Five ways to build your virtual office

Running a virtual business is easier (and cheaper) than ever -- if you have the right tools

When it comes to running a business, our feet are firmly on the ground but our data and software are increasingly in the cloud. My burgeoning media empire consists of two people (my lovely wife and me), but to the outside world we seem a lot bigger, thanks to online applications. To get our tasks done, we lean heavily on Web-based apps, from office suites to calendars to collaboration tools that let us work with colleagues on the other coast. Better yet, many of the services we use are free--at least, in their most basic incarnations. That never hurts.

The good part about going virtual is that you don't have to worry about leaving your data or software on the wrong machine when you're away from the office. The bad part, of course, is when you can't reach the Internet. Even then, however, more and more online applications are offering offline access so that you can keep working while waiting for Road Runner or Comcast to restore your Net connection.

Here are five ways you can make your business virtual, too.

1. Hire a virtual receptionist

You may run a mom-and-pop shop, but with the right phone tools you can sound like one of the Fortune 1000. We use Skype for many of our outbound calls. You have to download the software to your machine, but your phone book and call histories reside on Skype's servers, accessible to any connected computer. Calling other Skype users is free; to receive calls from non-Skypers, you must buy a SkypeIn number starting at US$3 a month (United States and Canada). To call landline or mobile phones, you purchase SkypeOut minutes (calls to most US locations cost about 2 cents per minute). Using Skype we can set up free conference calls with as many as nine other people, though the quality varies depending on each person's Net connection.

We've taken an extra step and hired Pamela for Skype, an add-on that records incoming and outgoing calls (for "quality assurance," of course). The free version stops recording after 15 minutes; other versions offer unlimited recording, store voice and video mail, route calls, and do even more, for prices ranging from US$13 to $37.

Another of our favorites is Google's GrandCentral, a free service that lets you automatically route or record incoming calls. (Unfortunately, it won't record outbound ones). You can set up unique voice-mail greetings for each caller or, if you're trying to avoid someone, play a "number not in service" recording. GrandCentral will ring up to three phone numbers in succession until it finds you, or it can send callers straight to voice mail, which you can retrieve anywhere. GrandCentral even lets you post an "unlisted" number on your blog or your eBay auction listing; visitors to the site can click a button to call you, but won't ever know what number they dialed. The only problem? At press time the service was in closed beta; Google won't say when it will open GrandCentral to the general public, so for now a current user must invite you to sign on. (Though you might get lucky here.) Google also sometimes offers GrandCentral to users of other Google services: My editor received a log-in when he created a Blogger account.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dan Tynan

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?