speak to each other using Skype because in my experience, business transactions are done better by talking to each other. Through the e-mail message, I ask my prospective client if he has a Skype account and schedule a date and time to discuss doing business with each other. One thing I will never do is discusss a business opportunity using e-mail, which many Asians like Filipinos try to do. North Americans and Europeans actually prefer talking than writing. Filipinos love doing the reverse; why do you think text messaging is a huge success in the country?

The Inexpensive Philippine Long Distance Telephone Solutions

If your client does not have a Skype account, immediately offer to call him instead – don’t even think about asking him to create a Skype account. Please. Also, this is a business opportunity for you so don’t make the mistake of assuming he will call you in the Philippines. In today’s telecommunications world, it’s actually cheaper to call North America from the Philippines than the reverse. There are inexpensive ways I call my North American clients. I can buy a Globe TipIDD card for my Globe landline which gives me 40 minutes of talk time to the US or Canada for 100 Pesos, or the PLDT Budget Card that gives me 30 minutes for 100 Pesos or 60 minutes for 200 Pesos. If I’m not around a landline, I can use my Globe mobile phone and dial 12800, the country code, area code and telephone number, and get charged about 7 to 10 Pesos per minute, half of the regular 20 Pesos per minute cost. You can also buy the popular Magic Jack product that allows you unlimited calls in the US which retails for about 4,000 Pesos. However, before you complain how lousy the service is, remember that the weakest link to an internet-based telephone system is your internet bandwidth. Using a poor DSL connection will definitely make the quality of service bad. In technical terms, traditional VOIP-based services require 64 kbps of simultaneous upload and download speed. DSL connections don’t have any bandwidth commitment so even if you have a 2 Mbps DSL connection, it can drop to zero in a second or two, then climb up back to its subscribed speed, drop down and up again. That’s why call centers in the Philippines pay thousands of Dollars to subscribe to internet lines that maintain the required simultaneous upload-download speeds.

You can also buy prepaid minutes from a service provider they call a “termination service provider,” one who sets up VOIP lines and terminates your VOIP call to a North American telephone number. If you prepay and buy around 2,000 minutes at a high price of $0.03 per minute, that’s about 2,760 Pesos worth but valued only at about 1.38 Pesos per minute, still lower than the prepaid card landline providers Globe and PLDT. All you need is to download a freeware called “X-Lite”, configure the user ID, password and domain IP address and you’re set to call North America at cheap rates. I’ve used www.globalaccesscomm.com before for this kind of service. I bought 20,000 minutes worth at $0.015 per minute rate. They are located at the 21st floor of Prestige Building along F.Ortigas Jr. Ave. (formerly Emerald Ave.) where you can pay by check or Peso or Dollar cash in person.

Get a Corporate E-mail Address for $10 a year

In today’s wired world, many in business continue to use free e-mail services like Yahoo, G-Mail, Hotmail and the like. That’s great for personal e-mails and the like. However, you must professionalize your corporate image by using an e-mail address that depicts your business, e.g. myname@company.com. You normally have to buy an e-mail hosting solution that will cost about $50 to $100 a year. I did it the cheaper way but let me explain below.

First, I bought a domain name from GoDaddy.com for about $10 a year – it’s cheaper if you purchase the two or three year subscription. I know of only two very popular free e-mail hosting sites that offer hosting your organization’s domain for free – that’s Hotmail/Live.com and Gmail.com. I’m sure there are hundreds of others out there but I stuck it out with an e-mail hosting site that I’m already used to the graphical user interface (“GUI”). You can use Google Apps Standard Edition (go to http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html) to set up your corporate e-mail account for free, including Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Site. I can’t find the link to Live.com’s version but I’m sure the free e-mail hosting feature is still there. If you’d like to use other free e-mail hosting service, that’s okay, too. Whichever you use, your e-mail hosting provider should give you easy-to-understand instructions to point your domain’s e-mail IP address to the new email hosting platform you’re going to use. If what you’re reading still sounds too Greek, copy or print all the instructions of your free e-mail hosting provider and call GoDaddy.com. in about 10 minutes, they’ll have your domain settings changed and pointed to your free e-mail hosting provider for you. C’mon! 10 minutes of a long-distance telephone call to a US number is peanuts compared to the anxiety of having a domain name you can’t even use. Trust me when I say e-mail will not work right away – the tendency is to keep bouncing e-mails between your domain provider and yourself until the former clearly understands what it is you’re in need of help for.

Blogging as a Corporate Website

Today’s corporate websites now copy the format or actually use free blog sites like Blogger/Blogspot and WordPress. I’m a WordPress user but other blogging sites are just as easy to use. However, WordPress.com also offers their entire blogging software free to download at WordPress.org. This entire software is something you can use and alter when you have your own web hosting space. But start with the free blog hosting site like WordPress.com before attempting to buy a hosting package and use the WordPress.org program. I bought a personal domain name in April and pointed it to my WordPress.com site, i.e. www.company.com points to company.wordpress.com. After six months of using the free WordPress.com blog space and getting a good feel about WordPress and the activity of blogging, it was time for me to buy a hosting package. Before I did, I looked for a free but better looking WordPress theme (like the themes of your mobile phone) that would now professionalize (or personalize) the look and feel of my original blog. I bought a $50 per year hosting package from GoDaddy.com that’s WordPress-ready. When I found the free WordPress theme that I liked, I downloaded it into my new WordPress hosting package.

Blogging is now the new method of providing content to web visitors besides media publication or communications companies. Even CNN uses the free WordPress.org program in their website. Now that people are so used to reading blogs, the old-world way of creating a catalog-looking website is passé. Your corporate site now needs to be updated, at least, on a weekly basis; otherwise, people will visit you twice and never return because nothing changed in your site or nothing interesting exists. Content is now king – either you develop your own content or hire the services of other people to develop content for you. You can become an employer at oDesk.com to have freelance content writers bid for your project or get your relative, friend or acquaintance to help – besides hiring someone the traditional way.

Conference Calling the United States for Free

When I need a three-party conference call that involves a North American entity, I always use www.freeconference.com to set up the bridge conference telephone number. This simply means everyone must call a US telephone number, enter the PIN code and start talking to each other. If it involves a Philippine company calling the US number, I always give my two-cents of suggestions on the inexpensive ways to call the US as I described above. Freeconference.com allows you to set up as many participants as you want and up to four hours of talk time without paying a single cent. It also allows you to auto-email all the participants with an attached Outlook-formatted calendar file. Recording the conference used to be free but is now a paid service. However, I don’t usually need to record conference calls as all of my telephone meetings are exploratory and discussion-based – writing out my notes using pen and paper has always been easier than being lazy and just recording the conversation. After the telephone meeting, I always create and e-mail everyone an after-conference report to document everything and allow the other participants to review and even add their comments or things that I missed jotting down. I’ve been using Freeconference.com since 2005.

Here’s a realization: most countries’ long-distance calling rates to the United States is cheaper than two Third World countries calling each other. So, if I have that situation, it actually becomes more cost-effective to call a U.S. bridge conferencing telephone number, like Freeconference.com, than calling each other long distance. For example, I’m currently dealing with a call center in Guyana. Initially, I started a Freeconference.com US-based telephone number until we became more familiar with each other and relied on Skype in our following conversations.

Online Address Books with Birthday Reminders

For address books, I used to use Plaxo.com because it provided free use of its “export to file” feature; today, you have to pay for that. However, I still rely on it to remind me of birthdays and so I continue to update it every time I receive a new business card. It automatically invites my new contact to check and revise my entries even without forcing my new contact to join Plaxo. This is good because some systems force you to join their online service before allowing you to update or change detailed information. One field that’s always there is the birthday field. Birthdays are important for me in business because it is the most important event for a person without having to know his nationality or religion. Remembering someone’s birthday is a great relationship-building activity you can do to someone who many not give you business today but may do so in an unforeseen future. A great example is an e-mail acquaintance of mine from Toronto (I’ll call him Martin). We met in a Yahoo Group because we both worked for the call center industry in 2002. I kept tabs with him every year when I greeted him on his birthday and we’d continue to exchange a few more e-mails right after greeting him until the conversation dies down and I greet him the following year. Four years later, when I greeted him on his birthday, I also told him I was setting up a call center and wondered if he could help point me to a good campaign. Lo and behold he pointed me to his good friend (who I’ll call Cathy) who worked for the largest trade publication company in the world. Because Martin was a good friend of Cathy, she obliged to conference call with me. In the end, I won the hearts of Cathy and her team to be one of the outsourced call centers for their business.

Hotspots as My Office

For some years, I’ve been a street-side businessman, always out meeting with people, marketing and selling myself and my products or services outside the workplace. Because I’m very much involved in internet-based networking, correspondences and communications, I rely on hotspots to do my business. Though there were enticing options to get a serviced office workstation or e-office, I declined knowing I would probably spend only an hour in the office and get out doing my work in coffee shops that have wi-fi access.

Today, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf offers the best and notebook-friendly free wi-fi hotspot in Manila. I bought a “Swirl Card” that gives me rewards points plus the WEP key or password to access their wi-fi system. A funny story about Coffee Bean’s internet is a recent experience with a prospective client. As a Country Representative of Kunnect.com, I conduct on-the-spot demo of the Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”) besides my traditional presentation. Once, I did this at New World Renaissance Hotel. It had terrible internet with lots of timeouts. When I told the prospect if he wouldn’t mind walking to the Coffee Bean branch at Greenbelt 3, he was surprised how fast the internet was at the cafe compared with the hotel. The most quiet branch of Coffee Bean I’ve been to is at the ground floor of the Greenbelt Residences condominium, right across Greenbelt 2. It’s a lot smaller than that of Greenbelt 3 or Robinson’s Galleria mall. By the way, all Coffee Bean branches are hotspots.

Besides Coffee Bean, I also choose Blenz, the Canadian coffee shop that only has two branches: at Solaris One Building along dela Rosa street in Makati City and another one at SM Megamall. It’s got a good ambience, quiet, not much people so it isn’t noisy and lots of electrical outlets in case your laptop runs out of battery power. However, Blenz is not that easy to find as the shop isn’t a street-view cafe and not everyone knows where Solaris One building is. It’s got free wi-fi with any amount of purchase.

Other hotspots I go to conduct meetings are Chili’s in Greenbelt 5, Bubba Gump at Greenbelt 3 (they have an airconditioned smoking area, just like Coffee Bean at the Robinson’s Galleria mall) and TGI Fridays at Glorietta 3. Now, here’s a tip: Globe DSL has been installing their wi-fi routers to new subscribers, including businesses such as restaurants. The funny thing they do is that the default WEP key or password is “aabbccddee” using the SSID “aztech”. So, if you’re in an area where you see the same SSID or even “linksys”, try to see if they have the same password. Chili’s obviously uses Globe because when I asked for the WEP key, the server replied “aabbccddee”.

However, when I’m stuck in a place without free wifi, I always have my Globe Visibility USB-based internet dongle (this is the predecessor of the Globe Tattoo). Why did I choose Globe? Well, I usually conduct my meetings in Ayala malls and Globe is an Ayala company; so, naturally, Globe’s signal would be far better in Ayala malls than competing products like SmartBro and Sun cellular. If you’re the type who always goes to the province, I think SmartBro would be better because Smart’s provincial coverage is better than Globe. For someone who’s always in a Robinsons mall, go for the Sun Cellular version. For a prepaid internet dongle, it costs about 20 Pesos per hour for internet access that can ideally reach 3 Mbps but about a maximum of 2 Mbps for HSDPA access in a 3G environment.

In Summary

I’m sure there are many other things that you do that would benefit you if some provider offered it for free or at a very reduced price, like text messaging (I used Globe’s Immortal Text; for 10 Pesos, I get 50 free text messages to other Globe or Touch Mobile subscribers plus 10 free text messages to people using other networks without an expiration date). But for this literary piece, I’ll stick to these basic items I mentioned that continues to be my source of free or inexpensive ways of doing business in our very competitive world. I do hope some of these tips and experiences can help you with your work as it has done with me. If you’re using a whole lot more that can help the readers, please share us your tips on “free, fast and forever.”

Title photo from fotocommunity.com.

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