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Entrepreneur's Journal: Virtualizing your business

Darren Shafae operates Paper-Check.Com, which is a proofreading business. Without web-based technologies, his business would probably be far smaller.

“I have taken the best of ideas I have seen, and refined them to meet our needs and improve work flow and customer and employee satisfaction,” said Shafae.

So, what kinds of applications does Shafae use to improve his business? Well, let’s take a look:

GotVMail: Basically, this is a virtual PBX system. In other words, there is no need to manage hardware or pay for consultants. Instead, Shafae pays for the service on a subscription basis.

Some of the features include custom greetings, multiple extensions, music-on-hold, toll-free numbers, Dial-By-Name Directory and so on. According to Shafae: “GotVMail offers professional voice talent that gives the impression that there are thousands of operators standing by to address client needs and concerns.”

WebEx: This allows for remote presentations, including PowerPoint slides. The technology, which is now owned by Cisco(NASDAQ: CSCO), is fairly affordable for smaller businesses. No doubt, it’s quite useful for Shafae. He uses WebEx for things like customer demos, training and customer support.

Rackspace: This company provides premium managed web hosting services. Basically, as Shafae’s business started to grow, there was a need to allow for custom components - which is only possible in a dedicated server environment.

By using Rackspace, Shafae was able to save the potential costs of hiring an IT expert as well as purchasing expensive hardware. “Rackspace has saved our business five to seven times this year already,” said Shafae. “The company continually monitors our server and, if there is a problem, they let us know, after they fix the problem.”

Some advice: Of course, there are always perils when buying web- based applications. To help out, Shafae has some advice:

  • Read the fine print: What if the applications don’t perform according to specifications? Make sure you read the contract and you have a way to terminate things without causing much trouble.
  • Do some research: Before making a purchase decision, Shafae checks online venues, such as blogs, message boards and even Twitter. “Most Twitter users are more than happy to give you their two cents,” he said.
  • Buying too much: Because of the low price points, it’s easy to buy too many web-based applications. In other words, focus only on those that will make a difference.